An Elemental Shift

by Taylor Stamm

As I walked into Daedalian Derks’ kinetic sculpture exhibition, I was overwhelmed by the quantity and scale of the works installed in the Light Fine Arts gallery. A fellow art student at Kalamazoo College, Derks and I have had numerous studio art classes together and I have had the pleasure of watching his work develop over the past few years. His sculptures usually incorporate complex geometric design and elements of mobility in response to specific locations, typically outdoors. In the final collection of work for his Senior Individualized Project, Derks managed three sizeable pieces into the twenty by twenty foot gallery space as well as an additional installation outdoors in front of the Fine Arts Building on Kalamzaoo College’s campus. After witnessing numerous art senior projects over the past four years, I was impressed by the scope of work in its technicality, material use, and scale. However, as I wandered through the gallery and passed under the flickering panels of Binary Strip outside the building, the persistent critic in me couldn’t let go of one question- was the integrity of these originally site-specific pieces sacrificed by relocating them?

Daedalian Derks, Fractal Reflections, Light Fine Arts Gallery, Kalamazoo College, May 2, 2012

Due to the constant ebb and flow of art definitions, I will clarify my understanding of these works as “site specific” by way of Miwon Kwon’s article “One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity.” Kwon explains the origin of site-specific art (entering the scene during the late sixties and early seventies) as a “radical displacement” from Minimalism in its “sensorial immediacy of spatial extension and temporal duration…rather than instantaneously ‘perceived’ in a visual epiphany by a disembodied eye.” [1] In other words, the location of the art object went from being completely rejected by Minimalist sculpture to becoming a primary factor behind the aesthetics and design of sculpture at that time. Location, time and space are definitely significant factors in understanding the sculptures designed by Derks.

The importance of each original location was exemplified by the photographic display that accompanied the sculptural exhibit. Nailed on to each wall of the gallery were a series of eight prints that identified the artistic process from start to finish, the final photo picturing the work in its intended location. Standing in the sterile gallery, the sculptures appear naked of their original site, primarily instigating a proprioceptive interaction rather than an environmental or temporal one. The pieces most affected by this change of space are Fractal Reflections and Binary Strip.

The first piece in the room, Fractal Reflections, is what Derks calls a “mirrored tetrahedron,” a life-sized sculpture made up of welded metal and mirrors anchored by a concrete base. The concrete, cylindrical base holds a metal pole in place while the pole supports the tetrahedron frame. The welded frame spins from the pole while the four diamond-shaped mirrors inside the frame reflect light from all corners of the room, making images fractured but mesmerizing. The final photograph of this sculpture shows its original location in the lobby of the Fine Arts Building, right in front of a large, stained glass window. Surely the most colorful location on campus, it is no wonder why Derks placed this light-refracting piece in this spot, the blue, yellow, green and red light bouncing every which way. In the gallery, you can only imagine those colors as the piece spins around, reflecting the dull lighting of a black ceiling and white walls, fracturing space rather than light.

Daedalian Derks, Fractal Reflections, Light Fine Arts Lobby, Kalamazoo College

The final exhibition of Binary Strip hangs between a tree and a column to the main entrance of Fine Arts Building. Stretching more than twenty feet in length, it is reminiscent of a line of flags as, the black and white square panels flutter in the wind. Though this piece is installed outdoors, the gallery designates one wall for showing the process and final installment of this piece, just like the other three. The photographic print of the original location, strung between the trees of the beloved Magnificent Pines in the Lillian Anderson Arboretum, evokes the life created by Binary Strip like an organized flock of birds, a precession through the arboreal void.

Valdis Celms, a kinetic sculptor, proposes three stages exist within kinetic art: stasis; motion; and motion, light and color:

“As we see the object develop through at least three different stages or levels of the interaction of structure and process, we can discern a common or summarizing visual or idea…the object’s form symbolizes the world’s material, passive aspects; its motion represents active and emotional aspects.” [2]

Certainly, this is true for Derks’ sculptures in any setting – even in their new locations, we at first experience each piece (aside from Binary Strip, depending on the wind) in a static and motionless state, and we are oblivious to its ability to move and change. When it does move, our perception and reaction to the object shifts suggesting new possibilities for interpretation, no matter where it is placed.

Having exhibited in this space myself, I understand the complications that come with setting up an exhibition, particularly with site-based art. Proposals, negotiation, and verification are only some parts of the long and arduous process of simply getting an ‘OK’ for an installation. Most likely, it was next to impossible to place these pieces back in their original sites for the week-long show. Still, I felt nostalgic as I perused the prints upon the wall; I couldn’t help longing for another opportunity to witness these sculptures in their element. I wanted another chance to escape in a reflected barrage of red, green, yellow and blue light or find myself on a bed of pine needles, beneath a fluttering array of black and white squares – I wanted to go back to the wondrous places Derks had created.


[1] Miwon Kwon, “One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity,” October 80 (1997): 86. JSTOR. Web. 16 May 2012.

[2] Valdis Celms, “The Dialectic of Motion and Stasis in Kinetic Art,” Leonardo 27, no. 5 (1994): 387. JSTOR. Web. 8 May 2012.


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