Using Oversize Art to Highlight the World’s Biggest Problems

Patrick Shearn, Poetic Kinetics
Presented byPresented by Kia
Mar 7, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Tosten Burks is a contributor for Passion of the Weiss. He has written for The Fader, GOOD, Grantland, and VICE.

This profile is part of TakePart’s “Re-Visionaries” series, in which we highlight people who are shaking things up—and making a difference—in their field and community.

Patrick Shearn’s art collective, Poetic Kinetics, builds large-scale installations and contraptions that take nature as subject and toy. It was behind the giant caterpillar that turned into a butterfly over the course of last year’s Coachella and built a 26-foot terra-cotta puppet warrior for the Beijing Olympics. With the collective’s next project, Shearn hopes for nothing less than to stop climate change—using a time-traveling robot carrying documentation of the planet’s destruction and urgent calls for change from 50 years in the future. He talked about it with TakePart.

TakePart: How do you define Poetic Kinetics’ art practice?

Patrick Shearn: We believe very heavily in collaboration. We have an amazing, eclectic group of scientists and artists and artisans and fabricators. We look very heavily toward scientific principles and illusion. We like taking things we understand and showing them in a different way. Our fire ceilings are a good example of that.

TakePart: How did the collective start?

Shearn: We’re all filmmakers, coming from the film industry, and people going to Burning Man together. That group of people was camping at Burning Man and doing stuff for Burning Man. Somebody saw one of our big projects there, a big giant flower we built. They had a project going to the Beijing Olympics. They needed a giant puppet show to be made with a 26-foot-tall terra-cotta warrior and a 16-foot-tall girl. Once we did that for the Beijing Olympics, it was nonstop.

TakePart: Where does the team draw inspiration?

Shearn: Science. Nature is one of our starting points, for sure. We’re very interested in magic and illusion, creating things you don’t expect.

TakePart: What are you working on now?

Shearn: We’re creating a piece of sculpture that moves very slowly that we’ll shoot in time-lapse. The story is 50 years in the future. Global warming has happened. Mankind is looking at extinction. Mass starvation is happening. It’s really, really bad. So humans do this Manhattan Project–style effort to solve time travel.

We’re interested in producing this project as a series of webisodes that would be ongoing. The idea is that we need to create a mascot, a voice, a public face for global warming. It’s so widespread and so varied. There are all these scientific papers and all this documentation, but it’s really dense. It’s hard to get your head around. It’s too big for anybody to understand. We’re trying to distill it into the most narrative dramatic beats—coming from vetted accurate science. It’s history told from the future using real science from today.