Go inside Chris Burden's kinetic sculpture 'Metropolis II'
Alison Walker was a studio assistant to Chris Burden and is now the LACMA conservator for his kinetic sculpture, "Metropolis II." We go inside the art piece with her.
Chris Burden's sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "Metropolis II," is one giant sensory overload — bright cars whiz past on an oversized Hot Wheels track in a never-ending loop, powered by conveyor belts that create a constant hum of electricity. The whole thing's so loud and kinetic you can actually feel its energy in the room. And if all that comes from standing outside the sculpture, imagine what it's like standing inside the bustling "city."
Alison Walker was one of Burden's studio assistants who helped assemble "Metropolis II." She says it took a team of eight people "five and a half years...full-time" to build the sculpture, which she characterizes as "a machine." Some of the ingredients of that machine: 96 unique cars, three conveyor systems, and two ramps that are approximately 12 feet high.
But that machine also needs a human element at its center, and now that element is Walker. To work safely inside the controlled chaos of "Metropolis II," she needs safety glasses — "there are a lot of sharp, pointy metal objects inside there" — and earplugs. While she can cut down on some of the noise from the sculpture, she can't drown it all out: "Sound is a way to indicate if there's a problem. If a train is derailed, it will make noise, and I need to be able to hear that."
Walker also has a specific outfit for her job inside the city: "I wear a one-piece jumpsuit so I don't have any fringes that can get snagged, and I don't have to worry about exposing my back when I bend over to pick up a car. I wear the same thing to work everytime I'm going to operate the sculpture for the public."
Operating the sculpture doesn't simply require the proper wardrobe and accessories; it requires a lot of standing, too. Walker says: "A lot of people ask, 'How come there isn't a chair inside there? Why can't you sit down?'" She confesses she had something to do about that decision: "There was a debate in the studio when we were building the sculpture, and I was in the camp that voted against a chair. And now I'm the person running the sculpture 12 hours a weekend. But I still agree — no chair."
Walker argues: "I need to be up and moving and be able to worm in somewhere to fix a problem. But at the end of the day, after having ran it for four hours, it's a big relief when it goes quiet."
However, some people never quite want the show to end, and sometimes, Walker says: "The patrons boo when I turn it off, and I think, If they only knew what it was like to stand inside here, they would be cheering." But then she laughs as she counters: "A lot of times patrons clap, so that's nice. I feel important."