How can our libraries adapt to changing times? The marketing machine of Formula 1 might not spring to mind but for artist Chris Dobrowolski it was the inspiration behind his new project Selfie Slot Car Championship. Created in early 2016 as part of the Library as Laboratory commission, this project was an experiment in making and marketing in our selfie-obsessed world.
The artist invited local families along to workshops at Dunstable Library to make slot-car replicas of their own domestic cars. Then two weeks later the families returned to the library to race their slot car in a one-day championship. Twenty five cars took part in what proved to be a passionate and hotly contested event.
Chris Dobrowolski is an artist, maker, story teller and car enthusiast. He is known for creating homemade life-size vehicles that actually work, such as a hovercraft and an aeroplane. For the Dunstable Library project his inspiration came from an unexpected source.
“My approach started with a satirical look at advertising and marketing” says Chris, “and I decided that Formula 1 motor racing sponsorship was probably the most expensive and glamorous form there was. I then tried to find a way to associate this with the not so glamorous context of the library. In my mind creating an alternative championship using the slot car was a way of mirroring the dystopian experience of the world outside we live in,” said Chris.
So on a cold half-term week in February 2016, Chris found himself in the Asda car park in Dunstable armed with a mobile phone and selfie stick.
“The idea was for people to park their car in the Asda car park next to Dunstable Library and pose inside their car. I then took photos of the whole car – front, bonnet, boot, roof and sides” says Chris. “Then we’d all head inside the library and create an exact replica of the car using digital printing techniques. The family would then fold their printed car and fit it onto a slot car ready for racing.”
The front of Dunstable Library became something of a model-making den as people gathered to make their own slot car. Lots of scalextrix and car enthusiasts turned up to take part. “It was like an homage to the 1970’s model-making hey day” said Chris.
With the cars created the next two weeks were spent designing the race track and fine-tuning the slot cars ready for the races. Each car would be controlled by its driver from a computer station, and linked digitally to a camera behind the car. The co-driver stayed ‘on the ground’ to ensure the car stayed on the track. The giant scalextrix track circuited the entire first floor of the library, running under bookshelves,under desks and around fire extinguishers. There were new alternative race track landmarks including ‘fire extinguisher bend’ and ‘the micro-fiche chicane.’ Where it had to cross an access area Chris built large wheel chair type ramps from stacked books and disused library shelving.
As the idea of inverting Formula 1 developed Chris introduced the Librarian pit crew. Dunstable’s librarians volunteered to pose for photographs holding a blackboard. The photos were then turned into a miniature pit crew and track marshals based on a original set of track marshals and pit crew from Chris’ own Scalextrix set. Chris also created a life-size cardboard cut out of ‘Bernie Ecclestone’.
The artist experimented with sound. Each car had an Mp3 player and speaker inside and the families were invited to make a recording for their car – for example a song they loved to listen to whilst driving, or reading aloud an excerpt from a favourite story. These recordings were placed inside the cars and played as they raced.
When race day arrived the atmosphere was electric. The heats ran in the morning with four cars racing in each heat. The semi-finals and the final took place in the afternoon. As the first Selfie-Slot Car Champion was crowned everyone knew that Selfie Slot Car may have to return for another year.
“Completely entertaining” Selfie Slot-Car driver
Part of the Library as Laboratory Commission 2014-16
Artist Chris Dobrowolski
Assistant Artist Sebastian Ries Lloyd
Produced by Bedford Creative Arts.
Commissioned by Central Bedfordshire Council.
Funded by Arts Council England and Central Bedfordshire Council