Today marked the 40th Anniversary of the Kinetic Grand Championship, which has been described as the "Iron Man Triathlon" of the art world. I didn't exactly see Charles Saatchi and Mary Boone out eating cheese on the Samoa Dunes, but I did see Humboldt County, my new home, performing to maximum potential. I've written about the Kinetic Sculpture Race before--it's one of my favorite concepts, but it wasn't a reality to me...until today. I finally got to experience the awesome, amazing, crackpot, idiotic genius in person.
The lovely Claire and I took in the whole day of Kinetic Madness,which started at 9 AM in the Arcata Plaza. For the uninitiated, the Kinetic Sculpture Race is a 42-mile course over asphalt, sand and water. The vehicles must be human-powered, and a whole bevy of random rules are randomly applied. Before the race can properly begin, each vehicle is checked for "safety". I saw one vehicle nearly catch fire when the people running it put a ton of lighter fluid in an onboard grill with a rusted out bottom, but as long as the brakes work, the judges didn't seem to mind.
Speaking of judges, after the brakes are checked, each vehicle is judged on "pageantry". Some of the crews prepared skits, some prepared songs...but all of the crews bribed the hell out of the judges, which is mandatory in the competition. The crew of a vehicle called "Solid Gold Fifi" bribed the judges with some delicious looking Barbecued ribs that supposedly came from a giant poodle (but looked suspiciously like pork). The judges came away with piles of goodies. This being Humboldt county, one team even bribed the judges with their 215 (medical marijuana) card.
The vehicles themselves are miracles of engineering. Some of them are, anyway. Most are frankensteined together from old bike parts, but many also sport plenty of homemade parts and parts repurposed from other things. Remember that the vehicles not only have to make it through the 42-mile course, but they also have to make it through a few miles of the Humboldt Bay. There were boat vehicles, plenty of pontoons, and at least a few gigantic chunks of styrofoam with prayers attached to them.
The vehicles all have to endure "Dead Man's Drop", which is a VERY steep sand dune that has to be about 120 feet long. Some vehicles pussyfoot down the slope with all of the crew members trying to slow the vehicle down with all of their might, and some simply bomb down the slope. The above video is of "Hippypotamus" more or less bombing down the slope. I understand that only one vehicle took a tumble this year, which is kind of unusual.
Sadly, I won't be able to attend the next two days of the Kinetic Grand Championship, because I'm getting on a plane to Jingdezhen, China tomorrow. For all of your kinetic needs, you should check out our amazing local radio station, KHUM. They'll have reporters at all of the main sites, as well as a link to a video feed and an amazing blog. I was twittering today, and they were picking up various feeds and reporting on them. Tomorrow (Sunday the 24th) is the water portion of the race, which can lead to all sorts of sinking and mayhem. The race winds up on Monday afternoon in the beautiful Victorian village of Ferndale. If you're in California, and you're looking for some great Memorial Day weekend action, hop in your car and drive up to Humboldt County. I need somebody to report back to me on how the rest of the race goes.
You can also check out my FLICKR photos and videos of the first day of the race.