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Kinetic Dichroic Sculptures

Seven new models exploring kinetic art for outdoor spaces

I've long been fascinated by dichroic films - thin metallic coatings on glass or plastic that split white light into one reflected color and an entirely different transmitted color. The transmitted and reflected colors change with the angle of the material, making them especially interesting for use in kinetic sculptures or for outdoor locations where the moving sun can create different effects throughout the day.


In this scale model of a kinetic sculpture, I've taken a feather apart and attached each segment to a bearing. The spine supporting the feather tilts in one direction, compelling the parts of the feather to line up when there is no wind. As the wind blows, the pieces pivot and rippling motions move up and down the feather. These motions create changing color effects in the shadows on the ground, reflections onto nearby surfaces and as people look up through the sculpture.


The Sonoran Desert where I live combines harsh forms with subtle colors. This scale model has small spines made from dichroic material. Notice how the shadows contain many colors. These colors change dramatically as the wind causes the clumps of spines to rotate. Each clump of spines is asymmetric with respect to surface area, but nearly symmetric with respect to mass. This causes them to rotate in light wind. But the wind doesn't always blow. For this reason, I've been experimenting with a safe way for people to activate sculptures such as these and for them to feel the power of the wind directly.

Concentric Rings

This model illustrates the beautiful and complex behavior that can result from stacked bearings. These rings serve as counterweights for each other in a complex arrangement that turns the wind and human input into complex motion.

Angled Flower

This model illustrates the range of colors produced as the wind and human action rotates the rings. There are three sets of colors produced at every instant: 1) the colors the observer on the ground sees as they look up through the sculpture, 2) the colored shadows that fall on the ground, and 3) the color of the reflections on nearby surfaces (especially visible in the image to the right).

Wide Tree

This model of a sculpture also responds to wind and human input, covering the ground and anyone standing below it with intense colored shadows on a sunny day.

Vertical Tree

Dichroic films are available in different thicknesses. In this model, I've mixed two different film thicknesses for brilliant saturated colors that move in response to wind or human input.


As birds move their wings, there is a beautiful relationship between adjacent feathers. That's what I tried to capture in this sculpture model. The spine that holds the dichroic feathers is shaped so that gravity causes the feathers to assume the three-dimensional form of a bird with its wings reaching up. Each feather is supported by a bearing. As the wind moves the feathers, they change their angle with respect to the viewer and the sun, resulting in wonderful color gradients as one looks through the sculpture or watches its intense colored shadow on the ground.

These kinetic dichroic sculptures are great for sunny urban landscapes. They project intensely colored shadows that don't fade in the way that painted metal or other methods of coloring art will. They move with the wind. Many of these concepts also allow people to move them safely by rotating the support structures. In this way, viewers become active drivers of the changing colored landscape that each sculpture creates.


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