Iron Genie at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford

Image Copyright Museum of the History of Science, Oxford photographed by  Keiko Ikeuchi

Image Copyright Museum of the History of Science, Oxford photographed by Keiko Ikeuchi

On Tuesday 8th July we installed my Iron Genie harmonograph at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. This interactive kinetic sculpture will be in the museum’s “Top Gallery” until the 21st. September as part of its ongoing “Art@MHS” programme. I shall officially be there to talk and demonstrate on Saturday the 19th July, the 16th August, and the 20th September. The rest of the time the machine will be operated by Ella Raff, a graduate specializing in the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge. Her magic way of engaging audiences with the machine was immediately apparent – here she is with a group of young people soon after we had finished setting it up. Follow the tweets at @MHSOxford or see the official museum blog.

Ella Raff (far right) helping some young people make drawings on the harmonograph

Ella Raff (far right) helping some young people make drawings on the harmonograph

I have written quite extensively about the harmonograph and the processes that went into the design and fabrication of Iron Genie in previous posts, and in my official website,  where there are links to the most relevant posts.

A weekend spent polishing with old-fashioned stove-polish and brasso

A weekend spent polishing with old-fashioned stove-polish and Brasso

I could not have hoped for a better venue in which to launch the Iron Genie. From concept and design to fabrication, it took  some eighteen months to create, with the input of four senior technicians at Central Saint Martin’s, and a hefty weight of  lovingly hand-crafted steel, brass and zinc. Having had a thorough polish over the previous weekend, this handsome Beast now sits in glory in the company of one of the world’s finest collections of historic scientific instruments. There are, for example, nearly two-hundred astrolabes, and if you cannot see the impressive display in person, you can visit the museum’s online exhibits and find out more about them. Even though I am not party to the mysteries of reading these fascinating devices, I am entranced by their sheer beauty and craftsmanship, and could not resist taking some close-up photographs:

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I feel rather covetous of some of the drawing instruments, in particular this marvellous inlaid metal writing box with compasses and dividers:

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And I would love to get my hands on this machine for drawing curves and ellipses:

DSC_0261Reminiscent of the blackened steel fabrication of the Iron Genie, inspired as it was by the ‘over-engineered’ mechanics and aesthetics of the Industrial Revolution, are the many massive workings of tower clocks displayed at the museum. Here is one below – and I can’t wait to start experimenting with some fancy gears for my next project!

Massive iron gears from one of the tower-clock working at the MHS Oxford

Massive iron gears from one of the tower-clock workings at the MHS Oxford

Postscript: Check out John Baez’s article about this, with mathematical analysis, on His Azimuth blog post ‘The Harmonograph’

Also Kalliope Monoyios on the Scientific Americal Blog Network Can Machines Produce Art that Moves Us?’

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