Though the installation will only be up for five days, beginning Thursday, August 16, Weissman says the months-long process that produced it has been just as important as the final product that the public will see.
“This project has been going on for two years, but the only part anyone knew about in the beginning is this part,” Weissman explains. “It feels like this [installation] is the sexy part, but there were all these residents and kids who for the better part of two years spent time researching it and doing all the dirty work to make it happen. The installation is inspired by that process.”
“We built the machine to explain participatory budgeting, which is much more exciting than someone just talking about it,” Weissman says. “This is the type of thing — without being too cheesy about it — that is the coolest part of the art to me, because if I were to just tell people about the project and participatory budgeting, I’d get nothing. But when you get badass artists together to work on it, you suddenly get a lot of eyeballs to check it out.”
The creative crew behind This Machine Has a Soul includes muralists (Jolt, Birdseed Collective leader Anthony Garcia Sr., Elvis Nunez and others), the theatrical gang from Buntport Theater, poet Kerrie Joy, tech wizards at Locker Partners and Mmmanyfold, and a multitude of volunteers. “It’s a real mix, and it’s really weird, but fun weird — it’s a strange old space we’ve got there,” Weissman says, without irony.
All of it is essential to the experience, says Weissman: “If people spend a bit of time in the closet watching the videos, they’ll begin to understand the complexity and non-complexity that comes from people feeling like they either have a choice or don’t.” And it will get to the nitty-gritty of current events in Swansea and the other neighborhoods in the shadow of the interstate.
“It’s about what culture means to people, and how decision-making, money and art all have the potential to be weaponized,” Weissman continues. “But it’s also the most liberating thing. As a quick example, folks in the neighborhood have differing opinions about the murals under I-70. When we used to do that, we were arrested. Why are they only letting artists do that now, when they’re going to knock it down? Those questions muddy the waters.
It all boils down to this: See This Machine Has a Soul if you're ready for community-based change. And who isn't?
Concludes Weissman, “I hope this will stay in people’s minds as the coolest art installation they’ve ever seen. If they learn stories from residents and what participatory budgeting is about, that would be rad. Instead of holding a neighborhood meeting, we want to affect people in a different way.”
The installation/performance/spectacle This Machine Has a Soul will be open to the public for five days only at 4335 Thompson Court in the Swansea neighborhood. Visit from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. on August 16, 17 or 20, and from 2 to 7 p.m. on August 18 and 19. Admission is free; find more info at the website.