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Automotive Art

The Weston gets rowdy with interactive racecar installation


Art isn't usually fun. It's often enjoyable, occasionally entertaining, but usually not fun. But what if art were as fun as a Friday night at the Kentucky Speedway? Circumambulator, a site-specific installation at the Weston Gallery, addresses that question and pushes expectations of the art experience far beyond any preconceived notions.

Circumambulator is the brainchild of two artists, Nick De Pirro and Ian Williams, whose interest in racing and mixed media sculpture led them to build a machine that defies traditional perceptions of art.

"What we have is a big, mixed media installation. It's a big, steel object, sort of a transparent steel thing - a lot of mesh, a lot of tubes and bars, stuff like that," says De Pirro, describing the piece. "It is a racetrack for model cars."

Two distinct components comprise Circumambulator. When the artists are in Cincinnati, they will be interacting with the piece for a performance component.

Dressed in what De Pirro calls "goofy outfits," the artists will stand at a workbench that holds all of their equipment for bringing the racetrack to life. "During the times when we actually do a performance, we have a bunch of 1/10 scale electric model cars that we run around on the inside of it," De Pirro says. "It's kind of a circus type of thing or something that's called the 'wall of death,' which is a motorcycle stunt show where they ride around the inside of a vertical thing, so a lot of the track is actually vertical. The cars actually run around the inside with centripetal force making them stick to the wall - most of the racing occurs above everybody's heads."

The second component of the piece is the structure's role when the artists aren't present. "The objects themselves are pretty interesting, kind of big and something that you can walk around and look at certain sculptural aspects of it - textures, shapes, stuff like that," De Pirro says. "It's actually a big cone that stands up and a vertical section on top of the cone.

"Then there's a secondary object, which is sort of a big, rectangular prism made of the same transparent mesh steel, and that contains all of the paraphernalia that goes along with the racing," including the artists' costumes, two computers with 20-inch displays running video sequences, and a lot of cars and racing gear.

When the artists are not present, viewers are encouraged to engage Circumambulator's racetrack. "We want people to bring their own model cars if they have them, and toss them into the track and race around," says De Pirro. "We're going to have a little table set up that is identical to the table that we are using as our supply workbench." Gas-powered cars aren't permitted, but electricity is provided for electric-powered cars.

The idea for Circumambulator was hatched when the two artists were in grad school in the sculpture program at Ohio State University. "We came up with a collaborative piece that we called 'Flash Crash,' which was an off-road dirt track inside of a studio space. Essentially it was a tight, inverted cone - it was a pit-like shape, and we raced around the interior of it for about an hour and a half," De Pirro says. "Sort of a similar kind of formula - this one is bigger, it's taller, and the wall of death aspect is stronger on this piece than the other one."

Though the piece is without a doubt fun, De Pirro stresses that there's more to it than just cars racing around a track. "To circumambulate something just means to walk around it, but a lot of times it's in reference to temples and Buddhist stupas, where pilgrims will walk around it in order to gain some type of experience from it," he says. "So the idea is that people and performers can walk around the space as cars run around the inside.

"The piece is so hilarious when it gets going, with people shouting and stuff like that, people don't really think about that kind of stuff, but we hope they do."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005 | CiN Weekly