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A Gallery Becomes a Floating Robotic Dance Orchestra

Berlin-based media artist Nils Völker synchronizes 108 motorized Hoberman Spheres in his new solo show ‘Bits and Pieces’.

by DJ Pangburn
Apr 6 2016, 3:30pm

All photos by Bresadola+Freese

The art gallery can be a rather austere space—maybe even brutalist on occasion. But with Berlin-based media artist Nils Völker's latest exhibition, Bits and Pieces, the gallery becomes a space of “poetic performance” through a choreographed dance of what the artist calls “ordinary objects.” For the exhibition, Völker suspends 108 motorized spheres that open and close in orchestrated rhythms.

“The floating, colorful everyday objects merge into a single entity, an almost living organism that modulates, attempting to find a poetic balance between space, electricity and relationships,” writes NOME Gallery, which is holding the exhibition until April 16. “The movements generate a tension between the planned and the accidental, with each new variation opening up possibilities for interpretation. The sculptural presence draws attention away from the technical underpinnings of the finite object to a world of imaginative motional processes.”

Völker tells The Creators Project the computing, technology and art that collide in Bits and Pieces were a sequence of many lucky personal coincidences. Before becoming an artist, he worked as a graphic designer. While researching drawing machines, Völker stumbled across a LEGO set with which one could build little robots—and apparently a drawing machine as well.

“So I disassembled it and kept on building new robots and machines,” Völker says. “And as my ideas grew bigger and bigger at some point I switched to ‘real’ electronics and entered a whole new world of electronics and programming.”

For Bits and Pieces, Völker similarly found the motorized spheres—known as Hoberman Spheres—by accident while browsing in a 99-cent store. He bought a few of them and quickly fashioned a test setup with some components he had lying around.

“Although it was a really roughly made test with just a handful of spheres, it looked amazing and pretty promising,” Völker says. “At about the same time Luca Barbeni, the director of the NOME Gallery, approached me and we quite quickly decided that it could be pretty amazing to fill the whole space of his gallery with those moving toy balls.”

“Each Hoberman Sphere is suspended on nylon strings with a lever mounted to a servo motor on the other end,” Völker explains. “Programs running on micro-controllers then make the motors move to the right angle at the right time. So it looks like the whole installation is almost moving in a very organic way, but in the end it’s just 108 spheres which stay in place and just grow and shrink at the right time.”

Völker says that in general he is more into process than concepts. He likes to play with components and test materials without exactly knowing where things might end up. As a result, there is no complex theoretical concept behind Bits and Pieces.

“But of course there are many possible interpretations when it comes to large amounts of mass-produced, almost identical objects doing all the same thing, or when things made from cheap and colorful plastic—the opposite of anything organic—start to behave pretty organically like a swarm or wave,” Völker muses. “But in general I prefer to leave any interpretation open to the visitor and really like to hear what others think instead of telling them what they should see in it.”

Whatever viewers happen to see in Bits and Pieces, what cannot be missed is that Völker has transformed a gallery into a space for pure choreographed robotic poetry. That in and of itself is far from typical outside of roboticized factories.

Bits and Pieces from Nils Völker on Vimeo.

Click here to see more of Nils Völker’s work.

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