Feature
Stratford's new weird, wonderful and MAD museum

By Steve Hayes 04/04 Updated: 12/04 10:08

Buy photos » Iain Simmons and Mike Abbotts have brought together mechanical contraptions from around the world at the MAD Museum 13.012.052.strat.jg12

THE WEIRD and the wonderful is on show for all to see at Stratford's new MAD (Mechanical Art and Design) museum and The Observer's Steve Hayes was given a tour as the doors were thrown open.

FOR the Simmons family, owners of Stratford's quirky new MAD museum, mechanical art has been something of a lifelong passion and as soon as you walk through the doors into this cocophony of colourful clunking that is instantly apparent.

The museum is a tad hidden away, situated at the end of an alleyway on Sheep Street, but inside awaits a colourful, noisy and interesting array of interactive contraptions.

MAD, it quickly becomes apparent, is an apt name for this treasure trove of the technical.

It almost feels as though you've been transported into a surreal dream scene from a bizarre film as on one side a motion sensor organ clicks into life while on another a huge black wig stands to attention as the giant Van der Graaf generator attached to it whirrs into life.

It's an interactive experience as visitors turn handles, push buttons or press pedals to bring the exhibits to life - something kids will no doubt lap up.

As he shows me round Iain Simmons informs me all of the contraptions - from big to small and noisy to bright - are actually for sale.

"We wanted to bring together a sort of showcase for the best mechanical art," Iain tells me.

"It's something my father has wanted to do for years but we wanted to get the right location and now we have it.

"Our aim is to have somewhere people can come and see amazing contraptions but it also doubles as a sort of gallery where artists are showcasing their work."

Iain and his cousin, Mike Abbotts, spent months researching mechanical art and attending conventions in a bid to get artists from around the world to showcase their weird and wonderful exhibits at their museum.

In exchange any visitors who are particularly fond can part with their cash and have it on display in their home for good.

It's a neat idea which allows the museum to double as a sort of modern art gallery and in the long term keep a fresh array of exhibits to keep people coming back.

The artistic merit behind many of the pieces is something which could appeal to anyone.

One piece featuring a computer hooked up to light bulbs - each assigned to a different topic - which light up every time somebody mentions them on Twitter is a particularly neat idea. The Justin Bieber bulb is, somewhat predictably, a constant source of light in the place.

"Our aim is eventually to have artists coming to us and wanting to display their work here," Iain tells me.

"Then we can have more and more exhibits and choose from the very best out there."

An ambition which could transform what is currently a hidden gem in Stratford into a revolving, clunking great jewel in its crown.

The MAD Museum is now open to the public from 10.30-6.30pm daily.

Visit themadmuseum.co.uk for more information.

Buy photos» The weird and wonderful on display. 13.012.052.strat.jg9

Buy photos» Among the many odd objects on display, this machine (left) is hooked up to Twitter and lights up every time the topic is mentioned. 13.012.052.strat.jg3

Buy photos» Steve Hayes takes a look at an underwater laser show exhibit.

Buy photos» A colourful contraption. 13.012.052.strat.jg2

Buy photos» One exhibit is an underwater laser show - programmed here to reproduce the museum’s logo. 13.012.052.strat.jg7

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