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Norman Tuck  © 1987


12 feet high x 5 feet x 6 feet
Originally created as an Exploratorium A. I. R. project (1987).

Note: More than 20 Artist fabricated Lariat Chain pieces have been created and purchased by science museums worldwide.

A Lariat Chain is currently in the collection of the Artist 

Some Reviews of Lariat Chain


"...[Lariat Chain] uses a motorized chain - lightweight and safe in supervised little hands - that moves continuously. A touch changes its regular pattern of movement. A viewer can either appreciate that the piece represents 'the phenomenon of the standing traveling wave' - or stand and enjoy the mesmerizing visual treat of the dancing chain."  - Genie Carr, The Winston-Salem Journal.

"From the top of a windmill-type construction, a bicycle wheel whirs, fueled by electricity." A long, rotating chain hangs from the wheel to the ground and dances into beautiful arabesques when moved gently by hand."   - Blue Greenberg, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.

CLICK HERE to see an interesting digital animation by Graham Johnson which illustrates the physics behind Lariat Chain.

Versions of  Lariat Chain are in the permanent collections of:
The Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA. 
The New York Hall of Science, Queens. 
Technorama Museum, Winterthur, Switzerland. 
Museo de la Ciencia, Barcelona, Spain. 
Hong Kong Science Museum. 
SciWorks, Winston-Salem, NC. 
The Science Museum of Minnesota (2 pieces), St. Paul, MN. 
The North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, Durham. 
The Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland, OH. 
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Albuquerque. 
The Explorium Museum of Science, Mobile, AL. 
phaeno, Wolfsburg, Germany 
The Big Bang Museum, Osaka, Japan. 
Fundacion Tiempos Nuevos, Santiago, Chile


Lar. Ch. Explo 1.jpeg

The Evolution of Lariat Chain

Written by Norman Tuck © 2023


Sometime before 1984 I came upon an antique printing press abandoned on a sidewalk in Lower Manhattan. I was able to salvage its large, heavy (100+ pounds), beautiful cast iron flywheel, which I took to my Brooklyn studio.


The flywheel gathered dust in my studio for a few months, until I decided to mount it onto a 1 inch stainless steel axle with heavy duty ball bearings at each end. I welded together a steel stand and placed the wheel and axle on it so that I could spin the wheel and observe what it would do.


I located a strong industrial crank handle and attach it to a heavy duty toothed sprocket which I linked, via #40 roller chain, to another sprocket mounted onto the axle. The handle was attached to the sprocket via a bicycle freewheel, so that it could spin without dragging the handle (and your arm) along with it. I now spun the heavy wheel at a very high speed.


I spent a few weeks playing with the device, until I got the notion that if I placed a series of strong rectangular ceramic magnets onto the rim of the wheel, the spinning wheel could carry a heavy steel chain along with it. I did that and it worked. It was somewhat entertaining to watch, but I was hoping that it would do more.


So, I experimented for several days. I had the chain dip into a bucket of water, and disturb a pile of sand and do a few other odd things, but I was not impressed. On a whim I placed a nearby push-broom under the spinning chain and, for the first time, saw the chain react to the brush with the serpentine motion that is now familiar to viewers of Lariat Chain. I looked at it, and it was good, and I called it Chain Reaction.


The heavy flywheel and chain, when cranked at high speed, stored a lot of energy. Occasionally a magnet would go shooting off, destroying whatever was in its way. I rectified this danger by strapping in the magnets onto the rim with heavy leather belting


In 1984 I painted the contraption blue, and considered Chain Reaction to be “finished.” I exhibited the piece at several venues, including: Art Galaxy Gallery, NYC (1984); The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, N.C. (1991), and The Technorama Museum, Winterthur, Switzerland (1993). However, I was aware that the piece was very dangerous, and I always felt uncomfortable about showing it, even though the piece was always roped off (except for the handle), so that the moving parts would not be touched. I tried to make sure that no human could enter the dangerous plane surrounding the spinning wheel. I have since destroyed Chain Reaction, without anyone ever being injured by the ”killer” piece. The flywheel was left in a field in rural Florida.


During that period Joe Ansel and Pete Richards of the Exploratorium became aware of my work and invited me to submit a proposal to the Artist-In Residence program there. I proposed making a safer, hands-on version of Chain Reaction for installation at the Exploratorium. Eventually they commissioned me to work on that piece.


Thus, in 1987 a had an 6 month residency at the Exploratorium in San Francisco to create a safe, hands-on version of Chain Reaction. I believe that it was a scientist at the Exploratorium that informed me that the Lariat Chain phenomenon was an example of a “standing traveling wave."


During my first hours at the Explo. I found a length of #10 utility chain and hung it from the wheel of an abandoned bicycle. And thus, the kinetic sculpture that I named "Lariat Chain" was born. 


However, the powers in charge of safety did not believe that the moving chain was safe enough to put on the museum floor. So, over the next few months I experimented with many different alternatives to the utility chain, but they never worked out. Their fear was that someone would put their face near the moving chain and “lose an eye.” In fact the only time anyone put their face near the chain was when they leaned over an experimental “safety railing.”


Eventually, I linked a bicycle wheel to a DC gear motor via a torque limiting clutch. I was allowed to place my creation onto the exhibit floor on a “trial” basis, under constant surveillance, to see who got hurt. Lariat Chain #1 has been on the Exploratorium exhibit floor on a “trial’ basis” (without injury) since 1987.


I have had the good fortune of placing more than 25 authorized versions of Lariat Chain at interactive science museums, worldwide. I am also aware that there are many “knock offs” of my original, copyrighted piece.


I am pleased by having this opportunity to relay the evolution of Lariat Chain to you. I am attaching a couple of photos of Chain Reaction along with some published reviews that mention that piece.


An interesting animated video of Lariat Chain that was posted by Graham Johnson on youtube at


Reviews of

Chain Reaction


A third piece, Chain Reaction (1984), worked by the human hand, examines accelerated motion. When the participant turns the wheel, the movement is translated into a series of events that appear to animate the chain. Edward Rubin, ARTnews, November, 1984, Pg. 175.



…. a piece titled “Chain Reaction” is made to move by turning a hand crank. The crank causes a long chain to orbit in an uneven, yet sinuous arc which glitters and clatters around the wheel. It is functionally meaningless but aesthetically mesmerizing.  Margaret Shearin, Triad Style, Nov. 13, 1991, Page 10


Also similar to each other are two pieces titled Chain Reaction and Theoretical Applied Mechanics. Chain Reaction is a viewer-activated piece consisting of a bicycle chain dangling in a loop from a metal wheel that rotates when an attached hand crank is turned. This action causes the looped bicycle chain to undulate at the bottom, so that it occasionally drags across an upturned wire-bristled brush mounted on its base. Theoretical Applied Mechanics is a more recent and more elaborate, electronically powered device that does essentially the same thing. Tom Patterson, Winston-Salem Journal, Sunday, January 19, 1992 Page C3.



A third piece, Chain Reaction (1984), worked by the human hand, examines accelerated motion. When the participant turns the wheel, the movement is translated into a series of events that appear to animate the chain. Edward Rubin, ARTnews, November, 1984, Pg. 175.

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