Kinetic Machine: Binary Levers

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Felix Scharstein

KINETIC SCULPTURES AND MACHINES

KINETIC SCULPTURES AND MACHINES

19th-century mills filled with rattling looms, mechanical railway signals, giant steam engines in motion – artist Felix Scharstein finds inspiration for his creations in industrial artifacts of bygone times.

His Freie Kunstmaschinen are machines freed from the shackles of purpose. Intricate mechanical workings become tools of artistic expression. Felix Scharstein combines shapes and symmetries found in nature with engineering techniques; he employs mathematical patterns to arrange sequences of seemingly meaningless processes. Whether semaphore signals, fractal mechanisms, or binary counters, his creations integrate shape, color, and motion into fascinating kinetic sculptures that defy categorization.

Kinetic Machine: Binary Levers

  • English
  • German

Felix Scharstein

KINETIC SCULPTURES AND MACHINES

19th-century mills filled with rattling looms, mechanical railway signals, giant steam engines in motion – artist Felix Scharstein finds inspiration for his creations in industrial artifacts of bygone times.

His Freie Kunstmaschinen are machines freed from the shackles of purpose. Intricate mechanical workings become tools of artistic expression. Felix Scharstein combines shapes and symmetries found in nature with engineering techniques; he employs mathematical patterns to arrange sequences of seemingly meaningless processes. Whether semaphore signals, fractal mechanisms, or binary counters, his creations integrate shape, color, and motion into fascinating kinetic sculptures that defy categorization.

Kinetic Sculptures and Machines

Self-similar Machines, poster for 2016 Exhibition

Self-similar sculptures, mechanical signals, and binary counters play a central role in Felix Scharstein's work. Some of his machines blend several motifs from this list; other pieces explore new thematic directions.

Kinetic Machine: Binary Levers

Fractal Machines

The leaf of a fern, the Nautilus shell, Broccoli Romanesco: Nature offers many examples of shapes composed of smaller copies of itself. The intriguing properties of self-similar shapes have inspired mathematicians working in the field of fractal geometry and artists like M.C. Escher.

The leaf of a fern, the Nautilus shell, Broccoli Romanesco: Nature offers many examples of shapes composed of smaller copies of itself. The intriguing properties of self-similar shapes have inspired mathematicians working in the field of fractal geometry and artists like M.C. Escher.

Self-similar structures are notably rare in engineering, and, to date, absent in the realm of mechanical machines. Felix Scharstein aims to fill this void by emulating the delicate beauty of nature's fractal shapes with playful machines exhibiting enigmatic and poetic qualities. His sculptures connect the imagery of nature and engineering applications, resolving the ostensible conflict between these two worlds.

vendemiaire

Signals

Signals, more broadly, are communication devices; optical telegraphs were predecessors of modern telephones. This makes a mechanical signal an anachronistic statement in the age of social media.

Felix Scharstein enjoys deploying signals – as technical devices – in scenic environments, resolving the perceived tension between nature and technology with a cohesive expression of unexpected beauty.

The function of a mechanical signal is to communicate a message by physically changing shape; semaphore signals are still used in the German railway system. In his work, Felix Scharstein pays homage to the signal as a self-contained kinetic piece of art.

signal
Kinetic Machine: Binary Levers

Binary Counters

Binary Lever, sketch

The binary system, the basis of all modern computers, uses only the digits 0 and 1. We cannot count higher than 1; after getting to 1 we start over at 0 and transfer a carry into the next significant place.

The task of building a mechanical realization of a binary counter is as formidable as it is frivolous. This challenge inspired Felix Scharstein to create several variations of binary counting machines, including self-similar devices whose components scale according to fractional powers of two.

His original design for a 4-digit mechanical binary counter was commissioned by the German Museum of Technology (Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin). As far as is known, it is the only mechanical binary counter able to count both forwards and backwards.

His subsequent designs of self-similar binary counters employ two different mechanisms: Maltese-cross gears, and a set of interlocking levers. The latter device operates solely with gravity. Larger versions of these devices could be commissioned for suitable locations.

Mechanical Binary Counter with 4 digits (CAD Simulation)

Other Machines, Objects, and Experiments

Kinetic Machine Spinning Jenny

Machines devoid of purpose – an artistic assignment without limits! After years of contract work for science centers and museums of technology, Felix Scharstein revels in the opportunity to build whimsical devices whose mechanisms and motions are their sole function, without expectations of productivity or pedagogical purpose.

In addition to Felix Scharstein's completed pieces, he has numerous ideas, concepts, and designs in various stages of development. Sometimes early experiments or prototypes take on a life of their own and provide inspiration for entirely new artifacts. Perhaps these pages might even inspire the reader to dream up a device that does not yet exist – Felix Scharstein is always open for suggestions and commissions!

Kinetic Sculpture based on the painting by Francis Picabia (Machine tournez vite, 1916/1918; ⇒ National Gallery of Art)

Spinning Jenny (2020) is a transmission-belt machine inspired by the spinning machines and mechanical looms of the Industrial Revolution.

Expanded grates or expanded metal are lattices constructed by pulling apart perforated sheets of metal. In the designs shown here, the overall area covered is enlarged by folding down individual rows of the pattern.

These attractive lattices can serve both as decorative elements and for practical applications. Depending on the perforation pattern, the resulting lattices can have various functions, ranging from fencing to a wine shelf.

Museum Exhibits

Felix Scharstein

Over the past 20 years, Felix Scharstein has designed and built a wide range of devices and objects for museums, exhibitions, and fairs in Germany and beyond. Many of these devices illustrate concepts from science and technology, ranging from small gears to awe-inspiring room-filling machines. Like his kinetic sculptures, they exhibit Felix Scharstein's trademark combination of ingenious mechanisms, playful shapes and colors, and unlimited creativity. A small selection of these machines is shown here.

Infinity machine: see the infinity machine in motion ⇒ on Wikipedia (German).

Vita

Kinetic Machine: Binary Levers

Felix Scharstein

Felix Scharstein

"Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
Think rather of the pack-horse on the down,
And dream of London, small and white and clean,
The clear Thames bordered by its garden green."

William Morris, 1868

1966

born in Munich

1983-86

education as precision engineer, Cologne

since 1999

construction of exhibits for museums, fairs, film, TV, and theater, Berlin

since 2009

increasing focus on kinetic sculptures with intricate mechanics

2012

initial development of fractal and self-similar devices

2016

Exhibition Art Kreuzberg

2019

Bernried Art Exhibition
Buchheim Museum Bernried

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