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Behold, The Programmable Robotic Zen Garden

Bruce Shapiro applies CNC machining and magnets to the ancient practice of Japanese rock gardening.
GIF by the author via

If magnets could meditate, they might spend their time making something like the stunning zen gardens in Bruce Shapiro's ongoing Sisyphus project, for which the artist uses a CNC machine-like motion control setup to carve inhumanly intricate patterns in the sand. A small metal ball propelled by magnets does the legwork, endlessly redecorating the 10' diameter surface of the former physician's kinetic sculptures, much like its namesake's boulder in ancient Greek mythology.


Shapiro's first kinetic sculpture involved just two motors, each waving a flag, and was programmed on floppy discs. Now, he has artworks in public and private places around the world. "I have spent the past 25 years dedicated to exploring motion control as a new medium for artistic expression, building CNC art tools and kinetic sculpture that combine my love of art, science and education," he explains on his website. These days he's working on scaling the Sisyphus installation down with a tabletop edition, which would make a great coffee table addition to our running collection of ferrofluid lava lamps and flaming music visualizers.

See more of Bruce Shapiro's work on his website.


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