The Secret Reality Engineering Club That’s Not Taking New Members

Alyssa Baguss (hands pictured) is the founder and bookkeeper of the Real Engineer’s Club.

The club was called the “Real Engineer’s Club.” It was for people who were interested in either engineering reality or questioning reality or creating fake things that look real – like art. It was a club where there were no membership fees, there were no meetings, just a sense of belonging. It was for people who maybe were club-averse, but still wanted to be in some sort of a club.

The club had membership cards and there were membership drives at various art institutions. We held one at the MIA during the “For Real Show” more recently and we even had gift memberships where we would sign up your friends or family, loved ones, to be members of the club.

There was a hotline you could call where you could either enroll yourself or request some membership confirmation or register online for a gift membership on our secret Facebook page. If you got someone a gift membership, the person would receive in the mail a packet with a welcome letter describing the club and that someone they know wanted to share this with them and the basic rewards of the membership were explained and in a little sealed envelope the secret handshake was explained in a diagram.

It was very serious. The secret handshake to be used whenever you’re at a gallery opening and you need saving from someone you don’t want to talk to or you just want to know where others like you were in the crowd. The project kind of went on, it lived in a few different institutions and sometimes you’d get a free gift* when you signed up.

The rewards were a sense of belonging. It was really about community. I’m an introvert, so I’ve always had this want to belong to something but I’m never motivated to do that and then even when I do I regret it.

I moved on to some other projects and I felt like there was some closure to [the Real Engineers]. I’m not taking new members, but it’s not “done-done” yet, though. I’ve always felt like it could re-open, but in the right moment.

I was doing a Northern Spark project and I had this girl who saw me and dropped everything like “YOU!” She was digging and digging through her purse to find her membership card – so I still have people who remember me from the actual membership drives. Otherwise, I am usually pretty anonymous. If you sign up online, it’s like, who’s Alyssa? You only know the club. I am everything for the club, it was kind of a one person thing.

Here’s a weird story: one day I had a resurgence out of no where – lots of people were liking the page, not asking to be members, just liking the page – and I thought “what is going on?” From what I could tell, these people were real-real engineers who found the page and thought we were an engineering group. So the Real Engineerings group page has sort of morphed into a group for real engineers. It was so weird watching it being an observer, but we just totally went with it.

*“One of my favorite club rewards was when Alyssa provided some members with what she called, “bubble wrap book marks” which were six or seven big bubble wrap bubbles on a sheet. And there were instructions on it that you were to go through the gallery and pop the bubbles based on how much you like the art – three pops for OK art, five pops for good art. There weren’t that many gifts, but that one was great.” -Jenni Undis of Lunalux

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