Spalding House curator Aaron Padilla was looking for a way to illustrate the idea of kinesis for the exhibition Inquiring Finds: The Science Behind the Art and thought of the infamous Rube Goldberg machine—a contraption that accomplishes a simple action in the most elaborate, complicated way possible. He approached a number of artists, asking if they would be interested in designing and building one, and got a lukewarm response. Then creative masterminds Bundit Kanisthakhon and Bill Reardon, who built our new parking attendant booth, told Aaron to call Ross Mukai of Oahu Makerspace. Mukai took the challenge.
“He was open to the idea and had the equipment to make something like that,” says Aaron. “I like that he was completely new to me and wasn’t already attached to the museum in some way—we want to bring new people and communities to Spalding House.”
Mukai is the founder and managing member of the Kaka‘ako workspace (and also works in the University of Hawai‘i’s IT department), a hub of people, well, making stuff. “You go in there and a guy is building a bicycle, another person is making a sign—it’s a bunch of random people making things. That’s interesting,” says Aaron. “They’re not creating to show their work, they are making it for the pure enjoyment of making a functional object. There’s something really refreshing and romantic about that.”
Mukai’s creation, titled The Incredible Machine, does one thing—turn on a DVD player, which promptly screens the video of OK Go’s song This Too Shall Pass, which features…a Rube Goldberg machine. Meta! It’s like Ross Mukai’s machine makes a Narnia-closet connection to the OK Go machine, built by Los Angeles-based arts and technology collective Syyn Labs, aka “the league of extraordinary nerds” (according to Fast Company magazine).
The Incredible Machine has been having some technical difficulties, but it’s only normal that a Rube Goldberg machine needs a lot of rehearsals. The Syyn Lab machine in the video took 60 tries before it worked just right. “If you look closely, at the part where a hammer hits a TV, you can see in the background there’s a big pile of broken TVs that they used,” reveals Aaron. “It’s interesting that way.”
Plus, adds Aaron, “even though it doesn’t work all the time, it’s kind of a blessing—it speaks to the idea of problem solving, and figuring things out, and trial and error, successes and failures, which are all part of the process of art-making and science.” Go experience it! On view through July 6.
About the video: Our social media manager Clarke Reilly rigged up an iPad to capture the time-lapse footage of Ross Mukai building his machine, and our web content coordinator Travis Hancock shot the normal-speed footage and edited it all together. Great work guys!