Determining the feasibility of building Len Lye's kinetic artwork Sun, land, and sea. (2015)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Thesis DisciplineMechanical Engineering
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
AuthorsO'Keefe, Alexandershow all
Internationally renowned New Zealand artist Len Lye (1901-1980) conceived a monumental size kinetic artwork called Sun, Land, and Sea. Although Lye was unable to build the artwork due to technological constraints at the time he proposed that Sun, Land, and Sea be created in the future when resources become available. The artistic performance involves generating travelling rucks in a slender flat-lying strip, which Lye termed a “serpent”, along with creating resonant vibrations of the same strip partially lifted from its foundation. In this thesis, mathematical models are developed to describe the deformed shapes and travelling rucks observed in a serpent. Results of these models are used to predict the feasibility of creating the artwork at the size which Lye proposed using currently available materials and technology. A review of Lye‟s written descriptions and small scale models regarding the artwork established performance characteristics required in the full size artwork. Dimensionless parameters describing a serpent and its performance were defined which ensure similarity between Lye‟s models and the full size artwork is maintained. The heavy elastica was used to describe the deformed shapes created by the travelling rucks and lifting of a serpent. An energy approach was adopted to establish a mathematical model for a travelling ruck. The energy required to create a travelling ruck and the effect of aerodynamic drag and material damping on its behaviour were quantified through analytical and experimental methods. The phenomenon of a slipping ruck was defined and a numerical model developed to describe its behaviour. Predictions made by mathematical models were validated by experiment at a laboratory scale. Results of the research were used to identify critical properties of a material that determine its suitability to facilitate the travelling ruck required in serpent. It was established that it is feasible to realise a serpent in the full sized artwork using pultruded glass-fibre reinforced plastic. The conceptual design of an actuating mechanism suitable for generating the travelling rucks and resonant vibrations in a serpent was developed. The motive forcing requirements were determined to be achievable with current actuation technology. A model size artwork embodying the performance of Sun, Land, and Sea was built and tested. Results of testing predict that the design solutions developed in this research will generate the performance of a serpent consistent with Lye‟s intentions for the full size work.