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This Zen Coffee Table Creates Gorgeous Patterns Using Magnets and Sand

Bruce Shapiro’s kinetic art table creates beautiful kaleidoscopic patterns in real time.

by Nathaniel Ainley
May 10 2017, 6:48pm

Screencaps via

For cheating death, the Gods condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll down again as soon as it was brought to the summit. The story of Sisyphus inspired the title of this kinetic art table by motion control artist Bruce Shapiro that involves a metal ball rolling through a flat surface of sand to create decorative ripples and grooves like a Japanese rock garden. Plug it in and the Sisyphus table autonomously creates beautiful kaleidoscopic patterns right before your eyes in real time.

Shapiro has been creating his Sisyphus sculptures for nearly 20 years and has finally converted his artwork into a highly marketable set of coffee tables. Shapiro launched a Kickstarter campaign back in September to help get this commercial business off the ground—advertising the Sisyphus in three different models based on size and design. The campaign reached its $50,000 goal in the matter of a day and Shapiro's team has since then been churning these kinetic art tables out en masse.

The sculpture's operation is pretty simple: under the table's glass top sits a thin layer of sand; under the sand, a two-motor robot called the Sisbot moves a magnet around the surface of the table pulling the steel ball across the sand with it. The Sisbot is controlled by a Raspberry Pi computer that plays through a program of path files, which Shapiro compares to the way a music player plays an MP3. There is no on or off switch; the table calibrates itself when you plug it in and automatically starts playing a default playlist of trails. Shapiro says that buyers do have control over the playback, however, which lets you choose your favorite paths and how fast the ball moves. You can also tinker with the way the table is lit using a mobile app created by the artist.

Check out more footage of this Sisyphus table in action below:

Learn more about the Sisyphus art table on Kickstarter, and check out more works by artist Bruce Shapiro on his website.

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