Cheap Plastic Toys Spring To Life In Hypnotizing Kinetic Sculpture

A maestro of kinetic sculptures, Berlin-based media artist Nils Völker has elevated humble plastic bags and industrial building materials into living, breathing entities that hypnotize viewers. In his latest piece, Bits and Pieces, Völker works his magic on a familiar children’s toy.

Composed of dozens of joints, Hoberman spheres were invented in 1991 and are retractable and expandable toys that resemble geodesic domes. Marveling at the mass-produced design’s cleverness, MoMA brought the Hoberman sphere into its permanent collection in 2010. Völker came across them in a 99-cent store and spontaneously bought a few.

“Their mechanics are truly fascinating but at the same time it’s one of those cheaply mass-produced things, which are exciting for a short time but then end up in your shelf catching dust,” Völker says. “I’m not sure why, but I’m very much into all such kind of rather useless things.”

For the Nome Project, a gallery in Berlin, Völker hooked up 108 Hoberman spheres to individual servo motors and micro controllers to choreograph a kaleidoscopic sculpture that mimics the motion of an oscillating wave all through the spheres opening and closing:

“In general I really want to avoid leading viewers toward certain interpretations as people often come up with surprising thoughts I personally never had in mind,” he says. “There are many possible interpretations when it comes to large amounts of mass-produced, almost identical objects doing all the same thing,” Völker says. “Or when things made from cheap and colorful plastic—pretty much the opposite of something organic—start to behave organically like a swarm or wave.”