Caught on Tape

The first Duct Tape Festival displays the many uses of adhesive strips of rubber, cloth, and plastic. Bowling, anyone?

Minnesota Chrome, Roadie's Roll, Canoeist's Companion, 200 MPH Tape, First-Aid Roll-Up, Gaffer's Tape, 1,000-Mile Tape, Hiker's Helper, Missile Tape, or the Ultimate Power Tool -- no matter what you call it, duct tape is, in my opinion, among the paramount inventions of modern man. A preternatural union of rubber, cloth, and plastic that sticks like cement, rips like paper, and protects like aluminum siding, it can be used to bind wounds, prevent chafing, repair canoes, tailor pant legs, truss alligator jaws, and secure 10-speed bicycles to the front of your Volkswagen van. But that's not all. According to Tim Nybergand Jim Berg, better known as the Duct Tape Guys, authors of the best-selling duct-tape series, including Duct Shui: A New Tape on an Ancient Philosophy, the magical sticky stuff is great for rustproofing cars against fierce Minnesota winters and freshening cocktails during blistering summers. (Apparently wrapping ice cubes in duct tape will prevent your favorite libation from becoming diluted by pesky H20.)

"Duck tape," as it was originally known, was invented for the U.S. military to keep moisture out of ammunition cases during World War II. After the war, a booming housing industry discovered new uses for the surplus, applying it to heating and air conditioning ducts; soon after, common silver-gray "duct tape" was produced. (To be technically classified as "duct tape," the substance must meet certain heat requirements, but both "duct" and "duck" are correct designations for most tape.)

Of course, military use has not faded. According to firsthand reports posted on the Duct Tape Guys' colossal duct tape-devoted Web site, armed forces worldwide use "ordinance tape" and "gun tape" (simple duck tape with more manly monikers) for such things as securing fuse wires to missiles, arresting leaks in submarine hulls, repairing parachute lines, preventing boot blisters, protecting helicopter blades from sand, and binding haughty midshipmen to air compressors. The Duct Tape Guys have also assembled ample photographic evidence of a new educational motivator known as "Principal Wall Taping," which rewards students for academic successes with lengths of duct tape; the duct tape is then used at the end of the year to encase the school's director and affix him to a wall or ceiling. The trend has become so widespread that the Duct Tape Guys have posted judicious warnings and instructions to prevent asphyxiation and dehydration, along with a testimonial from a physics teacher who had to be rescued by paramedics after passing out while stuck to the wall of his classroom. Happily, there is a lighter, brighter side to duct tape.

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It has become an artistic medium.

Over the last decade, hundreds of artists around the world -- most notably Canada's Todd Scott, Nevada City's Emilie Autumn, and, recently, Sacramento's Katie McFarlin -- have transformed duct tape into palette, canvas, cloth, and clay, creating unbelievable sculptures, pictures, furniture, and formal wear with the water-resistant durability of heating ducts. Delighted by the unanticipated new market, Manco, manufacturer of Duck Tape brand tape, has released its product in a rainbow of hues, offering variety, as well as cash prizes, to duct-tape art-car creators and rebellious high-school-prom fashion designers. Even Manhattan's Parsons School of Designhas fallen for the plebeian appeal of the rediscovered material, devoting its 2001 senior fashion show to Duck Tape.

Marc Horowitz and Jon Brumitdon't really care about all that.

"We thought about 10 people would show up and we would just sit around and barbecue," says Horowitz, co-curator of the bustling first annual Duct Tape Festivalat 21 Grand.

So what was the motivation?

"Well, duct tape is just really great stuff, don't you think?" says Horowitz, recalling a wedding where an overlarge pair of pants had to be taped to his waist for lack of a belt.

"I'm a hairy bastard," says Horowitz with characteristic freewheeling enthusiasm, "so it really, really hurt, but it worked!"


For the most part, the artwork at the Duct Tape Festival is terrible. And one suspects that Horowitz and Brumit, the same duo who created the Lombard Street "Bring Your Own Big Wheel Race," may have had a hand in most of the creations -- two Dixie cups taped together for lovers, a pink porcelain bull with an obviously repaired horn, a Nativity scene honoring duct tape as Jesus. (In Finland and Sweden, "Jesus Tape" is, in fact, a common epithet.) But there are a few exceptions: Niffer Desmond's mixed-media book covers, Roman's shimmering gladiator helmet and small purses, and Sarah Wagner's 1960s dress, shoes, and pillbox hat ensemble, inlaid with small cowboy-and-Indian dioramas. But the delight of the festival is not in the represented artists as much as it is in the enthusiasm of the guests.

"Duct tape, how do I love thee?" muses Garth Treagaras two women walk by in duct-tape halter tops. "Let me count the ways."

At a long table littered with magazines, junk, and duct tape, where everyone is invited to make his own piece of duct tape art, Jason Noutlisquietly admits to duct-taping diapers onto his baby when his wife's away.

"It's so much faster than pins," Noutlis explains before his wife returns with drinks. "I use duct tape for everything. My wife laughs at me. As if duct tape wasn't a perfectly valid method of repair."

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