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The biggest, coolest toy in Taos

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Posted: Friday, September 28, 2012 9:00 am | Updated: 9:01 am, Mon Oct 1, 2012.

It was like the coolest best toy in town. Taos artist Christian Ristow’s “Hand of Man” is a big metal robotic sculpture that, literally, looks like a big hand. It has four fingers and a thumb, a wrist that moves up and down and rotates, and an arm that is strong enough to lift a car.

Even cooler, this 40 foot high machine can be operated by anyone, even kids, using a “glove” that translates the movement of your human hand to the metal hand.

In Kit Carson Park Thursday (Sept. 27), Ristow and crew set up the hand in the old tennis courts in an event that was held in conjunction with the International Symposium on Electronic Arts 2012 (ISEA2012) and sponsored by the town of Taos. Included in the set-up were several junk cars that operators could pick up, crush and drop to a resounding crash.

Ristow told me the machine is a hydraulic device that is directed by a small contraption into which a person can fit their hand. The “glove” also has metal tubes into which you can place your fingers. When sitting in the operator’s chair — which rises above the ground with a supervisor — you can, using the “glove,” pick up the car, squeeze it and then let go.

It’s amazingly cathartic. If you think about it, the experience speaks to man vs. machine on several levels, from its totally childlike appeal to the love-hate relationship with technology. For me, there was a little bit of sci-fi flavor that reminded me of the “Terminator” movies.

The looks on the faces of kids who got to operate it were priceless.

This was also something a few adults couldn’t quite wrap their heads around. One passerby stopped to ask if all the stuff in the tennis courts was part of some plan to turn them “into a junk yard.” This reminded me of a comment I heard from tourists last week on the plaza who were perplexed by the artistic “yarn bomb” on light posts, parking meters and benches, asking “I wonder why they put wash rags on everything?”

Those two comments got me thinking, though, about the persistent issue of accessibility for artistic works and how, as time marches on, some aspects of art are moving father and farther from the comfort zones of some observers. I can attribute these two comments to folks who simply said what popped into their heads, literally not knowing what really was happening, but I wondered too whether their impressions might have changed once they found out.

All of that is, in my opinion, a healthy exercise in learning something new, experiencing something out of the ordinary. Getting down to the root of things on the same level as kids playing with the biggest toy in town may be what we could all use and in terms of understanding art, it’s the gut level that counts anyway.

By the way, the “Hand of Man” will be set up again in Kit Carson Park Saturday (Sept. 29). Just go to the back of the park and look for the big machine with fingers.

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