The Wheel

IOU's new interactive mobile sculpture for the street

The Wheel is a moving mechanical sculpture for the street

The Wheel is a mobile stage production and giant moving, remote-controlled sculpture. Within a gleaming self-propelled hub-less wheel, a miniature character walks inside, on a seemingly epic journey around the world, pole to pole.

An intriguing and intimate meditation on our sense of personal identity and place in the world: the thumb-sized character walks within the giant wheel which turns almost imperceptibly.  The sculpture moves through the streets at a snail’s pace and audiences are invited to slow down, to look, contemplate, and imagine the possible narratives it inspires.

Audiences are able to share their own interpretations of The Wheel and of the lone character, through drawings, stories and poems. These are collected and displayed in a mobile Gallery as it slowly travels along the road a little ahead of the Wheel itself.  The gallery also acts as a towering way-marker that leads the way for the character and audiences can also view the tiny character in close-up, presented as a live transmission on screens in the Gallery.

Information and Specifications

The concept for The Wheel was a seed of an idea that came from IOU’s Artistic Director David Wheeler’s time in Antarctica on the British Antarctic Survey and ACE, artists residency scheme in 2007, but it wasn’t made at the time. The idea was to make a tiny figure that set off on a long expedition across the country on a miniature, epic journey. The concept was to recalibrate our perception of time, distance, scale and our place on the planet.  In 2023 the concept seems ever more timely and The Wheel has been reinvented, re-thought and made for this time.

The Wheel 

The Wheel rim is 2.5 metres in diameter and made from polished aluminium.  It is a hub-less wheel, this means there are no spokes or central axle-hub. Instead the rim is held in position by multiple, opposing small-wheels pressing on the inner and outer side of the wheel rim.  These small wheels connect to the main chassis. This system gives a mysterious nature to the vehicle as it travels along as it is hard to see how the wheel is supported.

 

The hub-less wheel gives an unobstructed view of the miniature walking figure. The figure’s arms and legs are moved by gears, cams and push-rods, and give the illusion that the figure is walking along at the speed of the turning wheel. The vehicle travels at 1metre per minute – very slowly.

 

The main chassis also supports two small stabilising wheels and these wheels also control the direction of the ‘vehicle’. Steering is operated by a remote control button-fob;  this is carried and operated some distance away from the vehicle by the IOU Driver.  The vehicle is powered by a 12v car battery; a geared-down 12v car wiper motor turns the friction-drive-wheel that presses onto the big hub-less wheel.

 

The Mobile Gallery  

This is a tower-like structure that is built on wheels and is pushed along by the IOU ‘Enabler’. 

The Enabler also encourages the public to write or draw their interpretation of The Wheel and let their imagination run free.

The Enabler then, while they wait, photocopy their work and upload it onto one of the screens of the Gallery and pin up the work on one of the display sides of the gallery, or they can take their work home if they wish to. Also, some of the selected work will be shown on the IOU Website.

Audiences can walk along and follow The Wheel and watch the little character walking along.  The figure and wheel are protected by a flexible barrier. People can also visit the mobile gallery a few metres ahead of the wheel which also moves along every 10 minutes or so, as The Wheel catches up to it. A small video camera fixed onto The Wheel transmits a live, moving image to screens in the gallery, so audience members can see the figure in close-up.

The slow movement of The Wheel creates an atmospheric, contemplative, calm, and moving experience.

Audience members can interact with the work by writing their thoughts or drawing a picture, encouraged by the IOU Enabler.  The gallery also has desk surfaces that people can use to write and draw. The Enabler then photocopies their work and displays it in the Gallery – there and then. Later, some of the work will be selected to include in The Wheel online gallery of the IOU website.

The Wheel journey takes a pre planned route agreed with the promoter ahead of the event. Audience engagement time with the work is expected to be between 5 and 20 minutes but some people are likely to stay for longer periods, especially if they contribute to the gallery. 

To allow a clear view of the wheel and to interact with the Gallery, the ideal number of people viewing the work at any one time would be approximately 15-25 people. The number of people will not be controlled and is expected to be self regulated.

The Wheel is a mobile mechanical sculpture on continuous display.  It is expected that people will make a number of visits to it during the day, to see how far it has travelled.  

The Wheel can run at any time throughout the day or evening. It will make stops during the day to allow the Driver and Enabler to have breaks. Also, a little ‘privacy’ cover will be placed over the figure at these times.

The Wheel is suitable for all ages.

 

The Wheel journey takes a pre planned route agreed with the promoter ahead of the event. 

The Wheel comprises of three separate linked elements; The Wheel, Gallery and a moveable barrier.

The Wheel is a large aluminium and steel structure which moves at a speed of 1 metre per minute. It has a large aluminium front wheel and two smaller back wheels which stabilise the wheel and steer it. 

There is also a small mechanical character inside the rim of the wheel at the base, just above ground level. The character ‘walks’ in time with the turning of the wheel. 

A raspberry pi camera incorporated in the Wheel structure points towards the character and transmits a live video stream to the Gallery. 

A radio frequency relay system allows for controlling the turning, reverse and forward movement of the Wheel via a remote control. A mechanical safety release system has also been incorporated to allow for the wheel to be moved quickly in the event of an emergency.

Power for the motors and technical equipment is via 12V DC (car) batteries.

The Gallery is a separate digital and interactive hub. Made from steel with an aluminium canopy, it contains; two 12V DC screens in IP56 enclosures, a wi-fi router, wireless antennae, raspberry pi computers and a 12V battery. 

The live camera stream from the wheel is displayed on one screen via a raspberry pi, the other screen serves as a digital gallery and also utilises a raspberry pi. The Gallery also includes a pinboard and writing materials.

The moveable barrier is designed to both keep audiences a little distance away from the Wheel as it moves along and also gives a visual cue to where the wheel is going and its relation to the Gallery ahead of the wheel. 

The barrier consists of a frame on wheels that is behind the Wheel which has two, extra long, retractable ‘seat-belt’ style barrier-spools attached to it. Yellow and black fabric hazard tape is pulled out from these spools, either side of the wheel and are attached to the Gallery structure ahead of it. This creates a distinctive corridor that the Wheel travels between.  The Gallery can be between 5m and 20m ahead of the wheel, and the tape automatically adjusts to the varying distance.  

 

The barrier frame is physically moved along from time to time behind the wheel by the IOU operators as the wheel slowly moves along. As the Gallery is pushed along ahead, it automatically pulls the required length of tape from the spool. This adaptable system means that the barrier can be adjusted to cope with varying situations and audience behaviour. Its adjustability also enables the whole ‘procession’ to turn corners, avoid obstacles and allows the team to bring the Wheel and the Gallery close together when it occasionally stops for lunch breaks etc, which makes it easier for the venue stewards to manage and guard.

Dimensions

The Wheel:

  • 250cm Height 
  • 320cm Length
  • 130cm Width

The Mobile Gallery:

  • 220cm Height 
  • 100cm Length
  • 100cm Width

Pre set up of Spaces

The route, start and finish points will be agreed with the venue before the day of the performance. 

Both these points will need to allow for the unloading and reloading of the IOU transport vehicle.  This will either be a large 3.5 Luton type van or car and large car trailer.

Power

The Wheel and Gallery are powered using internal 12V DC car batteries which will be charged before the installation arrives on site. 

These batteries have the capacity to power the installation for the first day of performance. We will need access to two 13a Type G domestic sockets in a safe and secure location to allow for overnight battery charging if needed.

A power lead to the IOU transport vehicle would be the best option.  This would need the overnight parking of the vehicle to be considered.

 

Credits

An IOU production created by David Wheeler
Co design and construction by Andy Plant
Technical development and support by Loui Binns.
The Wheel is funded by Arts Council England  and Dean Clough