Alan Gibb's Eclectic, Electric Art

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.


Riffing off of Xeni's excellent post about Omega Recoil I wanted to bring your attention to the Electrum, the world's largest Tesla Coil.

"Known as Electrum, the four-story (38-ft) Tesla coil was commissioned by a prominent New Zealand art patron Alan Gibbs, and set up on on his farm outside of Auckland, New Zealand in April 1998. Built by artist Eric Orr and high voltage engineer Greg Leyh, the enormous coil puts out over 3 million volts.

A particular delight of the Electrum Coil is the hollow spherical cage on top, where Greg Leyh would often sit during shows. While Leyh is safe within the Faraday cage created by the sphere, if he were to put his hand through the cage, he would be instantly electrocuted."

As interesting as the coil itself is Alan Gibbs, the art patron who commissioned it. Gibbs is one of New Zealand's wealthiest residents and is worth a third of a billion dollars. Called a "James Bond in Jandals" Gibbs has dabbled in everything from cars to telecoms, however the Bond reputation comes from Gibbs' recent project, the Aquada. The Aquada is an amphibious car that travels at over a 100km/h on land and smoothly transitions to 30km/h in water. Along with his other hobbies Gibbs owns what he calls "The Farm," an area rural in New Zealand where he collects and privately displays massive works of art such as the Electrum and Neil Dawson's "Horizons" pictured below.


There is more info on the Electrum on the Atlas, this is an interesting article about the Aquada, and a link to more pictures of the enormous art on found on Gibb's Farm.


  1. Alan Gibbs resides in London, but maintains the farm for home visits. He also collects military hardware including tanks and APVs and famously almost beheaded himself parking a tank in the garage. His experiences with jet-skis are similar. He was the author of the 1998 ‘Gibbs report’ which recommended restructuring the NZ Public Health System mainly by selling hospital assets and leasing them back – these reforms were never adopted but remain a conceptual cornerstone of neo-libertarianism in New Zealand.

  2. That’s actually a *really* wimpy Tesla coil, in terms of volts per linear foot. He needs to either feed it more power or hire an engineer who can optimize it.

  3. That ‘Horizons’ sculpture looks more like a cartoon drawing of a sculpture here. What’s up with that?

  4. Nemryn, it’s a sculpture that’s a cartoon drawing, blown up and freestanding. From the photo it appears to be a 2d standing frame, mostly empty space, sketching out that cartoony drawing of a sheet of fabric. It’s a fun piece.

  5. #5 MATTW: True, the shots on look much better. Any large coil should be able to hit the ground with its discharges, and that puppy delivers.

  6. “Alan Gibbs resides in London…He also collects military hardware including tanks and APVs”

    I wonder if he hangs with Stephen Morris…

  7. I thought it was the skin effect that protected people in the cage from the coil’s electricity.
    Faraday effect is for electromagnetic radiation, right?

  8. I was lucky enough to photograph Electrum over the course of two evenings in August 2008 as part of a project out of Zagreb, Croatia exploring the work of Nikola Tesla ( and attach some links to the shots below. I can definitely say that Electrum is in no way wimpy. The noise it makes fills the entire bay with a high pitched buzz sawing drone each time it fires and the safe distance is around fifty foot from the base. It is an impressive and scary sight, especially manoeuvring in close for some detail shots through a long lens.
    These photographs are all long exposures and misrepresent the actual single bolt of lighting it generates which constantly shifts and plays over the surface of the Faraday cage. They do though reveal some surprising and delicate structures and ribbons of energy.
    I saw the lighting make a ground strike once and there’s plenty of evidence of this in the fried vegetation surrounding the tower.
    On the second night of shooting, New Zealand artist Peter Roche interacted with the lightning using fluorescent tubes, throwing and smashing these against the tower and watching them light and glow as they arced through the electromagnetic field it generates.

    Electrum I
    Electrum fires at night over the bay at Kaukapakapa, North Island, New Zealand.

    Electrum II
    Portrait of Electrum firing at night.

    Electrum III
    Details of the delicate ribbons of lightning playing over the surface of the spherical Faraday cage in the dusk.

    Electrum IV
    Details of the delicate ribbons of lightning playing over the surface of the spherical Faraday cage as night falls.

    Examples of work in progress from Mechanical Figures, an experimental multimedia and film project inspired by the work of Nikola Tesla

  9. He didn’t just do the Aquada, don’t forget the Humdinga and the Quadski.

    Shame they were so expensive and also shame they used the KV6 Rover Engine in the Aquada, they could’ve used a better more powerful unit I’m sure. However the V8 in the Humdinga was a bit better and faster in the water too.

    Shame he never managed to get the 3.2 quattro Audi TT modified to amphibious that he was going to do!

    Does he have any new ventures like those?

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