Build a faster mousetrap: Sculpture racing returns for year’s Science, River festivals

A mousetrap sculpture called “Exodus” by Eric Legacy
A mousetrap sculpture called “Exodus” was Eric Legacy’s sculpture racing entry at the River Festival last year. (Photo: Andrew Held)

Sculpture racing is back with two events this year – an April 23 event as part of the Cambridge Science Festival, with registration by April 11; and a June 4 race as part of the Cambridge Arts River Festival, with a registration deadline of March 18.

After a hiatus from the “World Sculpture Racing” days in the 1980s, when the racing of art spread at least to the most whimsical communities across the country, People’s Sculpture Racing was revived last year for a Kinetic Art Show at the MIT Museum and summertime River Festival race. For that race there were 17 contenders pushing, pulling or pedaling sculptures along a three-quarter-mile course on nearby streets, included teams from Artisan’s Asylum, the Harvard Physics Team and the artist Mitch Ryerson.

A giant baby carriage
A giant baby carriage was presented by an anonymous artist. (Photo: Andrew Held)

That meant seeing a giant mouse trap chasing a papier mâché burro on roller skates down the street, challenged by a replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s Flying Machine and, of course, a lone woman pushing a small purple duck on a stick.

“Sculpture racing is to gallery shows what Nascar is to auto museums,” organizers said, while artist Pat Keck – winner of the first-ever World Sculpture Racing event – called it “part street theater, part performance art, part sporting event.”

The basic criteria for entries is that the movement of the sculpture must be human-powered, though wheels must be integral to the work, and “the overriding aesthetic is spectacle,” as organizers said, allowing for use of sound art, costumes and kinetic features, as well as more elaborate performances based around the sculpture.

Keck has said that the original manifesto of sculpture racing makes it clear that, despite its inherent eccentricity, the event is still a competition meant to be won.

“One of the aims was to free artists from arbitrary judgments and give them the clear-cut winner status sports figures enjoy,” Keck said. “Therefore, crossing the finish line first was all that mattered.”

At the River Festival that means a juried race of three-quarters of a mile at an event that draws between 150,000 and 200,000 people annually. Except for a single wide turn, this race is a straight run the length of Cambridge Parkway on the river near Kendall Square’s Broad Canal. The racing sculptures will also be displayed at the festival.

The jury is to be made up of kinetic sculptors Anne Lilly and Kim Bernard and Cambridge Arts Council director Jason Weeks.

The Science Festival race route is much different: A loop of four-tenths of a mile on a path around the soccer field at Danehy Park in Northwest Cambridge. A two-hour exhibition of the sculptures will follow.

Information about the River Festival event is here, and details about the Science Festival event at Danehy Park is here. Send questions to sculptureracing@gmail.com.

Biblioburro by Scott Ruescher and Tess Landon
“BiblioBurro” by Scott Ruescher and Tess Landon was run in last year’s River Festival sculpture race. (Photo: Andrew Held)
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