Cross an abstract parade float with an all-terrain, pedal-powered vehicle and make it a competition and you get an event its participants call a “kinetic sculpture race”. These drivable works-of-art are put to the test each spring in events held across the United States.
The first kinetic sculpture race happened in
1969, after a California sculptor added two wheels and metal scraps to his
son’s tricycle, and a fellow artist challenged the “pentacycle” to a race. When
a dozen other residents also took up the challenge during their town’s annual
art festival, the Kinetic Grand Championships were born. The event is held every
Memorial Day weekend in Ferndale, California, as artists race their bizarre wares
across a 42-mile course over three days, including sections on land, sand, mud
The most important rule
is that vehicles must be propelled forward by kinetic energy (per the race’s
name), meaning wind, solar, gravity or pedalling-power as opposed to stored or
potential energy like batteries or gasoline.
Each vehicle must have at least one pilot steering the craft, but can
have as many people as the craft can
fit. Organizers encourage all pilots and crew to wear coordinating costumes to
bolster the theme of the entry.
Finishing the course with the fastest speed may
be admirable but is not necessarily the goal; the race’s founder lost the event
he created, so the “mediocre award”, given for finishing the race dead in the
middle of the pack, remains one of the most coveted prizes. Other awards are
granted for art, pageantry and engineering. The “grand champion” earns the most
points across all categories, including speed.
On 5 May, Baltimore, Maryland, will hold the East Coast Kinetic Sculpture Race Championships on an eight-hour, 15-mile race. The
city’s American Visionary Art Museum, who sponsors the event, displays many of the
vehicles throughout the year.
Smaller events in Corvallis, Oregon, Longmont,
Colorado, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are held throughout the spring and summer. In the creative spirit of
the event, all are open to anyone with the ambition to build a human-powered
work of art.