Art in Public Places: Donut Machine

XCurated, Art in Public Places, Donut Machine, Steven Laurie, public art, Kingston, OntarioAfter a wild goose chase that involved two unsuccessful attempts to view Steven Laurie’s Donut Machine; skill testing directions brought to you by XCurated, we finally discovered the piece inside the southern entrance at the Cataraqui Town Centre. The name suggests that this mechanical marvel is something that Homer Simpson might be interested in, however upon further inspection, I can assure you that this is anything but a producer of delicious deep fried cakes. Described as a rather useless machine, save for generating playful skid marks, obnoxious noise and pollution, Laurie’s work reminds us that art doesn’t have to be pretty, functioning nor appealing to the masses. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.  The placard next to his piece reads as follows:

As an open-ended comment on the spectacular realm of commerce and exchange dominating the eastern section of the City of Kingston, APP presents The Donut Machine by Toronto-based artist, Steven Laurie. This custom-designed, petro-fuelled, 10 horsepower machine is constructed from back-yard equipment parts, and car and truck components bought from ‘big-box’ hardware stores like Canadian Tire and Princess Auto. The stylish black and red finishings, stainless steel exhaust pipe, custom chain guard, orange Chevy engine block fender, and ornamental decals have all been painstakingly chosen, build, tested, and re-tested by the artist himself. This kind of attention to detail is reminiscent of the countless hours of labour put in by motor enthusiasts and car-lovers building and customizing their own vehicles in home garages across the country. But unlike a beloved sports car or an old Ford, which has the practical use of transporting people from one place to another, the only thing the Donut Machine can really do is generate a whole lot of obnoxious noise, raise huge plumes of grey-blue smoke, and burn rubber!

Even though they might be functionless, Laurie’s homebrew machines are completely functioning. For example, in his Burt Out performances, Laurie uses the Donut Machine to literally “burn rubber” by holding it like a rototiller and skidding it across a patch of existing cement or asphalt (such as a parking lot of a street). This action creates a predetermined pattern of blackened circles, curves, ‘donuts’, and marks much like those left behind by bravado-filled race car drivers showing off their torque to a crowd of cheering motor fans at a speedway. In fact, Laurie’s machines have been described as “hyper-masculine” – a reference to the conspicuous display of muscle, power, and aggression required for their operation. It leaves us wondering: in today’s contemporary culture of consumption, can masculinity be bought in the form of gadgets, gizmos, or customized gear?

Today is effectively the last day of XCurated’s Art in Public Places series, so get out there and enjoy all of the pieces before they are removed. To help guide your exploration, in addition to Laurie’s Donut Machine featured above, we’ve covered the following APP pieces over the past few weeks: Milie Chen and Warren Quigley’s Greenroom, Shayne Dark’s Free Form in Blue and Michael Davidge’s Pretty Vacancy.  Enjoy!

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