During my lunchtime bike ride today I happened upon an eye-catchingly unusual vehicle parked on 8th Street in northeast D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood (MAP). When I first saw it I thought of the DeLorean time machine in the “Back to the Future” movies. At the end of the third and final movie, Doc Brown was married to Cora, and they had two sons, Jules and Verne. And this vehicle is how I imagine their station wagon would look like if they ever had (or is it will have?) a family vehicle.
By far my favorite of the many unusual vehicles that I’ve run across during my daily bike rides throughout the city, I found out that this vehicle is actually a mobile art exhibit entitled “Autonautilus.” But more than that, it also happens to function as a vehicle for its artist owner, Clarke Bedford. Bedford is a local sculpture, performer and artist from nearby Hyattsville, and when he’s not working on his own creations or performing, he is also a conservator at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Autonautilus is one of several vehicles Bedford has created. He refers to them as “art cars”, and thinks of them as “assemblages that live outdoors and which also happen to move down the road.” And since they are the only cars he owns and drives, they are durable as well. Comprised predominantly from metal parts such as metal tubes, fans, statues, car parts, and almost anything else he can salvage or buy and re-use as forms of art, they have to be durable in order to withstand driving down the road, or being parked in the elements at his house since he doesn’t have a garage.
And Bedford’s art is not confined to his cars. Both the outside as well as the inside of his home is filled with works of art, or works in progress, or bits and pieces of miscellanea which will eventually be incorporated into future works. Bedford is not a professional artist getting rich from his creations. But as evidenced by what he surrounds himself with, it is more than a mere hobby. Bedford thinks of himself as existing somewhere in between the realms of professionals and hobbyists. A place where most artists live. I think that it is a place inhabited by the type of people who English poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy described in his poem “Ode”, which reads: “We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams; World-losers and world-forsakers, On whom the pale moon gleams: Yet we are the movers and shakers of the world for ever, it seems.”