Rosemarie Fiore
Good-Time Mix Machine Scrambler Drawings

Good-Time Mix Machine Scrambler Drawings
Amusement parks, even more than your standard Ringling Bros. road show, loom large in the cultural hard drive of nearly all children. For every ten year old with braces punching her brother in the arm up in the Big Top's nosebleed seats while midgets pile out of Volkswagen Bugs, lions jump through flaming hoops, and Rocketeers get shot out of cannons, there's a corresponding army of pimply-faced adolescents hopped up on candy, rehearsing future road rage behind the wheel of a bumper car, or getting happily drenched in the log ride's flume. Whether you first went as a shy second grader and rode a top-hatted caterpillar through Mother Goose Land, or heroically tried to impress your first love by winning a purple dinosaur in the ring toss, the point is you were there. It was the party that everyone got invited to and no one missed. Long before exclusionary cliques and Lord of the Flies pecking orders begin to set in-say, elementary school-parks offer the ideal non-hierarchical utopia. No specialized knowledge or advanced degrees are required. You need not be tragically thin, nor especially coordinated. The dress code hasn't changed in fifty years. In fact, veteran ride operators are fond of saying that fun in an amusement park is as simple as "touching the steel and turning the wheel." Magic Mountain, Great America, and Playland, in other words, are youthful institutions on par with Trapper Keepers, Back to School sales, God's Eyes and plastic keychain lariats. Like summer camp, but with more junk food and less adult supervision.

These days, what's so remarkable about a Six Flags franchise in the tony suburbs of Cleveland or a mom and pop owned Astroland on Coney Island's depressed inner city boardwalk, is how well parks from coast to coast have been able to resist Blockbuster Video-style standardization, keep feeding the public's appetite for ever-more hair-raising thrills, and still hearken back nostalgically to the glory days of hand carved merry-go-rounds and a steady diet of corn dogs and sno-cones. It's not surprising to find a park with a full time organist playing an actual vintage Wurlitzer in a maple-floored roller rink, next to a tubular steel coaster with a four story drop that corkscrews you into a batwing loop. A strangely arrested geologic time seems to operate in these parks wherein rides from different eras abut each other like sedimentary layers. Planned obsolescence is held in abeyance in favor of an accumulation of scripted Americana: Frontierland's log cabins most likely housing a Skee-Ball range, next to needle-nosed Atomic Age rockets promising ice cold missile pops or Cold War space travel, next to the fluted wings of an Art Nouveau Ferris wheel. Carnival striped canopies in canary yellow and Starburst orange are a standard. Likewise, the anthropomorphizing of just about every ride into beavers and woodchucks and dragons and toads, all with smiley raver faces staring back at you with winking, Cheshire glee.

For Grand Arts, Rosemarie Fiore has created a project which tests the notion that a painting generated by a "kick-spinning" ride whirling around a central spinning axis would summon up the Pepto-Bismol pinks and acid greens, along with the dopplering lights and Top 40 soundtrack, of your first trip to any regional Xanadu's stately mechano-morphic pleasure dome. Rather than build a Gesamtkunstwerk-the total work of art-in the manner of Kurt Schwitter's Merzbau or Wagner's Ring Cycle (with their interior logic, codes, characters, and myths) she's created a painting that acts as an allegorical trigger for a completely circumscribed world of sense impressions. Like life, but cleansed and purged of CNN and original sin. A Rapture in reverse. The ride, or in this case, image-making machine, is an Eli Bridge Scrambler , designed in 1955 as an update on the "scenic railways" and Ferris wheels that had come to dominate amusement parks since the 1920s. Early rides had dovetailed nicely with pictorial Impressionism's nouveau riche rogues gallery of a "bonnets and bowlers" wearing middle class, staring back at itself with mutual self-regard, as dappled light reflected flatteringly off the winding topiary hedges. The Wonder Wheel and Barney Oldfield Model-T rides, after all, had long established their romantic aura as a charming site for a first date or even a marriage proposal, tucked as they were in their artificially landscaped habitats. They embodied the quaintly rusticated 5 mph equivalent of parasol-toting urban flaneurs, strolling along the boulevards arm in arm while taking in the latest haberdashery.

What these rides lacked though was a sense of imminent danger. Innate, implied, vicarious-it hardly mattered-the public craved the rush of centrifugal torque-the gut wrenching, pulse raising, take-your-breath-away simulation of mock terror that momentarily erased the boredom of the work week, the drudgery of school. What they wanted, although they couldn't have known it at the time, was a $100 million dollar Jerry Bruckheimer disaster film with the added benefit of sun and fresh air. What they got (and in the 1950s this was no small consolation) was the Scrambler, the first "non-wheel" ride that featured twelve cars, four on each of three steel arms, gliding in spirographic circles on an x/y plane. A ride that to this day can be found everywhere from small traveling county fairs, to Knott's Berry Farm's 160 acre mega-park. A ride that came to be known affectionately as a "grass-cutter," for its earth-hugging sweeps.

Fiore's selection of the Scrambler to make a painting, then, is by no means arbitrary. It represents the link between the old world's rush of simply being in motion (which itself recalls the primitive Russian ice slides of the 1700s) and the new turbo-charged world of the Raptor, where riders are strapped in with powerful foam restraining devices as their legs dangle freely at 60 mph over the bunnyhops, and then slowly revolve as they plunge into a horseshoe turn. Unless you're being recruited by NASA, chances are you'll never experience anything like it. Though it hovers between these two worlds, the Scrambler's staying power is most evident in its subtle product upgrades and name changes-modifications, I hasten to add, that never stray too far from the original. Sure, the Breakdance features an undulating base upon which the cars bob and weave against a hip-hop mural with Wild Style graffiti tags, and yes, the Twist, Sizzler, and Merry Mixer are zippy updates of the original name, but the Scrambler itself has proved the test of time.

In the homespun manner of most of Fiore's projects, the process's criteria are few and surprisingly simple in relation to the logistics of the whole. She simply attaches a gas powered spray mechanism (much like an airbrush) to the passenger seat of one car, which in turn is connected to a bucket of house paint that rests on the car's floor. While the ride is in motion, Fiore uses a remote control timer to shower the waiting canvas (or alternately vinyl) underneath. The timer, in effect, becomes her painterly "brush," dictating the atomizing intervals much like a conductor's baton controls the tempo of an orchestra. Instead of violins, clarinets, and timpani, her palette consists of yellow, blue and red-Mondrian primaries that jibe neatly with the Scrambler's own color scheme.

From a bird's eye view, then, the result is a "hypocycloid," a unique geometric form that resembles a Spirograph drawing. A strangely murky stew of raw plein-air painting (sans easel), mixed with spin art's oozing Rorschachs, enhanced by the rugged physicality of an action painting. An action painting, though, whose serial regularity reveals the clanking, appliance toppling, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night ghost in the machine. Though the finished painting is hardly spectral (it is, like coaster design in general, a melange of super-graphic helixes, parabolas, and oblique loops), a ghost seems a fitting metaphor since Fiore's hand is nowhere to be seen. This is, no doubt, the crux of the piece. The rebuilding of the Scrambler itself, the design of the paint delivery system, and the fashioning of the canvas receiving end are all choreographed by Fiore, who involves the entire staff of Grand Arts, so that the task resembles an Amish barn raising in keeping with its humble, outdoor roots.

Fiore's own roots, as demonstrated in past projects, never stray far from this notion of collaboration with the machine. In 2000, she removed the glass from an Evel Knievel pinball machine, overlaid cut vellum around the bumpers of the "playboard" (1,000 points when lit!), and played a full game with three balls she had doused in red, white, and blue oil paint, respectively. The resulting painting, a lavender oblong that looks like a hallucinated skull, testifies to Fiore's ability to excavate or "see" the buried image within the machine, almost as if it was written in invisible ink. In the same way that Michelangelo envisioned David's sensuous curves within the notoriously busted Duccio stone, Fiore anticipated a painting that would conjure the first celebrity superhero made flesh: a daredevil who motorcycle-jumped over a tank of live sharks and is listed in the Guinness Book of World's Records for having broken thirty-five bones. Like the Scrambler, which is permanently lodged in the pop-imagination like Penny Lane Muzak, Evel Knievel isn't going anywhere. Perhaps if you guest star on the Bionic Woman, have George Hamilton and Sam Elliot play you in two TV movies, and inspire Fonzie to jump over twenty cars in the parking lot of Al's Diner, Fiore will make a piece about you. I joke, but maybe levity is the only way to steer clear of the tired modernist myth of the paint-splattered artist with palsied hands locked in existential hand-to-hand combat with his canvas adversary. Fiore is less the tortured narcissist revealing her Jungian archetypes than the generous gatekeeper of a tesseract or magic wardrobe, facilitating the wrinkle in the dimensional portal to endless euphoric nostalgias.

Not to sound melodramatic or alarmist, but in an age when glassy-eyed and twitchy latchkey kids are logging six hours straight on Sonic the Hedgehog-alone-it's reassuring to know that actual hedgehogs, albeit fiberglass with bucket seats, possess enough reanimated charm to bring thousands of kids together every day. The tent poles, vertical struts, and soaring neon signs in every amusement park are nothing if not an Enchanted Forest. The park is not a stage for willed disbelief, since the slate at this age is fairly blank and uncorrupted, but an interactive factory for the production of a communal imaginary, sans joystick, laptop, VR-goggles, or any other cyborgian delights. It is the foundation of one's most primal estuarial imagination, you might say, the swampy unconscious. This unconscious is deep, roiling, and ready to be dredged up by the clicking sound of the coaster chain inexorably dragging cars up an Erector Set mountain and the smell of greasy fries wafting along the bleached salt air. Explicitly democratic, Fiore's Scrambler paintings act as a conduit into this world of populist dreaming.

David Hunt
New York, New York

This project is funded by Grand Arts with assistance from ADA Gallery, Richmond, VA; Bodybuilder and Sportsman Gallery, Chicago, IL; and Todd Simon.
Grand Arts also wishes to thank the staff of the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum, Leavenworth, KS and Zimmer Real Estate Services for their gracious assistance with this project.
Rosemarie Fiore would like to thank Michael Ferris Jr., Julian Smith, Vincent and Virginia Fiore, Jerry Reinhardt, Larry Tate, Peter Demos, Brendan Meara, Colin Leipelt, Jeffrey Burgess, and Burak Duvenci.


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