Hot Robot Action

The Motoman Project has to be seen in person to be fully understood. No tape can capture the intensity of the thunderous crack of the air cannon or the unearthly roaring buzz of the pulse jet. No technology exists to record the smells of ozone and gasoline and burning, much less the searing heat that rolls off the frequent gouts of flame. Most of all, there’s no way to convey the constant unease of being there, the lurking fear that a propane tank might explode at any minute, that the hulking, treaded monstrosity with the enormous chainsaw protuberance could veer out of control and eviscerate some unlucky spectator.

“We try to do everything as safe as we can, but we want to have that illusion of things being life threatening,” founding member Eric Dewine says. “That’s the impact you don’t get from television. When you actually come face to face with something that’s shooting fire, has big, giant sparks, that’s the reality of our show.”

Formed in 2000 by Dewine, Joe Riché and Zach Smith, three guys with a shared love of fire, explosions and fringe art, this group is punk rock attitude expressed in mechanical aptitude. They have thousands of dollars invested in the project, along with buckets of literal blood, sweat and tears, not to mention plenty of burns and a few ER visits. These guys truly understand suffering for their art.

“These things aren’t light,” Dewine says. “Getting them on and off the truck … you end up eating a lot of Advil. That’s who we should be sponsored by.”

“I like the machines and the special effects part of it, the pulse jet and the spark gap and the flamethrowers and stuff, that’s the stuff I really dig,” Riché adds. “(Growing up) it was Atari and Star Wars, I was right in the middle of that … and that was it.”

And if you don’t jump the first few times the cannon goes off or a fifteen-foot wall of flame erupts in front of you, you must already be pretty heavily medicated. Or just really drunk. Still, there always seems to be one guy at the show who can’t get close enough. “Every show we have what we like to call a ‘burn me’ guy,” Dewine says. “It’s usually a drunken guy who’s all ‘Burn me, Burn me!’”

After the performance on Friday, July 6, outside Capsule Gallery, Dewine is nearly giddy, amped up by seeing all his work come together in front of an appreciative audience, pointing out that no one got hurt and no cops showed up to shut them down. “An extreme success,” he calls it.

Riché is also visibly pleased, if a tad more reflective. Sipping a PBR before heading down off the gallery roof to begin cleaning up the immense amount of shattered glass and debris left by the performance, he took a moment to wax philosophical. “There are lots of people out there who live this shit, when they go to bed this stuff happens a couple blocks away,” Riché says. “For these people to experience that, without the hangover of it, without any consequence …”

“You can see things blowing up in Iraq on television, this is small,” Dewine adds.

“Artistically it’s important,” Riché adds, finishing up his beer. “Just sheer entertainment-wise, where can you see this kind of stuff? Getting to experience something of that intensity, with it not being on the TV screens … If we can inspire people to learn how things work, and that empowers you, and when you see things, you don’t freak out about it. Take the fear out of it by having knowledge about things, you’re a better person.” -- Cory Casciato

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