Magical Surrealism In The City

[Warning: Giant Spiders, Giant Hydraulic Spiders]

Street Theater’s a risky business – sometimes you can enthrall a crowd and pull them in and everyone puts down what they’re doing and watches and enjoys – other times you create a traffic jam and hard feelings.

I used to live near one of Baltimore’s stadiums and the traffic and the fans used to annoy me to apoplexy. My only way of dealing with it was to remind myself, “they’re having a good time even if I’m not.” Presumably, somewhere in the bowels of the management of a city, there’s some process for figuring out what events will be held, and their impact. Or, perhaps it’s all random. I wonder.

The reason I’m musing about this is because I know some people don’t like spiders, others don’t like crowds, and so forth. When I see this, I think it’s magical and wonderful but I bet there are a few people who really wish it would all go away and never come back.

The Atlantic reports: [atl] [These photos are from the Atlantic’s article]

For the first four days of November, the streets of Toulouse, France, were transformed into a performance space for the massive robotic puppets Ariane and Asterion. The giant spider and 50-ton Minotaur were featured in the French street-theater company La Machine’s multiday show Le Gardien du Temple. Live music accompanied the giants as La Machine performers guided them through the “labyrinth” formed by the streets of Toulouse.

We used to visit Toulouse in the summers and I can confirm the streets are a labyrinth.

A “hotel dieu” is a hospital; the spider is raised by crane from the courtyard of the building, which was a staging-area.

When I was a kid, the French were starting to get into “sons et lumieres” shows (sound and light) – sort of early multimedia performance art with music and lights and who knows what all else. They were moments of magic and wonder for a kid, and they’ve levelled-up considerably since the 60s. Vive La France!

The spider’s not so scary. Being hung from a crane, is. I’ve seen too many “fail crane” videos.

I’ve also seen a lot of hydraulics fails, including being in the middle of a non-catastrophic one. As beautiful and wonderful as it is, I would not get that near the spider thing. Anything with hydraulic actuators is not my friend, it’s at best a temporary ally.



  1. jazzlet says

    The sheer scale of them is breath-taking. I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere near them.

  2. kestrel says

    That’s very cool but I would not get as close to those as the crowd is! Very interesting: look how many people they need to run all those spider legs, yet spiders run them all by their little selves. Those are so cool though, I would not be annoyed but fascinated.

  3. says

    They had the spider and a dragon here in Ottawa for 4 days last year. They started the event off by putting the spider at the top of a tall church steeple downtown. A crew then rappelled up to the spider which then “woke up” and was lowered by crane. The spider “wandered” downtown (on a schedule) for 4 days – along with the dragon – “spraying venom” (a nice cooling water spray during a hot summer). On the final day the spider and dragon met up and had an epic fight at night, under lights, and before a massive crowd. Great theatre!!

    Btw, crowds here were very close. I got some amazing closeups of the dragons head. They move very slowly, and have lots of operators on board (eg one for each spider leg), so no real danger of the operators not being able to see the people nearby.

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