Kinetic art moves in exciting ways at the Morris Museum

Geoffrey Drake-Brockman, a cybernetics artist, describes how floribots, or robot flower pots, work. He says the mechanical flower buds respond to audience reaction. In fact, every single piece in a new exhibit at the Morris Museum does. It’s a room full of artistic illusions. The exhibit is called A Cache of Kinetic Art: Curious Characters.

“Most viewers of this exhibit won’t have to reach out very far at all, the objects themselves sort of reach out to the viewer. They’re all interactive in one fashion or another. None of these pieces are static art,” said Jeremie Ryder, conservator at the Morris Museum.

The collection expands on the museum’s Guinness Automata exhibit, derived from 18th and 19th century versions of kinetic art. They are pieces that move in exciting ways.

“So we decided, what would it be like if we were to feature contemporary work by living artists, by living builders to show how they make their art come alive,” said Cleveland Johnson, executive director of the Morris Museum.

And come alive they do. Chris Fitch’s took first place for his intricate weaving of engineering techniques and storytelling through motion in his “Bird of Paradise.”

“It took my maybe a year and a half, maybe two years ultimately to realize it completely,” said Fitch.

New Jersey-based artist Lawrence Berzon’s slightly disturbing, yet thought provoking boardwalk-esque work also comes alive.

“I have a neoclassical carnival experience going on. There’s often a reveal where you don’t see the actual action. At first, there’s what’s going on the outside, and then what’s revealed when you deposit a coin. Things aren’t what they seem to be,” he said.

“They’re absolutely fascinating, and such fun,” said Chester resident Jan Geismar. “It’s just, you feel like a little kid again.”

The construction techniques vary. Everything from simple hand cranks of the past to microcontrols, modern materials and electronics. The thing is, the automation still stems from hundreds of years ago.

“The Automata, the 18th to 19th century Automata did prompt several art movements. Go back to the late 19th and early 20th century movements like Dada, Surrealism. These very early movements,” said Michele Marinelli, curator of the Morris Museum.

“They’re all interactive. They all respond to the audience, and each time that they respond it’ll be a little bit different from the time before so you contribute to the artwork. It’s kind of like the audience and the artwork together make the performance, which is the thing,” said Drake-Brockman.

The “Curious Characters” exhibit will be on display through June 20, but it’s part of an ongoing series that will be at the museum for at least the next four years — where you can visit and expect the unexpected.

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