Audience gives high marks to kinetic artist Joseph Herscher’s 'The Dresser'

jdepriest@charlotteobserver.comNovember 9, 2013 

As an audience watched kinetic artist Joseph Herscher pretend he was asleep Saturday, he awoke to an alarm clock and dropped it into a glass of water.

Then the real action begin at Charlotte’s McColl Center for Visual Art where his installation “The Dresser” had its world premiere.

At times, the five-minute live performance about a person getting dressed in the morning resembled something out of old cartoons where Wile E. Coyote pursued the Roadrunner with outlandish contraptions.

Herscher’s alarm clock plopped into the water glass, which set off a series of over-the-top machinations made from everyday objects and accomplishing simple tasks — like putting a hat on his head.

“Joseph is trying to spark everybody’s imagination and playfulness,” said McColl President Suzanne Fetscher. “Art can be all sorts of things, and play is an important part of creating. He uses anything to make art and make something that adds a level of joy to every day.”

A New Zealand native, Herscher, 28, was inspired by Rube Goldberg machines and is best-known for his work “The Page Turner,” the subject of a 2012 New York Times story. On YouTube, it got nearly 8 million views.

Herscher, who is doing a three-month residency at the McColl Center, has been working on “The Dresser” for a year.

Brad Thomas, residences and exhibitions director at the center, said Herscher’s “fame is growing rapidly” and the center is “honored to help propel his career forward.”

The center continues to provide a platform for artists to experiment, Thomas said.

For example, he said there was a slight hump in the gallery floor where Herscher was performing “The Dresser.” Instead of seeing it as a problem, the artist used it to his advantage, Thomas said.

He described “The Dresser” as “very much theater.’’

The people who came to see the exhibit Saturday were of all ages. Many brought small children who watched in fascination as Herscher went though the movements with the grace of silent movie clowns like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

Herscher’s father, Hershel, played the accordion for the performances which ran from 1 until 5 p.m.

About 10 minutes before the first performance, Herscher flitted about the gallery, checking on props, sometimes with a tape measure.

At a bookcase, he touched individual volumes that would soon fly off the shelves as if by magic.

And he looked at the chandelier that would swing back and forth, barely missing his head and ultimately come crashing down to plant a hat on his head.

With the count-down continuing on what Herscher considers his biggest project to date, a little anxiety showed on his face. As he climbed into bed he looked into a shiny metal bin by the bedside and fluffed up his hair.

“Are we ready?” an official asked. “It’s 12:59. Ready? All right, folks.”

The door opened, about 65 people squeezed in, and a woman’s voice set the scene by announcing: “This is a rare glimpse into my son’s morning routine.”

Next, the alarm clock went off.

Afterward, “The Dresser” got high marks from the folks who turned out.

“It was awesome,” said UNC Charlotte student Jenny Jessen, 18. “It was well-thought-out and well put together and very entertaining.”

Francie Dunlap, 45, of Charlotte thought the show was amazing.

So did her 14-year-old daughter, Delaney, who does Rube Goldberg machines and has taken part in state competition.

“It’s really hard,” she said. “It’s time-consuming and frustrating.”

She thought Herscher “made it look easy.”

“It’s so cool to watch in person,” Delaney said. “I’m glad we came.”

Rebecca Anderson, 43, of Charlotte was also glad she and her 10-year-old son, Zach, attended the performance.

“I loved it,” she said. “It was so creative. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

A fifth grader at Collingswood Language Academy, Zach left with the inspiration to do a Rube Goldberg machine for a school science project.

But he wasn’t sure what the contraption would do.

“It’s going to try and make my bed,” said Zach. “Or feed the dog.”

DePriest: 704-868-7745

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