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Standstill traffic inspires back-seat puppet shows

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Art in L.A. can pop up in the most unexpected places. Take your ordinary drive-home traffic jam on the 405.
 
Since August, L.A.-based artist Joel Kyack and his collaborators have been staging “art interventions” with a production called “Superclogger” on the city’s most car-stagnant highways — the 405, the 210 and the 10 — performed out of the back of his camper truck. While stuck in traffic, drivers behind Kyack’s truck — or who can catch a view from adjoining lanes — suddenly see a sign posted in his back window alerting them to tune their radio to 89.5 FM.
 
If they do, they will hear the soundtrack of a puppet show and can actually watch puppet characters perform out of the back window of Kyack’s truck. The skits — there are several that vary in length from two to seven minutes, depending on how bad the jam is — all have one common theme: They illustrate how individuals can impose their will on others in such a way that they feel trapped, stuck, imprisoned. Like in a traffic jam.
 
What’s really going on with this mobile art project, which is being hosted by the Hammer Museum, is an attempt to engage people who typically aren’t museum-goers with a form of public art that dabbles with chaos theory. 
 
“It’s specifically designed to bring art out of that traditional context,” said Cesar Garcia, who curated the project and worked with Kyack to bring it about. Garcia is a Ph.D. student in museum and curatorial studies at UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures Department. In his day job, Garcia is the assistant director and curator of public art and programs LAXART, which produced the project. The organization is committed to exhibiting the work of emerging artists, like Kyack.
 
Garcia is intent on coming up with alternative models of exhibition and rethinking how contemporary art can be displayed to reach people who aren’t likely to go to a gallery or museum.
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“The traffic jam is actually one of the few manifestations of chaos theory that people can understand,” said Garcia, who drove the truck on its first outing in August on the 10 Freeway. “You have thousands of drivers in one place who are all trying to arrive at different locations. There’s individual will at play in every car.”
 
L.A. commuters are so programmed to follow their daily route that they are sealed in their own car space and their own reality, barely noticing the scenery going by, said the Ph.D. student. “Joel [Kyack] wanted to see how he could intervene in that context and pull people out of that experience into a type of intimate engagement” with this puppet drama, he said.
 
Needless to say, drivers have had wildly different reactions, Garcia said. “The cell phones come out almost immediately. Some people driving directly behind it didn’t pay any attention to it,” while other drivers tried to get behind the truck for a view.
 
“We had one woman behind us,” Garcia said. “When we exited the freeway, she followed us out just so she could see the end of the skit. When it was over, she pulled down the window and said, ‘This is great!’ Then she turned around and jumped back on the freeway.”
 
And if you thought fender benders would result, Garcia said he thinks drivers actually tended to be more careful during the performance. The CHP only intervened once, pulling them over to check out whether the truck — which was rigged to have two seats with seatbelts facing backwards and a small radio transmitter — had been legally modified. The artist went to great lengths, Garcia said, to make sure that the truck complies with vehicle regulations.
 
Sometime today, the truck will be looking for traffic jams on the 210 E Freeway between Pasadena and Duarte. A new Superclogger twitter will update on the project’s specific location throughout the day. 
 
But if you want to catch “Superclogger,” you don’t have to spend hours on the freeways looking for it. On Saturday, Sept. 25, museum visitors will be able to follow the truck around the Hammer Museum and Westwood from 1-4 p.m.
 
Then on Saturday, Oct. 2, at 1 p.m., the Hammer will host a discussion between Kyack, Garcia and arts writer Andrew Berardini about the project. Find more information on the Hammer website.
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