Arts-Based Simple Machines (draft)

Reinventing the wheel might not be such a bad idea after all. For example, the so-called six simple machines are themselves, of course, merely a scholastic category, the scientific evidence having shown that it’s not that simple, that a wedge is two inclined planes, a pulley at least one wheel and so forth. In the field of what is today called kinematics, what is in question is movement and the connections or linkages making up a given movement. And getting something to move can be not only utilitarian but beautiful, fun or simply instinctual. It is peculiar to see how the simple machines’ geneses make perfect sense (in terms of humans making their lives easier) and yet in their artistic interactions with nature elude linearity and finality (like a snake eating its own tail). Take for example the spiral fibula, one of the oldest pieces of (functional) jewelry: It wholly embodies the anthropological notion that prehistoric technology blurs the line between beauty and utility.


Now a snake may be able to coil up into a circle, a wheel of life, but what about us humans? In addition to looking at machines from an art-historical point of view, how our human bodies are connected can be explored beyond “intro demonstrations” through physical movement and even physical theater. Such questions of scale are ultimately the responsibility of the creative materials we’ve chosen to help us recreate the wheel or a wheel (axle) within a wheel; just like Iron Age people didn’t have plastic, let alone the internet, a certain age group of children can indeed self-sufficiently make wheels and axles if A) the materials give way to their specific age-appropriate manipulations and B) the size of the wheels and axles actually limit kinematic margins of error. After all, technology-free, simple machines are the legacy of why learning science happens best when it is done in an arts-based fashion.