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home > Art Projects > Michael Flechtner "Better Mousetrap"

Guy Marsden

Artwork Engineering

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Michael Flechtner
"Better Mousetrap"
Public art on Wilshsire Blvd. at Brockton in West Los Angeles, CA.
 Installed October 9, 1999.
Architectural view
Michael had a very clear idea of the animations that he wanted to see happen in this neon artwork.
The 3 panels have neon animations which interact with each other.

Close view of 3 panels

The gyroscope on the left is constantly spinning and it "throws" 1 of 3 food items across
the 3 panels at the crab, which then catches the burger, bottle or fish in it's claw.
The dipping bird in the center sometimes bobs down and stays there, and then
later, bobs up and remains up for a while.  This allows conceptual room for the food
to fly over it's head while down, and when it's head is up, the crab can throw pearls
into the glass with it's other claw.

The complexity of this animation required that I break it down into 3 control systems
each with it's own computer.  I used Basic Stamp microcontrollers for this project
since they are easy to program on site.

Detail of electronics showing lighted graphics
The central control box contained all 3 microcontrollers, the control relays for all the circuits
in the center panel. Two more boxes contained the relays that controlled the side panels.
The box also contains an illuminated graphic of the whole artwork.  The graphic identifies
all the circuits by color, and small LED lamps indicate which circuits are active.  I used
this as an aid while adjusting the programming on-site, since I couldn't see the neon from
inside the wall!

The crawl space is accessed from the parking lot behind the artwork via a 24" square metal door.
Michael and I sweated in close quarters for a day to install the controls and wire them up.
Image of control box

Unfortunately, Michael was forced to compromise on the complex concept for his animations
as the owner of the building received several calls that the work was "broken".
The original animations as described above were slow and based on a narrative that was
too slow and confusing for the average viewer to grasp.  People thought that the dipping
bird was "stuck" since it stayed in place for up to 1 minute.  Michael had me re-program
the neon to be more hyper-kinetic like a traditional neon sign.  Thus flying objects now
fly right "through" the dipping bird's head as it repeatedly bobs up and down.

If this work had been presented in a museum or gallery environment the expectations
would have been different, and the animations would be be better appreciated.

Contact Michael Flechtner at:

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