(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Crocodiles, centipedes and cutlery, oh my!
Every year, The American Visionary Art Museum’s (AVAM) Kinetic Sculpture Race challenges artists, engineers and makers to build human-powered works that can navigate the streets of Baltimore. Along the way, these colorful creations must also traverse the mud and sand of Patterson Park.
There’s also water, meaning the sculptures must also be amphibious.
At this year’s race on Saturday, May 4, we saw this in action at the water obstacle in Canton Waterfront Park. At the boat launch there, the sculptures must enter the water, make their way around a pier and propel their sculptures back up an incline to once again reach land.
Even as the sculptures have plenty of bike parts to get them moving, building in elements to help float can’t be overlooked.
“It’s a big part of the problem-solving challenge, to make a sculpture that’s both land and sea-worthy,” said AVAM’s director of marketing and communications, Helen Yuen. Some choose not to even try, leaving them in the race category of “Bush League.”
At the start of the water entry, the sculptures roll down the boat ramp, then splash into the water. Each sculpture has a theme song for this moment, and teams are announced by the Water Master of Ceremonies.
But there’s also considerable risk that it will sink. As Yuen put it: “Anything can happen at the water!”
For instance, this year, longtime sculpture Tick Tock the Croc bent two bike forks upon entry. However, all was secured and the 35-foot wonder traversed the harbor.
But there are moments of pure creative joy, as well. Sky Hat, piloted by a pair from the Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia, backed up into the water. One of the pilots then drifted away from the bike wheels. After flailing arms as though about to fall in, the pilot then pulled a paddle out of the tall hat.
The water entry has long been a part of kinetic sculpture racing. According to Yuen, the water obstacle dates to the first year of the race in Baltimore 21 years ago when Hobart Brown, founder of the original Kinetic Sculpture Race in Ferndale, Calif., and Theresa Segreti, the producer for AVAM’s edition, were working out the race course. California’s had a miles-long crossing of Humboldt Bay, so they wanted to add a crossing of the harbor. But the racers in Baltimore weren’t prepared for the waves they encountered, and ended up hindering boats.
Eventually, the entry in Canton was added, which became the lone water entry after a second boat ramp near South Baltimore’s Baltimore Museum of Industry was removed in 2004.
Yuen said the water portion of the event is regularly its most attended.
Each year, the race gives an award called the Golden Flipper for the most memorable water entry. This year’s went to EGGsistential Crisis, a sculpture built by students in the industrial design class at Baltimore’s Jemicy School. The four-pilot team was operating under “ACE” rules that don’t allow any assistance.-30-
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