by Stone Washington

A common perception of art is that of motionless paintings and sculptures, which inspire a sense of quality and beauty from their timeless appearance. At Clemson University, the Kinetic Sculpture Creative Inquiry project provides a different perspective, harnessing kinetic energy to bring still sculptures to life. Kinetic sculptures are art pieces capable of moving through the distribution of kinetic energy. There are multiple types of kinetic energy that can move sculptures, including wind power, motors, coiled springs and even magnetism.

Dr. Christopher Norfolk in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering mentors the project. The team creates many sculptures propelled by winding gears—similar to the movement that governs an automatic wristwatch. Other sculptures are people-powered, driven by gravity as someone picks the object up and dropsCSArt Makerspace 2 image by Hannah Ghafary it to power the kinetic motion. “We had one last year that was a ferrofluid, which means it had a power source but the movement was in response to changes in the magnetic field,” Norfolk said, “The magnetic field was generated by the movement of electrons; electricity.”

Students use the Watt Family Innovation Center’s Student Makerspace to print three-dimensional prototypes of sculptures in plastic, and if the team wants a more refined sculpture, they seek assistance from Machining and Technical Services (MTS) at Clemson. Using MTS gives the team the ability to use a computer-controlled plasma cutter to cut from large sheets of aluminum which allows the project to showcase an aluminum spring-powered sculpture.

Katie Mruz, a senior mechanical engineering major, loves being involved with the project because of the new dimensions broken through combining art and engineering. The team is working to create sculptures with optical illusions to mesmerize their viewers. Students are at the helm of deciding what kind of direction each sculpture will take and have the potential to create truly revolutionary pieces of art.

Each year, the Creative Inquiry team members work in hopes to showcase their sculptures at the annual Artisphere event in downtown Greenville, SC. This exciting event allows Creative Inquiry students to engage with their creative side and present unique artistic creations to the public eye. The students also use the opportunity to provide activities to the public to introduce science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) concepts.

When designing art pieces, Norfolk has confidence in the artistic abilities of some of his students. “If there is a real artist, someone who has that real artistic bent, who chooses to participate in the class, then there’s no telling what they might create,” Norfolk said, “We’re ready to support crazy new ideas that lead us in bold new directions.” The spirit of this Creative Inquiry project is driven by student leadership, allowing both Norfolk and the students to embark on a learning journey where everyone experiments on new ideas and discoveries together.

Clemson STEAM exhibit at Artisphere in downtown Greenville.

Clemson STEAM exhibit at Artisphere in downtown Greenville.