Monday, October 1, 2012

Creating the Siren of Michigani

Collaborating on a art piece isn't easy.
It takes a lot of honest sharing and compromise and letting go of ideas that you may think are wonderful to get the piece to where it really should go.

Emily and I wanted to create a piece that was more than just a dress- we wanted to create something that utilized our strengths; Emily's fashion construction knowledge and ingenuity with materials, my painting and color style, and our shared obsession with detail. We wanted to add an extra challenge as well- a sound element, something kinetic. It was also important for us to honor our Midwest roots, so it became quite clear during our concept brain storming sessions that using Lake Michigan as a source of inspiration could be a fantastic way to put everything together.

Once we had decided on a Lake Michigan theme we worked hard to think of related concepts and ideas. Here's one of our lists:
  • storms
  • fishing
  • folk lore around the Great Lakes
  • sailors
  • interpretation of weather 
 But one of the most important parts of long term art project is deciding what is absolutely key to the piece- what is the body and soul of the work? For Emily and I these were the qualities we wanted:
  • multifaceted
  • interactive
  • technically superior concepts
and the question we continually asked: How important is quality to innovation and what can we work on that will lead to both?

Emily and I don't draw up a lot of preliminary sketches prior to making our work, but this is our earliest sketch of what our piece may have looked like.

This was my first time painting fabric that would be worn; I started applying the colors rather timidly, because it's always easier to add than to take away.  It was extra difficult because the fabric for the dress is a stretchy mesh, so anything I painted soaked right through. We chose the netting for the majority of the fabric because we wanted to play with opacity and light, and to have different dimensions and stage lighting possibilities.

Astronaut print hanging out with drying segments of the dress

Stage one of the dress: All fabric segments painted and sewn together. Emily and I had been working separately on different aspects of the dress up to this point, so this was the first time we could see how Emily's swirling pattern and my storm/ sunset on clouds fit together- we also realized that we had unintentionally/unknowingly matched the silks to the darker hues in the painting, which was a lovely surprise!
Stage two of the dress: the bead work and sequins have been added to the dress but not finalized. The dress has reached the point where we felt comfortable photographing it in order to make submission deadlines, but we knew that we would continue to add more detail work.
Our piece evolved from involving a group of 3 figures to just one. Resin raindrop beads morphed into metal clattering beads we made from soda cans. We decided that rain-stick cuffs was too easy of a noise solution so we moved on to the idea of creating a rumbling thunder sound. At first we thought of a large piece of sheet metal that could be rumbled behind the main figure. The metal could be painted, so it would act like a movable background, which adds a lot of control of how viewers experience the piece on stage, but would require 2 additional actors and costumes. Ultimately we decided against this more elaborate stage presence because of the added cost, the additional time needed to make more costumes and the difficulty in shipping everything.

So now that our wearable sound piece was restricted to 1 figure, we wanted to make it as powerful as possible, and make sure that every element had a function.

 We decided on a bell because it fit our theme and the shape would hid a thunder stick- an Indonesian toy that consists of a tube with a spring. The tube amplifies the vibrations that the spring makes on a membrane that covers the end of the tube. When shaken a thunder stick produces a loud rumbling sound, very much like thunder. The tube I fashioned makes a more distant rumbling sound, but I'm very happy it works since it's made with an oatmeal tube and things from our local hardware store.

The Siren's Bell, first attempt. Exaggerated paint job to make it more visible on stage.
Finalized Siren's Bell
After submitting the piece to ArtPrize and learning that it would be seen up close we decided to make the bell more viewer friendly- sanded paper-mache to make it look more realistic, more nuanced weathered painting, and a dusting of sand to make it feel like it had really rested at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

The metal beads were made from soda cans. First we punctured the empty cans and cut them into the largest usable piece of metal.We then cut circles, folded in the edges then crimped the circles into these folded triangle shapes that make a gentle tinkling sound. We (mostly Emily) sewed these to places on the dress where the most movement would occur- enhancing the natural rustling sound.

Detail of Emily's beautiful beading and sequin work. Fun fact: for every sequin I can sew on, Emily can do 5. 

Last but certainly not least is the leather mask. Emily first shaped clay into a mold of what she wanted the mask to look like. Once the mold was ready she made a pattern to cut out the rough shape of leather. Then Emily wet the leather and stretched it over the mold, which really involved a lot of pulling, tugging and a hand numbing amount of time rubbing the leather so it would form to the mold. After letting the leather dry for about a day it was hand painted. Now it was a mask, but a little too plain. To do the bead work on the mask Emily had to pre-poke the holes and then do the beading by hand.

Emily and I spent months working on this piece, and we are so pleased to have the public interacting with it at ArtPrize!

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