From SF Weekly: The mechanical marvels of Ben Trautman defy categorization
Trautman has a Renaissance man's interest in the mechanics of how things work. He is inspired by bird wings, cricket legs, and fish spines, as well as clockworks, camshafts, and linked train wheels. Both elegant and humorous, his complex articulated sculptures are activated manually or by hand cranks (think Model T, not Porsche). Trautman works them like a puppeteer and each has its own distinctive character that is dramatically expressed when it moves. His kinetic sculpture — architectural, mechanical, and bio-morphic — eludes categorization.
"I am a sculptor. I believe in the mass and joints of bodies and bones and skin, but I am interested in how they move as well, the fluidity and quirkiness of organic motion," he explains. "The work inhabits a realm between art and architecture; the work wants to inhabit space, suggest architecture, create spaces for your mind to inhabit. The mechanical aspects of it also remove it from the typical gallery scene where you are not supposed to touch the art, where how things work is not part of the dialogue."
Trautman doesn't have a traditional fine arts background. He studied architecture and some basic engineering at UC Berkeley in the '90s. But he often found his mind wandering in school and would fabricate tiny structural "gadflies" that clamped to ceiling beams instead of working on his assigned projects.
"I was unable to break through all the constraints of architecture to get to the point where I was able to express all the forms and visions that were racing around in my mind. However, I do work with the language of architecture, just at a different scale," he says.
Trautman has three large works on display at the Franklin Institute's Amazing Machine exhibit, alongside several priceless examples of early automata - including Maillardet's Automaton.