I have been in my profession for very nearly fifty-five years. I completed my first site specific outdoor project in 1958 for Indiana University. I designed, fabricated and installed an outdoor bulletin board, display case and a colorful wind powered kinetic tower to symbolize and promote the IU Art Department. I have continued to develop the “Anemotive Kinetic” concept throughout the ensuing years.
While creating a large body of “Anemotive Kinetic” sculptures, I also continued to explore and express my understanding of the nature of our environment with other nonverbal works. The vastness of the universe and the minuteness of the particles that give this vastness its form, space and energy have continued to fascinate me throughout my life.
My thinking and my creative processes are extraordinarily involved with time space and motion. The relativity of these three aspects of reality in human existence and experience and in the functioning of the natural world is phenomenal. While exploring this phenomenon, I have created four unique series of kinetic works and five series of implied kinetic works. Most recently I have been investigating my primary subject with an implied kinetic series that I call “Point Traveling Through Space at an Erratic Speed”.
As a young boy in rural Indiana, in the early 1940’s, Robert Mangold would venture into the rich and majestic woods surrounding his small town in Huntingburg whenever he could. Overwhelmed by the sheer majesty of his surroundings, he soon found himself able to enjoy a special state of concentration – a meditation in nature on nature . . . what superficially appeared as a quiet static, dense forest of trees and earth, unfolded to Mangold’s inner eye as a microcosm of constant motion.
An intuitive connection to the esoteric elements of movement and space in nature was formed which would later become more consciously developed into a personal philosophy and aesthetic. Mangold’s early fascination with the new science of the atom . . . was a natural outcome of his childhood nature meditations, and contributed to the philosophical substrate of his art – the interdependence of space, time and motion.
Mangold’s art is about motion in a most fundamental way. . . He has a profound, almost transcendental understanding of the basic nature of nature: movement. From celestial spheres to sub-atomic particles, his resonance with the dynamism of all matter, and the space that it occurs in, becomes realized in his work.
Mangold’s art, however, is not about the atomic sub world; it is not a model of atomic theory or particle systems. Rather, Mangold’s art derives from his special perception of time and space, one that is inclusive of both the flowing sap in trees as well as the spinning electron. In Mangold’s sculpture this is realized with both kinetic (his Anemotive or wind moving) works as well as “implied kinetic” works (the PTTSAAES series).
Mangold’s Anemotives are the culminate manifestation of his aesthetic philosophy. Though an analogy to the spherical subatomic system is inevitable, the Anemotives are neither models, nor theoretical configurations of quantum principles. They are “systems” of kinesis that follow their own rules, and have their own aesthetic. They are “real” manifestations of the relationships of moving parts to each other; to the space they move in, and to the whole composition. Movement is expressed as movement itself. . .
Where the Anemotices are movement expressed by the movement itself, the PTTSAAES series [“Point Traveling Through Space At An Erratic Speed”], are movement expressed “virtually,” or, as Mangold prefers to call it, as an “implied kinesis”. Frank Popper, in his typology of movement, considers such “virtual kinetic” sculpture as an “enactment” of movement by a “figuration of several successive moments in the same work”.
Kinetic art requires the spectator to become an active participant. This is a natural occurrence with actual movement - for simple movement of any kind acts as a visual magnet. . .It is interesting to watch the observer of a gently rolling Anemotive, who seems to be caught in a brief trance, who moves on as soon as the sculpture stops moving.
But how do we reconcile what we are told, “a point traveling through space at an erratic speed,” with what we are seeing? The sculpture appears to have an erratic direction, not an erratic speed. Are the long segments depicting faster movement than the shorter ones? Or is it that the shorter segments have the faster velocity? And if it is an “erratic” speed, what accounts for the “erratic” directions the lines of sculpture see? The solution to this paradox takes us back to Mangold’s basic concerns with time, motion, and space. Speed, or “velocity” is determined by dividing a distance traveled by an object or a “point” by the time it takes to travel that distance. In other words, space (distance) and time are determinates of speed (motion), and are inseparable when considering motion.
If one “sees” the PTTSAAES as stationary sculpture, the issue of distance and time do not seem to resolve the question of “speed”. The sculptures then simply appear as lines of various distances related to each other by angular planar sculpture reflections of the line. But soon after contemplating the sculpture with the title in mind – particularly Speed – a transformation of the observer’s perception occurs. By adding unseen forces to the apparent static forms, the viewer energizes the sculpture to its kinetic state, thereby transforming it into a field of continuous animation. Once done, the work can no longer be seen as “static” and the paradox is resolved. The “figuration of successive moments” has been provided by the viewer’s own contribution of “forces”, and the sculptural motion and its space fall into harmony.
Mangold emphasizes the role of space in these works by depicting travel into and out of the wall, floor, or both, and by using a disconnected appendage in some works that appear to be connected in the “dense” ground to the rest of the sculpture. . .Space doesn’t “stop” with the wall or floor, because the wall and floor and all matter is 98% space. This effect of eliminating the barrier of matter by implying a continuous space is accentuated by “notching” some of the tubular pipes. This gives the pipe a visual appearance of being solid (though they are actually hollow), and thereby exaggerates the effect of “penetrating” matter by matter.
The PTTSAAES are constructed by using industrial stainless steel, brass or aluminum piping. No preliminary drawings are made, but Mangold has the general idea of each sculpture in mind when he starts. The piping is cut and arc-welded to produce the angular joins, with a certain degree of improvisation as the work is built from one end to the other in sequence. The surface is then polished, converting the industrial function of the steel piping to it’s aesthetic one. In addition, the polishing adds a kinetic dimension to the sculpture in the fleeting flashes of reflected light and changing surface shadows that appear.
Though most are intended for indoor installation, they all will do fine outdoors, particularly in the woods, where it all started for Mangold some fifty years ago.
Dr. John Woodward III
Excerpted from “The Sculpture of Robert Mangold,” by John B. Woodward III, Realities of Motion: The Sculpture of Robert Mangold, June, 1995 (as cited in Infinite in All Directions: Cosmos and Canvas in Colorado, Mizel Center for Arts and Culture, January – February, 2006). Reprinted by permission of the author.