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So, it’s been a productive weekend, but there’s good news and bad news, and they’re kind of the same thing. The news is that I can’t lasercut until Wednesday.  I was a little disappointed to hear this, because I wanted to get into building these things right away, but now that I look at the complexity of what I’m doing, it’s going to be quite nice to have the time to really make sure everything is right and that everything will be included all at once.

That said, here’s a little glimpse of what I’m doing.

The image below is a quick sketch of what I plan on attaching to my already made “building”.  The lasercut gaskets will fit around a high-powered LED flashlight, which has been cut to fit inside.  There are two ends of this flashlight, facing opposite one another.  This assembly will hang from the gear that turns around the top of my building, providing a light source at the epicenter of the gearing system, which is going to be vastly expanded after Wednesday.

The image below this paragraph is a sketch of what I plan on having my spinning mirrored portions look like in the end.  I had actually thrown the pieces away from the old version of these, but I still like the idea, and since the main building is now going to be throwing out light into the rest of the site, these mirrored kinetic pieces will cause a very interested set of reflections and shadows to be cast all around the model.  It’s actually somewhat fortunate that I don’t have the old pieces anymore in my opinion, because I think they were too small for the scale of the model.  The new ones will be quite a bit larger, almost tree-sized.  The ones with flat surfaces I think will be especially interesting, because they’ll rely on gravity, motion, and wind to change the path of the incoming light they receive.

And finally, in the link below is the new layout for the gears.  The work now rests on my ability to decide what exactly will be acting inside or near the buildings in terms of machines.  This is why I’m pretty thankful that I can cut on Wednesday instead of today.  I have some ideas for what each machine will do or look like, but tonight and tomorrow I can really flesh everything out.  If I can completely finalize the gear layout tonight, then tomorrow I can drill all of the holes and buy all the necessary brass rod to have a productive Wednesday night.


The goal right now is to have all of this implemented and working by Thursday, which is pretty daunting, but based on my two-day design-a-thon for Interim reviews, I think I can handle it just fine.


The Infernal Machine

My machine is *finally* working and doing its thing: modulating light and space.  Why was it not working?  Well, everyone knows that the first rule of mechanical engineering is to lubricate your surface-mounted bearings and castors! Silly me.




The New Machine

After my failure to resolve my machine problems in Berlin, I had to come back and create a new one that actually works.  Thankfully, I was able to do it, and here’s the proof!

Light Space Modulator

Alternate Title: Why I (Still) Hate Gravity

Once my site was selected and we moved into Martin’s studio, it was time to get down to work and make my machine come to life and take it out to my site for some Light Space Modulation.

As it turns out, though, that was completely impossible.  In all my years making weird machines and odd contraptions, I’ve never had my ass kicked quite like that, and this week was humbling to say the least.  For the first few days, I tried my best to get the machine up and running, but it just never came together.

The mounting plate secured to a tripod.

A lasercut sprocket held onto a brass shaft using a Jaw Coupling.

The beginnings of the machine on the tripod.

The gears sitting in their bearings, awaiting the chains.

You can see how this got really complicated, really fast.

After messing around with this machine and exhausting every angle I could, I finally had to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to take my machine onto the site.  The reason I wanted to create the machine in the first place is partly because it tied into my research about Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, but also because I wanted to use it to measure and affect my site using light, reflection, transparency, and motion.  My machine is supposed to mimic Nagy’s “Light Space Modulator”, but in this case it wasn’t going to do a damned thing.

Had everything gone according to plan (ha!), the grad idea was that I would be able to take my machine out to the site I chose, and record images and video of the reflections and refractions caused by the machine in motion and how they affected my site at night.  I had hoped to get it out there by Thursday night, so that I could take my findings back to the studio and then create a second set of spinning pieces to sit on top of the machine. The second set of pieces would highlight areas that I felt were important or cancel out certain pieces of the site.  This second set of reflective and transparent pieces would be an impression of my site that I could take home to Winnipeg and work with in some way to capture a memory of Berlin without the use of traditional photography.

Of course, that’s not how it worked out, and so I had to make some last minute modifications to the machine to at least get something out of it.

Some of the pieces inspired by the original Light Space Modulator

The final version of the machine

Light modulation!

Site Selection

During the first week of our trip, we ended up traveling all over Berlin and looking for sites in Kreuzberg, but nothing really sung to me in terms of my project.  I was looking for a site that somehow related both to Moholy-Nagy and to the machine that I had created, and until Saturday, I hadn’t really had any luck.  There was one site that was at least intriguing, but something told me I would have to look elsewhere.

On our trip to the Bauhaus, I bought a book about Moholy-Nagy, called Moholy-Nagy: The Photograms. The book has amazing reproductions of Nagy’s photograms, as well as some really interesting and enlightening essays about Moholy-Nagy, but most importantly, at the back of the book was a reference list of all of Moholy-Nagy’s residences since 1921.  Once I found this, I wrote them down and decided to do a little bit of touring on Sunday.

Coincidentally, the first residence I found was actually close to where I had been the day before, but this time I actually meant to go there.  Just one block North of Kurfurstenstrasse is Lutzowstrasse, the street where Moholy-Nagy first lived in Berlin after he came from Hungary to be an artist there.  I located what I thought was his apartment building, but what I didn’t know was that his apartment building had been blown up during the second world war.  What was even more interesting, though, was what I found  near his old apartment, which is what’s called “Der Pumpe”.

Looking at the Pump near the park.

At first, I thought Der Pumpe was the park located near this particular pump.  What I found out later is that “Alte Pumpe” is actually a restaurant.  The pump itself is part of the “Radial VII” system that Berlin completed in 1883.  The pumps are used to pump wastewater from the city and the surrounding suburbs uphill and away from the city.  The site was an integral part of Berlin’s infrastructure before the war, and its proximity to Gleisdreick, as well as to the headquarters of the SS, made it a good target for the bombing raids carried out by the RAF during the war.  In my research, I was able to pinpoint the date when this site was bombed, and it turns out that on November 23rd, 1943, this site was the target of Britain’s first ever successful bombing, which devastated Berlin’s infrastructure and my eventual site.  The building that is currently located at the address of 76 Lutzowstrasse is now a Bergman and Franz, but now that I know some of the history of the site, I feel like it’s a pretty good place to start my exploration.

Moholy-Nagy's old place, but not really.

Der Pumpe

The Park

Transmission Wiring

This weekend I was finally able to do a little bit of experimentation and work on creating my device.  Since I want to use motors to control a spinning machine, I first had to come up with some way of reducing the speed of the rotation so that it wouldn’t be spinning wildly out of control.  I had looked at pulse width modulating the motor, which does work to an extent, but that method really isn’t suited to the application because giving the motor full power over and over again in small cycles only varies the speed a little bit, and can cause the motion to be very jumpy.  What I decided on instead was a method of gearing down the motor and creating a transmission to sufficiently slow everything down.

However, when it’s Friday afternoon and you can’t laser cut until Monday morning, you have to get a bit creative with your gearbox, and so I went down a bit of a different path, using wires to create small gears that could be attached to the motor to slow it down.  The first step was creating a small rig to bend the wire, shown below.

This, as you can see, is exceptionally sophisticated and in no way improvised using finishing nails I picked up on the way to studio.   The nails are set at a certain distance apart, and then the wire is bent around them.  They had to be hammered in towards the center of the rig to allow the wire to release, and I also had to cut the tops off of the nails in order to let the wire clear.

This is my first attempt at creating the larger gears.  I was quite satisfied in how well it turned out, but after I made this one, I made a few more until I got quite good at it.  Once I did, I made the prototype shown below.

With this one, I soldered in center pieces and then made a more three dimensional gear by soldering in short pieces of wire between each tooth of the gears.  This created a very sturdy gear which I was actually pretty happy with, but once I was done, I realized that I didn’t need to do this for every single gear I made.  Only half of the gears had to be thickened this way, and since each large one requires 42 solders to solder the teeth, and the small ones only require 14, I decided that the small ones would be the thicker ones, as you’ll see later.

As you can see here, I applied that same idea to the smaller gears, and I think it worked out pretty well.

Now we’re getting close to having a proper, working transmission.  The small gear here is attached to a 5/16″ shaft and to a larger gear. The smaller gears drive the larger gears in the transmission, slowing the motion down the more gears I use.

This is the finished mechanism without the motor attached to the end.  The motor closest to the camera is powered by the small gear on the motor, and the gear nearest the end goes much more slowly that the one in the foreground.  The videos below will illustrate how the whole thing works.

The second video is pretty telling, as the whole thing sounds like two trains mating.  I think my next step is to create a better, more controlled bending rig and recreate this experiment for real.  I’d like to be able to really control the making of the gears in a more sophisticated way so that each gear is really precisely made, which the current ones aren’t yet.  So far, this is what I’ve got, and I’m pretty happy with the progress so far.

Experimenting With Time

Over the last few days I’ve been experimenting with methods of capturing and manipulating time and our perception of it.  Below is a video of a device I built that acts as a stroboscope.  The device uses a pretty simple 555 timer circuit to pulse LEDs at a consistent speed, which can be controlled by the potentiometer on the right.  The pot on the left is only used to brighten or dampen the LEDs.  In my first experiment, I used a small 80mm PC fan and ran it alongside my lights.  By changing the pulse width modulation of the lights, I was able to make it appear as though the fan blades were going slower, faster, or to some extent, stopping.  The lights aren’t quite fast enough to make it appear as though the blades are completely stopped, but this is just a quick first run.


Simple 555 PWM Circuit

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