Greg Cook, The ARTery (, 6/6/15

The Revival Of Sculpture Racing In Cambridge

Lining up for the start of the race. (Greg Cook)Lining up for the start of the race. (Greg Cook)Written By Published June 6, 2015

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.”

“BiblioBurro was inspired by a story in the news a few years ago of a teacher in Columbia who wandered the countryside giving away books to kids,” said Scott Ruescher, program administrator for the arts in education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where students helped construct the papier-mâché, wood, chicken wire and cardboard critter. “The roller-skates I got from Chez Vous [skating rink] in Dorchester. Used. I paid 50 bucks for two pairs. I didn’t’ know how else to get the burro down the road.” (Greg Cook)

“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.

“Tsunami Wave Machine (Homage to Hokusai)” by Steve Hahn of Stoughton has a crankshaft that makes foam-board waves spin. Also a tube rocks to make ocean sounds as he pulls the wagon. “The important part is the effect, to make people happy, especially children. Little kids love to see machinery because they don’t get to see anything anymore.” (Greg Cook)

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.

The “Sis-y-phus” team affiliated with the Harvard Physics Lab named their entry after the mythic Greek character who, as punishment from the gods, was forced to forever roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down again before it got to the top. The sculpture is a square-wheeled sailboat riding on three sets of wavy track that must be repeatedly moved back in front of the boat after it passes over them. “Our boat is kind of nonsensical and going nowhere—or not going somewhere fast. So we thought it would be a great fit,” artist Kim Bernard said. (Greg Cook)

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. … But he’s become a complete supporter.”

“This was built in 2001 for a Bikes Not Bombs auction,” Bill Turville said of the “Fish Bike” that he rode in today’s race. “The bike was contributed by Bikes Not Bombs. I built the fish around it. It was sold, but it eventually made its way back to me.” (Greg Cook)

“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.

“It actually works. It’s locked, as you can see,” sculptor Eric Legacy (in striped shirt) of Stratham, New Hampshire, said of his giant, welded steel rattrap, which he raced with his family. “I made it a while ago as a statement about corporate development. They were chasing the artists out of Fort Point Channel like rats. … It’s pretty dangerous. It could take your arm off.” (Greg Cook)

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.”

The Somerville-based “Everything Muffin Collective" preps their caterpillar-bike before the race. (Greg Cook)

“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.”

“Wheel #2” was made by Bill Wainwright for the 1982 sculpture race and will be entering the permanent collection of the MIT Museum on Monday, race organizer Christian Herold said. His nephew, James Herold, who piloted it today, said, “It’s kind of like a cantilevered wheelchair with just two wheels. You have these smaller hand wheels that you move to go. It’s got a 0-degree turning radius. You can get up to some pretty significant speeds in this but the faster you go, the less control you have so you really don’t want to do that.” (Greg Cook)

“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.”

Be Be (who is sometimes also known as Brenda Be) of the American Family Happily Institute. (Greg Cook)

“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.”

Greg Cook is a co-founder of WBUR’s ARTery. Follow him on Twitter @AestheticResear or on the Facebook.

“As it gets pulled along, it’s got a drive train that makes all the birds flap,” said Dennis Svoronos, who was joined by his wife TT Svoronos (in white) and friend Rory Beerits. “Flock” was meant to “give the idea of teamwork” that’s part of their work together as Artist Operation in South Boston—and in People’s Sculpture Racing itself. Their odds of winning? “I think because we’ve got round wheels, we’ve got a good chance.” (Greg Cook)

Jeff Del Papa of Waltham got help unloading his “Bedlam Express,” a giant belt-sander that he constructed at Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville. “There used to be belt-sander races in Somerville,” he said. “Artisan’s Asylum is all about getting tools in people’s hands. So building a big tool was an obvious thing.” (Greg Cook)

“This is Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine which I made around ’99 for a Christmas Revels production that was set in Italy,” sculptor Mitch Ryerson said of the contraption pictured here at left. “It’s all wood and scrim for the wings. Given the right situation it will actually become airborne.” (Greg Cook)

Steve Hahn pulls his “Tsunami Wave Machine (Homage to Hokusai)” ahead of the "Big Fish" group. (Greg Cook)

“Apoplectic Apocalyptics” was another of Bill Turville’s contraptions, in this case built from “trash recovered from the Lowell canal system” during a clean-up he took part in some years back. “The wheel is made out of wood and it’s cracked,” said Amy Xiao (center), a River Fest volunteer who was roped into racing the thing. “So we had to drag it.” (Greg Cook)

"You might win." The crowd cheers on the racers. (Greg Cook)

“This thing was originally made by an architect from Manchester-by-the-Sea, a guy named Sherry Proctor,” Arlington artist Bill Turville said of “Big Fish.” “It was made for parades, but he only used it once. He put it in a barn. It was wasting away. So his wife and daughter gave it to Emerson Umbrella. … We reassembled it this year for the first time in, like, 25 years.” (Greg Cook)

BiblioBurro’s chances of winning? “Edison [Alvarez-Morales, at left] is an excellent folkloric dancer, so he’s quick on his feet. I’m a jogger,” Scott Ruescher (right) said. “But the burro is very stubborn.” (Greg Cook)

“It’s two slit gongs that intersect together,” sound sculptor Jay Havighurst of Essex said of his “Rolling Slit Gong.” “You can play them. They’ve got one note on each side. They’ve got different pitches.” (Greg Cook)

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