The show was a success! After working on this soft sculpture collaboration steadily for four months, the final performances were this past weekend and everything went even better than we imagined. I'm somewhat astonished that it is actually complete as my studio has been overflowing with anatomical drawings, stacks of blue fabric, and various fiberfill since January. Such excitement, relief, exhaustion, and contentment all swirling at once.
Failure of the Sign is the Sign was created by Hope Mohr Dance as part of her artist residency at ODC Theater in San Francisco. Hope brought me to the creative process very early when she commissioned me to create a set made (almost) entirely of fabric. We began through a series of conversations and brainstorming sessions and ultimately agreed that the dancers would physically (and conceptually) be placed inside the body. You can read Hope's thoughts in an article here and a lovely review of the show here. Hope was interested in creating a sense of interiority and enclosure so we agreed to use the major organs as a launching place and to conceptually stay inside the body with the scenic design.
If you look closely at the photos you'll see two huge brain-inspired clouds complete with protruding thoughts represented by childlike forest images--house, sparrow, tree-- constructed like hanging quilts. There are 18 individual soft sculptures scattered through the space including: a stomach, pancreas, spleen, kidney/ ureter/ bladder combination, thyroid, set of lungs, and heart (all hanging from branches); there are several sculptures that stay on the ground including 5 intestines, 3 livers, and 3 abstracted torsos. The torsos were inspired by Louise Bourgeois sculptures and each had a unique abstracted part: one had heartstrings, one had a small wing, and one had an attached infant.
The tree branches are wrapped with fabric to represent the skeletal structure, technically to add mass to the room and to provide a place for the lights to hang, but also more simply to add an element of surprise, material contrast, and hint to the landscape of a child's imaginative forest. Of course, there is a clashing of craft and fine art and performance at every turn. And, fortunately, the choreographer embraced and encouraged me to push my own aesthetic. The stranger, the more surprising, and the bigger I could push my own work, the happier she became. Of course, this was a blessing.
All the organs were created specifically for this collaboration. I studied anatomical drawings, sketched to paper, sketched to fabric, cut, sewed, stuffed, and stitched my way through most of the major organs. The quilts were technically the most challenging part--they are heavy, asymmetrical, and required multiple connective points to hang straight. The organs were the most fun to create--the anatomical heart was the trickiest but most rewarding and the various (mostly found, thrifted, or gifted) fabrics provided their own complications in construction.
All said and done--it was invigorating to work on this gigantic scale (the stage is approx 45 feet by 36 feet) and to be given the resources to work with an amazing team of artists and technicians for the installation. I was also very fortunate to hire an assistant at the very end to help finish the sewing and also make some repairs. (Thank you, Alex!) Of course, you can't really get a sense of performance-based work through still images. But I wanted to show you the finished project from my vantage point. So, thank you, to everyone who supported this project along the way and to those of you reading from afar, consider yourself supports of a very necessary kind.
For this entire experience, I am so insanely grateful. Phew! Now I will attempt to organize, purge, and tidy my studio before the next project begins.