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Machine Project Takes Over the Gamble House

"The Machine Project Field Guide to The Gamble House," Jessica Cowley and Patrick Ballard, 2014 | Photo: Ian-Byers-Gamber

They call it "The House that Soap Built." In 1908, brothers Charles and Henry Greene (of the famed Greene and Greene architecture firm) erected a fine specimen of an Arts and Crafts style home in Pasadena for David and Mary Gamble of Procter & Gamble Co. The building has delicate yet woodsy features, with an attuned sense of indoor/outdoor interplay, which lends it a bungalow feel with a mansion magnitude. In fact, an architectural term for the home and others like it is an "ultimate bungalow," a phrase that is much disputed.

Which is why it's so surprising that there's a big blatant colorful sign on the front lawn proclaiming those very words. "Within the architectural community, this term is much contested, and even derided," says Machine Project's founder Mark Allen, who has organized "The Machine Project's Field Guide to the Gamble House" -- a house-augmenting project that will extend through the Pasadena Arts Council's AxS Festival through October 5th -- during a tour of the house. "So, we break into the show by teaching the controversy."

L.A.-based artist Jessica Cowley, a scholar and practitioner of traditional sign painting, created the hand-painted, brightly colored sign. (She and her collaborator Bennett Williamson recently did a project with Machine Project about the Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign on Sunset Boulevard.) It is one of over 50 artworks, performances, workshops, and interventions scattered throughout the house that will happen for the duration of the two-week festival in Pasadena.

"The Machine Project Field Guide to The Gamble House," Katie Herzog | Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber
"The Machine Project Field Guide to The Gamble House," Katie Herzog | Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber   

Paintings and sculptures by artists such as Jeff Elrod, Anna Sew Hoy, Laura Owens, Ricky Swallow, Katie Herzog and Cayetano Ferrer reference and juxtapose the house. For instance, Sew Hoy's sculptures rest on beds in the guest room like visitors on vacation in the spa-like mansion, while outside, "The Vortex" by Patrick Ballard is a kinetic sculpture based on the family's crest of a crane and a rose.

Workshops range from an Annunciator Workshop by Raphael Arar and Chris Weisbart, who will teach the concepts of the primitive intercom system the Gamble House utilized, and Lisa Anne Auerbach will lead a soap-making workshop. Performances will include "Group Naps" by Paul Fraser on one of the home's sleeping porches, a solo dance on the staircase representing the embodiment a waterfall by Nick Duran, and Mexico City-based opera singer Carmina Escobar's "Omen Avis Choir," a light-activated animatronic bird sculpture in the attic that the artist will sing along with -- a tribute to the aviary that once existed there.

Upstairs, a video by David Fenster shows playwright and medium Asher Hartman giving a reading of the house, which is supposedly haunted by Gamble's Aunt Julia. And Bob Dornberger's ongoing food project Secret Restaurant will serve Swiss-Japanese fusion food -- a reference to the Gamble House's chalet and pagoda influenced architectural elements -- from a conveyor belt/dumbwaiter set up in the basement.

Psychic Reading of the Gamble House from David Fenster on Vimeo.

Allen, who has run Machine Project out of a storefront in Echo Park since 2004, clearly loves the house, and he spent about a year bringing artists there, researching, and working with the Gamble House curator Anne Mallek. His tour was informative about the home's rich history, as well as all the artists who are exhibiting and presenting there during the AxS Festival.

"What [Allen] said on his first time here -- and why we loved [him] from the first meeting -- was he said that he'd worked among works of art before in museums, but he'd never worked within one," says Mallek. "I was like, 'Yes! He gets it.'"

"The Machine Project Field Guide to The Gamble House," Asher Hartman | Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber
"The Machine Project Field Guide to The Gamble House,"Asher Hartman | Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber
"The Machine Project Field Guide to The Gamble House," Ana Sew Hoy | Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber
"The Machine Project Field Guide to The Gamble House," Ana Sew Hoy | Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber
"The Machine Project Field Guide to The Gamble House," Candice Lin | Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber
"The Machine Project Field Guide to The Gamble House" Candice Lin | Photo: Ian Byers-Gamber

Further Reading on the Machine Project's Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign:

The HafoSafo Chorus and the Sunset Foot Clinic Sign Online
Machine Project leads a singalong underneath the spinning "Happy Foot/Sad Foot" sign on Sunset Blvd.

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