Each one of us is, more or less, a Rube Goldberg machine: an implausible and over-engineered construct of flesh, sinew, brain, and bone that only exists to compensate for the complications caused by being alive at all. The work of San Francisco based sculptor Dan Grayber makes this metaphor for the human condition literal–by creating spring-loaded mechanical objects that exist only to sustain themselves in mid-air.
In Grayber’s work, this simple theme takes many different forms, from wrecking ball-like objects that seemingly hover inside of bell jars to larger crane-like structures that stay erect without support.
“I feel like the concept of working to hold yourself up both literally and figuratively to be paramount to the human condition. It’s self-preservation.” Grayber says. He calls his sculptures “self-resolving problems.”
Grayber originally wanted to be an inventor, but found the process frustrating. As a student at Hampshire College, Grayber found an outlet for his passion for inventing in sculpture. Grayber’s first autonomous objects, made of raw steel and wooden timbers, were, similarly, mechanical pieces that suspended themselves in mid-air. He designed them to work with the architecture of the school’s art gallery, and recalls: “The faculty was so worried about the pieces falling on someone that they called a campus public safety meeting before they would allow my show to open.”
Although Grayber calls these early sculptures “ancestors well removed” from what he is doing now, Grayber’s more recent sculptures are designed with the same principles in mind. Grayber usually begins by identifying an architectural feature–say, the corners in a room or the interior of a display dome–that he’d like to exploit. Building out his mechanism using a combination of simple machines such as levers and pulleys, Grayber then links that piece of architecture with an emotional idea. One of Grayber’s pieces, for example, is an almost biomechanical construct inspired by the leg position of an Argiope spider splayed across its web.
Over time, Grayber’s mechanisms have become increasingly delicate. It’s a curious twist, that shift from resolution to uncertainty: “I don’t want them to appear incapable of failure. I want there to still be an apparent struggle,” he admits.
You can see more of Grayber’s work here.