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Ice cream oasis

Art prof?s interactive "Trickster" sculpture defies expectations 
Dec 21, 2009
By Bridget Coughlin

This summer Associate Professor of Sculpture Duane McDiarmid took his installation piece "Trickster" to remote locations throughout the western United States. McDiarmid sat down with Outlook to discuss "Trickster," unexpected discoveries and how people from all walks of life can enjoy an ice cream social.

How would you describe "Trickster"?

The "Trickster" object is a deliberately very incongruous object. It?s a very elaborately attired, red fabric tent on wheels that houses a freezer full of ice cream that is powered by solar panels and that also self-reports on port channels of closed-circuit video, equipped with night vision. It has a computer archive that you can log into there on site to leave your message.

So where were you this summer?

This last summer we were in Santa Fe, Sonora, El Paso, White Sands, Thunder Basin (Wyoming), outside of Death Valley, the Mohave, the Sierras and Northwestern Colorado.

Take me through what you do with "Trickster." Do you just drop it by parachute?

I wish we could drop it in by parachute. The piece breaks down into 89 units of steel frame and about a dozen fabric costume units that go over the steel frame, and then the freezer, the computer, the cameras, the cords, the cables and the solar panels. We basically Sherpa in all the gear, and assemble it on site so that it looks like it just blew in easily.

What do you hope to discover with "Trickster"?

First, the sense of a kind of magical celebration, that, "I?m having a very special day today." If you encounter it with more than one person, there?s this sort of impromptu celebration. The other thing I?m hoping to find is a sense of, "This is really bizarre. It?s odd, it?s incongruous, it doesn?t fit, and it?s extravagant and it took tremendous resources to produce and get here and maybe that?s not the right thing to be doing with all those resources." And I actually sort of hope for that criticism to start leaking out from my object to a sort of lightning rod to thinking about other objects, other programs of human endeavor, that might be similar. And I would say that includes most.

There?s one other category of people that I think is really important. They are the people that come close, but for whatever reason, don?t come really close. They come close, they photograph, and then they depart. I always imagine that now these people have to go back to their world and they?re going to show these pictures to someone, even if it?s just to themselves, and then they?re going to have to invent what they have seen. And so there, what has been catalyzed is the creative process.

Have you found anything that was completely unexpected from conducting this experiment?

Very often, people who share this same turf, but who don?t share similar ideologies, find themselves at the same place at the same time, sharing the same pleasure, and having sometimes the first conversations they?ve ever had with someone that they thought was their adversary.

In Diablo Canyon, N.M., we had two sides of a party of a legal action who had never met, but who were in court fighting over the use of this tract of land, actually sitting together eating ice cream and laughing. And I can?t help but believe that, in some absurd way, some good will come of that.


Published: Dec 21, 2009 8:00 AM

Trickster set up on Antelope Island

Duane McDiarmid's "Trickster" set up at Antelope Island State Park in Utah.

Visitors happen up Trickster during setup

Park visitors grab a frozen treat from "Trickster" during a break in the set-up process.

Photo courtesy of: Duane McDiarmid 

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