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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Domino Art

15,000 tiles, as beautiful as it is amazing
(quite modest by some standards).

In writing about art every day for over seven years now (since August 10, 2010), I've often felt the need and curiosity to go in search of the newest, weirdest, strangest, funniest, biggest, smallest, or most obnoxious types of art known to man. This ongoing quest more often centers around unusual art materials so common in everyday use most people would never even consider them as an expressive or creative item associated with art. Alternatively, maybe they've seen such materials used in such a manner but never considered as art. Yet, I wouldn't be exaggerating too much to say that there's hardly a day goes by in which some creative genius doesn't "invent" a new type of art; then popularize it over the Internet; the photos or video goes viral; records are set; others try breaking those records; while others see in it a profitable venture. Sometimes, within a matter of months, we are "blessed" with another fascinating type of art.

Spirals have the advantage of not requiring any camera movement.
You'd better watch this one sitting down.

There's likely very few of us who haven't viewed a video of several thousand "dominos" carefully arranged in such a manner so that tipping just one, sets off a spectacular chair reaction, sometimes lasting for several minutes. We've even applied such a spectacle to political, social, and military thinking, what we term the "domino theory," in which one, perhaps relatively minor event, triggers a host of others, which may escalate into something cataclysmic. Civil disturbances often demonstrate this phenomena. On a global scale, the U.S. fought the Vietnam War based in part of such a unsubstantiated fear, that every nation on the Indochina peninsula would fall to Communism if South Vietnam was reunited with North Vietnam.

Dominoland - 3 Guinness World Records.
Notice the unexpected halt in the chain reaction and
the underwater smile face,
As with toppling countries, for dominos to become a part of a chain reaction, conditions and their arrangement must be near perfect. One might think that those who create such works of art would worry most about their hours of work being accidentally destroyed by one wrong move. But in fact, when all is said and done, the countdown ends, the tiles begin to tumble, their biggest concern tends to be that some miscalculation will suddenly bring an unexpected halt to the chain of tiny, tipping, timely, tumbling events--their toppling tiles won't all fall over as planned. If it all works, there is applause from the audience. If it doesn't, there may arise an embarrassing, sympathetic moan for the patient protagonists. In any case, the whole act is seen mostly as entertainment rather than as an art form.

Biggest Spiral Ever Made! (84,790 Dominoes, a world's record)

Yet, as I've mentioned a few times before with regards to such art forms as fireworks, fountains, landscaping, topiary, bonsai, and several other more obscure types of art, it's when art and science work together hand-in-hand, guided by a gifted artist, that some of our most spectacular art takes place. This is especially true when there is added the fourth dimensional element of time to such works. What would a movie be, even given this merging of art and science, if it consisted of only one image? Domino art is all about the science (engineering) having to do with gravity, friction, placement, angles, and probably some other more obscure physics lessons all spread out over a period of time. Anyone want to venture a guess as to how long it takes 50,000 dominos to fall over?
At around $300, the ideal gift for the Domino player who has everything.
Dominos may be a relatively recent development in the realm of art but they've been around as a game for centuries. The oldest mention of dominoes was written during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) by an author who listed pupai (gambling plaques or dominoes), as well as dice as items sold by peddlers during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong of Song, 1162–1189. Sailors on trading ships found them to be an ideal means of killing time while on long ocean voyages, gradually spreading the game first to Italy then the rest of Europe and around the world. Today a decent set of 28 dominos can be purchases for as little as $14, or a luxury set (above) for around $300. Neither would be ideal for toppling. There's no record as to who may have been the first to do so, but the International Domino Day exhibition in the Netherlands dates back only to 1986. The record number for a single installation (now destroyed) is 4,345,028.

The Rube Goldberg Incredible Science Machine
--200,000 dominoes. First a word from their sponsors.
Set back and relax, this one takes a while.

Domino artists, even when they set world records, are seldom famous. Often they work as a team. They do, however, sometimes turn a profit from sponsors of their artistic stunts. Who would have imagined that knocking over dominos could become an advertising medium? And, as if spending several fourteen-hour days setting up such international art events weren't demanding enough, each setup requires many more hours of thought, design, and experimentation to make sure it all "works." Add to that the fact that some such domino artists have a "Rube Goldberg" streak inherent in their psyche, and what starts out as a work of art, begins to assume the qualities of a science experiment involving chemistry, centrifugal force, mathematics, weights, balances, mass, and magic (or so it might seem, anyway).
Don't forget, you'll also need a good deal of floor space too.
Toppling tiles, from the
tiny to the titanic.
If all of this seems to "heavy" for our artist's minds, there are shortcuts in the form of domino kits on the market (Domino Rally and Domino Express, above) ranging in price from $19 to $25 containing up to ninety pieces including items similar or identical to some of the accessories seen in these videos. Speaking of money, the "dominos" (really just blank tiles usually made of wood or plastic), come at a cost of around $75 per thousand for multi-colored plastic to a mere $30 per thousand for the standard black variety made of wood. More exotic items such as plastic tiles of a single color (virtually any color) cost around $14 per hundred. It might also surprise you (it did me) that competition dominos come in five sizes as seen at left. Also, if you plan to indulge in Domino Art, be aware that one of the most vital items in your "art bin" are what's known as a "fall walls" (bottom). They are simply a breaker in-stalled at various intervals along the line during setup as a means to limit any damage due to an accidental triggering of a premature presentation of your art work.

Spectacular Domino Rally Stunt

The size and height depend
upon the size tiles being used.


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