Those who attended Beakernight on the Stampede grounds last September were wowed by the flaming octopus, El Pulpo Mecanico. A familiar sight at Burning Man, El Pulpo made its first trip to Canada for Beakerhead 2014. It is an amazing machine: simultaneously threatening and welcoming, the product of junkyard/hoarder artists who are both serious and playful. Fearsome jets of propane flames at 2000°C blast from each of El Pulpo’s eight legs and head. Its eyes alternately bug out and retract. No beak for this cephalopod; instead a fierce mouth with fangs. El Pulpo once was a 1973 Ford F250 4×4, but honestly, you could study it for hours and never realize that.“Kids come up to it, look really closely and see things they are totally familiar with. And they realize that they too could build something like this—yes it’s fantastical, but practical too.”
At a distance it’s a powerful flame-throwing machine, the kind of art installation that allows you to warm your hands on a cool Calgary evening. But a close-up look reveals something much stranger. El Pulpo is covered with—in fact, is constructed of—odd combinations of muffin tins, aluminum pans, forks, pie pans and kitchen utensils of all kinds. Their ordinariness is their virtue. As designer and builder Duane Flatmo says, “Kids come up to it, look really closely and see things they are totally familiar with. And they realize that they too could build something like this—yes it’s fantastical, but practical too.” And Duane knows kids like that. He was one, creating mini-dinosaurs out of chicken bones atop a base of mashed potatoes and gravy at the dinner table.
The thousands who revelled in the dancing, music, engineering, technology and, yes, propane consumption in the Stampede parking lot on that Saturday night were experiencing only one—albeit the most visible—layer of Beakerhead. There was much more.
– Jay Ingram, Excerpt from Alberta Views, January/February 2015
Sometimes the worlds of science and engineering, or art, can seem out of reach. Beakerhead is for the artist and engineer in everyone. It creates fully inclusive experiences that encourage children, families, artists and engineers to see, touch, create and learn.
Bright kids suffer at desks. Students, especially girls, get alienated from math and science, because it does not feel socially relevant. The full potential of future leaders is trimmed. Both teachers and students feel bound to silos of teaching and learning. And it follows us into the workplace, where the reward system has a hard time recognizing and supporting truly innovative problem-solving. It doesn’t have to be that way.
“Teaching is not entertainment but is unlikely to be successful if it is not entertaining.” – Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate
Problem: For decades, we have been directing people into either technical or creative streams and yet, it is precisely at their intersection where ingenuity lives. Solution: Beakerhead.
Corollaries: When you throw open the doors to science and engineering through a welcoming world of art and entertainment, a lot can happen. The core educational purpose leads to outcomes that are important to individuals and society.