First timers build ‘Best Breakdown’ sculpture at Kensington derby

    Design enthusiasts from all over Philadelphia turned out to see the 7th Annual Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby and to watch the parade of human-powered sculptures roll through the neighborhood last Saturday. For the finale, spectators watched as the floats barreled through a mud pit one by one, hoping for a crash. Judges awarded builders in categories such as best costume, engineering and best breakdown.

    Harry Liu and his newbie sculpture team began building with the mud pit in mind.

    Liu, the event coordinator for the Penn Jersey Roller Derby League, rallied members of the league to create a roller derby themed sculpture of a zombie who lives in a roller skate.

    “It’s kind of like the little old lady who lived in the shoe,” said Liu. “Roller derby people seem to like zombies, that’s kind of our thing.”

    The team began building six weeks ago at their practice warehouse at 19th and Indiana Streets.  Liu learned about the sculpture derby in 2012 when the league recruited members at its sister event, the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival.

    Another member of the league, artist Gwendolyn Toffling, heard about the sculpture competition last year, and was overjoyed to be participating in 2013. “Best case scenario, we have the goriest roller skate going down the street you’ve ever seen!” said Toffling.

    “I would also not hate it if we won epic breakdown,” added Liu.

    Despite attending workshops given by past builders, the league’s participants faced mechanical difficulties along the way, and said next year they’ll opt for metal over cardboard and paper mâché.

    Matt Tyrrell said he was shocked that the zombie skate even made it to the derby. “It literally came together in the last two days.”

    The sculpture made it through the entire parade, and the team remained optimistic and agreed that the cardboard exterior’s new droop only added to its horror appeal.

    When it came time to ride through the mud pit, the zombie skate made it through almost unscathed, but worse off than other teams. Almost no sculpture stuck in the mud, much to the chagrin of the spectators.

    The judges awarded the roller derby zombie skate the “Best Breakdown” prize. “I definitely heard the crowd cheer when we lost the wheels,” said Tyrrell. “I’m glad we were able to provide some carnage,” Liu added with a grin.

    The team already has ideas for next year, with spinning parts and lights.

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