“Burritos n’ Beats.” “Crocheting the Hyperbolic Plane.” “The Hidden Life of Garbage.” “Urban Cat Architecture.” “Op-Art Handball.”
It may sound like fridge-magnet poetry, but it’s actually a sampling of the weird and wonderful events that Machine Project, Echo Park’s iconic alternative art space, has presented since 2003. A chronological archive of exhibitions, as well as a smattering of essays, photographs and artists’ projects, can be found in “Machine Project: The Platinum Collection,” a printed retrospective that launches with a free “extravaganza” at the Vista Theater on March 30.
The book — an encyclopedic undertaking — is a testament to the particular vision of Mark Allen, Machine Project’s founder and executive director, who refers to a 2011 workshop “to teach children how to steal cars,” as representative of programming. “How to hotwire a car, break into a car and break out of a trunk,” he says by phone, teaches Bourne-style high jinks while covertly instructing participants about mechanics. “I think of that as a good example of the kinds of things that we do. [There’s] one layer that’s kind of absurdist, and a deeper layer about knowledge underneath.”
Paging through the book can feel equally kaleidoscopic. Soap-making workshops and poetry readings need little explanation, but what did the May 3, 2012, event titled “We said a 40 FOOT TREE” entail?
“I think that was a puppet show,” says Allen.
The breadth of subject matter and happenings that Machine Project presented from 2003 to 2015 is delightfully wide-ranging, and the book, presented in collaboration with the Tang Teaching Museum, follows suit. A foldout map of Machine Project’s storefront, replete with “holes and stains, explained” is followed by a history of “Every Poetry Project Ever” — compiled by memory. Other sections take a more traditional art history approach.
Employing the same open-mindedness found in Machine Project’s curation, “the idea was to not privilege one form of documentation” in the archival process, says Allen.
Even for followers of the Los Angeles alt-art scene, Machine Project means different things to different people. “Unless you came to everything, you only get a partial picture,” says Allen. Some patrons may have attended an embroidery or sewing class, others a film screening, and still others may have favored Machine Project’s always surprising performances, such as witnessing comic Claire Titelman emerge from a pile of dirty laundry like woman popping out of a cake, or the participatory (and not for the faint of heart) “Experience the Experience of Being Buried Alive.”
“A book is an opportunity to compile,” says Allen, for whom “the installations feel really iconic”; if you missed Josh Beckman’s “Sea Nymph,” for example, it’s now on view as a two-page spread.
With a track record of programming this eclectic, what’s Machine Project’s common thread? It’s “more strategies than fields of research,” says Allen. “I was interested in having an organization that looks at all elements of human culture. The common element becomes how do we present those things.” With inclusivity, accessibility and a heavy dose of humor seems to be Machine Project’s answer, a combination with enduring appeal.
The book may be a retrospective, but it isn’t an ending. “I feels like the odometer flipping over,” says Allen. “We’ve done all those things, now we’re going to see what’s next.”
Guests of the free March 30 book launch at the Vista can expect live performances by Chris Kallmyer and Cliff Hengst, as well as an appearance by the Reader’s Chorus, who will present “Japanese George Clooney Takes American Ken Watanabe to Get Sushi,” and a related piece, “Readers Rajio Taiso or Readers Radio Calisthenics,” which, in part, sets the words “Honda Nissan Subaru” to the tune of Madonna’s “Vogue.”
And there will be a book giveaway — in true Machine Project fashion — for the winners of mysterious tests of endurance and strength.