In planning the programs for MoMA’s Bauhaus Lab, we wanted to give the public the opportunity not only to experience original Bauhaus curricula, but also to meet contemporary artists with multidisciplinary practices in an experimental spirit similar to the Bauhaus. The L.A.-based collective Machine Project most definitely falls into this category. (Machine’s approach to pedagogy as performance was previously presented this year at MoMA during the symposium Transpedagogy: Contemporary Art and the Vehicles of Education.)
In the words of its founder, artist Mark Allen, Machine Project is “a loose confederacy of thirty or forty artists with whom I have been developing projects for the last five years, both at our storefront gallery and throughout Los Angeles.” Each event hosted, Allen writes, “looks at the world from a different perspective—analytic, poetic, scientific, or discursive—joined by a thread of curiosity and appreciation of other people’s obscure obsessions.” Machine’s unorthodox projects have included dial-a-poem events, building a model of ancient Rome in one day, and dedicating folk songs to modern art.
This time around, Allen invited a New York-based collaborator, artist Douglas Repetto, to develop a workshop that would lead to a performance in MoMA’s Bartos Lobby. The result was Walking Tables and Wrestling Foals. For this workshop, Repetto equipped a series of stations with 2 x 4″ pieces of wood, batteries, string, and wire, along with IKEA-style sets of instructions. With them, participants built a small army of moving tables that, propelled by the batteries, walked around on their own in a wobbly fashion that suggested the movements of baby horses.
That evening, surrounded by the enthusiastic audience, the collaborators lined up the foal army in a circle. After a ceremonial reading of an introductory poem by Joshua Beckman, the foals were set into motion as an experimental chamber music group (Wet Ink) played—thus setting off a true ballet mécanique.
As the foals clumsily crashed into each other and slowly fell one by one, the spirit went from humorous to poetic and even poignant. For a few moments it felt as if the mechanicist spirit of Oskar Schlemmer had been present in the space. At the end of the event, the foals were offered to the audience for adoption—no orphans were left.