Student builds ‘Human Carwash’ to showcase interactive performance art


Austin Shaw

“The Human Carwash” made its first appearance at Final Fest at the ICT Pop-Up park.

Mary Alexis Wirths likes to get her hands dirty — artistically speaking. She wants her artwork to be interactive and hands-on. Her iconic project, “The Human Carwash,” provided all of the above. 

The interactive installation allowed participants to walk through a carwash tent she built. It gave participants the opportunity of going through a carwash — without a car. 

Wirths, a senior majoring in art and minoring in anthropology, said she drew from her childhood memories and artistic background when developing the idea.

“I was thinking about this video I watched when I was little, where a guy strapped a lawn chair to a pickup truck and then rode through a carwash,” Wirths said.  

She said the video stuck with her because she was so young when she saw it. 

This looks really stupid, obviously, but also fun, Wirths said. “I wanted to kind of like recreate that,” she said.

The idea behind “The Human Carwash” was something Wirths had been playing with for some time. Once the concept was in place, the project needed three things to move forward: money for materials, an audience and time. Eventually, she found all three and the carwash came to life.

Wirths presented the carwash for the first time at ICT Soup — an art-based crowd-funding event. 

“You all eat soup, and people can ask you questions and then at the end, everyone votes for their favorite one, and that determines the winner,” she said. 

The winner takes home the money that was raised from the event’s cover charge.

Wirths presented the carwash at ICT Soup twice but didn’t win either time.

After ICT Soup, Wirths went on to incorporate “The Human Carwash” into her independent study. She was also invited to display it at Wichita Riverfest and Final Fest.

Though people liked the carwash, they may have liked it too much. Wirths said by the end of the festival, a lot of the pieces of the carwash were broken. During Riverfest, the river flooded — creating problems for the exhibition. The carwash remained standing at the end of the nine day festival, but it was in rough shape.

“It will never be in its full form again,” she said. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. Wirths is looking to repurpose the materials. Now, the carwash sits in her apartment. She says she thinks about it often, and what she could make it into next. 

“I’m probably going to build it into a performance art piece and make a costume out of it,” she said. “I talked to a couple of different artists about it.” 

The costume would continue in the likes of performance art.

 “It would be cool to build it as a suit and like, run out in public, in the street basically, and spin-off my car,” she said. “It’d be some sort of cleaning, just like rubbing the sides of their cars.”

In the meantime, Wirths has her hands full. She’s finishing up her last year of undergraduate coursework. She works at the ShiftSpace gallery. She’s the treasurer for ShiftSpace Student Group. She’s heavily involved with DIYMCA — a new Do-It-Yourself art and music venue downtown she co-founded with Doug Horacio Holguin Lynn and Levi Morgan. 

“I think it [“The Human Carwash”] was a success,” Wirths said. “I’ve never done anything that big on my own.”