Blurred Lines: Kinetic Art at M.A.D. Gallery

Intricate cog-work, nuts and bolts on full display in almost every piece, a full-fledged mechanical shark and, even, a humanoid robot: M.A.D. Gallery resembles, as the name suggests, a mad scientist’s lair – albeit one with the pieces neatly aligned, exquisitely polished and irresistibly artistic.

With coil light bulbs, brass wiring and arachnid-like legs, machine lights made by Berlin-based steel artist Frank Buchwald conjure up Frankenstein-esque scenes from classic sci-fi horror flicks. When you factor in that Buchwald moonlighted as a science-fiction illustrator until 1993, his inspiration becomes all but a mystery.

Above: Frank Buchwald, Type 5. Image courtesy of M.A.D.Gallery.
Right: Frank Buchwald, Type 1. Image courtesy of M.A.D.Gallery.

The young French prodigy Quentin Carnaille, meanwhile, uses his art to question themes like infinity, relativity and the notion of time itself. His Apesanteur II, a disk fashioned out of centennial mechanical watch components, uses magnetic energy to rotate perpetually as it floats above its mantle, leaving its spectators in awe.

Quentin Carnaille, Apesanteur II. Image courtesy of M.A.D.Gallery.

Across the hall sit Japanese artist Chicara Nagata’s altered motorcycles: building on vintage pieces such as the 1939 Harley Davidson flathead and the 1950 Meguro engine, Nagata goes on to add upwards of 500 pieces of carefully curated parts to each creation – from golden headlights to a brass fuel tank and fender, to an enlarged chrome exhaust pipe.

Chicara Nagata’s altered motorcycles. Image courtesy of M.A.D.Gallery.

This collection of aesthetically remarkable pieces, however, was not put together by a robotics enthusiast or a mechanical engineer; it was the brainchild of watchmaker Maximilian Büsser, founder of MB&F. ‘

“I have always believed that mechanical creations could be art,” he says. “At MB&F, we have always deconstructed traditional watchmaking to reconstruct it into pieces of kinetic art or mechanical sculptures.”

Realising he couldn’t possibly be the only one to be blurring the lines between mechanics and art, Büsser decided to seek out other artists attempting to do the same and bring them all under one roof. Thus was the genesis of the first Mechanical Art Device (M.A.D.) Gallery in Geneva, Switzerland. ‘We are like an orphanage welcoming the few artisan creators who believe beauty and craftsmanship still trump all else,’ he beams.

It was a passion project in its purest form: ‘We started the first gallery in Geneva hoping not to lose too much money,’ says Büsser, ‘and that maybe two or three visitors a day would discover our world.’ In its four years of existence, however, M.A.D. Gallery has welcomed more than 27,000 visitors and helped 25 artists live from their art.

The concept proved not only bold and successful, but also cross-continental, spawning offspring as far away as Taipei, Taiwan, as well as Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, where Büsser settled with his family 18 months ago. Championed by the Seddiqi family of watch importers – long-time partners of MB&F and personal friends of Büsser’s – M.A.D. Gallery Dubai provided a much-needed breathing room.

M.A.D. Gallery. Dubai. Image courtesy of the gallery.
M.A.D. Gallery, Dubai. Image courtesy of the gallery.

The emirate’s newly burgeoning art scene meant that the local – and regional – art community is not as rigid and set in its ways as its more established Western counterparts; an extremely diverse group that exists to defend its idea of art, design and craftsmanship.

‘Kinetic art is not art,’ Büsser bitterly remembers being told by one of the most famous art collectors in Geneva as he attempted to explain his concept. He realised, however, that the statement only meant that it was not interesting in a speculative sense: mature markets look at art as an investment rather than expression. ‘But not in Dubai,’ he smiles; ‘[people here] understand; they engage, they love. That is what art is about.’

It doesn’t take an entire essay or even a complex sentence to sum up Büsser’s curating process for his M.A.D. Gallery. He does it with just three words: ‘I collect memories.’ If a piece instils in him a thought, evokes a feeling or an experience that lingers after the original encounter – in other words, if the piece becomes reminiscent of its creator – it gains the Büsser seal of approval. ‘It makes me proud,’ he says, ‘that by helping [these artists] or buying their pieces, I allowed them to create their next one.’

Joe Dagher

Joe Dagher is a journalist, editor, translator and aspiring novelist. He writes and edits in English, Arabic and French for publications covering business, economics, lifestyle and culture in both Beirut and Dubai. Twitter: @joe_a_dagher Instagram: @joe.a.dagher