The Art Of Octoberfest

I finally made it to my first Motor Services Hugo Stamp Octoberfest (one of our very favorite diesel shops). This spectacular party has been a long standing annual tradition by MSHS at their beautiful facility in Fort Lauderdale and has been attended by many a Martin & Ottaway surveyor over the years.

While it occurs in October and pays homage to the company’s German heritage, today it is no longer just brats, beer and oompah music, but rather an incredible mixture of maritime, international, and South Florida culture. Imagine a warehouse rave, but then in a real warehouse filled with prominently displayed engines and engine parts, via sushi, and Havana Social Club departments. You have to see it to understand it.

But this blog is about art.

While I am an engineer I enjoy a life knee deep in art. I designed yachts, which really is art, I consider engineering an art, and at the MSHS party I encountered much more art. Some of it is art without intending to be art, such as brand new diesel engines displayed as party decorative elements, or turbocharger cores, but the party also had a deliberate art exhibit/silent auction fundraiser for the Seafarer’s House in Port Everglades.

The art consisted of small sculptures made from discarded engine parts and various other steel hardware pieces. This stuff is sometimes sold in boardwalk tourist traps, and there, quite frankly, I consider it to be cute, but not Art. While it is easy to argue that maybe these types of sculptures are not art, in this case I may not subscribe to that notion. To me art is something that is created to delight once all the day’s work has been done (Yachts, music, needle point, get it?). Next the really interesting art occurs when the artist gets to try and then retry the concept and somehow immerses to a level where the concept starts to flow and take on its own life.

It is not easy to find those conditions. Professional artists often struggle for years before they create something that is appreciated as art. Years of poverty occur before the artist tastes success. Sometimes art is created when the artist finds a patron that lets her try and try again. At MSHS the company is the patron and two mechanics at MSHS, Sergio De La Rua and Kenny Estrada are the artists.

There were a number of pieces that I bid on (a top fuel dragster, a submarine and a helicopter) but, in the end, I was only the winning bidder on the helicopter. That was lucky; the helicopter charmed me the most. The charm results from a sequence of interlinking events:

The art is made from damaged and worn engine components that saw service all over the world.

These components never left the space where they were found to be damaged, but, instead were set aside by skilled mechanics for reuse.

While the mechanics were working, on a more subconscious level, they were also thinking about the art they were going to create once their day’s work was done.

After their day’s work was done, they focused on these discarded parts and started to create something new with these parts.

The variety was quite remarkable, but most interestingly the quality was actually very high, not just in the poses or the arrangement of the sculpture (which often was very, very good), but, more significantly, it showed deep understanding at multiple levels of the materials and its application in the art. A dragster would not be a number of parts that resembled a dragster, it actually would feel like a dragster and only an artist that understands dragster mechanics can achieve that.

The helicopter that I ended up purchasing was fitted with a pilot and a passenger sitting half outside the helicopter with binoculars, and the helicopter was angled in a way that reminded me of an instant of terror and delight.

It occurred in 1999 in Coos Bay, Oregon, I was sounding the sea bottom with a rope and a weight from a helicopter during the salvage of the New Carissa. I was sitting with my feet on the skids and was looking down on an angry breaking sea. Because the water was deep, and the rope was short, we were close to the waves and every now and then the helicopter would lurch sharply to avoid the largest waves.

How did the artist come to pose the helicopter in that way? Do we share a certain terror, or delight?

Is that what art is?  Shared delight, our fascination with the sudden realization that the artist touched us with a Mona Lisa Smile or a Girl with a Pearl Earring?

This little helicopter is Art, and those who argue otherwise will have to explain what Picasso’s Bull’s Head is.

I claimed my piece and then asked to meet the artist. Sergio seemed to be very much surprised when I started discussing his work with him.

Next I asked him to autograph and date the piece. Apparently this was the first time he was asked to do this. Once I had asked him, many others also wanted to have their sculptures autographed.

Fine by me, I own the first autographed and dated De La Rua.