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The inner workings of surreal mechanical sculptures

For a new exhibit, artists bring creatures to colorful life though objects that are part toys, part art and part science.

James Martin
James Martin is the Managing Editor of Photography at CNET. His photos capture technology's impact on society - from the widening wealth gap in San Francisco, to the European refugee crisis and Rwanda's efforts to improve health care. From the technology pioneers of Google and Facebook, photographing Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, to the most groundbreaking launches at Apple and NASA, his is a dream job for any documentary photography and journalist with a love for technology. Exhibited widely, syndicated and reprinted thousands of times over the years, James follows the people and places behind the technology changing our world, bringing their stories and ideas to life.
James Martin
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For the "Curious Contraptions" exhibit at San Francisco's Exploratorium, artists bring mechanical art to life through engineering and fairy-tale-like storytelling.

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"Instrument Man," by Carlos Zapata. Eleven artists from around the world contributed to the Exploratorium exhibit, which opened Friday. 

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"Everlasting Love," by Colombian-born, United Kingdom–based Carlos Zapata. The artist uses materials that have already lived other lives-- like reclaimed wood and scrap metal -- to create colorful narratives.

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"Curious Contraptions" includes 30 absurdist sculptures known as automata. 

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"The Day of the Dead Band," by Wanda Sowry. Most of the artist's work is unpainted, emphasizing the natural colors in the different types of wood she selects.

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Complex systems of low-tech gears and levers power anatomical movements of the automata on display at the Exploratorium. 

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On the move, thanks to cranks and gears: the mythical "Dieselpunk Pegasus" by Keith Newstead. "Automata," the artist says, "is really about exploring and inventing mechanisms that re-create some movement you might find in life."

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"Boneshakers" by Matt Smith. The mechanical sculptures convey colorful and sometimes emotionally expressive miniature narratives.

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"An Allegory of Love" by Paul Spooner. 

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"The Banana Ripener" by Paul Spooner. Spooner built a wooden clock, a wooden steam engine, and weaving looms for his wife before taking up automata as an art form in 1981. 

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A closer look at the mechanics of "The Banana Ripener" sculpture.

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The "Curious Contraptions" exhibit runs through Jan. 28 at San Francisco's Exploratorium. 

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