A geek who knows how to wield a hammer

Have art, will travel: City cultural arts superintendent Diane Ruggiero and artist Mark Koven stand in front of Easel Rider, a former bread truck turned mobile arts lab. PHOTO BY JONATHAN WELCH
Have art, will travel: City cultural arts superintendent Diane Ruggiero and artist Mark Koven stand in front of Easel Rider, a former bread truck turned mobile arts lab. PHOTO BY JONATHAN WELCH

A brand-new mobile arts laboratory is in town. It’s called Easel Rider, and it’s Asheville’s first multimedia art facility on wheels. This Saturday, artist Mark Koven, who was instrumental in the development of Easel Rider, plans to use the vehicle to project temporary light graffiti (laser tagging) on the fabled Bauhaus Studies Building of the former BMC campus.

The Easel Rider is equipped with a 4,000-watt generator, a complete PA sound system, a laptop computer and a projector that can cast images up to 400 feet away. It is also stocked with art materials like paints, sketchpads, crayons and ceramic supplies, as well as tables, chairs and tents. “Basically, the mobile arts lab allows us to pull up anyplace and have an art event,” says Koven.

Foreseeing city-wide budget cuts, Diane Ruggiero, superintendent of Asheville’s Cultural Arts Department, came up with the idea of the mobile arts lab as a way to streamline arts spending while extending the city’s reach into the creative community. She called on Koven to convert and outfit the former bread truck, a 1984 Chevy, due to his extensive knowledge of digital technology and mechanics.

The city is considering applications they received last month from 35 artists who expressed interest in utilizing the Easel Rider. A second call to artists will be announced later this year. “When there’s a festival or a meeting, the mobile arts lab can become a place where kids can do things while the parents are busy,” says Koven, who is himself interested in using the van to teach children how to make pinwheels that can be used to generate electricity.

An assistant professor of sculpture and extended arts at UNCA, Koven creates interactive sculptures dealing with relational aesthetics through sound, biology, digital media and mechanical structures. “Basically, I’m a geek who knows how to wield a hammer,” he says.

A recent exhibit of his work at the Asheville Area Arts Council’s Artery Gallery included motion sensory water ionizers suspended from the ceiling that created clouds in the gallery. His Communal Blow sculptures require two participants to blow on a wind turbine to make the wings of a mechanical dragonfly flutter.

Microbes and fungi have also made their way into Koven’s work. Spit Culture, an interactive installation from 2008, invited participants to “spit into 3-foot petri dishes prepared with agar — the standard medium used by biologists to culture bacteria,” according to Koven’s website. The dishes were then arranged according to the participants’ gross income, “to show the parallel between the growth cycle of bacteria and the cycle of worldwide economic markets.”

Currently Koven serves on the board of directors at BMCM+AC, The MAP and Asheville’s Public Art Board. “About a third of my work is about trying to involve the public,” says Koven. “It’s important for me to be engaged with what’s going on around me. That’s basically the whole underlying philosophy of my work and my teaching.”

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