Interactive installation which turns anyone into a successful artist
In collaboration with Kati Hyyppä
There are many artists in this world, but also many people who could be artists, although they are not. These people might just be stuck in their daily business, being unaware of the exciting possibility to lead the prestigious life of a professional artist. We tackled this issue at the Katowice Street Art Festival by providing anyone with the opportunity to become an artist instantly.
For that purpose, we constructed a “Public Painting Machine” and installed it inside a gallery window. People on the street could paint with the machine by pulling on ropes which were hanging outside. The machine bridged the gap between ordinary street life and the glamorous world of art. It launched hundreds of art careers and created skyrocketing fame, which culminated in cash revenue for the artists.
From an abandoned shop space to an art gallery
We started the creation of art careers by setting up “Your Art Gallery” in an abandoned shop space directly in the heart of Katowice. The location, which had formerly served as a vodka bar, had remained unused for a few decades. It took some heavy-duty cleaning and a few buckets of paint before the atmosphere was suitable for attracting potential artists as well as gallery visitors.
After the dirt was gone, we installed the Public Painting Machine in the gallery’s front window. Then we hung all the empty canvases on the gallery walls. The setup was ready for unlocking the creative energies of the people of Katowice in a life changing experience!
Becoming an artist – the easy way
Already on the opening night of the installation, crowds arrived to explore the sensational collaborative painting environment at street level. Even the national TV showed up! They eagerly wanted to know why we are engaging the people of Katowice in making art. The best answer to this question were the excited, smiling people immersed in painting with the rope contraption.
We did not really have to worry about lack of art, or artists, during the entire festival week. News about the painting machine spread in the Polish media and new visitors poured, while the old ones kept returning constantly, bringing their friends and family along. People of different generations and walks of life were painting together in a colorful harmony. It seemed like everyone wanted to become an artist: Toddlers and eighty year old seniors, ex-prisoner and aristocratic highness, and everyone in between. And the sun was shining.
Each day two new canvases turned into avant-garde paintings. The fresh artworks – still dripping wet paint – were exhibited immediately inside the gallery for the audience to admire. And we nailed the artists’ names below each painting so their fame would be ensured. One day there were over 60 artists painting on the same canvas and we almost ran out of name cards.
The art career pays off in a thrilling auction
The instant art career of the newborn artists culminated in a terrific finissage, where all the extraordinarily creative paintings were auctioned off. The auctioning of each artwork started by introducing the piece and the attending artists. After that a turbulent bidding began, starting always from just one Złoty, as we also wanted to give everyone the chance to become an instant art collector. Later, one artist described the atmosphere as “thrilling like at a horse race”.
Sometimes the battle for a painting was extremely tight, and none of the artworks was left without a new home. The buyers were rewarded with beautiful art pieces, while the artists received immediate cash revenue. The dealing of money between the buyers and the many artists was also quite an art in itself. Below is a photo of Martin, one of the gallery’s neighbors, who runs a little shoe repair business. He happily shows his new acquired painting with a heart, which decorates his workshop now:
A quick word about the painting machine
The design of the machine was heavily inspired by computer controlled pen plotters – but at the end it works entirely mechanical, without electricity, so it operates purely on the artistic power of the people. The artists could control the machine by pulling ropes which were hanging outside in front of the window. Pulling the leftmost rope moved the canvas sideways (“X”), while the middle rope moved the paint brush up and down (“Y”), and the last one painted on the canvas (“Malovać”). Three little paint buckets and a jar of water were available for choosing a color and rinsing the brush. Color selection and dipping the brush into the paint buckets could all be done with the same ropes due to a sophisticated brush-flap-down-mechanism.
The construction on top of the gallery window supported pulleys over which the ropes traveled into the gallery. There they were connected to different mechanical parts of the machine. We used kitchen sponges as shock absorbers to ensure smooth operation over time. Quite a lowtech solution. Hitech were the ropes, made of Dyneema fibers which have an extraordinary low stretch, so they provided excellent tactile feedback. The whole mechanism was counter-weighted: Fitness weights were hanging on the ropes below the easel, and bright orange sandbags on the ropes outside.
The machine worked – even to our surprise – flawlessly throughout the festival despite the fact that numerous people were pulling the ropes daily, including strong Polish guys with bodies of steel and excited kids who could not resist hanging on the ropes. Thick layers of paint also spread all over the machine and even onto the window. But in the end the only part that we had to replace a couple of times was the paint brush.
If you are interested in investigating the mechanism in more depth, you can have a look at the original 3D construction drawings in sketchup format. Feel free to get inspired by the plans, to build your own painting machine or even to improve the machine!