Chance to see art run amok at Kinetic Sculpture Race

Contraptions vie for the Mediocre Award.

Arts: museums, literature

April 24, 2003|By Anna Kaplan | Anna Kaplan,SUN STAFF

There's nothing like walking a dog in the park on a Saturday afternoon to brighten one's day, right? So to increase the day-brightening quotient, would it help to make the dog a 14-foot-high pink poodle named Fifi and the walk in the park a 15-mile race through the mud and water of Baltimore?

Of course, Fifi is not the only participant in the fifth annual East Coast National Kinetic Sculpture Race this Saturday, held by the American Visionary Art Museum. However, she, a 14-foot-high royal elephant named Bumpo, a 15-foot-high frog and a 10-foot-high Victorian teapot have the hometown advantage as they compete with other creatures from as far as Chicago.

A kinetic sculpture is a human-powered vehicle. It is also a piece of art. Constructed out of used bicycles, gears and other random parts by willing participants in their garages and back yards, these sculptures are designed to travel on land, water, and through mud. Some are small, operated by a single pilot (Kinetinaut), while others are more than 50 feet long, operated by entire teams.

This year, more than 30 vehicles will participate in the race. ("Race," by the way, is used in a relative sense here. The participants compete for the Mediocre Award, given to the vehicle that finishes right in the middle, and the Next-to-the-last Award. There are also awards for art and engineering.) The 15-mile slog takes off from AVAM, 800 Key Highway in the Inner Harbor, at 9:30 a.m., and goes through several obstacles, including Water Loop 1 at the Korean War Memorial in Canton at 11 a.m. and the Mud Pit and Sand Trap at Patterson Park from noon to 3 p.m.

While participation in this event is open to everyone, there are a few rules Kinetinauts must follow. Other than the basics, like safety precautions on the vehicle and no drinking and driving, the pilots must "carry at all times 1 comforting item of psychological luxury heretofore referred to as the `Homemade Sock Creature' (HSC)," according to AVAM's Web site. In the meantime, spectators are encouraged to bring cardboard grins for when personal misery prevents smiling. The site also reminds visitors that "it is such craziness as this that keeps us all sane."

Saturday's winners will be eligible to participate in the World Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race in Ferndale, Calif. Founded in 1969 by sculptor Hobart Brown, the nonprofit Kinetic Sculpture Race Inc. organizes these events around the world. Brown was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 for the race's promotion of sustainable energy sources and community solidarity.

For more art events, see Page 44.

Where to watch

Places to catch great views of the Kinetic Sculpture Race, according to the American Visionary Art Museum:

9:30 a.m.: AVAM, Federal Hill, for opening ceremonies and the start of the race

10:15 a.m.: Federal Hill Park, Inner Harbor

11 a.m.: Korean War Memorial

noon-3 p.m.: Patterson Park Mud Pit and Sand Trap

4 p.m.: Museum of Industry, Federal Hill Water Loop

5 p.m.: AVAM, Federal Hill, for end of the race

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