Introducing this year’s Cambridge Arts River Festival race jurors: Kinetic Sculptors Anne Lilly and Kim Bernard, and Cambridge Arts Council Executive Director Jason Wee
Anne Lilly is a kinetic sculptor and curator. She was named a 2014 visiting artist at MIT and 2012 artist-in-residence at the Art Institute of Boston. She has created artworks for a year-long exhibition of kinetic art at the MIT Museum, the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA, the City of Boston’s ParkArts program, and the Fort Point Public Arts Series, among other accomplishments.
Kim Bernard, who sits on the Advisory Board of PSR, and led the Harvard Physics Team’s entry last year–the square-wheeled Sisyphus–is an artist working in kinetic sculpture, installations, and encaustics. She teaches at Maine College of Art.
Jason Weeks is Cambridge Arts Council’s Executive Director, an adjunct lecturer in Arts Administration at B.U. and a founding board member of MASSCreative.
December 22 – The Cambridge El STEAM Network has awarded a Collaboration Grant to People’s Sculpture Racing (PSR) and Maude Morgan Arts. This is a Cambridge Science Festival collaboration supporting Maud Morgan Arts’ sculpture building workshop during its April vacation camp (April 19-22). The workshop will be introduced in a free workshop by PSR Racer Kim Bernard (10:30-noon), and then taught by PSR Racer Mitch Ryerson. Youth will race their work at the Community Race at Danehy Park on April 23.
Description of Kim Bernard’s Workshop: “Cardboard Automata: Mechanical Toys”
Using rough and ready materials to create small kinetic sculptures that bounce, bob, spin, wiggle and wobble, Artist Kim Bernard will lead this playful hands-on workshop and introduce makers to the various ways of bringing motion into 3-D design. Parents and their kids will work side by side to build simple mechanisms such as cams and levers and linkages. REGISTRATION
About the El STEAM Network (EL STEAM: Extended Learning Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math):
The Cambridge EL STEAM Network’s purpose is to bring people, providers, and projects together, pool resources, and collaboratively increase access to, awareness of, and quality across Expanded Learning STEAM opportunities available to Cambridge’s young people.
About Maud Morgan Arts
Maud Morgan Arts, a dynamic new community arts center named in honor of the noted artist and community resident Maud Morgan (1903-1999), offers a wide range of programs for all ages. Here you can engage with some of Boston’s finest artists in studios purposely designed for ceramics, printmaking, drawing and painting, and sculpture.
“Hokusai” at Museum of Fine Arts
Katsushika Hokusai, the 19th century Japanese master, is best known for his iconic “Under the Wave Off Kanagawa (Great Wave),” one of the most famous images in all of art. That woodblock print was the centerpiece of this sumptuous Museum of Fine Arts retrospective, which offered a deep dive into the rest of his landmark career—depicting cities and Mount Fuji and demons in so many sensual, ethereal shades of blue.
Just how did those square wheels work!!? Click to watch.
This is the Harvard Physics Team’s Sisyphus sculpture captured in an app on Christian’s smartphone. The HPT’s leader, artist Kim Bernard, sends us a link to a blog on the building of Sisyphus.
Here’s a great story by Greg Cook. See the new “Press” section for more. Lots of photos and videos to come.
When Christian Herold moved back to Cambridge in 2007 after many years in New York, he recalled, “I asked where is Sculpture Racing and everyone shrugged their shoulders.”
World Sculpture Racing, as it was known, was a series of races held annually from 1982 to ’85 during the Cambridge River Festival. “Part street-theater, part performance art, part sporting event,” local sculptor Pat Keck, one of the key artists involved, once described it.
“I saw at least one of them,” Herold said, “and it was one of the most miraculous things I’ve ever seen. It seemed like there were hippies running along frantically with the most fantastic contraptions.”
“What we want to do is create an art form that has a mass appeal that has the context of a popular art form, a popular thing like a race, but also works on a high level, that is the pieces could be shown in an art gallery or a museum as well,” Geoffrey Koetsch, who co-founded the shenanigans with Kirby Scudder, said back when they held a sculpture race in Wisconsin in 1987.
So Herold set about reviving it. His background is in performance art. Perhaps his most prominent project, he says, was being one of the lead organizers of “Ring Out,” which invited thousands of people to surround the World Trade Center site in New York during the 2004 Republican Convention and ring bells for peace.
Here, one thing lead to another and Jason Weeks, executive director of the Cambridge Arts Council, got him in touch with Koetsch.
“Geoff was a little doubtful at first,” Herold said. “They had structured it as a conceptual thing with a lot of values about the role of artists, happenings, Fluxus. He wanted to make sure if he handed the torch to me it would be a serious artistic endeavor. … He’s become a complete supporter.”
“The whole idea was trying to maintain the quality of the art. You want to have really imaginative pieces out there and you want it to be fun,” Koetsch said after today’s race. “So you’re trying to stay in two camps—high art and kitsch.”
Back in the day, Koetsch and Scudder curated the entries from established artists, Herold said. This time around he called it “People’s Sculpture Racing” and had an open call for entries as well as offering youth building workshops.
Some 16 sculptures arrived for today’s madcap, 3/4-mile race at the Cambridge River Fest—a 23-foot-long fish, a giant rat trap, a caterpillar-bike, a giant sculpture of a belt-sander, a papier-mâché donkey. Then they were off—the first sculpture racing here in 30 years. Leaving the south corner of University Park Commons, they ran southwest along Sidney Street, turned left onto Meriam, then northeast along Purington, left onto Cross Street, a jog across Landsdowne Street, to Franklin Street and the finish back at the park.
Herold said, “It’s ridiculous, sublime and frantic.”
“I think we were in the lead and then we took a wrong turn,” said Adria Katz of the Somerville-based “Everything Muffin Collective,” which took second in their caterpillar-bike.
“Oh, God, it was so frustrating,” Cambridge sculptor Mitch Ryerson said. “We were first for most of the course. Then in the last block, the bicycle-caterpillar passed us. It was neck and neck. The police escort disappeared. It was just the two of us. Then we came to a street that was closed. We turned left.” And, well, they got lost. “We had to double back. We did an extra three or four blocks and we came in third.”
“Oh my God, it was exhilarating coming towards the finish line,” James Herold said of coming in first in “Wheel #2.” “It was a hard race. We were practically neck and neck with a couple people for a while. Then they took a wrong turn and we didn’t. My arms are sore, but I’m just living off the adrenaline right now.”
“We were third to last. So we were victorious in not being last,” said artist Be Be (who is sometimes also known as Brenda Be) of the American Family Happily Institute, who resides south of Boston. “Also our goal was to spread happily and so we have succeeded in spreading happily. … Whenever you spread happily, you win.”
On Saturday morning, a flag will go down at the corner of Sidney and Pilgrim streets in Cambridge, and 15 sculptures and their makers will roll, trundle, and flap over a ¾-mile course. The People’s Sculpture Race at the Cambridge Arts River Festival is more about artistry than speed — although speed counts for something.
Contenders include the 10-foot-tall “Flock,” in which the wings of several metallic birds flutter; “Sisyphus,” a square-wheeled boat; “Tsunami Wave Machine (Homage to Hokusai),” with moving waves; and “Caterwaul,” propelled by the lackadaisical wave motion of a caterpillar.
Christian Herold, the director of People’s Sculpture Racing, attended some of those events. The first one occurred at the Cambridge River Fest. “My heart soared,” he said. “These crazy artists with the most outrageous, whimsical pieces, a combination of wildness and sublimity.”
Some of those crazy artists went on to illustrious careers. Kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson has a show now at the MIT Museum. Pat Keck, known for her spooky figurative sculptures, had a retrospective at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. The late Bill Wainwright was a beloved public artist. Wainwright’s 1982 wheeled chair piece, “No. 2,” will be run in this year’s race.
“We were interested in Dada, futurism, Andy Warhol — art that was high art and kitsch, that would be taken seriously and also was an event,” said Geoffrey Koetsch, who cofounded the World Sculpture Racing Society with Kirby Scudder. “It had a social-political spin. We did the Falkland Islands Race at the height of the Falkland Islands War. We proposed to solve all conflicts peacefully through sculpture racing.”
Koetsch and Scudder didn’t know it, but the first kinetic sculpture race had already taken place in Ferndale, Calif., in 1969. That race continues today, as the Kinetic Grand Championship, and takes place over three days and 42 miles of varied terrain. The 14-mile -long Baltimore East Coast Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race, which started in 1999, goes over mud, sand, and the Chesapeake Bay.
‘We took an afternoon to brainstorm, and three hours later came up with the mechanism. . . . Simplicity has a higher success rate. The less variables, the better.’
The People’s Sculpture Race is, at less than a mile, a spectacle, not an endurance event, although participants may be puffing hard as they move heavy or awkward sculptures. All the works run on human steam.
In the 1980s, the World Sculpture Racing Society banned pedals (“It could degenerate just to fancy bicycles,” Koetsch said), and while Herold allows a small number of pedal-powered sculptures, the majority of them will be pushed and pulled.
The 2015 version is less conceptual and more community oriented than the 1980s events. Workshops at MIT and a handful of community art centers have welcomed public participation.
Still, Herold hopes to maintain his predecessors’ rigorous aesthetic standards. He tapped three art world jurors — public artist Mags Harries, sculptor Laura Knott, and Nick Capasso, director of the Fitchburg Art Museum — to select the contenders.
Pat Keck once described the 1980s events as “part street theater, part performance art, and part sporting event.” The performance art element is what makes the race funny.
Artist Operation’s three collaborators on “Flock” — Dennis Svoronos, TT Svoronos, and Rory Beerits — will push and pull their flying seagull sculpture dressed in white jumpsuits adorned with little silver bird droppings.
Dennis Svoronos and his teammates showed off their prototype, a quarter the size of the final sculpture, last week in their South Boston studio. “We took an afternoon to brainstorm, and three hours later came up with the mechanism,” he said.
The piece, made entirely from salvaged material, connects the birds’ wings to the wheels by means of strings and rubber bands. As the wheels rotate, the wings flap.
“Simplicity has a higher success rate,” said Svoronos. “The less variables, the better.”
“Sisyphus,” the Harvard Physics Team’s square-wheeled boat, is less simple. One team member will turn four wheels using a vertical pulley on board. Because its wheels are square, the piece requires cycloid tracks with dips and humps that will keep the center of the wheels level. “A single point off by a quarter-inch will make a difference to the whole thing,” said team member Daniel Rosenberg.
“Teammates will run around to the front to place track,” said Kim Bernard, artist in residence at the Harvard Physics Department, who spearheaded the project. “We have to move the track ahead 400 times. We’ll take turns on the pulley to keep the friction low.” At corners, the team will lift the whole sculpture to turn it.
There will be winners. The World Sculpture Racing Society determined the “best” work by who came in first, second, and third — they called it win, place, and show.
“They were frustrated with the traditional way art is subjectively judged,” said Herold. “They were thumbing their noses at the art world and critics.”
The People’s Sculpture Race will award trophies to the first three contenders over the finish line — but for less high-minded reasons. “It makes it simple. We don’t have judges. It’s so clean. And, for better or worse, it makes people run,” said Herold. “It makes people frantic.”
People’s Sculpture Race Cambridge Arts
Starts: corner of Sidney and Pilgrim streets, Cambridge,
June 6, 11 a.m.
Massachusetts Avenue and Sidney Street will be closed between Central Square
and the starting line. www.sculptureracing.org
Missed the Grand Circumambulation at the MIT Museum on April 16?
Watch Rock Louis’s timelapse video!
Watch PSR-Team Member Rock Louis’s video about the building of “Flock,” a racing sculpture by members of Artist Operation–T.T. and Dennis Svoronos and Rory Beerits (all People’s Sculpture Racing team members.) The completed version (the video includes images of a PVC prototype) will race on June 6. The video is shot at AO’s studio at The Distillery artist community in South Boston.