Emerging Wonder: A Shadow Ballet

There are some stories that you learn something new any time you read it, and re-reading Alice in Wonderland just before creating this piece, I found how deeply it related to the things I’ve been considering in my environmental and participatory work. While the idea of giving greater importance to nonsense has always stood out, in this reading, I paid attention to the ways that size and position alter one’s perception. 

Lewis Carroll played with time and scale throughout Alice in Wonderland in order to reframe the quirks of British culture. It’s publication in 1865 coincided with the end of the American Civil War, and despite optimistic framing at the time, vestiges of both British and American culture still contribute to inequitable systems of power. 

Carroll’s nonsense world challenged deeply rooted Victorian orthodoxy by using size to create changes in perceived importance. 

Carroll depicts not just changes in size for Alice, but the affect that it has on her psyche. As she is problem solving, trying to reach the key on the table, she eats too much cake and becomes giant, causing her fear and worry that is literally outsized, flooding the area with a sea of tears. Calming down, she continues to problem-solve, but makes herself so small that she gets washed away building a kind of empathy for the animals affected by her oversized human impact. 

When later stuck inside the Duchess’s house, she recognizes and uses the uses the destructive power of her human-ness to terrorize the residents of the Duchesses house until she finds a way to get her emotions under control.  

In Emerging Wonder, the transformation of each bug and flower into the next plays with scale. Sometimes a bee takes up the whole screen, while there is a tiny butterfly in the next image. In turn, projected at a ten foot screen, all of the bugs are larger than life, interacting with the swirl of puppets on the rotor created by participants, and audience members who stopped along the way to the nearby dance floor.  

It is always a pleasure to walk through Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and even more of a pleasure to be able to collaborate with the community with an art project geared towards participation. By taking the frame of the caterpillar and other pollinator animals, this work creates space for participants to imagine a world where we prioritize our relationship with nature. Visitors to FOOL Moon, hosted throughout downtown Ann Arbor, contributed their own shadow puppets to the installation in the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market.

I love making participatory art because my “audience” always teaches me something, and in this case, I loved watching the bugs, pets, objects, and designs emerge from the many families who stopped to create at the table. Some had luminaries, and many were dressed up with layered coats, as Michigan spring often demands. I myself was dressed as a flower garden with my Marimekko coat, purple flowered dress, and pink floral socks.  

Although it died down by evening, the wind on Friday around lunchtime was so strong that we only installed the projection screen and simplified the installation. The projector loaned to me by the Ann Arbor District Library was so much brighter than my own that it lit up the large silver rotor made of aluminum window screen. Even without curtains, it created layers of color and functioned both as the engine for the shadow ballet and a second, brilliant screen. 

In gaps between noises from the disco floor in the middle of the market, and my neighbors, the flute invited people who hadn’t yet made puppets to watch and created a performance space for each round of new puppets that added to the menagerie. The diameter of the rotor created the illusion of swirling around like on a dance floor, allowing the creatures and joys that people created to add to the story of butterflies, flowers, grasshoppers, bees, and caterpillars. 

Seeing things this size made me want to create an EVEN BIGGER projection.  Instead of ten feet wide, I want to make it fifty! Imagine 2” shadow puppets and 2cm bugs showing up on a screen bigger than people. That would really draw you into the dream of the world we live in. 

Goings On About Town

Big things are in the works. Baby steps!!!

Though my drawing a day project has once again fizzled, I have in fact been making art nearly every day.  When I started the project, my intention was to do all kinds of work, showing progress, drawings, sketches, and finished work as it went on.

But as the project went on, my parameters got more and more narrow.  First, somehow, I decided it had to be a drawing. Then I decided it had to be a drawing on a particular size of paper.  But as an artist, I’m all over the place.  I do several bodies of work in several media all the time.  All those limitations are not how I work, but somehow I talked myself slowly into that consistency and regularity.

Some of the work that I do as an artist is less photographic.  Like the above shot, a photogenic rearrangement of something much less exciting to look at: making the “paints” for my “paintbox.”  Each sheet has to be torn and in order to use them more efficiently be rolled into a ball so when it comes to making the carpet, no detangling is needed.

In any case, I wanted to outline for you some of what I’ve been working on, though each of these things will get more attention as time goes on this summer, perhaps you would like to know the whole list of “what’s up” in Adventurous Art land.

Recycle Ann Arbor had an Earth Day Art Contest, and my “Sun Rug” was selected to be a finalist.  Though the turnout was small, I stuck around for the Public Reception and made some good connections to people in the community.

My small success in that contest persuaded me to shoot higher and I’ve been working on a proposal for a larger series of rag carpets to be displayed in narrative series from Cloud, to Rain, to Rainbow, to Sun.  The first proposal contains some mistakes and omissions, so we will see.  In either case, I’m excited about the project and you will see some progress shots soon.

One person I met through the program was the Outreach and Zero-Waste coordinator for RAA with whom I’m coordinating the translation of some of their materials about how to recycle in Ann Arbor into Spanish.  It’s cool to get to do some translation work, if only as a volunteer.

She also introduced me to someone at the Ecology Center, and I’m volunteering with them to do an interactive recycled art table at the Eco-Ride on June 23 at Riverside Park in Ann Arbor.  Yes, Ann Arbor, not Ypsi.  I’m going to do a whole entry about this since I made them a video and I think you’ll enjoy our project, even if you can’t attend the Eco-Ride.

Another of the people I met through the Recycle Ann Arbor Earth Day Contest was the director of FLY Art Center, an Ypsi organization that does outreach to under-served public school children.  We met up and I’m going to teach some “Studio Skills” classes (one about no-sew upcycled t-shirts, and one about rag rug coasters or placemats), and do some volunteering for them in their outreach and public programs.