On View: An ‘Incredible Machine’ That Sometimes Works, Sometimes Doesn’t—And it’s All Good

The intertwining relationship between science and art is the focus of the current education-based exhibit at the Honolulu Museum of Art at Spalding House. Inquiring Finds: The Science Behind the Art separates the objects into five themes: ceramics, photography, color and perspective, the process of decay (morbid, but an entirely natural phenomenon nonetheless), and physics.

The Incredible Machine, by Ross Mukai, is inspired by the work of the inventor and cartoonist Reuben Lucius “Rube” Goldberg, and installed within Inquiring Finds’s kinetic art section. It’s one of the most fascinating pieces in the exhibition.

Goldberg was born in 1883 in San Francisco and is known for his comic illustrations, sculptures, engineering works, and for his invention of these brilliant machines. A Rube Goldberg machine is an assemblage of a variety of objects arranged and organized in an intricate, overly complicated way with the function of performing a simple task. In Mukai’s machine, the goal is to turn on a DVD player that plays OK Go’s music video of their single, “This Too Shall Pass,” which also features a Rube Goldberg machine.


Mukai, a Honolulu based designer and member of Oahu Makerspace, designed and installed The Incredible Machine for this exhibition. According to the Honolulu Museum of Art blog, Aaron Padilla, curator for Spalding House, hit dead ends when finding an artist to illustrate kinesis in the exhibition. Mukai was recommended and accepted the challenge.

“He was open to the idea and had the equipment to make something like that,” says Aaron in the HMA blog article. “I like that he was completely new to me and wasn’t already attached to the museum in some way. [...] Even though [The Incredible Machine] doesn’t work all the time, it’s kind of a blessing—it speaks to the idea of problem solving, and figuring things out, and trial and error, successes and failures, which are all part of the process of art-making and science.”

Inquiring Finds: The Science Behind the Art is on view until July 6.
This article is produced in collaboration with The Art History Club at the University of Hawaii.

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