The ferbulator flap 


At first glance, the yard in front of Judy Segall's Altamonte Springs home looks as if someone forgot to bring the kids' toys in.

Metal poles rise from the ground in rounded arcs or simply stick out of the ground. Vase-like objects sit on metal spikes. Yellow Styrofoam pool floats have been twirled in the shape of butterfly wings. A red wooden triangle has been attached to a blue metal pole.

This isn't any pile of junk, though. The "found objects," as they're known in the art community, have been arranged by Mick West, Segall's boyfriend, an artist whose work was recently on display at the University of Central Florida library and chosen for the "Body Electric" show at the Orlando Museum of Art.

West calls his yard work a "ferbulator field." As West explains in a logic that isn't easy to understand, the ferbulator resists power as it flows from source to ground. The harnessed power, he claims, allows people to focus on one of an infinite number of possibilities. "People don't seem to understand that this is a gateway to another reality," says West, a thin man with a white mustache in need of a trim.

The misunderstanding between West and his audience goes beyond gateways and altered states.

Some of Segall's neighbors have complained to Altamonte Springs officials that the ferbulator is an eyesore. On Aug. 16, a city official handed Segall a letter saying West's artwork violated an ordinance against displaying "attention-getting" devices without a permit. City code defined attention-getting devices as spotlights, banners and the like.

Segall appealed to other public officials (she refused to name them), who ultimately decided the ferbulator field could stay. The city dropped the issue Aug. 23.

Segall assumed the worst was over until several neighbors told her they would gather a petition against West's artwork. It isn't clear what legal avenues might be available to them, but Segall says that's irrelevant, anyway.

The important issue is whether the neighborhood can find harmony. "You hope to get along with everyone, but at what sacrifice to yourself?" she asks.

She argues that people who move to her street, Hermits Trail, are familiar with creative, eccentric acts. She counts nine artists or musicians on her street. "If you don't like the rules, you move to Hermits Trail, where you can express your individuality," she says. "Otherwise, we might as well be in a leper's colony."

West, who based his yard sculpture on science-fiction novels, hasn't let the controversy blunt his enthusiasm. Standing like a mad scientist among the ferbulator's arrays, revolian tubes, arc of flow and remulons, he points out how relaxing his design can be.

"It's a mind thing," he says. "You can spend many years and a lot of money to find enlightenment. Or you can use a ferbulator, which is almost instant."


More by William Dean Hinton

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