Neville Van Arken is an accomplished and creative maker of artistic gadgets. He is a regular fixture in Pilsen, and he shows off his wooden kissing boxes (especially during the Chicago Art Opening.) He can also sometimes be found at Chela's Café accompanied by his pet parrot or miniature dog.
He recently took me on a tour of his studio where he is currently working on what may be his most ambitious project yet. It will feature a chicken in a human powered flying machine, and over a dozen dancers dressed like hens. The whole thing will take place on Aug 9 at Monroe Harbor.
Photo by Vittorio Carli
Neville will be competing with 36 other teams/crafts for flying distance, creativity, and originality. He took me on a brief tour of his work space/studio, and he answered some questions about the project and his background.
Do you consider yourself an artist, a craftsman or a designer?
I prefer the term "gadgeteer"
Can you tell me about the Flugtag event?
It will be August 9. It will be free and open to the public at 9:30 am. The first flight is at 1:00 and the last one will be at 4. There will be 37 participants making all kinds of aircraft or entertainment value objects that will get pushed off of a 30' high runway platform into Lake Michigan. The official website is at redbullflugtagchicago.com.
Photo by Vittorio Carli
How did you get involved in the Flugtag project?
A good friend of mine Kenneth Morrison told me that he saw the website that told about the applications. I didn’t get mine through the mail until the day it was due. I didn’t come up with any concrete plan yet but I had been thinking about it. I put together in an hour. I thought that I could be a chicken, and the chicken has realized that Lake Michigan is one enormous deep friar. The chicken has devised a plan of escape from thus world because he does not want to be a fried chicken. So he builds an enormous elaborate six-foot egg and inside he hides an airplane. Then on August 9 on flight day, he will unwrap the egg, put together the plane in 2 minutes. jump in, and start peddling. Four people including Kenneth Morrison, Tim Dashaw, Tom Lee, and Brady Haston will be pushing me over the edge. Believe me there is a long list of people that want to push me over the edge.
Can you briefly explain what I'm seeing?
Well, what we have here is a giant six-foot egg. The interior of that egg unfolds into an airplane with a 30-foot wingspan. It has pedal power with a drop carriage underneath. That’s the heaviest part of it, so it’ll hit the water first it won’t drag the airplane down. It’ll have two propellers, and the rods are connected to 3 way T-gears and those T-gears allow the peddling one to one until it gets broken off into a larger sprocket into a smaller that will be connected to the propellers. That will increase the speed of every turn three times. You sit inside and it’s a rectangle. The pilot will sit where the wings fold out. There’s a tail that’s eight feet and the whole thing is 15 to 20 feet long. It will be so light though that I will be able to lift it by myself. That’s how light that will be.
Can you tell me about the chicken dance?
Well that’s all being worked out now. Rachel Thoele is the sexy dancing chicken muse, and the leader of the group. She’s developing a little routine, and we have between 10 and 15 sexy dancing chickens. Each one will be wearing a very beautiful sexy, classy uniform made of yellow fur, which is kind of like chicken down fur. They will do little routine all day such as surprise cheers. They won’t be on the runway they will get everyone worked up from the shoreline. Out two minute performance is taking an egg, unwrapping it and putting together an airplane in less than two minutes.
Who are some of the dancers and what will their prospective roles be?
Everyone will have different roles, which will depend on how much they want to participate. We haven’t really worked out the routines yet. We’ll have 10 –15 sexy dancing chickens. The group will include Rachel Thoele, Sandy Tenefeldt, Beth Lee, little Matty Fay Lee, and Andrea from the drapes, Natalie Pate, Kim Assaley, Dawn Roberts, and Marjorie Boyles. Jerry Boyle will be a sexy dancing chicken.
Do you have a special affinity for chickens?
No, the chicken is just a vehicle. I’m not a chicken, but I’m playing the character of a chicken that realizes that he realizes that he will be fried if he does not escape.
Why aren't you a rooster?
It’s like the cartoon world. The sexual identities of the characters don’t matter. Ask Jerry Boyle. He’s a chicken too.
What about you're previous projects?
Right behind you is a whirligig. It's a wind powered d machine. It's motorized for indoors and wind powered for outdoors. Through a series of rods it snakes around and the doghouse has 10,000 parts. Back there are 35 boxes that blow kisses, They mimic the motion someone makes when they are blowing a kiss but they also make a clacking sound. All together they make a symphony of sounds. .
How can someone obtain one of the kissing boxes? Do you sell them on-line?
I can be contacted at Nevillevandarken@ameritech.net.
Thanks for the interview.
You're very welcome. Come see the show.
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Photography by Vittorio Carli