By Connie Nimmo Thorn
Columbus, Indiana, is home to a 30-foot tall, seven-ton mammoth contraption. The work is demonstrating how engineering and art can live together in the same space. The sculptural machine is called Chaos I, and for good reason. This downtown spectacle has been a local favorite for decades.

In the early 1970s, Swiss artist Jean Tinguely was commissioned by the Miller family during Columbus’ downtown transformation to create a piece of art that would serve as the hub of The Commons. It would draw people together to talk, watch and spend time. Tinguely was drawn to Columbus for its engineering prowess and architectural greatness. He lived in Columbus for two years while creating Chaos I, his largest piece of work in the United States.

Tinguely was inspired by the motion and randomness of life, so when he was tasked with creating a clock-like sculpture, he had a grand vision for something that mimic the chaos of life. After Tinguely conceived the idea for his sculpture, he turned to the community for the materials and expertise he would need to fabricate the piece.


Tinguely hunted for scrap metal at a local scrapyard. A gargantuan ball bearing and twelve electric motors were manufactured and supplied by local companies. With all the materials in hand, Tinguely turned to a local electrical engineer to program the motors’ electrical panels so that all parts of the sculpture would move correctly. Three years after Tinguely was first approached to create art in Columbus, Chaos I was dedicated in May 1974.

The kinetic sculpture is composed of colorful rotating parts that branch from a dark center. The arms of the structure gently glide by one another peacefully, then move swiftly in a seemly confusing path. Steel balls roll and crash through a caged rack making lots of loud noise. To preserve the sculpture, it doesn’t function fully during most of the year. However, visitors can see it fully come to life a few times a year.

Visit the Commons the fourth Tuesday of every month from 5:00 – 6:30 pm for Chaotic Tuesday. You’ll get to see the full range of motion and sound of the goliath sculpture, and learn more about how it works. The Bartholomew County Public Library will also have children’s activities and crafts.

Find out much more about Chaos I and read the back story of the creation of Chaos at the Pump House.