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Tom Foulsham-The Table that can Tell Stories And Other Contraptions

An intriguing insight into the workings of mechanisms, everyday science and the interaction and play between machine and spectator

Written by Valerie Pezeron

Tom2Man Making Machine © Tom Foulsham

Minnie Weisz’s studio, online a one-storey alcove of delightfully quirky art concealed underneath Kings Cross’s railway arches, is currently harboring the perfect antidote to the last-minute Christmas shopping overdose. Artist, designer, engineer and inventor Tom Foulsham currently exhibits a series of machines that defy easy categorization since his work is a fine blend of sculpture, architecture and installation art. The perfect interaction between all the different parts constitutes the core of elaborate systems that dazzle by their sheer ingenious flair and complexity.

CIMG1402Tom Foulsham Wiggle Table Photograph © Valerie Pezeron

Ron Arad says of him: “ …Tom can actually solve most mechanical problems and realise them against all odds…all sorts of contraptions like a book page-turning device that is activated by the wasting burning candle, and lots of old leather suitcases stuffed with intricate devices that would make Heath Robinson proud.” The Armchair Balance illustrates this best. Especially commissioned for Minnie Weisz’s space, the seamlessly gravity-defying apparatus at times appears to swivel out of control yet remains astonishingly together. I am told it offered entertaining obstacles for visitors at the show’s opening who were forced to approach the laser lights-like tentacles without touching for fear of total structure collapse! The artist used Minnie Weisz’s books to balance his second-hand chair and the final result beggars belief.

CIMG1403Tom Foulsham Arcmhair Balance Photograph © Valerie Pezeron

Foulsham could be the poster boy for that old cliché of the visionary eccentric scientist left to his own device in an antiquated shop full of strange and exciting mechanisms and other contraptions. Born in 1981, Tom Foulsham studied Architecture at the Bartlett and was an architectural assistant at Arad Associates. He went on to study Design Products MA at the Royal College of Art, graduating this summer 2009, under the tutorledge of Ron Arad. He exhibited his ‘ Balancing Shelves’ at Pecha Kucha ICA in 2007. He showed his ‘Candle Balance’ as part of the V&A group exhibition ‘In Praise of Shadows’ in September 2009.

Breathing House Video © Valerie Pezeron

Tom Foulsham’s work is completely capturing the zeitgeist; the art world, like society, is beginning to go full-circle with technology. “ We’re going back to craft,” Minnie Weisz says. “It’s been the digital age where we press a button and we don’t really know how that happens. We’re going back to skill.” Foulsham masterfully manipulates raw, organic and fine materials in a quick and dynamic manner that arch back to older days; built in two weeks for this exhibition, the Man Making machine is reminiscent of the industrial revolution era in its use of soft and fragrant paraffin. The artist enjoys devising spidery contraptions with simple technologies where nothing is hidden. “It’s a fine balancing act,” I am told. “The sculptures are fragile and delicate yet still strong enough for the public to interact with.”

Candle Balance © Tom Foulsham on Vimeo.

“I was always taking things apart and then putting them back together again, making things”, Tom tells me about his boyhood. It all sounds so much better than today’s chair bound assisted computer fun. He must have had a wonderful childhood. Tom agrees, “I was making my own toys, playing around with cardboard boxes and toying with little models and knots and bolts. Once I had worked out how something worked, I knew I could make it 20 times bigger”.

CIMG1407Wiggle Sketch © Paul Benny

Foulsham is a man with great ambitions. The machines/sculptures are also conceived as small-scaled versions of what is to later become life-size or even more colossal. Some of it would work well in front of an industrial museum like the Pompidou centre, I tell him like the Breathing House that is not meant to remain miniature for long. Surprisingly, Foulsham claims Quentin Blake and his “scrappy” style as an influence as well as other balancing sculptures. “My references come from all over the place.” What’s more striking is the sense of play in it all; sculpture as toy from the burnt ephemera of the Man Making Machine to the Wiggle Table. “Tom has quite surreal ideas but packages them to create something that is tangible and that people can have different experiences of. It does not dictate one view of looking and understanding. Yes, it’s scientific. We’ve had many children here who think it’s magic!”

Wiggle Table Video © Valerie Pezeron

The Wiggle Machine is a crowd pleaser and the blockbuster of this exhibition. “Like the Frankenstein of itself”, Foulsham says. He created a new typeface and a new take on the classic machine blue for this multifaceted jiggling box that grabs the current news and blurts out very serious content in a twist. “The Prime Minister says the …” and the vibrations don’t make me take the news seriously at all…The enigma machine, Second World War cockpits and 1960’s computers all spring into mind. “We’ve had séances here” Minnie Weisz says.

Tom1© Tom Foulsham

This exhibition is worth the visit and it’s not everywhere that the artist himself introduces you to his artwork. That is why it’s by appointment only throughout 2010. It is best to call in advance for January, I am told. The gallery is currently in festive mode and has asked the surface designer Pippa Johnson to wrap the gallery arch with a specially commissioned illustration over the windows throughout the holiday period.

Minnie Weisz Studio, Under the Arches, 123 Pancras Road, London NW1 1UN. Tube: King’s Cross.


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