Psychedelic organ riffs and cumbia beats float through Skid Row’s Superchief Gallery after hours, as Ryan C. Doyle hunches in concentration over a laptop, tinkering with a VR simulation. Decked out in a well-worn orange jumpsuit, the artist’s six-foot-six-inch frame towers over me as he covers my eyes with a headset and just like that, I’m on a guided tour of a mad mind.
Immersion and interactivity recur throughout the displays of "Triptych: A Trippy Threesome," the Los Angeles solo debut of the machine artist, that includes VR experiments and 2D renderings. Flying in the face of the untouchability of traditional art contexts, the gallery itself has been recast in salvaged materials from Detroit, where he is artist in residence at community recycling center, Recycle Here.
In the middle of the warehouse is the “Carcroach,” a fully functional Honda Civic-turned-dune buggy that’s made several appearances at Burning Man, where Doyle is a well-known name among the old guard. The white dust from its recent trip still clings to the recycled limbs, pool hose antennae and hibachi grill hood ornament. There’s a hot seat on the vehicle’s roof, subwoofers flanking its shell and a button — which “kid’s love” — that activates a flame thrower in the rear.
During its tenure in L.A., the "Carcroach" took a ride to the Beverly Hilton, where it was left with the valet blasting one of its 47 versions of “La Cucaracha.” “One of them is dub step,” Doyle says dryly. He smirks when he tells me cops stopped beside the vehicle to ask, “How’s she runnin’?” He recalls: “I said, ‘Great,’ and turned the music all the way up.”
Pushing the envelope is nothing new for Doyle, whose formative experiences assisting photographer David LaChapelle in New York, tall-bike jousting for a punk-rock circus in New Orleans and apprenticing with Oakland machinists Survival Research Labs, cultivated an irreverence for societal boundaries.
One of his projects, “The Regurgitator,” a jet powered centrifuge that propels a rider in circles, was banned from Burning Man altogether when it spun so fast it made a dozen people’s eyes bleed. “The first person that got on it totally emptied the contents of his stomach toward the crowd in this ring of vomit,” the artist chuckles. At the L.A. opening of "Triptych," about 25 people rode the sculpture and true to form, someone did oblige its namesake.
Ten years on, the 37-year old artist has tempered deployment of the project. “I’m not as dangerous with it anymore,” he says. “The idea is mostly to empower people. I want them to get over this litigious society’s feeling of not being able to touch something dangerous.”
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Despite a penchant for extreme robotics and prankster pyrotechnics, the work is invitingly whimsical — trash trinket machines that make art of throwaway culture. Doyle, too, is more than willing to engage a perked ear, whirring through art concepts, then memories, then schemes, jumping from node to networked node like a user clicks down an internet rabbit hole.
One moment, we’re in the trenches of America’s industrial revolution, then we’re cyborgs experiencing singularity; he tells me about that time he harvested radioactive fungus at Chernobyl, and when he consulted with a NASA biologist about G-Force’s effects on the human body. He reminisces about his bike gang days in his native Minneapolis and describes his philosophy of mentoring younger makers in his adopted Motor City.
When we get to the technical bits, he launches into the physics of combustion and funnels, air flow and fuel sources before trailing off … “It’s just rocket science.”
This Saturday, September 17, ride “The Regurgitator” while it’s hot at the closing party at Superchief Gallery ,739 Kohler St., downtown; (718) 576-4193, superchiefgallery.com.