A Place to Generate Culture: Mark Allen’s Machine Project


By Kyle Alvarado

Artist Mark Allen, was invited to present at the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts for its fifth and final Art Reach lecture of the spring semester.

In the hour-long discussion, Allen spoke to a crowd of 45 people about his California-based nonprofit community space, Machine Project. The space, formed about eight years ago, seeks to subvert the typical roles that occur between audience, art and artist—namely a lack of participation—while creating a unique environment for creativity to flourish. “It’s a machine for producing ideas and culture,” Allen said.

Presenting a variety of examples from past Machine Project events, Allen highlighted the unique nature of his foundation. With events ranging from a dog opera to a houseplant vacation, Allen is sure to make the explanation of events simple enough to be presented in the subject line of an email, but complex enough to engage the audience in a way that fosters deep discussion.

“The do-it-yourself element of Machine Project creates a different relationship and understanding of the knowledge,” Allen said. “It’s not about a set body of information that every person needs to get, but their engagement with the process.” He noted that a workshop titled “Confuse-a-Tron” had four simultaneous workshops: a Kimchi cooking class, a plant cloning workshop, an electronics course, and a tranimal makeup booth. (Tranimal is a branch of drag makeup that incorporates animals into the overall look.)

The “Confuse-a-Tron” is a prime example of his ability to create projects that are new, yet familiar, enjoyable, and clumsy—all at once. “It’s good to end up in all those quadrants. There’s something great about traditional knowledge,” Allen said. “But being awkward is not so bad…it gets to be a little interesting; shying away from discomfort limits your ability to experience new things.”

For more information on the Machine Project, please visit: machineproject.com

Photographed by Laura Bustillos