Wen-Ying Tsai



Wen-Ying Tsai 1928–2013
Metal, concrete, wood and motor
Object: 2654 x 1803 x 1803 mm
Purchased 1972

Not on display

Catalogue entry

Wen-Ying Tsai born 1928

T01521 Umbrella 1971

Not inscribed
Steel rods on cylindrical concrete base containing vibrating motor, 104 1/2 x 71 x 71 (265.5 x 180 x 180), plus stroboscopic light and audio feedback control device
Purchased from the artist through the Galerie Françoise Mayer, Brussels (Grant-in-Aid) 1972
Exh: Wen-Ying Tsai: Sculptures cybernétiques, Galerie Françoise Mayer, Brussels, November 1971 (works not listed)
Lit: Jonathan Benthall, 'Cybernetic Sculpture of Tsai' in exh. Catalogue Tsai, Hayden Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., February-March 1971, n.p.

Tsai began in 1966 to make cybernetic sculpture composed of vibrating rods lit by high-frequency strobes. Jonathan Benthall has described their mode of operation as follows: 'Each consists of a number of stainless steel rods set on a platform vibrating at a constant and unvarying rate of 20 to 30 cycles per second. But the flashing of the strobe makes the eye see the rods as oscillating asymmetrically. Each flash lasts for a few millionths of a second only, and the intervals between the flashes are of variable duration. When the rate of the flashes equals the rate of the vibrations of the rods - we may call this the synchronous rate - the motion of the rods appears stationary in the shape of an harmonic curve. When the rate of the strobe-flashes is altered to slightly slower or faster than the rate of the rods' vibrations, then the rods appear to be slowly undulating. The greater the deviation between the rate of the flashes and the constant harmonic motion of the rods, the more rapidly the rods appear to move. There is thus a range from relaxed undulation to excited palpitation. The direction of the apparent spiralling (clockwise or counterclockwise) depends on whether the rate of the strobe-flashing is above or below the synchronous rate.' Many of them, like this work, respond to sound by means of microphones which cause audio feedback control devices to vary the frequency of the strobe-flashes. Any noise above a whisper makes 'Umbrella' appear to quiver before resuming its normal rhythmical undulating movement.

Tsai said in August 1972 that this particular design, with a series of rods radiating from the top of a single vertical rod like the spokes of a wheel, was especially difficult to make successfully, and that since 1968 he had made no fewer than twenty-three versions of which only two functioned correctly, this one and one then still in his possession. The latter is presumably 'Horizonics' 1970, reproduced in the catalogue of his exhibition at the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, in June-July 1970.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.731, reproduced p.731

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