Design duo Isabel and Helen talk us through their handmade contraption that creates “imperfect perfect circles”

Drawn in by the machine’s infinite possibilities, the creative duo talk us through their latest contraption.

Date
29 September 2020
Reading Time
3 minutes

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Is it possible to create the perfect circle? As far as mathematics is concerned then yes, but in the physical world there’s no hard evidence that a perfect circle exists. Especially by hand, for the rough and spontaneous movements will likely lead to an unequal side or two. But what happens if you use technology and the precise movements of a machine, can a perfect circle exist then?

A machine creating art still remains as a dystopian thought, yet within the work of Isabel Gibson and Helen Chesner, the future has edged that little bit closer. Through the use of a handmade contraption, the duo have created a series of imperfect and perfect circles – a physical project and zine of the same name, published by Hato Press.

“The series started by trying to create almost perfect circles through handmade contraptions,” explains Isabel of how the idea for the project first came about. “Where the set up was often chaotic or spontaneous, the outcome itself is always ordered, calming and hypnotic.” The duo, working under the name of Isabel + Helen, have worked heavily within the realms of set design and interaction installation, so leaning towards a more robust, contraption-based project is somewhat of an expected turn.

Isabel and Helen both met while attending Chelsea College of Art in 2009 and, since then, they’ve worked together ever since, creating work that’s infused with simple kinetics and contraptions of every kind. Their work can be anything from mechanical to sculptural, with project briefs ranging from the likes of Craig Green, Moncler, Hermés to the Tate Modern and the London Design Festival – “we see these circles as an extension of our ongoing exploration of materials and mechanisms.”

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Isabel + Helen: Imperfect Perfect Circles (Copyright © Isabel + Helen, 2020)

Equally interested in the process as they are the output, the performance part of this remedial painting mechanism was an enticing endeavour – “the reveal of the mark”, to be specific, is what they find so captivating. So what you’re seeing in Imperfect Perfect Circles is a wooden structure that leads the way, where the paint brushes follow and mark the paper with each and every mechanical movement. “The action of setting up each piece is organic, yet the rotating platform gives it order by the boundary of the circle. The canvas controls the brushes, making the mark, forcing the brushes to follow a certain path – reflecting how we are controlled by our own surroundings and the rotation of earth itself,” Helen tells It’s Nice That. “The repetitive motion is representative of the world we have found ourselves in the past few months.”

Interested in the contraption’s “infinite, never ending nature”, the duo were inadvertently excited by the prospect of creating something that had no end point. “There are so many variables to explore within the series,” says Isabel. “The slightest change in position of the brushes can lead to a whole new sequence.” But with this infinite freedom comes great infrequency, so who’s to say that what you’re looking at right now is indeed the epitome of a perfect circle?

The answer could rest in the fact that Imperfect Perfect Circles is a blend of both the human hand and the accuracy of the machine; the machine is given human spontaneity while the human is given precision, so there is no definite answer. Of the contraption itself, what you’re witnessing is a wooden frame holding paint laden brushes that are then attached in different configurations, “almost like constellations when viewed from above, orbiting around the paper, each making its own mark, or combining with another to create a new colour,” says Helen. This rotation on the paper is what creates the infinite circular mark – so even if it might not be an exact circle, it's a never-ending movement that’s heavenly to observe.

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Isabel + Helen: Imperfect Perfect Circles (Copyright © Isabel + Helen, 2020)

Above

Isabel + Helen: Imperfect Perfect Circles (Copyright © Isabel + Helen, 2020)

Above

Isabel + Helen: Imperfect Perfect Circles (Copyright © Isabel + Helen, 2020)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and continued to work with us on a freelance basis. From November 2019 she joined the team again, working with us as a Staff Writer on Mondays and Tuesdays until August 2020.

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