Artist behind iconic installation dies at 95

MIMO: Patrons spend some time looking at a 26-foot tall audiokinetic sculpture affectionately nicknamed MIMO in the Micronesia Mall center court. George Rhoads, the artist commissioned by the mall's developer to create the iconic piece, died last month at the age of 95. Photo courtesy of the Micronesia Mall

For almost 40 years it's been the centerpiece of the Micronesia Mall, a tower filled with surprises and delight that's been affectionately nicknamed MIMO.

George Rhoads, the man commissioned to create the 26-foot-tall "audiokinetic" sculpture, died last month in Loudun, France, at the age of 95. The artist made a name for himself constructing elaborate pieces that featured balls rolling and dropping through rails, coils and pendulums.

"Each pathway that the ball takes is a different 'drama,' as I call it, because the events happen in a certain sequence analogous to drama, where the ball gets into certain difficulties, ... and then there's some kind of dramatic conclusion," Rhoads told Creative Machines in an interview uploaded in 2015.

Later in the video, he said: "I'm always trying to achieve randomness in these pieces, because mechanical motion is regular – by its nature, almost. A motor goes around a set pattern and at a set speed, usually. So I introduce randomness in various ways ... semirandomness, it's not true randomness, but I get as close as I can."

Rhoads was commissioned to create a sculpture, formally named "Pelota Pagoda," for Guam in the summer of 1987 by Joseph Chua, managing director of Goodwind Development Corp., according to the Micronesia Mall. The piece is filled with the artist's trademarks, including a helix, a corkscrew-shaped ramp, a loop-the-loop and a wok with a hole at its base – all caught in an interplay with balls of various sizes that create motion and sound through action and reaction.

"We are, in a way, enslaved by machines. Most of us don't know what's inside the housings, you know. But I want to make my machines accessible," Rhoads said in a 2002 interview with NPR. "I don't want to put anything in the piece that is incomprehensible. There's no intervening technology. You're confronting it eye to eye, and everything is tangible and real. And I think the public appreciates that."

Rhoads began making his moving art in the 1960s, according to a profile published in The Washington Post. He was an Army veteran, who served during World War II. Rhoads studied at the University of Wisconsin and the Art Institute of Chicago. He became adept at origami and assisted in building sculptures that included fountains. The flowing water in those pieces led Rhoads to explore movement in art.

"Why I did it is simply because it's fun to do," Rhoads said in 1988, explaining the idea behind one of his ball-machine sculptures, according to the profile. "The piece itself has no useful purpose. It's a machine that plays instead of works."

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