Project Series 29: Machine Project
For Project Series 29, Pomona College Museum of Art presents a series of events planned by artists affiliated with Machine Project, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles. Founded and directed by artist and new Pomona College faculty member Mark Allen, Machine Project encourages and supports creativity and experimentation in art, technology, and science. Its mission is to provide educational resources to artists working with technology; to educate and collaborate with artists to produce site-specific, non-commercial work; and to promote conversations between artists, scientists, poets, technicians, performers, and the communities of Los Angeles.
Featuring a floral volcano, egg tapping robots, the raft of the medusa transforming into a printing press, and a post-industrial time machine, Project Series 29 is an event focusing on the artistic process, experimentation, and student participation. To this end, the exhibition is structured to flow continually from and through one installation into the next installation. A catalogue accompanies the exhibition.
The schedule of artists is as follows:
January 22 to February 19, 2005
Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain
Reception on Sunday, January 22, 5-7 p.m.
February 20 to March 15, 2005
Ryan Taber and Cheyenne Weaver
Reception on Tuesday, February 21, 5-7 p.m.
March 16 to March 31, 2005
Reception on Tuesday, March 21, 5-7 p.m.
April 1 to April 9, 2005
Closing reception and performance on Sunday, April 9, 5-7 p.m.
The Project Series is the Museum’s program of focused exhibitions of work by Southern California artists. Its purpose is to bring to the Pomona College community art that is experimental and that introduces new forms, techniques, and concepts. This series is supported in part by the Pasadena Art Alliance and Sarah Miller Meigs.
As Machine Project moves from concert to class to reading to installation, a predictable cycle emerges: empty, half-built, full, half-destroyed, empty.... But rather than hide this aspect of our work, we like having our space visible from the street. So as people walk by our storefront in Echo Park, the curious will poke their heads in: glance around at the tools, wires, disassembled electronic hardware and ask: what is this place going to be when it opens?
We've been open for more than two years now with our operational innards proudly hanging out. We're reminded of a Cronebergian chimera of agricultural college (one of us grew up in Vermont) consisting of a cow with a plexiglass panel in its right side, its internal organs visible for eager students to study. We invite you to study us, and learn how we digest the post-industrial wastes we find growing in the sidewalk (one of us grew up in the Inland Empire).
The Pomona College Museum of Art has generously given us the opportunity to assemble four examples of our inclinations for your edification. Enclosed in the museum and between the pages of this book, you will find work that we feel exemplifies the values we cherish in our humble someday institution, Machine Project.
And should any unwary museum goers happen upon the jumble and disarray, poke their heads in to ask when the show opens, let it be known that we plan to follow our policy regarding our headquarters—you will be able to enjoy the process of construction and destruction, as well as those shimmering ecstatic moments in-between.
We get excited by the smooshing together of the rationally practical with the irrationally creative, the mad scientist combinations of [something] with art. In the case of Almost Certified by Kelli Cain and Brian Crabtree, that [something] is hidden behind a whole room full of eggs. Eggs of all kinds. And each of these eggs is being tapped in choreographed patterns by a small robotic metal arm.
These strange evocative objects—resembling nothing so much as Soviet-era space flight breakfast testing—were created with the idea that art could serve as both an aesthetic experience and as a conveyance of a social concern. Brian and Kelli actually intend these devices to be installed at farmers markets, tapping away like little sideshow barkers to call attention to their larger social agenda. For like glassy-eyed Scientologists hawking personality tests, the benign façades of these gleaming egg and metal surfaces hide a darker underlying ideology—organic farming.
As opposed to institutions that hide their construction behind clean gesso facades and faux wood floors, Machine Project revels in the constructedness of its artifacts. For example, in their piece at Machine In Search of a Myopic's Leitmotif, Ryan Taber and Cheyenne Weaver built a giant hollow log with an opera house inside. And inside the opera house was a tiny version of the set of Wagner's “Ring Cycle.” And inside that set was a colony of live dermestad beetles, infamous for eating all and everything. These hyper-omnivorous creatures have devoured valuable collections, including—but by no means limited to—the specimen collection of the famous botanist Lineaus. Truly these creatures are the very scourge of museums!
But for this show at Pomona College, we had to promise that none of the pieces would destroy the museum's collection. (We also promised Ryan that we would never tell Cheyenne that he accidentally let a container of these voracious everything-eating beetles loose in their shared studio.) So no log, no opera house, no voracious beetles. Instead, they'll be creating a sculpture as a physicalized state of change, as it moves from raft, to cartouche to printing press over the course of several weeks.
The name "machine" places us in deliberate contrast to the traditional functions of museums and galleries. We wanted to create a machine for cultural transformation, a place for work rather than archiving and commoditization. Phil Ross (who describes one of his sculptures as everything a sculpture shouldn't be: heavy, fragile, and sharp) turned out to be a perfect match. Phil first came to Machine with Organized, an astonishing collection of work blending mycology, hydroponics, and oyster farming. For that show, Phil also offered to create a mushroom bust of anyone's head—sadly for all, that offer was not taken up.
At Machine, we also wanted to step outside the unreflective jubilation which is so endemic to "new media," to examine the physical substrates which underlay our ephemeral information. For every spotlessly clean technology mart glowing with the smugness of gadgetry and profit, there are ten third-world toxic waste dumps containing the byproducts and castoffs of the computer industry. For this show at Pomona College, Phil examines these issues with his installation of a technology tumbler. Through abrasive action and salt water, this device replicates the effect of years of weathering, transforming discarded electronic gizmos into something like sea glass. A mound of toxic residue.
Whenever possible, Machine Project has tried to look outside the professional art caste for amazing art. Holly Vesecky comes from a long line of florists and her academic training is in political science. Most importantly, she had always wanted to build a giant flower volcano and name it after herself—to us, this is what being an artist is all about. Mount St. Holly, her giant erupting flower volcano, was our first triumph over practicality, commodity, and the forces of nature. When we first built this at Machine, we were struck by the fact that transitory moments can be more powerful and lasting than artifacts that are thousands of years old, so we're delighted to have the opportunity to create this transitory moment again.
Holly's volcano includes a small crater of hot chocolate (liberally spiked) and an elfin maiden to ladle out drinks. When we built this volcano at Machine, we did mention serving hot chocolate in the invitation. And yes, we did also mention "a bubbling lava pit of hot chocolate." But we made no mention of hot chocolate eruptions. Nevertheless, the opening was a blend of giddy excitement tempered by vague disappointment as the audience gradually realized that they would not be covered in an eruption of hot chocolate. Look. We never said there would be a chocolate explosion. Who would want to be covered in erupting hot chocolate? That's weird. And we are not weird at Machine Project. All we made was a giant volcano out of plants.
The help of our friends is the source of all our energy, so we must thank some of the people who have kept Machine going over the last couple years:
A goodly nugget of our propaganda begins life as a mote in the keen eye of Kimberly Varella, who designed this very book. For this and everything else she's made for us, we are deeply grateful.
In addition to being the inaugural artists of this exhibition at Pomona College and the hand-printers of the covers to this book, Brian Crabtree and Kelli Cain organized fantastic music events at Machine and provided last minute help on innumerable occasions...before they broke our hearts and moved to Philadelphia. Thanks a lot.
The original Mount St. Holly was a massive group effort, involving the alphabetically ordered prowess of: Mark Allen, Eric Brown, Genielle O’ Connor, Emily Cummings, Antonia Dalviso, Al Herrmann, Jody Hughes, Oliver Irwin, Jeff Kwong, Adam Lassey, Eric Neibuhr, Miguel Nelson, and Brent Wang.
Ryan O' Toole—our Global Enterprise IT Solutions Intern—has lulled us into a drug-like dependency upon his technical prowess. Adam Overton—our very first intern—recently loaned us two deep fat fryers. Kelly Sears brings an unmistakable enthusiasm to the world of business presentation software. Brian Tse's presence at Machine has been a cascade of quiet mastery.
Special thanks to our house band Sudden Souvenir, starring Emily Cummins, Adam Goldman, and Jeff Kwong. And a misty-eyed thanks to the volunteers who helped us over the last two years: Erika Anderson, Hillary Graves, Kiel Hamm, Charlie Nordstrom, Paula Peng, Brett Schultz, and Johnathan Zorn.
A personal thank you to Rebecca McGrew and Kathleen Howe at the Pomona College Museum of Art, and an institutional thank you to the Museum as an entity in its own right. We encourage other forward-thinking institutions to follow its example.
Mark Allen + Jason Brown, 2005