Bay Area artist, builder, and fungineer Mark Perez had a dream to create a larger-than-life version of the classic board game Mouse Trap. Though it took him a span of 13 years to make it a reality, what he created is an amazing 25-ton Rube Goldberg machine that has brought smiles and a new appreciation of physics to thousands of people at Maker Faires, science centers, museums, and festivals across the United States. Mark finds inspiration in the outlandish and colossal, and his unique skills and knowledge have made him a sought-after collaborator and builder on large-scale art installations. Mark’s Life-Size Moustrap has been a crowd favorite at Maker Faire for years (including this May 18 and 19) with its unique combination of Newtonian physics, large-scale art, and performance. The show the Mousetrap crew puts on is not to be missed.
One project you’re particularly proud of:
1. It’s probably no surprise that I’m particularly proud of The Life-Size Mousetrap. The contraption took 13 years to fabricate and another five to build the infrastructure to take this massive installation on tour. I have accumulated 25 tons of art, an MCI crew bus and a 53′ semi trailer that enables us to travel the United States. Touring, more than anything, has given me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and get them excited about art, science, and the physical properties that surround them in a way that the digital world cannot.
Every city we visit, local volunteers help unload and build the Mousetrap; characters like “Rocket Ray,” a retired ironworker who built stadiums and skyscrapers in the Midwest, volunteered to bolt all 350 connections on the crane at the Henry Ford Museum last year. I enjoy the fact that the Mousetrap has a universal appeal — young and old, science geek or someone who just likes to see a two-ton bank safe fall on a car. Rube Goldberg machines are celebrated all over the world and I’m proud to have built and tour the world’s first Life-Size Mousetrap board game.
Two past mistakes you’ve learned the most from:
1. I had a vision of the Life-Size Mousetrap, and early in the project I trusted an individual with the shared responsibility of making that idea a reality. I learned the hard way that if you have a strong vision, no one else is going to be as invested in the same way. Consequently the first version of the Mousetrap was scrapped in 1996 for $8. I started rebuilding in 1998 and took on the task of hand-building every piece of the contraption and learning how to be in charge of my own dream. One part of my decision process is based on the crews’ input and I keep them in mind with each step, but ultimately I have to make the calls on what needs to happen. As a community-oriented person, this has been a hard skill for me to learn.
2. The second mistake I’ve made is the lack of documentation. I fell in love with the idea of building a giant board game, and I had no idea how long it would it take to complete. But I knew if I did what I loved every day, I would be successful. What I didn’t do was document every step of that process. For example, I hand-built a crane capable of lifting 10 tons and the only record of its 2-year construction process is a handful of Polaroid snapshots. Part of the visual art process is documenting the actual creation of the final product. As artists and makers we must write our own history if we are not to be forgotten.
Three new ideas that have excited you most lately:
1. The world of grant writing. We have applied for our first grant to develop a science curriculum that we can apply at learning center shows across the United States. We are excited to bring applied physics and fun to folks everywhere, and to secure the funding necessary to become a sustainable traveling science exhibit. Grant writing will give us the opportunity to do just that.
2. The idea of transforming unused urban landscapes into “pop up” creative commons. The Mousetrap was proud to be a part of the Peralta Junction project last year. It was awesome to work with local Bay Area artists using the power of volunteerism to liberate a vacant lot in West Oakland. The Junction was “activated” for 3 months, with a vintage midway-style carnival, art installations, creative workshops, live music, micro retail shops, food trucks, and free fun for people of all ages. Peralta Junction is a perfect example of an art community working with city organizers to transform urban blight into creating a space filled with wonder.
3. Something I’m also excited about is my new oddity museum. When we travel around the United States, I try to pick up unusual things everywhere we go. Typically a small local item that is mysterious to the rest of the world but sacred to the folks in “back roads America.” The items are rich in local legend and I enjoy artfully incorporating strange things into my vintage suitcase display. I’d love to take this case on tour and set it up at art galleries, nightclubs, and parties. It will be a great way to interact with people and tell them the story about the “two-headed duck found wandering in Manhattan.”
Four tools you can’t live without:
1. The Mousetrap has over 500 bolts to install, so the trusty spud wrench tops the list. The spud is an ironworker’s tool, which consists of a normal wrench at one end and a spike or drift pin at the other used for lining up bolt holes.
2. My little Lincoln welder. The Mousetrap is assembled and disassembled at least five times a year. Pieces break off with wear and tear, and often we have to customize some of the base support structures to compensate for the ground surface.
3. All of the simple machines. The lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, and screw are all used in the building and operation of the Mousetrap.
4. I’m a general contractor in San Francisco and I have owned just about every tool imaginable. I also have had every tool stolen from the job site. So in the end, the most important tools are the tools I borrow from my wife, Rose, who bought them in college. A vintage funky-corded drill, a simple jigsaw with the original blade, a “side winder skill saw” with a broken safety switch, and a plastic carpenters square. I guess the tools you can’t live without are the ones you need to finish the job.
Five people/things that have inspired your work:
1. Number one would have to be the inspiration behind the original Mousetrap board game: Reuben Garrett Lucius “Rube” Goldberg (July 4, 1883 – December 7, 1970) was an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor. His drawings inspired Mr. Hank Kramer, who designed the first Mousetrap board game for Ideal Toy Company in 1963.
2. The single most important moment for the project was during the first Mousetrap show in 1995. Four hundred people showed up to see the contraption run, and of course it didn’t work, but everybody cheered anyways! The positive feedback from the San Francisco art scene really helped me to the finish line in 2005.
3. From a novice engineer perspective I love the building of the new Bay Bridge. Seeing firsthand how a modern bridge is built is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I like looking at the timeline of the project beginning with the shock of the 1989 earthquake causing the bridge to fail. Then came the repair of the broken road deck section, which was lifted to a barge below, fixed, and then lifted back into position! And now on to the present day with the grand opening of the new Bay Bridge scheduled in September.
4. The San Francisco Cacophony Society. John Law and crew no doubt showed me an alternative way to see the world. Off the beaten path, we journeyed to secret parts of San Francisco that are long forgotten, we climbed a bridge during a lunar eclipse, and strolled through underground passageways leading to mortuaries. We camped in a tiny group on a flat expanse under a dark sky filled with stars and shared stories about deeds done. The San Francisco Cacophony Society pioneered many alternative events that are now mainstream activities. I feel lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to have experienced the unusual when it was in the process of creation.
5. The most valued inspiration I have is my gorgeous wife, Rose Harden, I will never forget proposing to Rose in front of 3,000 people during a Mousetrap show at the Maker Faire. I knew that she was the person to fall in love with forever, so I tattooed “Rose” on my finger and asked her to marry me. Together we make a great team. I feel that every day she gives me the support that I need to manage my artistic endeavors. And it is amazing to have a life partner who is an innovator and teacher of tribal style belly dance. She is fully immersed into dancing, and helping Rose achieve her goals is an awesome experience.
Come check out Life-Size Mousetrap at Maker Faire Bay Area on May 18 and 19!