Cameron Robbins, artist/scientist/engineer/inventor/musician/alchemist has special interests to do with natural phenomena and the way it is documented or the way it can illustrate itself – think of the marks left in the dust as a lizard walks through, or branches and leaves, wheelie bins and sandwich boards strewn across the road at the break of spring. For the human, teardrops on a letter or layered rubber from a random burnout are familiar self illustrations.
In Robbins’ work he takes us on an important journey to the grass roots, the first principals we recall in elementary science – air has volume, air has weight, air is compressible, air supports combustion and so on with apparatus and confirming tests as proof and with the inevitable lab reports. So it went at school with magnetism, light, sound, the pendulum, electricity and the behaviour of liquids. These were the basics that took us later into the specialties of physics, geography and environmental science. We developed logic for investigation and argument, discovery and the communication of ideas and in fact for the description of place/time. He reminds us in his art of our obsession to visualise the invisible as a way of understanding nature and the laws/lores. We are also reminded of that crime-scene way of reading a site and the skills of the forensic scientist. In fact much contemporary art rather than giving the full picture like a pictorial chocolate box lid, invites exploration and interaction far beyond recognition and safety of the familiar.
Many of us have memory of instruments that draw long graphs like a composer’s jagged score. They describe seismic disturbance, map brain waves and reveal temperature fluctuations – paper, motion, delicate arm, nib and ink. The modern instruments are now major players in beeping hospital dramas and disaster reports, predicting, recording, giving form and authority to time and event. Weather instruments once protected in the white box Stevenson’s Screen of the Bureau of Meteorology are now reinvented and exposed with new sculptural presence as Robbins’ wind drawing machines. Portable or site specific the intention and function are clear but the results are surprising, beautiful, documentary and poetic.
For some years the Portable Wind Powered Drawing Machine has travelled extensively from east to west across the South coast of Australia from cyclone site and art gallery window to city hills and jetty shed. Its construction from found and readymade objects draws us into the intelligence of its assemblage and the humour of making-do engineering. “Created in response to the self-illustrating phenomena of the Chaos Theory” explains Robbins, “… It has two mechanical axes for drawing: wind speed drives the drawing arm in an elliptical eccentric orbit responsive to the dynamics, and the wind direction orientates the paperboard on a swivel. Simple ink pens, water soluble, are used”.
Once set up for operation and tuned then tweaked for the expected forces, the wind operated drawing machine is set to work. The drawings document the machine’s business with wind and the effect of sun and rain layered on the same sheet. While the drawings are beautiful objects in themselves, fine, concentrated, random, chaotic, restrained, spotted, flooded, warped, layered or eroded, they hold time, energy and place, as their content.
A recent evolution of the apparatus has been the site
specific construction, effectively returning the recording process to
the protection of a remote meteorological station. Cutting through roof,
ceiling and floors, now there is a different scale, architecture is involved
as support and context. It probably has its roots in the industrial archaeology
of flour mills and steam driven pump-houses; but is also beautifully consistent
with today’s environmental design where the building is as much
machine as container.