For kinetic sculptures, the race is on again

May 05, 2007|By Christina Lee | Christina Lee,Sun Reporter

Everyone has heard a theory on why the chicken crossed the road. But a real stumper would be why a 7-foot pink poodle will trek through mud, water and the streets of Baltimore?

The answer arrives today in the form of the ninth annual Kinetic Sculpture Race. This year, the American Visionary Art Museum is challenging about 40 Kinetinauts, artists-turned-pilots, to navigate vehicular moving sculptures like the poodle, named "Fifi," through a 15-mile course downtown.

The most coveted prize is the Grand East Coast National Mediocre Champion title, given to the sculpture that finishes smack dab in the middle of the race. With her nine years of experience, Theresa Segreti - director of the race - knows there is no easy way to get the prize.

"If [racers] have a strategy, that is admirable," she said. "But it probably just won't work."

Fifi, the museum mascot, is also a veteran competitor, guided by Segreti herself. Last year, bubble-wrap mats were rolled out across mud pits in the Patterson Park obstacle course, so that Fifi, "being prim and proper," would not get her paws dirty.

"She was in character," said Pete Hilsee, the museum's director of communications.

Other racers - many from other states such as Massachusetts, Illinois and Ohio - have competed in the race multiple times with either the same vehicle re-engineered or different structures altogether.

For instance, J Gavin Heck and his "Two Goats Meet on a Bridge" left their first race last year with the Golden Flipper Award, given to the most interesting water entry. Unfortunately, a valiant struggle in the harbor waters could not keep the sculpture afloat for long. In the end, "Two Goats" also finished in next-to-last place, getting a second prize.

Heck, a local artist and software consultant, hopes his latest creation - the nearly 8-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide "Jazz Hand" - will fare better this year. Each of the hand's fingers, covered in pink shipping-film flesh, should be able to move individually, allowing more room for strategy.

"If the wind really catches, we are going to form a power fist," he said.

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