Machine Project at Walker Art Center

How an experimental art collective turned a field into a puppy opera, lawnmower symphony and more


Chiefly interested in the “intersections between different fields of knowledge,” like all good art collectives, Machine Project’s objectives are sometimes frustratingly vague. Loose definitions on their site span “informal educational institution” to host of “scientific talks, poetry readings and group naps.” But if one thing is consistent about the L.A. nonprofit, it’s that every undertaking is steeped in radical creativity.

With seemingly unfiltered conceptual thinking, founder Mark Allen’s wide-reaching collaborations manage to translate the group’s raw ideas into crowd-pleasing installations. Most recently Machine Project took up a two-week residency at Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center during the museum’s Open Field series of outdoor art events, resulting in a collection of site-specific performance pieces.

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Set to a live singing performance, Elizabeth Cline’s 10-minute operetta “Tragedy on the Sea Nymph” featured an all-dog cast acting as lovers shipwrecked at sea.

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Another project involving animals, “The American Lawn, and Ways To Cut It” explored the sonic nature of the grass at Walker, using “sheep, choreographed gasoline-powered ride-on mowers with mounted oscillators tuned to the drone of their engines, and push mowers,” which were strung with tinkling bells.


Influenced by architecture, Machine Project’s Curator of Sound Chris Kallmyer was the driving force behind the lawn event and another experimental study in sound called “Music For Parking Garages.” The talented trumpeter and fellow musicians tested the limits of sound in a cavernous parking garage, playing to whoever pulled up a bean bag chair for a listen.


Sound artist Kamau Patton adapted solar panels and a light-to-frequency converter to measure the sun’s rays on the Open Field, turning them into a beautiful arrangement of tunes in his “Composition for Photoelectric Array and Ambient Light Open Field.”

Whether teaching kids to break into cars, amplifying melons, generating songs through algorithms, reading poetry over the phone or pickling through lacto-fermentation, there was no shortage of inventive activities on hand at the Walker in July thanks to Machine Project. Always testing new ideas, hosting events and teaching classes at their Echo Park storefront, subscribe to their newsletter to keep on top of this industrious group’s latest happenings.

The Walker’s “Open Field” events continue through 4 September 2011, check the site for listings.

All images from Walker Open Field