Tuesday, June 01, 2004

John Kormelling's Big Wheel - N. Post May 22, 2004

A bit of a newsy story this week...

Who would have thought a ferris wheel could be so complicated to install in summer? Apparently, it’s not as easy as it used to be pre-9/11. Or at least unusual ferris wheels, like Dutch artist John Kormelling’s specially outfitted mobile of fun, which lifts cars as well as people, are no longer that appealing to insurance companies. The ever-squeezing grip of the "war on terror" has made it that much harder to secure insurance for art projects that involve viewer participation. You have to wonder how that has been trickling down to what we see in art galleries these days.

It is a question Power Plant director Wayne Baerwaldt has been thinking about, now that he has experienced the difficulties in making sure Kormelling’s drive-in ferris wheel is up and running by June 3, the night of the Power Ball. Baerwaldt has secured insurance but he’s had to make alterations and wade through endless negotiations to make it possible. The wheel was originally designed for drivers to fly above the gallery rooftop in their own cars. But no insurance company would touch it, he says. Instead, four Saabs will be parked permanently to the wheel.

From the 100-foot height vantage point you will see a whole new view of Toronto Island. It’s not as trippy a ride, though, with that extra step of getting into a strange car. You lose some of the rush of viewing new perspectives from a familiar dashboard while strapped to a precarious-looking, light-weight lifting machine. The ride’s thrill depends on experiencing a full dose of illogical sensations.

Kormelling’s wheel is part of a bigger exhibition of his semi-fabricated ideas that, for the most part, describe ways of bridging the creative gaps between art, architecture and city planning. He’s a classic napkin artist who draws out concepts with a few squiggly lines and then figures out the feasibility of having them made. Among the hundreds of concepts Körmelling has dreamt up over the past two decades is a rollercoaster that does a loop-da-loop through the walls of a museum, and a suburban house and lawn that turns in a circle like a giant Lazy Susan.

As sketches, they are smart one-liners that have a similar impact as most New Yorker cartoons, though the accumulative effect of so many what-if ideas brings into focus how our preconceptions of what things should look like is limited only by our imagination. Why build a ferris wheel designed for cars? Kormelling’s point is: Why not?

Baerwaldt sees the difficulty of getting insurance for the wheel as telling of Kormelling’s main theme, that creativity is easily hijacked by fear and the unknown. Even though most of the Dutch artist's ideas can all be made, they rarely are. Drive-in Ferris Wheel (renamed "Mobile Fun" in Toronto because we won’t, in the end, be able to drive in) is one of the few projects that has been constructed. Since it was completed in 1999, the wheel has turned up in cities across Europe, attracting long lines of ticket purchasers curious to experience what it’s like to be airborne in a car. -- CO

John Kormelling’s "Mobile Fun" will be in operation June 3 to August 8. $5 a ride, 7 days a week, 12noon to 11pm. An exhibition of his works is on at the Power Plant June 19 to Sept. 6, 2004. 231 Queens Quay.