Enthralling sand machines merge the wonders of science, tech & art (Video)

Bruce Shapiro
© Bruce Shapiro

Most of us don't obsess over the beauty of motion, whether it's the movement of a ribbon, or the bubbling of water, or the ceaseless shifting of sand dunes. But American artist Bruce Shapiro is the exception: combining customized motors with computer programming, Shapiro builds incredible works of kinetic wizardy, demonstrating a passion for what he calls the "art of motion control."

A former physician, the California-based Shapiro has been making these mesmerizing pieces of art since the 1990s, starting out as a hobby, which then blossomed into a career making installations for science museums and festivals, as well as smaller artworks like this "Sisyphus Machine," seen above. Shapiro explains:

"Motion Control" is an industry term for computer-controlled movement in applications like robotics and CNC. This technology has revolutionized industrial production and design, but until recently was extremely expensive and complex. I have spent the past 25 years dedicated to exploring motion control as a new medium for artistic expression, building CNC art tools and kinetic sculpture that combine my love of art, science and education.

© Bruce Shapiro
© Bruce Shapiro

Shapiro's machine is named after Sisyphus, a Greek mythological character that is doomed to roll a rock up and down a hill for eternity as a punishment for his deceitfulness. As seen below, the invention uses magnets and motorized stepper arms that are controlled by computer to move metal balls over a plate of sand, creating these stunning patterns, over and over.

© Bruce Shapiro

Here's a timelapse of the Sisyphus Machine at work:

Timelapse Sisyphus 1 from Bruce Shapiro on Vimeo.

© Bruce Shapiro

Some have likened the Sisyphus Machine as a modern, Maker-friendly reinterpretation of the traditional Japanese Zen garden or Tibetan Buddhist sand mandala -- and we have to admit, it is pretty calming to watch these patterns arise and disappear from whence they came.

© Bruce Shapiro

The Sisyphus Machine shows what creative makers and hardcore DIYers can do with a bit of determination and a lot of passion, and that at the intersection of science and art, unexpected things are born. The invention has already appeared in various institutions and festivals around the world, but Shapiro is planning to produce a tabletop-sized consumer version of it in the future (you can sign up for Shapiro's mailing list if you're interested). In the meantime, head over to Bruce Shapiro's website to see more of his amazing works, or check out this older video showing him at work, and some of his earlier projects, via Coolhunting:

Tags: Artists | Arts | Technology

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