What's opera, dog? Walker hosts amplified watermelons, sheep, musical for canine loversby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Looking for something a little different this week? How about an opera for dogs? Or lessons on turning watermelons into amplified bongos? Or a seminar on hotwiring cars?
These are just a few of the offerings by a Los Angeles artist group called Machine Project, currently visiting the Walker Art Center.
There's so much going on at the Walker during Machine Project's visit that Emily Lacy wrote a song about it.
"Come on down to the Open Field Summer Jubilee, Where Machine Project's got polygraphs and money-back guarantees.
Sheep that will be amplified while they eat some grass. Music for parking garage, complete with drums and brass..."
The song has several verses.
Open Field is the Walker's summer program on the commons next to the building. Machine Project's director Mark Allen said it's a perfect spot to explore the interaction between an art museum and the larger community.
"A lot of our projects are investigating different ways that people can experience culture," Allen said.
And the Machine Project artists like to approach things from new angles. Tonight, they'll present an opera written for dogs and their owners. Next week there's a lawnmower concert, which starts with a number of sheep.
"And we'll have them mic'ed, and we are doing a remix of the sound of the sheep eating the lawn," Allen said. "And then we will have electric mowers that have electric tones that harmonize with the sound of the mower to create these chords."
The piece culminates with a loosely choreographed performance for pushmowers festooned with bells.
Interactions can take many forms. Visitors may stumble across an old rotary phone, which doesn't seem to be attached to anything. But Machine Project rigged a cell phone inside, so it rings sometimes. And when it does, there's always a poet on the other end.
"Starlings described for the people I see," intones a voice through a long-distance static hiss. "Their heads poke out looking to feed, and their singing in their occupied trees."
Joshua Beckman is calling from New York. He believes most people have never spoken with a poet, but they've used a phone, so the poetry phone becomes what he calls "An intimate but a long-distance way of introducing poetry to people out there."
There's a similar idea behind Jason Torchinsky's sessions but you have to dig for it.
"I'm going to show the kids how to get into a locked car," he said. "I'm also going to show them how to break out of a locked car trunk. Now, modern car trunks have a little glow-in-the-dark get-me-out-of here handle. But a lot of cars don't," Torchinsky said. "So we are going to show them how to get out of pretty much any trunk they happen to find themselves in. And we are going to show them how to hotwire a car, because that's fun."
That got your attention, didn't it?
Torchinsky isn't worried that people might object.
"Not really, the whole point of it is to demystify cars as machines," he said.
Torchinsky doesn't expect a rash of car thefts after his class. And youngsters can't sign up alone.
"You are going to need a parent," he says. "So if they do end up stealing cars at least they are doing it with their parent, and that's a great family-bonding kind of thing and I think it's a little heart-warming anyway."
The Walkers Sarah Schultz is coordinating the Machine Project visit. She admits when she heard some of the suggestions they gave her pause.
"I took a lot of deep breaths," she said. "And held my tongue, and thought about things real carefully, and realized we were going on a great adventure together."
The Walker is allowing Machine Project to attempt some things which other museums have refused. For example tomorrow there's what Mark Allen calls "Satisfaction guaranteed with polygraph."
"Anyone who comes to the museum who feels like they didn't get their money's worth can get a refund of their ticket - if they can pass a polygraph proving they are telling the truth," he said.
Allen predicts it will appeal to people concerned about value for money - and those who just want to see how good a liar they may be.
- Morning Edition, 07/21/2011, 6:55 a.m.