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Making Art Machines that Make People Sick

Our interview with Ryan C. Doyle.
October 15, 2010, 7:36pm

Artist Ryan C. Doyle has built a Jet-Powered Bike and a giant, remote-controlled hand that can smash a car. Most recently, he’s been fabricating art carnival rides that either make people sick or think about nuclear disaster. Find out why below.

So, what are you working on right now?
We're doing a show on a piece called the Regurgitator. It's a pulse jet powered carnival ride that spins you around and removes your lunch. So it spins around in a circle while you're sitting on it facing the audience. As a participant you are encouraged to regurgitate not only your thoughts but also actually vomit.

Can you tell us a little more about pulse jets?
At the Madagascar institute in Brooklyn, while I was there, we started doing stuff with these valveless pulse jets. Then I left and started doing things on my own. A festival in Zagreb, Croatia called Device Art asked me to build something jet-powered. And I was like, “Oh I guess I'll just build another spinning ride with pulse jets.” This is the third in a series of pulse-jet powered carnival rides that I have started and seen through. The idea with the Regurgitator was to get people to vomit while they were being viewed as an art piece, or while they were interacting with a machine that was being viewed as an art piece, as a comment on the necessity of people in the art world to constantly reference works from the generation before them, which, I think, in a lot of ways creates this really great echo of ideas that goes through generations, but in another way it's kind of just using other people’s ideas and spitting them back out again, which isn't that interesting.

Do people really ride it until they throw up?
Yep, about 35% percent of people ride it until they throw up.

Where are you usually based? I know you were in Chernobyl with Eva and Franco Mattes working on Plan C, and now you are in Manchester, England.
My shop is in Oakland right now, but when I come back I'm flying into Detroit, and I'm looking for a place there that is either in Dearborn or somewhere near downtown. There's a lot of artists moving there right now.

Dearborn is interesting because Henry Ford originally designed it as a place for his factory workers to live and sectioned it off in all kinds of messed-up ways based on race and the status of the workers at the factory.
Yep.

You built the carnival ride for Plan C from parts salvaged from a carnival ride inside the radioactive zone. Why did you name it the Liquidator?
That's what they called these volunteer firemen that went and put out the initial explosion and tried to subdue it for the first day and a half. And they were actually exposed to these very high levels of radiation. They called them the liquidators.

Why the fascination with radioactivity? Does it have to do with a fascination with the future?
In 2007, they discovered a radiothropic fungus that lives off radiation in the same way that green plants live off sunlight. Some theorists and quantum physicists think that the discovery of this fungus proves that there's life on other planets living off the abundance of radiation in space.

How do you get from Chernobyl to carnival ride?
By going and stealing this carnival ride, we were giving people a chance to absorb the story of Chernobyl in a more positive light. Not such an, “Oh here's all the death and misery that happened,” light. We thought we could do it by just getting people to enjoy something, and then as they're getting on it or as they're getting off it they can start getting into it by asking more and more questions about Chernobyl.

So the ride is sort of like a way to make history interactive?
Yeah. And I think it really came through for a lot of people. Especially doing a really public event like we did, you get not only the art crowd, which is great, but every day after school let out it would be packed with kids for two hours, just like all fighting to get on one chair or you know, young boys flirting with young girls — people just having fun. And then they would slowly ask these questions, just like, “Why did you do it?” Or “What was this?” And that was like our in toward explaining the project to them.

Collaboration seems to be a big part of all of your creative projects. Why do you prefer working with other artists to working on your own?
Collaborating with other people, you get to see how they respond to every situation. You get to have this community that you start to build, and I think that's really important for being an artist. You know it's fun for me to sit in my room and draw alone, but it's much more interesting for me to think of an idea that can't really be realized in anyone's head. It takes for everyone to get together for it to become a real thing.

Want more? Doyle’s got a show opening at Rupert Ravens Contemporary in Newark on October 23rd.