mechanical artwork by jo fairfax generates japanese zen gardens

mechanical artwork by jo fairfax generates japanese zen gardens

artist jo fairfax created automated drawing machines inspired by japanese zen gardens. the artist’s programming experience coupled with his appreciation for the sensibility of zen gardens, led him to design this mechanical artwork. 

iron filings charge as magnets rotate



the artist took inspiration from a TV program that featured a walkthrough of japanese zen gardens. he watched how a zen garden gardener spoke about his sensitivity towards the different elements that took part in the making of such landscapes. the forms and materiality of the gardens appealed to fairfax and he set about making machines to recreate a similar aesthetic.

motion sensor activates the motor and movement of the magnets



the machines generate shapes in iron filings, in response to people approaching them. fairfax programmed an arduino uno to set off a mechanism with integrated magnets below the platform of iron filings. each time a viewer approaches the machine, it starts to ‘draw’ and agitate the black particles, moving them around the platforms. slowly the drawings become three dimensional and the sense of the magnets’ tracing becomes visible.

charged iron filings sway as magnets move creating a texturized surface



the charged iron filings create varying geometric clusters that shape the zen gardens. the drawing machines reveal the forces acting on them, imitating grass and sand that react to the natural force of the wind. the gesture of the viewer’s movement that activates the machine coupled with the magnetic power makes the artwork become a dialogue of forces… elegant and subtle, just like a zen garden.


a wave pattern produced mechanically


iron filings build up forms over time revealing geometric traces

the zen garden drawing machines reveal a physical result of the forces acting on them

the machines create ongoing three dimensional drawings

zen garden machine

each mechanical garden has a motor and series of magnets that create forms in iron filings


an arduino uno is placed in each artwork 



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: cristina gomez | designboom

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