Taking a break from my daily Boston life, I rode the T to Cambridge last week to visit an unusual art gallery called Le Laboratoire. The friendly folks over at Le Lab don’t think of themselves so much as an art gallery, but rather as an “interdisciplinary culture lab.” They find ways in which art and design interact with science, food, architecture, and music. In fact, that night they were going to hold a seminar about healing through rhythm and Flamenco dance.
Their current exhibit is the work of Chuck Hoberman. If you’re not familiar with Hoberman — I wasn’t — he’s an engineer-artist-architect-inventor, as well as creator of the Hoberman Sphere. He’s apparently known worldwide for designing and creating structures that fold, unfold, and transform. Small, huge, and everything in between, his designs combine engineering with artistic form and morphability. He’s made and inspired some pretty wild stuff— retractable domes, retractable facades, pop-up emergency shelters, surgical stents, and a transforming stage screen for U2’s 360° world tour to name a few.
The Chuck Hoberman exhibit is called “Ten Degrees.” That name refers to four large scale sculptures on display each with a certain number of degrees of freedom, the combined total adding up to ten. Those ten degrees make up the possible trajectories for these interactive sculptures as they are set into motion by gallery visitors operating the attached handles.
Something I found novel about the gallery is that, unlike most, it does not put text on its exhibit walls to give visitors context for the works. Instead, the gallery staff talks with you. They describe to you what various pieces are about. They gently encourage you to participate in transforming the sculptures, and then to move around and view them from new vantage points as other people transform them.
The changing vantage points was where it came together for me — viewing the hinged planes from new angles while someone pointed out the dynamics of what was happening. For example, how the planes could move in one direction, but perhaps not another. Those particulars were not always obvious to me while operating the handles, but they would come into focus from a different place in the room.
I was surprised by how remarkably articulate the gallery staff is in the concepts of the exhibit. They are intimately knowledgeable about the artist/inventor, and the range of potential that the designs might have. The place has the feel of a small, tightly-knit group united in sharing a vision.
As an artist, I look for aesthetically interesting pieces. I liked how the exteriors of the large sculptures reminded me of 1970s-era powder-coated band equipment road cases, but other than that I didn’t feel any profound aesthetic attraction to them. As my journey through the lab moved away from them, however, their purpose became clearer. For me, they served as a jumping off point for considering spatial and mechanical relationships and for imagining potential applications for transforming designs.
With degrees in both sculpture and mechanical engineering, Hoberman’s work naturally spans artistic, architectural, medical, robotic, and most likely further applications beyond my imagination. Beyond the larger interactive sculptures, there is an area of the gallery with cardboard models that explore how particular shapes transform when extended out and repeated. Such as these…
The photo below shows aluminum joints forming one section that, if repeated over and over, would create the framework for the expanding and contracting spheres Hoberman is known for. I was taken by what a lovely piece of art this framework is on its own! The dramatic lighting certainly brings some great shadows into play.
Below, the gallery’s prismatic structure diagram shows how each of the basic forms (a cube, a pentagon, etc.) might look when extended out to create repeat patterns.
There are also a couple of videos in the gallery that illustrate the range and complexity of the many projects Hoberman’s team has produced. It’s a lot to take in, but the gallery staff was terrifically skilled in their enlightening narrations and clarifications.
After saying farewell to the Le Laboratoire staff, I decided to treat myself to lunch next door at Cafe ArtScience. The cafe is also the brainchild of Le Laboratoire’s founder David Edwards. I didn’t order off the unique cocktail list, but I enjoyed a good lunch in the modern, white, naturally lit space.
Le Laboratoire has only been there since August 2014, when founder David Edwards decided to open a second iteration of his Paris-based gallery of the same name. There’s an ice skating rink right across from Le Laboratoire and the Cafe. The gallery folks told me it can be a pretty active skating scene.
I almost never get off the T in the biomedical realm of Kendall Square, and rarely get there unless it’s to go to the movies at the Kendall Square Cinema. It was fun to take in the scene of an evolving Kendall Square in daylight. I think the gallery’s roster of upcoming ArtScience talks looks pretty good, so I’d like to make some more visits there.
The “Ten Degrees” exhibit is at Le Laboratoire through January 7. If you’re in the Boston/Cambridge area, plan a visit. Time’s a-ticking, so get moving. You’ll get so much more out of it being there yourself.
Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!