Reuben Margolin

Sculpting waves in wood and time

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Transcribed by Timothy Covell
Reviewed by Morton Bast

Usually I like working in my shop, but when it's raining and the driveway outside turns into a river, then I just love it. And I'll cut some wood and drill some holes and watch the water, and maybe I'll have to walk around and look for washers. You have no idea how much time I spend.


This is the "Double Raindrop." Of all my sculptures, it's the most talkative. It adds together the interference pattern from two raindrops that land near each other. Instead of expanding circles, they're expanding hexagons.


All the sculptures move by mechanical means. Do you see how there's three peaks to the yellow sine wave? Right here I'm adding a sine wave with four peaks and turning it on.


Eight hundred two-liter soda bottles — oh yea. (Laughter) Four hundred aluminum cans.


Tule is a reed that's native to California, and the best thing about working with it is that it smells just delicious. A single drop of rain increasing amplitude. The spiral eddy that trails a paddle on a rafting trip.


This adds together four different waves. And here I'm going to pull out the double wavelengths and increase the single. The mechanism that drives it has nine motors and about 3,000 pulleys.


Four hundred and forty-five strings in a three-dimensional weave. Transferred to a larger scale — actually a lot larger, with a lot of help — 14,064 bicycle reflectors — a 20-day install.


"Connected" is a collaboration with choreographer Gideon Obarzanek. Strings attached to dancers. This is very early rehearsal footage, but the finished work's on tour and is actually coming through L.A. in a couple weeks.


A pair of helices and 40 wooden slats. Take your finger and draw this line. Summer, fall, winter, spring, noon, dusk, dark, dawn. Have you ever seen those stratus clouds that go in parallel stripes across the sky? Did you know that's a continuous sheet of cloud that's dipping in and out of the condensation layer? What if every seemingly isolated object was actually just where the continuous wave of that object poked through into our world? The Earth is neither flat nor round. It's wavy.


It sounds good, but I'll bet you know in your gut that it's not the whole truth, and I'll tell you why. I have a two-year-old daughter who's the best thing ever. And I'm just going to come out and say it: My daughter is not a wave. And you might say, "Surely, Rueben, if you took even just the slightest step back, the cycles of hunger and eating, waking and sleeping, laughing and crying would emerge as pattern." But I would say, "If I did that, too much would be lost."


This tension between the need to look deeper and the beauty and immediacy of the world, where if you even try to look deeper you've already missed what you're looking for, this tension is what makes the sculptures move. And for me, the path between these two extremes takes the shape of a wave.


Let me show you one more. Thank you very much. Thanks. (Applause)






June Cohen: Looking at each of your sculptures, they evoke so many different images. Some of them are like the wind and some are like waves, and sometimes they look alive and sometimes they seem like math. Is there an actual inspiration behind each one? Are you thinking of something physical or somthing tangible as you design it?


RM: Well some of them definitely have a direct observation — like literally two raindrops falling, and just watching that pattern is so stunning. And then just trying to figure out how to make that using stuff. I like working with my hands. There's nothing better than cutting a piece of wood and trying to make it move.


JC: And does it ever change? Do you think you're designing one thing, and then when it's produced it looks like something else?


RM: The "Double Raindrop" I worked on for nine months, and when I finally turned it on, I actually hated it. The very moment I turned it on, I hated it. It was like a really deep-down gut reaction, and I wanted to throw it out. And I happened to have a friend who was over, and he said, "Why don't you just wait." And I waited, and the next day I liked it a bit better, the next day I liked it a bit better, and now I really love it. And so I guess, one, the gut reactions a little bit wrong sometimes, and two, it does not look like as expected.


JC: The relationship evolves over time. Well thank you so much. That was a gorgeous treat for us.


RM: Thanks. (JC: Thank you, Reuben.)



Reuben Margolin is a kinetic sculptor, crafting beautiful pieces that move in the pattern of raindrops falling and waves combining. Take nine minutes and be mesmerized by his meditative art — inspired in equal parts by math and nature.

About the speaker
Reuben Margolin · Kinetic sculptor

Reuben Margolin's moving sculptures combine the logic of math with the sensuousness of nature.

Reuben Margolin's moving sculptures combine the logic of math with the sensuousness of nature.