Friday Ephemera
Rebellion (2)



The combination of the design of Theo's linkage mechanism, and his coupling of parallel modules thereof, is the engineering foundation on which he bases his art. The following video shows a simple geometric model of the linkage mechanism designed by Theo, which is known as the Jansen Mechanism, in simple two-dimensional geometry:

This video shows the mechanism using three-dimensional constructive solid geometry:

We did linkage design and analysis in the second or third mechanical engineering course I took when I was an undergraduate, so I would like to note that I appreciate the simple intricacy of Theo's design. The first really neat thing about Theo's linkage is that while "foot" A is moving in the y direction, foot B remains at y equals zero (that it, it is on the ground), and vice versa, even as the linkage as a whole continues changing its nominal x value. It may be that other linkages can be designed with this property, but the important thing is that Theo's design has this property.

The second neat thing is that Theo then gangs these linkage modules together to create a stable dynamic system. One such linkage module cannot walk, due to the gravity which is not included in the above simulation models. Even two will still tip over (unless you have active dynamic control, which Theo does not).

Yet once you have four or more modules ganged together, simple module phase synchronization gives you three or more feet on the ground at any time. Then, once you've got the engineering done, you can engage in art, such as Theo's gratuitous (though perhaps beautiful) wings.

Theo seems like a neat guy, who I certainly would find interesting to have a beer with, yet he did say one thing that stuck in my craw: "The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds". I don't agree. There is a causal "wall", in the sense that engineering, or if you prefer technology, precedes art in the temporal dimension: you can't sing without a voice, you can't paint without paint.

Anyway, I do think that Theo has achieved art, though, of course, if I built a large-scale model of his ganged linkages, I would do the aesthetics differently. De gustibus non est disputandum.

old blockhead

Equally, vitruvius, you can't fly without wings, but you can imagine the desire fulfilled and then, proceed to develop the technology to fulfill that desire.


Sure, though I would have said "attempt" rather than "proceed" ;-)


I came to qualify art, not to slag it. And I don't want to drag this thread off topic. Yet sometimes I think that serendipity must be celebrated, to wit this article I just stumbled across, "Why the Art World is a Disaster", by Roger Kimball, at The New Criterion:

Now to be clear, I've already stated that I think that Theo has achieved art. Yet when you combine all the content above with our ongoing discussion of the sillyness of postmodernism, well, I just though y'all might get a few good moments out of Kimball's essay.


I try to eschew posting three comments in a row, yet as it is about time for me to shut down for today, and tomorrow promises to be a busy day at work during which I may not be able to return to this thread, I'd like to add that before judging the artistic value of Theo's contraption, one may wish to consider the artistic value of this Prince Consort rotative beam engine, built in 1865:

Note that this beautifully detailed Crossness engine pumped sewage out of London to help eradicate cholera, rather than flapping nonfunctional wings. You can watch a description of Joseph Baseljet's sewage engineering project here in episode 5 of "Engineering an Empire - Britain":


So I just got an email from a customer about nine hours ahead of me, and answered it, and then checked back in here before shutting down, and I noticed that David's original and now the two trackbacks so far refer to Theo's works as "wind-powered". According to the best of my understanding they are not, ergo I must comment as a matter of the record.

You can see an example in David's main video at 0:26 remaining; that's clearly not wind-powered. I read elsewhere, and I don't have a link right now but will try to find one later, that Theo's sculptures are powered by compressed air motors.

Now, one can argue that it's just a simile, that compressed air is "like" the wind, yet it is my considered opinion that this sort of misrepresentation taints, if not Theo's work, then at least the accountings of it.




RE: Prince Consort rotative beam engine

The engine is at the center of a "cathedral". Perhaps the men who designed and built it thought their product worthy of worship?


Fascinating structures iindeed, but methinks a large proportion of the "depicted" creations are virtual machines only.

Some of the videofootage of real constructions also disclose persons pulling the structures (despite evident high wind speed).

Another immediate "objection" would be how he manage to keep the "machines" optimally turned towards the wind. With my experience from sailing, I would expect small changes in attacking angle would eventually force the structures in directions where the wind power yield might be too low.

In Cod we trust


Man, I hate to agree with Vitruvius, but Kimball is right on. But this has been going on for a while, as well as frustrated critical rants like his. For a good perspective on the fraud that was Abstract Expressionism, see Serge Guilbault's "How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art" (1983). It's not postmodernism that's at fault here--it goes deeper and farther ago than that. Giorgio Agamben's "The Man Without Content" (1999) has some powerful insights--one of the best mappings of the malaise that I've read.

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