Meet your Maker: Tim Laursen

Introducing ‘Sun-Bird,’ ‘Owl Suit,’ ‘Ganesha’, and the band of the future.

Tim Laursen on a recent morning at the Black Dog Bakery Cafe. —Photo by Sam Moore

The first annual Martha’s Vineyard Mini Maker Faire will take place on Saturday, May 7, from 10 am to 4 pm at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury. The Faire will showcase Island “makers” — beekeepers, swordmakers, robot designers, artists, musicians — anyone who comes up with a clever solution or a new idea. Over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing you to some of the makers, starting this week with kinetic artist Tim Laursen. Kinetic art is technically art in any medium that contains movement. A mobile, for instance, would be considered kinetic art. But Tim’s idea of kinetic art goes way beyond your basic mobile. Mr. Laursen met me for coffee to discuss his many projects and the vision that drives them.

So how would you describe yourself?

I’m a kinetic artist, but I draw on a lot of skills, a lot of disciplines — mechanical engineering, pneumatics, hydraulics, microprocessing, animation, music …

You’re sort of a polymath?

(Laughing) I like the sound of that.

Did you study sculpture?

From the time I was a little kid, I’ve always liked to build things. I went to Rhode Island School of Design and majored in film and focused on animation, so I was always building miniature animation sets. During the summer I started working for South Mountain Co., and that taught me more standard building skills. I built a big smoker for my company Smoak, and that gave me a crash course in welding. I’m pretty self-taught. And all these disciplines help me create my sculpture.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Growing up on the Vineyard, surrounded by nature, gave me the inspiration to be an artist. Now I live in New York, and there’s so much inspiration everywhere you turn. There are so many people who have so much to teach. Plus there are so many random jobs I end up doing that can be stimulating … everything from making zinc countertops for bars to building a Rube Goldberg machine for “Sesame Street.”

That sounds like fun!

Yeah, in 2013 “Sesame Street” hired me to make a Rube Goldberg machine. They said, You have to use the six classic Greek parts of a machine: the wheel, pulley, ramp, wedge, screw, and lever. You can see it on YouTube.

What will you be showing at the Faire?

At the Maker Faire I’ll be showing “Sun-Bird,” “Owl Suit” and “Ganesha,” a percussion-playing Hindu elephant, as well as two spinning speaker cabinets. Most of these things are part of a kinetic band I’m building.

Tell me about “Sun-Bird.”

John Abrams from South Mountain Co. asked me to build a sculpture that is solar, teaches people about solar energy, and is kinetic and interactive. I came up with “Sun-Bird.” It has a 7-foot wingspan, and it’s made from stainless steel, bronze, and carbon steel. It mimics the flight of an actual bird, and it’s solar-powered. Right now it’s at South Mountain Co., but eventually it will be installed at the up-Island Cronig’s when they put up their solar panels. I’ve built another “Sun-Bird,” and I’ll be showing it at the Maker Faire.

What about the kinetic band?

I have a background of playing in bands, and I wanted to combine my building skills with songwriting. So my big goal is to build a body of work that creates a musical performance. Most of the pieces I’m bringing to the Faire — like “Owl Suit,” “Ganesha,” and the speakers — will eventually be part of the performance. All the percussion will be sculptural.

What will the performance be like?

It’s going to deal with the story of human evolution. There will be a nine-song set where nine sculptures each tell a different phase of evolution, from the Big Bang to primordial slime climbing out of the ocean, to the survival of the fittest … my idea is to drive home the message of each song with physical sculpture that’s also playing part of the song. I’ve been working on it for about six years.

Have you had any mentors?

Jonathan Schipper is a fellow kinetic artist, and he’s taught me so much about machining, high-precision milling; he’s my secret weapon who lets me be fearless and try something new. My robot-drummer project would be chopsticks and hot glue without him.

Is this your first Maker Faire?

I went to a Maker Faire in New York; it was a pretty big show. I brought a lot of things and set them all up, and I ended up winning six blue ribbons. I did well because my pieces move … everyone loves stuff that moves!

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