There is a bit of a Renaissance feel to “Motion Science” at 21_21 Design Sight. Consciously compounding science, technology, art and design for the greater good of promoting curiosity and discovery in general, the exhibition is targeted at children and students. Automated devices and installations whirl, puff, jiggle and flash in architect Tadao Ando’s minimalist concrete space, and for the most part they echo his war on color by being either white, or black and white. The overall effect is that the exhibition is playful, but in a slightly po-faced manner.
In the center of the main hall there is a tower of cardboard boxes that booms loudly from the cumulative effect of 126 small rhythmic taps, elsewhere a robotic apparatus morphs visitors’ handwritten messages into drawings, and there are spinning parasols whose patterns become animation under strobe lighting.
The megalomaniacally minded can command an array of robotic stalks to follow their movements in the installation “Hill of Reign,” and you can levitate polystyrene foam balls on gusts of air. There are a few archive-based exhibits, too, but sadly no orreries, automata or pendulums.
All of the exhibits are accompanied by comments from their creators. These are scribbled on Post-it notes attached to boards that also display some of the tools and materials used in creating that work. The captions are emotive and personal, as is usual for exhibition texts in Japan. In the context of this particular show, however, an invitation to, for example, enjoy “the fun of the unbelievable happening” is a reminder that art and science were once complementary to each other, and at some level both driven by desire and fancy.
Given that the basis of the show is to focus on a process, it’s also a witty gesture to contextualize the exhibits with evidence of how and why they came into being. A video documenting the participants developing their ideas and building their work is one of the first things that visitors will see upon entering the show.
Is “Motion Science” worth seeing if you are not a child or a student? The people who were most visibly enjoying the exhibition when I visited were a middle-aged man watching the piece “Layer of Air” by Mari Numakura, in which patterns of lights flicker across gently billowing strips of gauze-like material, and a couple looking out romantically on the artificial vistas of “Lost #13.” In this installation everyday objects become bizarre and entrancing miniature landscapes through the use of a small light source moving around a circular track that projects shadows onto the walls.
Neither of those exhibits will tell you much about the science of motion, it has to be said, but they might possibly leave you moved.
“Motion Science” at 21_21 Design Sight runs till Sept. 27; ¥1,100. Closed Tue. www.2121designsight.jp