Photograph by Tom Kennedy
Riding a red double-decker bus in London is all about the view. The yellow Topsy-Turvy School Bus, currently touring the United States, is all about point of view.
Usually, when Tom Kennedy builds and drives art cars, he’s taking his own artistic vision for a spin. This time, the driving forces were graphic artist Stefan Sagmeister and Ben Cohen, who makes Chunky Monkey ice cream and roving political statements. Their point of view is straightforward: federal budget priorities are topsy-turvy. Their school bus motif suggests one alternative to reserving half of discretionary spending for the Pentagon.
Cohen and Sagmeister chose Burning Man denizen Kennedy to transform a political viewpoint into mobile artistic expression — anything but straightforward.
Kennedy and visual artist Haideen Anderson were the initial team that cut up two buses, revealing structural challenges that would send most people looking for an exit ramp. Destined to be driven by volunteers during the long 2008 presidential campaign, Topsy-Turvy had to be strong, but not top-heavy.
This artwork was not for the faint-fingered. Kennedy describes the organically formed crew of joiners as “multi-skilled freaks.” Making it up as they went along, they operated a ceiling crane, welded, ground, cast, fabricated, lighted, wired, and painted in a West Oakland, Calif., warehouse. Engineer Michael Prados assessed structural progress weekly.
To convey point of view artistically and practically, the makers transformed the passenger compartment into a theater. They painted budget charts on the ceiling and the stop sign, and constructed a speechmaker’s platform atop the wheels-up roof. A second gas tank uses biodiesel fuel.
During Kennedy and Anderson’s delivery drive to Vermont, Topsy-Turvy proved roadworthy, and rain revealed the exact location of holes in time to fix them. Now its makers and shakers hope the yellow double-decker bus reveals the exact location of national priorities, in time to redirect them.
>> Tom Kennedy’s Art Cars: tomkennedyart.com