AVAM returns for another round of motion sickness

The Kinetic Sculpture Race lumbers off Saturday


Museums / Literature

April 28, 2005|By Ann McArthur | Ann McArthur,SUN STAFF

After the kazoo wah wah wahs the national anthem, all the vehicles' brakes are tested, and contestants get their feet blessed by a monk, a man in a top hat wearing overalls and a cape will make a speech and sound a bullhorn signaling the start of the American Visionary Art Museum's seventh annual Kinetic Sculpture Race on Saturday.

This is not your typical 15-mile dash. At least 20 human-propelled creations will creep at about 4 mph through water, sand and mud to vie for the top prize - which, as it turns out, is for the finisher not at the top, but smack-dab in the middle - in this event billed as a collision of art and engineering.

"It's part monster garage, part parade and part obstacle course," said David Hess, a sculptor who is making his fifth appearance in the race, piloting a 22-foot platypus with eight other crew members pedaling madly beside him.

Alongside the platypus, a big baby, a 16-foot moose, a three-tier cake, a 5-foot tiger, a dumpster, a poodle and a rat made of 1,600 black garbage bags will be among the kinetically engineered sculptures that will wobble through Federal Hill Park, float through Canton Waterfront Park and sludge through Patterson Park.

"Contestants are long on engineering and short on brains," said Hess.

The insanity began 36 years ago in California, where Hobart Brown, a sculptor from Ferndale, gave his son's broken tricycle a makeover that transformed it into a 6-foot-tall work of art that he decided to ride. The ride became a race in which winning is losing, cheating is encouraged, crazy is sane, average is prized and a vehicle breakdown will earn you bragging rights. The race is now an annual event not only in Baltimore but also in Poland, Australia and throughout the United States.

Although the race is more light-hearted than competitive with its silly awards that range from "best breakdown" to "best bribe," Brown, 71, takes seriously the top prize, the "mediocre award" - given to the team whose vehicle finishes in the dead center.

"People think that being mediocre is not good and that being the best is better. But the best is too extreme. After all, average human beings keep the world running," he said. "Think about it: Isn't the best part of the watermelon its center?"

Besides requiring a sculpture that humans can propel over varying terrain, the rules state that each participant must wear a helmet and each vehicle's riders must include a homemade sock puppet to comfort the team on its journey.

Holly Tominack, a Pratt librarian and repeat participant, has been in preparation since November and has been spending the dwindling days leading up to the race preparing to meet regulations.

"I've been spending a lot of time sewing a wig onto a pink sock and putting together a surprise bribe for the judges," she said.

The judges, who double as "kinetic cops," expect to be bribed, and in return the pilots and their crews should expect to be ticketed. Tickets - in the form of time penalties - are handed out for everything imaginable.

Sarah Templin, the museum's registrar and a regular kinetic cop, decides case-by-case whether to issue a ticket or accept a bribe.

"The bribes range from cute to obnoxious," she said, recalling such offerings as a serenade that was actually in tune, plastic jewelry and homemade fudge shaped like dog droppings.

Spectators beware, as you aren't exempt from the rules either. Museum volunteer Diane Megargel, who annually participates by handing out smiles on a stick to the crowds of rubber-neckers, warns visitors not to come glum.

"Maybe you lost your job or your boyfriend, but you can't show up and be sad," she said. "The event is supposed to bring out the kid in all of us."

Although the race is for the young at heart, it is also for youths. This year, the youngest contestants are first- through fifth-graders from Eldersburg Elementary. Art teacher Denise Ovelgone challenged the students to create "the weasel," a 9-foot tiger made with 20 rolls of duct tape, 3 gallons of black paint and two plastic cheese-curls containers, as part of an assignment that would teach them new skills and how to problem-solve.

"All the activities that they got to learn - from plastering to using the staple gun - will come in handy one day," said Ovelgone. "If students learn to believe in themselves, I know they can persevere through life."

If they make it through race day, they'll be doing pretty well, as Brown warns that this event is not for the weary.

"The race is not meant to be easy," said Brown. "Pedaling a 14-foot poodle through the mud, sand and water is a hard day's work."

The seventh annual Kinetic Sculpture Race runs 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and begins and ends at the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway. Call 410-244-0782 or visit www.kineticbaltimore .com.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.