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A robot, a monkey and matrimony

Courtney Smith/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Local Tucson artist Mat Bevel (aka Ned Schaper) presents his theatronic creation 'Think Tank' tomorrow through Sunday and Oct. 14 - 16.
By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 6, 2005
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Bevelvision: High art for the whole family

The Mat Bevel Institute is the only bit of color you'll find on a nondescript stretch of road on North Stone Avenue, which leads into downtown. A barren enclosed yard fronts a sky-blue brick building with the word "Bevel" painted on its left corner. Except for the color there's really nothing much to the outside of the building.

Yet, the blah, humdrum exterior completely belies what you'll find inside.

Step inside and you'll see an entire warehouse of sculptures made from assorted pieces of junk. Found objects ranging from barbeque grills to shopping carts to bicycle rims are strung together in the kinetic sculpture for which Tucson artist Mat Bevel is known.

His kinetic sculpture, in which the art is characterized by its movement rather than just by being a sculpture that moves, is integrated into a monthly performance piece. His current show is called "Think Tank."

Basically it's a formulaic story about a robotic puppet, a monkey and a cyclo-tri-cam extended brain mechanism. Oh, and there's a wedding at the end.

Maxillary Palp, the aforementioned robotic puppet, is played by a machine and is the star of the show. The monkey is appropriately named Monkey Keymon but is played by a human, Bevel. After that, things get a little strange.

The performance features spoken word with the background of a three-piece orchestra, which features a saxophone, piano and one-string bass guitar of Bevel's own design.

The man at the heart of all this, however, had a complicated journey to reach this life as an artist.

Raised in Ohio, Bevel (whose original name was Ned Schaper) comes from a background of engineers. Basically the most creative thing that you could do coming from his family was work for General Electric or make missiles, according to Bevel.

Bevel was a physics major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison until he ruptured a disc in his back at age 19, which took him away from his schoolwork. At this pivotal moment, he abandoned the path of regular people and decided to take up art. His injuries caused depression, and he turned to art for relief. He's been at it ever since.

Bevel's approach to art and his creativity is vastly unstructured, a mentality that advocates a lessening of control over objects.

"I let my engineering, modern, western European mind go to this level of working not from external stimulation. I keep evolving like nature does," Bevel said.

The pieces that he uses are all recycled objects, piles of junk that people donate to him. Describing it as a "spiritual thing," Bevel lets the objects tell him what to.

"Basically sometimes it's just two interesting pieces wanting to come together. I don't weld so it has to have holes lined up like magic. I say if God intended these things together he would have put a hole so I can fit a bolt through them. I've waited years for pieces to come together, and then the holes line up and it just happens that way," Bevel said.

Current media and pop culture images dismay Bevel, and because of this he intends his work to reflect a movement toward something more.

"Art is the anti-cool. If you're into being cool, art is the wrong profession for you. Yet, you wouldn't think that because art is about telling you things you don't want to hear. It's all about telling you truths," Bevel said. "Being cool is not about telling you truths. It's about going along with the same shit."

"We have complex technology without any complex thought. There's a deeper form of poetry and thought than 'I'm unhappy because you broke up with me.' We're in this culture where we all run off to Asia or India and Africa. We're looking for something deeper that's not in our culture," Bevel said.

Yet, along with creating his artistic vision, Bevel has moved on to other goals.

"I now want to make money. ... I need money to do my thing. Money is easy to make. It's not contradictory to be an artist and want to make money. Money is a tool but you can't be motivated by it. I want to eat whole foods, whole grains, whole vegetables. It doesn't even need to be money. It could be tickets," Bevel said.

Please help feed Mat Bevel. The Mat Bevel Company presents a demonstration of "religio-tainment" with its latest show "Think Tank" tomorrow at 8 p.m. with performances running through Sunday. Tickets cost $10 and the event is all ages. The Mat Bevel Institute is located at 530 N. Stone Ave.

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