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Sand Garden: Zen, Sisyphus and the Dalai Lama

The Sisyphus is a series of art installations by Bruce Shapiro where a steel sphere moves as if by magic over sand creating stunningly beautiful patterns that are then quickly erased by the sphere again. From the artist:

“Watching the sand paths being slowly and methodically created, only to be erased and redone, I was reminded of the myth of Sisyphus, a man condemned to forever roll a boulder up a hill only to find the next day that it had rolled back to the start.”

The magic is actually accomplished by controlling the steel sphere with a magnet in motion under the table, a deceptively simple design. Besides Greek mythology, the amazing work may remind us of a zen sand garden or the Tibetan Sand Mandalas.

Make up your religious and philosophical musings at will, the art is definitely inspiring and hypnotizing as we can watch the sphere slowly create – and destroy – the patterns. Sisyphus II can be seen in the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Learning Technology Center and the Sisyphus III was installed at Technorama, The Swiss Science Center, near Zurich.

Keep reading for more videos, images and links of the Sisyphus series and other works by Shapiro.


Revealing the magic: below the Sisyphus you can see the control system, in this case a rod that rotates with the magnet capable of moving alongside it. Shapiro originally used an xy system, deciding on the polar axes for his later implementations.

Both the video above and the one at the beggining of this post come from the Sisyphus III at the Technorama in Switzerland. HIgher resolution videos and even a screensaver (!) are available for download at their website (scroll down).

An interview with the man, including footage of his Eggbot and Ribbon Dancers, along with other wonderful feats:

Be sure not to miss Bruce Shapiro’s website. Buddha would have loved it and I wonder what would be Dalai Lama’s face upon seeing the Sisyphus. [via cgr v2.0 – it’s back!]

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