A Magical Installation Combines Rube Goldberg With Shadow Puppets

Who needs a perfectly balanced egg in the era of digital projection?

Cartoonist Rube Goldberg sketched some of the zaniest, complicated machines that have inspired countless real-life imitations. And no matter how many times you see one, their absurdly over-complicated designs are no less satisfying.


Mécaniques Discursives, or “mechanical discursive,” is a work-in-progress art installation that combines Rube Goldberg logic with light, shadows, wooden shapes, found objects, and full motion video. But interestingly enough, co-creator and video specialist Yannick Jacquet had never heard of Rube Goldberg before this week.

“To be honest we discovered the work of Rube Goldberg (who seems to be better known in the U.S.) a few days ago in an article about our project,” Jacquet writes Co.Design, who cites Peter Fischli and David Weiss, creators of Der Lauf Der Dinge, as major sources of inspiration. “I discovered a big community of people passionate about crazy machines devoted to Rube Goldberg. It’s very funny. Of course they will also become a source of inspiration.”

That said, Mécaniques Discursives is quite different from any Rube Goldberg project you’ve seen before. In fact, it’s almost an anti-machine in that Mécaniques Discursives doesn’t appear to move. Rather, stagnant objects imply movement when their shadows interact. And by removing the mechanical component from the project–or at least, digitizing it–Jacquet and his illustrator partner Fred Penelle can build the project in a far more free-form manner (independent of the painstaking margin of error on a typical Rube Goldberg machine).

“We work very spontaneously, a bit like exquisite corpse,” writes Jacquet. “We want this project to be constantly evolving, adapting to different exhibition spaces, never be the same, stay fresh. We create a bit like a jazz band. We know some little elements that work well together but the overall composition is improvised.”

Penelle has several woodcut objects that he places on the wall. Jacquet has a bank of short videos that he can map through three projectors. And together, they get, well, whatever you want to call their playfully artful take on Rube Goldberg aesthetics.

As of now, Mécaniques Discursives is still being finalized for its first showing May 12th at Geneva’s Mapping Festival. And given the team’s penchant for tinkering, it sounds like wherever Mécaniques Discursives ends up next, it may be a totally different, equally complicated experience.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.