The Wagon of Wonders

What’s this Wagon of Wonders? from Big Car on Vimeo.

The Wagon of Wonders (WoW) is Big Car Collaborative’s mobile, interactive art unit and pop-up public space made possible, in a large part, by a grant from the Herbert Simon Family Foundation a fund of the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF). Part curiosity cabinet, part gallery, and (currently) part fishing bait shop (based on and in partnership with Westside Bait and Tackle), the Wagon features changing mini exhibits and opportunities for everybody to contribute creativity — and borrow a fishing pole and bait and go fishing in a lake or river, learning about nature along the way. The Wagon of Wonders was designed collaboratively by Big Car artists under the leadership of Jim Walker, built by Chris Vorhees (an Efroymson Contemporary Art Fellowship winner), and features commissioned exhibits by Indianapolis artists Beatriz Vasquez and Casey Roberts with contributions by Alan Goffinski (via Reconnecting to Our Waterways), Christopher Dance, and Niina Cochran.

The Wagon of Wonders spent much of the summer and fall of 2015 Spark Monument Circle and at Reconnecting to Our Waterways destinations around Indianapolis. It is made possible by the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Apparatus, Klipsch, The Samerian Foundation, Impact 100, AvantGarb, Penrod Society and our friends at LUNA Music and Klipsch donated our DIY DJ rig.

We built this mobile, interactive art space on the base of an ice fishing trailer made by Tebben, a family-run company in Clara City, Minnesota. The idea for using this type of trailer came after we saw one in person — The Travelling Museum, a mobile gallery from Minnesota that participated in the Indianapolis Art in Odd Places event we organized in 2015. But art isn’t the usual function for these trailers. People typically use them for fishing in winter way up north where lakes freeze solid enough for driving. They build their own ice-fishing houses (some with bars and kitchens and bathrooms) on the trailers and then pull them out onto the frozen water. This type of trailer hydraulically lowers to the ground, enabling people to fish from the inside and not have as much cold wind blowing underneath. We also chose this trailer for its ability to lower completely to the ground — providing excellent accessibility to the back gallery and to openings beneath the awnings inspired by the metal box outdoor bookstores used by bouquinistes along the bank of Seine River in Paris.

Concepts and designs for WoW bounced back and forth between Walker and Vorhees, the sculptor who fabricated WoW in his workshop in Cincinnati in early 2015. Vorhees brought experience with fabricating large-scale sculpture and fabricating mobile art galleries to the mix. In 1997, Vorhees and two friends collaborated on creating a mobile gallery known as Object D’Art that travelled the country pulled by a 1972 Dodge Dart Swinger.

In May of 2015 Vorhees brought the shell of WoW to Big Car’s new Tube Factory artspace in the Garfield Park neighborhood. Then working as an artist in residence with Big Car, Vorhees finished out the WoW in direct collaboration with Jim and the other artists. During this process, additional ideas for WoW functions popped up and found locations in the trailer. This process of collaboration allowed ideas to flow and change and connect with the function and form of the trailer. And that led to the final design of the WoW as a flexible and changeable unit that will accommodate future uses as a tool for socially engaged art and creative placemaking.

The trailer includes multiple metal awnings that cover window openings, allowing artists to curate and install small exhibits in these spaces. A larger back gallery that can fit three or four people at a time serves the same purpose. And the top of the trailer is reinforced to handle a band, dancers, or other performers. Audio speakers, donated by Klipsch (an Indianapolis company) provide high-quality sound while on location. And a battery system powers the trailer in remote locations.

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