Bill Smith’s work integrates the elaborate range of media and techniques—along with the subtle influence of environment—employed by contemporary artists today. Smith, who lives and works in the American Midwest, on the outskirts of St. Louis, is one of the few artists whose education evolved from diesel mechanics to sculpture. His ability to tinker with machinery and his feel for mechanical, Rube Goldberg–like processes underlie his startlingly complex artistic practice.
His Magnetically stabilized, air driven, computer interfaced, chaotic emu egg pendulum (2011) is just that and more. This installation’s carefully choreographed chain reaction ultimately triggers the projection of images on to the gallery walls. The sequence begins with a delicate metal pendulum, affixed on top of a floating emu egg. Rare earth magnets attached to the egg, under the water, keep it floating tensely upright and the pendulum straight up, tightly quivering. Despite this construction, air slowly accumulates in a cup-shaped bell beneath the egg, causing it to chaotically and progressively destabilize. As the air bubbles up, its buoyancy overwhelms the magnets’ hold, which causes the pendulum to rock until it touches a small metal receptor, completing a circuit that triggers the projection of an image. This sequence of events also projects a short line segment, the accretion of which shows the artist if there is any directional bias in the pendulum, caused by drafts or other factors. Then, the tinkering artist can tinker and, whether by mechanical or digital means, make corrections. The egg, air released, recenters, and the process starts again.