Eye-catching works of art that celebrate community and place. Dazzling lights, vibrant colors, and thoughtful design that transcend the typical daily human experience. Larger-than-life kinetic sculptures that soar high into the sky and dance among the sun and stars. Sculptures that react to your heartbeat, your touch, or a video on your smartphone. These are just a few of the bold undertakings of Creative Machines, a visionary design and fabrication firm that specializes in creating interactive experiences and permanent sculptural works of art for public spaces all around the world.
Located in the sunny outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, the Creative Machines workshop stretches high into the vast blue sky — it’s hard to miss. The colorfully painted 77,000 sf workshop is devoted entirely to pushing the boundaries of art production, comprehensive design, and advanced interactive technology. Founded by Artistic Director and Principal Artist Joseph O’Connell in 1995, Creative Machines is one of the largest artist-run design and fabrication studios in the world. The imaginative work that Creative Machines dream up and bring to life is all about one thing; enriching public spaces with interactive, sculptural artwork that engages people from all walks of life.
O’Connell and his diverse staff at Creative Machines consist of designers, engineers, architects, fabricators, and project managers – all united by a shared vision of creativity, enthusiasm, and respect. Together they specialize in designing, fabricating, and installing large-scale sculptural works. Sophisticated engineering, groundbreaking electronics, and community engagement give them the ability to not only transform a site but reflect its mission and spirit.
Looking through Creative Machine’s portfolio of work, you can see that light, color, motion, and interactivity are the connective threads. The emotive power of light and its ability to activate a space is not lost on Creative Machines, and their understanding of interactivity goes much deeper than technology. It encompasses the careful analysis of sight-lines — placing sculptures where people can influence them, creating shapes that invite exploration and forms that encourage people to communicate with each other. In a world of screens, Creative Machines’ sculptures remind people that they still have bodies. By offering multiple ways to engage with a work of art, their sculptures activate the senses of each viewer in an individualized way.
Placemaking Art Creates Lasting Impressions
In 2013, Creative Machines was offered a neglected highway underpass in San Antonio, TX that divided two neighborhoods and transformed it into Ballroom Luminoso, a sculpture with six suspended chandeliers that combine imagery from two cultures. This project won the 2013 SXSW Transformative Design Award and prompted the City to turn the underpass into a community park. For Chinook Arc in Calgary, they developed an innovative technology that allows people to control the lighting of a monumental acrylic “cloud.” The sculpture was inspired by local weather and cloud patterns in the region.
In San Diego, they installed Growing Home, an 18 ft. high stainless steel seashell sculpture perforated with laser-cut text that tells the history of the city. The text is arranged in bands that spiral down the shell — the same way a real shell grows from one season to the next. At night the patterns of the text project onto its surroundings through internal LED lighting, bathing the immediate surroundings in light and color while also operating as a beacon from a distance. The sculpture provides an enriching experience both during the day and night, something Creative Machines sculptures are known for. Growing Home invites interaction with a seat at its base for visitors to sit and pose for a picture, something the local community calls a “shellfie” (check out #park12shellfie on Instagram). At the Four Seasons Hotel in Abu Dhabi, there is As Above, So Below, a series of celestial-themed pieces that adorn a pedestrian walkway of the hotel near the waterfront. These ephemeral pieces represent spiritual symbols of the region and beautify the space by enhancing the physical presence of the plaza, leaving a lasting impression on visitors, and differentiating itself from other nearby hotels.
Examples of how Creative Machines’ artwork enriches spaces are countless; couples have gotten married at least three of their sculptures. A Tucson area school has adopted their local sculpture, Toby, as a mascot. Families make weekly pilgrimages to Cocoon. Areas that were originally isolated and sparse have given way to community parks due to a Creative Machines sculpture being installed nearby.
Adding Value to Public Spaces Through Artistic Landmarks
All of Creative Machines 50 + art pieces are deeply rooted in place and the human experience of making meaningful connections to oneself and others. “The goal is to create art that enriches everyday life — to create art that lends itself to an atmosphere of participation, curiosity, and connection to something outside of oneself,” says Founder Joseph O’Connell. “We view each piece we make as an opportunity to improve the public’s experience of place and transform a site. People in several cities have told us that we have captured something elusive about their identity and given it back to them in tangible form.”
Art contributes enormously to the cultural, aesthetic, and economic vitality of space, and public art, in particular, plays an especially crucial role in this endeavor. Public art has long been seen as a means to promote a community’s identity, but it goes much deeper than that. Large-scale sculptural artwork cultivates pride and a sense of belonging among residents and visitors while enhancing the quality of life for those who experience it daily. Investments in placemaking art have proven to raise the public profile of a city, hospitality setting, or any other destination. Placemaking art serves communities and businesses in a variety of ways — bringing unique destinations to life, strengthening the characteristics of a location, and honoring local values and history. Creative Machines has a demonstrated ability to create buzzworthy artistic landmarks that aid in the overall recognition of place — they have achieved that and so much more for the clients and communities they serve with their art.