Well, I’m Nina Williams, and I’m Naum Gabo’s daughter. He was a constructivist sculptor. He was born in 1890, a pioneer of constructivism, and this little box was made to amuse me when I was about, I suppose, three or four, or even smaller, and Gabo called it a ballet. And it’s based on… he based it on Chess, because Chess was one of his passions. And it works on static electricity. It pulls them up to the plastic surface. This is part of the Gabo archive which came to the Tate, because it’s better that it should be accessible to people, and it isn’t if it’s in a house in Kent!
It would have been made during the War. It was made in England, I’m quite sure, because the box is an ancient English cigarette box, because at that time Gabo smoked, and he obviously just… during the War that weren’t that many toys available for children, so all the toys I had tended to be home-made. I had a doll’s house which my mother made with my father, and with some furniture in it, and I had dolls that were just made by hand – and this, but I wasn’t allowed to play with this without tremendous supervision, and Gabo did it for me, so it was a sort of teatime treat that he would get this out and show it to me. And he would start it off with one figure and then add a few more as the electricity built up, and they would all dance. And the globe came much later, and it’s bigger, which is nicer, because they can dance better.
I don’t think he thought of them as works of art at all, I think he thought of them as toys for his daughter. Somewhere at home I’ve still got a sort of penny whistle thing that he made for me. If I can find it, it has to come here, but I don’t know where it is at the moment.
This little figure was always described as the King in the ballet, as such. He’s got a bit of something attached to it. That was the King, a little figure, red on one side and blue on the other, a little bit of paper. Another little bit of even lighter paper which was the Queen, and then a couple of tiny little Japanese lantern things that one used to make as a child. Some of the shapes are shapes that appear in his work, and it’s part of the man, it’s the human side of the man, it’s the non-artist side of the man – the father making things for his child.
End of recording