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Galleries | Cate McQuaid

Solving problems by degrees

Chuck Hoberman’s installation “10°,” at Le Laboratoire Cambridge.John Kennard/photographer

If you’ve played with a Hoberman sphere, you have a sense of Chuck Hoberman’s passions. The popular toy resembles conjoined geodesic domes; it expands and contracts on hinged joints. Hoberman went to art school and engineering school, and his work – which can be sculptural or architectural – melds the two. Everything he designs transforms.

David Edwards, the founder of Le Laboratoire Cambridge, invited Hoberman to challenge himself. “Chuck Hoberman: 10°,” now at Le Lab, features four interactive kinetic sculptures, each pushing 14 feet high and made of laser-cut steel. Origami writ large, they are composed of crisp shapes that fold on hinges when you manipulate their handles.


The title refers to a physics term, “degrees of freedom,” which has to do in this case with relative mobility. The pieces, “1°,” “2°,” etc., have varying degrees of freedom, but because of the way they rise and move, none of them appears rigid or restricted. A starfish-shaped piece, “2°” looks almost magically figural, waving arms and shifting legs as you rotate the rod attached to its center.

Design solves problems, and art asks questions. These works lean into design; formally, they’re not much to look at. Many of Hoberman’s creations have practical applications, as an ancillary display illustrates. His outfit, Hoberman Associates, devised portable shelters and an expanding video screen for a U2 tour. Lately, he’s been working on ideas that have prospects in nanotechnology.

The art, then, is all in the motion, which trips a perceptual wire as it reshapes a piece beyond what you might expect. That’s the transformative moment Hoberman strives for. The most complex piece, the dodecahedral “4°,” squashes, lifts, and blossoms like a geranium.

Hoberman’s previous large-scale sculptures were motorized. Viewers move these ones themselves and feel like part of the art. But ask someone else to man the controls, because as these works transform, they surprise from every angle – seeing that is as much fun as making them run.



At Le Laboratoire Cambridge, 650 East Kendall St., Cambridge, through Jan. 7. 617-945-7515, www.lelaboratoirecambridge.com

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.