Take an art gallery with its white walls and cheese cube openings. Add the incongruous massive bowl of a racetrack -- completely constructed out of reclaimed cardboard, scaled down and somehow stuffed into the space like an elephant usurping a living room. Sprinkle on a little Disneyesque Cars Land magic and tweak it with a "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" vibe. Maybe throw in a recycling center or two. And there you have the essence of "Cardburg 2012: The Super Track."
It's a supercool interactive art exhibit -- kind of the Burning Man of cardboard -- on display this summer at Walnut Creek's Bedford Gallery. And even its curator admits the corrugated creation is a bit hard to, well, put in a box.
"It's amazing what this group of artists can do with something as banal as cardboard boxes," said Bedford's curator Carrie Lederer, shouting over cranked-up rock music, chatty hipsters and buzzing remote-control cars at the opening celebration Thursday night. "You really have to see it yourself. And play with it."
"PLAY WITH IT!" she shouted.
Oh. Yes, you get to play. And make noise. In a gallery, no less. Instead of just munching on fruit and whispering erudite critiques, visitors to this art show were having a blast at Thursday's opening, climbing up 10-foot ladders, tying on safety harnesses and whizzing little battery-operated cardboard stock cars around the huge track. Children peeked through Plexiglas windows at the
This interactive installation is courtesy of a handful of admittedly wacky Bay Area artists dubbed the Cardboard Institute of Technology, based in a studio on Treasure Island with a goal of creating all sorts of cool stuff out of back-of-the-grocery-store discards. Since 2007, they've built massive structures -- everything from cities and pirate ships to monsters and even a "Mount Killamoncardboard" -- for galleries, fundraisers and even the Exploratorium. Although whimsy is a big part of it, there's a serious side too. Their work is often a commentary on the "building" of culture, and environmentally responsible art.
But whatever, guys. The Super Track is just plain fun. It was created specifically for -- and built in -- this site, taking advantage of the Bedford's round gallery design. In fact, the track will eventually be torn down, maybe stomped on a bit in a joyful, ritualistic demolition celebration, and then sent to the recycling bin from which it probably came in the first place.
"The temporary nature of it -- kind of like sand castles being washed away -- that's part of the charm of working with cardboard," shouted C.I.T. team member Jesse "Road Kill" Wilson, her voice a bit hoarse from calling out race results. "It's abundant. It's free. And there's something cool about the restructuring and reusing of things, giving something a second life."
Hosting such an out-of-the-box exhibit is a bold move for the Bedford in a community with somewhat more traditional tastes. And indeed, a few opening night patrons didn't quite know what to make of it.
"I'm not sure," said Rae Joyce, who lives in the Rossmoor senior community, holding a fruit plate and looking up quizzically at the track. "But I love the energy here. It's definitely creative, and amazing what they can do with cardboard."
Throughout the summer as visitors come and go, the exhibit won't always be quite so boisterous as the opening show. But gallery volunteers and interns have been trained to help people recharge the battery-operated cars, and even build cardboard vehicle designs of their own.
And just viewing the installation is worth it. When you approach the gallery, the first thought is, "Oh, they're not done yet." You'll see wooden support struts and ladders, and the backs of old air filter and "non-perforated roll towel" boxes. You'll quickly realize this is the raised racetrack, which took about a month to build.
But the track is just the centerpiece. It's surrounded by cardboard artwork -- cut, molded, shaped, curled and hot-glued into forms of a shantytown, butterflies in a swarm, and a monster a la "Where The Wild Things Are," its tongue lolling from a gaping maw, eyes aglow with Christmas lights.
"You can do anything with cardboard," Wilson said. "It's such a forgiving medium. If you make something and you don't like it, you just throw it away."