Soft Sculpture Set Design: A World of Blue Fabric

I've been commissioned by a choreographer to make a set entirely from blue fabric. That's right--an entire performance set created from blue fabric and most of this fabric will be in the shape of 3-dimensional soft sculpture or stuffed fabric shapes. And what will the set BE you might ask? Well, that's the tricky part, but also the exciting part. It won't BE anything recognizable. It will be abstract. It will be dreamy. And per the director's request, "very strange". It will be based on the shapes of various body parts (though not realistically so) and then I've taken the liberty of adding animal body parts, dream parts, and the places these parts might occupy or where they might physically exist. Say what? I know, I know. But stay with me for just a moment.

I've made a list of body parts. I've made a list of non-human body parts. I've made a list of spaces and places that body parts might inhabit: dresses, pants, jackets, chairs, couches, beds, houses, cars, airplanes, boats, forests, fields, etc. And then I've combined these lists into my 12 favorite items. Some of these items seemed imperative--heart, lung, arm--but some of them simply seemed to lend the most interesting shapes--intestines, wing, hand. And some were kept on the list for how they might surprise the viewer or add a bit of contradiction or wonder--house, dress, tail.

So I've made the first two sculptures--a set of three 12 foot long intestines and one set of eyeballs. But I'm still grappling with the conceptual answers to my own questions: Focus on body parts that are internal or external? And if I'm including non-human body parts (I instantly think: bird, whale, fox, bear, cat, dog) then which animals and why? And if I've been given free reign to make work that is "dreamy, abstract, and mysterious while based on parts of the body" where might these pieces conceptually live? In the forest? In a house? In a completely abstracted space of bubbles and lines and nonsensical shapes? Oh, gosh. Help.

So I'm tackling the technical parts first: Acquire enough fabric to fill a stage, acquire enough stuffing to fill an army of sculptures, acquire enough images so the design team can have a conversation and see sketches, and then make lists. And more lists. The show opens May 2nd so I still have a few months to prepare, refine, and build but the rehearsals start next week so I have to have a few pieces finished ASAP. Gulp.

And if this wasn't challenging enough, I've decided to stick to my own guns and try to make this set as environmentally friendly as possible. This is not a priority in the theater design world but I'm making it my priority because I just don't feel like I personally have another choice. This means recycled, reclaimed, and rescued materials whenever possible. In addition to the usual thrift store finds, I am lucky to have access to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, SCRAP, and the upcoming White Elephant Sale. And I am also lucky to have dear artist friends who have made blue fabric donations! (Thank you L, K, and V.)

I love collaborating across disciplines and I love working on a really large scale. It's a great shift from making small, one-of-a-kind objects, and prints. It stretches the thinking and also the technical skills--it causes me to shift my intention and also find new solutions. Some of you might remember the Red Yarn Wall I built in 2011, or The Dresses/ Objects Project I created in 2010. It's exciting to try my hand at installation work once again. I can only hope this project will come together to include the strange, the mysterious, the beautiful, and the body all in an interactive soft sculpture mania!

Okay, then, back to stitching up these fabric intestines before tomorrow's rehearsal. What a very strange thing to do for work! But I am grateful. 



  1. From what I see, it looks STUNNING already! It must be nerve wrecking though to have a deadline like that with such an open ended solution. But, trust your instincts and know the answer will present itself as you plod along making. It always does ... just stay open to the answer!

  2. I can't wait to see all the pieces. It's a pleasure seeing the work develop. xo

  3. kathryn: oh, thank you. it's so true that the only way i can move through this very big project is to think it through as much as i can and then abandon the thinking and move to instinct. one sculpture at a time.

    david: hi! and a pleasure to work with you, my dearest.

  4. So much fun Katrina! I was so intrigued by this. This made me flash back to a contemporary dance class I took in college. I consider myself fairly creative, yet that class just baffled me. The instructor would say just dance... interpret the music and move how you feel and I would, but she would give me a C and say it could have been better, but yet if it was about how I felt and abstract, how was what I did wrong? See? I am still confused about it.

    I think your thought (in the comment section) about think it through, then quit thinking and follow your instincts is perfect! I think it's more about having the courage to do what you feel and believe - to not worry about how it will be judged. It looks fabulous so far - can't wait to see the finished set!

    1. amy: thanks for your generous comment. truly! it's great to get feedback and support from the craft world on this super abstract dance project. yes, i think we have to think until we can't think anymore and then trust intuition when it comes to these things.

      and i agree with you-- how can you get a "c" if you are are showing up and putting your heart into it and, mostly willing to take the risk? especially with contemporary interpretive dance, for goodness sake. just keep dancing, maybe out of protest! xo


Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.