I met Mark Allen about 10 years ago when he was getting his MFA, and even back then he was a connector. Sure he made great art installations (one composed of slowly rotating organically shaped disco balls spotlit in a dark room) but his ability to connect people was astounding. So it's no surprise to see him now at the helm of Machine Project in Los Angeles, bringing together artists, architects, designers, makers, scientists, programmers, plant enthusiasts, poets, and gaming nerds.
Far from being a traditional gallery, Machine Project could be described as an art-gallery-turned-mad-scientist’s-laboratory used for collaboration, experimentation, classes, lectures, and for play. Perhaps what stands out most is that no matter how serious the subject matter, Machine brings an air of effortless fun to the equation, making the work accessible to a large audience without needing to water down the ideas. Most recently they took over LACMA for a day and created dozens of site specific works and performances, including stationing musicians in elevators, giving haircuts, and cheering up the loneliest gallery.
The gallery really covers a lot, from canning events to circuitry classes to hands-on meat cloning labs. How do you decide which events to host and which ones get the boot?
Much like the editor of a magazine, I make decisions on what we do based on a certain sensibility. Most of the events and shows we do are curated by us at the gallery, so it's more a matter of convincing the people we think are interesting to do a project at Machine, then sorting through proposals that someone might have sent to us unsolicited.
What does a day in your life look like? How much do you have to deal with the day-to-day operations of the gallery and how far in the future are you planning events and shows?
I get up, read my email on my phone, get out of bed, go to Machine, read my email on my computer, eat lunch, do more email, socialize or brainstorm with whoever is working at Machine or happens to drop in, reply to email that might have arrived while I was talking to someone, go home, run or go for a walk with Emily (my girlfriend), cook or go out for dinner, return email, read a little, go to bed.
We have an operations manager named Michele who deals with a lot of the day-to-day. I do most of the future planning and initial communication with artists, etc.
Would you say that having fun is an important component of the gallery's manifesto?
Yes, being interested in the world and having fun is a succinct summation of the mission.
What do you think has contributed most to the success of Machine?
Being friendly, our willingness to be interested in anything, well-written emails, and ruthless application of cute animal photos when needed.
What has been your favorite show/experience so far?
Anything involving drilling holes in the floor, poets trapped in the basement, Jessica Hutchin's bodybuilder mechanical bull, everything about the show we did at LACMA.
What are you dying to do that you haven't had a chance to do yet?
I want to do a show of gallery artists and performers at a renaissance fair, asking the participants to rethink what their work would have been like in the 16th century, using the technologies of the time.
Would Machine be possible in any city?
The semi-affordability of commercial real estate, the diverse communities of interest, and the excessive number of art schools makes LA a particularly fertile place for a project like Machine.