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Sculptor Kim Bernard demonstrates the Harmonograph

Sculptor Kim Bernard demonstrates the Harmonograph

I visited the Boston Sculptors Gallery on a whim this past Sunday and was delighted to find Kim Bernard, the artist responsible for Stuff Moves, one of two exhibits happening there, overseeing the gallery that day and encouraging visitors to play with her installations. The spacious back half of the gallery was alive with eye-popping red balls — hanging from cables, topping off the ends of sticks and serving as the weights at the end of pendulums — but the star of the exhibit was movement. Bernard’s Stuff Moves exhibit is play, art, color, choreography and physics lesson combined, and part of its fun and refreshment lies in the viewer being allowed to physically engage with the installations. The result for me was a happy wonderment inspired by bright color, large scale wave-like fluidity, and the occasional surprise of motion taking unexpected turns.

She invited those of us in the gallery to take part as she introduced us to Harmonograph, a set of three wooden structures utilizing red balls for pendulums and a pulley string for controlling the up and down movement of an ink marker. The central structure has a top platform with piece of paper lying on it, and a pendulum that can be set into motion to make the paper gently move back and forth, up and down.

Sculptor Kim Bernard watches the Harmonograph's pen descend to the paper surface to make a drawing

Sculptor Kim Bernard watches the Harmonograph's pen descend to the paper surface to make a drawing

When the pendulums of the two outer structures are pushed into movement, the viewer can lower the string holding the marker to let it create a drawing on the piece of paper. The effect on paper was highly reminiscent for me of the beloved Spirograph art toy of my childhood, except that in this case, once the pendulums have been set in motion, the forces of nature take over.

Bernard’s kinetic sculpture work comes from her fascination with movement and its basic laws. Another piece in the exhibit, Quantum Revival, was inspired by the Pendulum Wave, which she came across in researching pendulums.

Quantum Revival kinetic sculpture by Kim Bernard

Quantum Revival kinetic sculpture by Kim Bernard

Bernard first laid a series of hanging red balls into a shelf bin on the wall. As she released them all at once, we watched the balls take up an undulating pattern of movements, alternating between moving in sync, in waves, and in complementary step. The display was a lovely and seemingly choreographed dance.

“I certainly did not discover the Pendulum Wave,” says Bernard, “but rather ‘borrowed’ the idea to create a kinetic sculpture. Though I knew each pendulum needed to have an exact period, I did not know how to calculate the length to produce the exact number of oscillations. My son, who is a physics major at Harvard, knew the formula that would generate the cable lengths, hence the correct number of oscillations. In five minutes he produced a spread sheet with all of my cable lengths.”

Dance of Shive sculpture by Kim Bernard

Dance of Shive sculpture by Kim Bernard

Dance of Shive, another kinetic sculpture, was made up of 12 feet of nylon strapping stretched between two posts. The strapping held horizontal rods, each tipped with a small red bouncy ball. She welcomed us to move the rods, setting off a twirling wave of the 146 red balls. The effect was an ever-changing beautiful spiraling movement. I found the moving shadows it cast on the wall almost as enchanting as the piece itself in motion.

I was disappointed to learn I’d stumbled upon the exhibit on its final day — otherwise, I’d be encouraging you to pay a visit there. I did get a chance to talk with Kim Bernard about her work, though.

She has lived in Maine for 25 years, and works from a home studio in an attached barn. In the cold months, she works in a smaller, heated area in the barn, while in warmer months she can spread out into the entire lower level (her husband, a painter, has a studio on the second floor). If she really wants space or the wood shop, though, she will work there on milder winter days. “My step son is a custom surf board builder/designer and has a shop on the third floor of the barn,” says Bernard. “You might be interested to know that my 19-year old son will major in music at USM in the fall and my 22-year old physics major son is also a musician. My step daughter is a professional photographer in NYC.  Need I say, we’re a creative bunch!”

PO: How do you work in your studio, and how often?

KB: It all depends on my exhibit schedule. For the three months leading up to my Stuff Moves exhibit at Boston Sculptors Gallery, I worked in my studio all day, every day. After I take a show down, I regroup, fill the well, research, you know…put some compost back into the soil. I always have ideas for future work. It’s a matter of what I’m most curious about, what I’m excited to investigate, what spaces I have to exhibit my work in. It’s often a matter of matching an opportunity with an idea that’s been fermenting for some time. My husband would tell you I’m a workaholic, I don’t agree. It’s a labor of love and I thoroughly enjoy what I do. If I’m not in my studio, I’m researching a future project, visiting a gallery or museum, or doing something art related.

What is atypical about this year is that I received 25K grant that has allowed me to reduce my teaching and focus on some specific projects: Build a Harmonograph, create some interactive kinetic sculpture, take a physic course, study cymatics to create an interactive sculpture, work with time-lapse video and investigate Body Sensor Networks. You can read more about that on my blog: http://kimbernard.blogspot.com/2012_01_01_archive.html

PO: Can you describe your general evolution toward doing what you’re doing now with sculpture? How did you start out? Were there any Aha moments for you along the way that pushed you in a particular direction?

KB: From the get-go, I’ve been a mover and a maker. As long as I can remember I have liked to make things and enjoyed dance. Six or so years ago I started questioning why I had two simultaneous but separate practices, one of creating 2-D work (in encaustic) and sculpture (in a variety of materials) and the other, a movement practice which has run the gamut of dance, martial arts and now yoga. I have always been aware of my body on space, ergonomics and kinesthetics. There was one particular ‘aha’ moment…I was assembling a sculpture that required that I bend, scoop up a piece of the sculpture, string it on steel rod in a spiral fashion (like a bead), then repeat the motion again and again. I became more interested in my body moving in space than the sculpture.

The reason why I make sculpture is probably because there is so much body work involved. So, I made it my assignment to bring these two pursuits together and now my work is about movement and nothing else. At first, that seemed limiting but now I realize it is infinitely expansive. At times that means I’m creating kinetic sculpture, sometimes it’s making contraptions that draws, sometimes that means I move and make marks as a record of my own movement. I’ve been playing with stop-motion video lately since it captures and allows me to study movement patterns.

With this exhibit of interactive kinetic sculpture people have often asked if I have a science background. I don’t. I studied sculpture for my BFA and MFA. My answer is that I am simply fascinated with movement and things that move, and that my work is an attempt to understand how things move. My way of doing that is with my hands and with my body.

To see the Stuff Moves exhibit in motion, watch this short video.

The Boston Sculptors Gallery is at 486 Harrison Avenue in the SOWA district of Boston’s South End. It functions as a cooperative, hosting two simultaneous solo shows each month featuring the works of its 34 members.

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