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Group naps and pop-up dining invade the Gamble House

The Machine Project Field Guide to the Gamble House is challenging how you think about the Pasadena icon

 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael Juliano"ULTIMATE BUNGALOW!" sign by Jessica Cowley, part of the Machine Project Field Guide to the Gamble House.
 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael Juliano"The Swirling Mess..." by Patrick Ballard.
 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael JulianoSculptures by Anna Sew Hoy.
 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael JulianoA painting in the upstairs guest bedroom.
 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael JulianoA painting by Jeff Elrod that's designed to be impossible to focus.
 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael JulianoSculptures of an imaginary deity and language.
 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael JulianoHanging tile by Cayetano Ferrer.
 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael JulianoPainting by Sandeep Mukherjee.
 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael Juliano"Objects for Plants" by Michael O'Malley.
 (Photograph: Michael Juliano)
Photograph: Michael Juliano"Gamble House Roof Sculptures" by Matthew Au.
By Michael Juliano |

We talk about our homes as if they’re alive sometimes: They creak and groan and manage to have full-blown meltdowns at the worst times. So we can understand when Machine Project founder Mark Allen says he’s been thinking a lot about the Gamble House’s dreams. It’s a little out there, we’ll give you that. But the motif has managed to find its way into the performance pieces and contemporary paintings and sculptures that have moved into the beloved Pasadena bungalow. It’s all part of the Machine Project Field Guide to the Gamble House.

For two weeks, the indefinable Echo Park collective is taking over the 1909 Greene and Greene masterpiece with a lineup of illuminating installations: one-on-one poetry reading in a closet, group naps on the porch, a concealed chirping aviary, a solar sun chime workshop in the basement and a soap making workshop in the attic—this is, after all, the house built upon the Procter & Gamble fortune. And then there’s designer Bob Dornberger’s not-so-secret pop-up Swiss-Japanese restaurant (Sept. 27, noon), where a conveyer belt will ferry food into the kitchen.

Sure, bedtime stories and cat-woman performances might sound silly, but the entire project manages to make an old—though architecturally stunning—space feel alive. The conversation inside borders on the metaphysical—there’s a looping video from a psychic's walkthrough—but the additions still respect the detail-oriented nature of the house. In fact, if you’ve never toured the Gamble House before, we suspect you won’t even notice some of the subtle additions—a gnarled succulent stand here, a portrait of Pío Pico there. And that’s what makes the whole thing kind of amazing: There’s a massive vortex puppet spilling out of the second floor bedroom of a vaunted 1909 house, and somehow it works.

Contemporary installations in such a painstakingly preserved house could easily go awry, but Gamble House curator Anne Mallek only has glowing things to say about this “happy collaboration”—expect to see similar but smaller initiatives in the near future. As for Machine Project, this isn’t the first entry in its Field Guide series and it won’t be the last—perhaps they’re already even working on taking over another unnamed site in Pasadena.

The Machine Project Field Guide to the Gamble House runs through Oct. 5, including two free open house days on Sept. 27—which features the bulk of the performances—and Oct. 2, as well as a family day on Oct. 5. The project is part of the larger AxS Festival.