Public Art Builds Community

"Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality" 
--Lewis Carroll. 

Public Art beautifies the landscape, but it fulfills many other goals as well. Art in public spaces can start conversations, project diverse points of view, challenge common assumptions and provide points of engagement. In this years' WonderFool Productions event, I realize public art can instigate a communal story, or a support the task of reimagining a well-known narrative. Even a fantastical one.


I’ve participated in two Wonderfool Productions events, and both experiences challenged me, stretched me, and helped me understand contemporary art and performance as dialogues.

Festifools 2021, By WonderFool Productions and associated artists.
Date: April 1, 2021. Place: Ann Arbor, MI, The TeaHaus on Fourth Ave.

With the most recent project “Painting the Roses Red” I selected a Chapter of the same title from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll. Our installation theme is encapsulated by the overall festival theme “Alice in Wonderfool” that was selected by the innovative Wonderfool Productions. And there were quite a few “Alices” in the weekend-long event. Curiouser and curiouser! However a picture is worth a thousand words, so enjoy the gallery below.

Process Notes

With a preparation period of approximately 30 days, and a performance period of 4 hours, our installations and performances were fleeting, and so, ephemeral. And because I’m obsessed with research and discovery, a good portion of my practical project management time was devoted to research about Lewis Carroll, himself, and his texts.

With found and common materials, I challenged myself to create environments which would support whimsical performances. I made a series of four hand-painted fabric pieces to document the process of painting the roses red. The fibers are 100% cotton hemmed 20 inch by 20 inch squares. To literally “paint them red” to match the story excerpt I chose, “The Dancing Cards” I would need to devise a technique and strategy, and fast.

I made the first of these pieces at EMU’s Fiber studio with my artist friend Suzanne Boissy’s guidance and encouragement. The fabric has to be prepared prior to hand-painting, with dye activator and hand-application of resist applied directly onto the fabric. Then, the dye is custom mixed and painted onto the fabric. This process is somewhat similar to batik.

That forever-tardy white rabbit was popping up everywhere! I finished the remaining pieces in a race against the clock. Later I decorated the storefronts of the Ann Arbor Tea Haus with the square fiber pieces, lights, and red and white silk flowers. Now for rehearsal! Claire was finishing up a semester of ballet dance at EMU, so we could scheme about music selections before or after dance class, on campus. Claire put in a ton of thoughtful research and creative problem-solving, as a we sought to find music from Lewis Carroll’s era. Claire began rehearsing her music selections on her own, and was ready for April 1st like the professional musician that she is! One morning in late March, the performers Lisa Dietz, Claire Guilford and Ginger Ann Nelson and myself gathered at Maple Street Studios to devise our performance score, and fine-tune it. Finally, the Festival date arrived. On April 1st, we danced to a curated a multi-hour playlist, and we also were lucky to have Claire perform live on her violin. We inhabited a magical, enchanted landscape of tea, beats, and so many roses, red and pink and white.

A final word about my recent forays into large-scale, temporary public art: As the parade of several hundred people passed by the store-front, many individuals and families paused and danced with us! Many Festifools participants stayed with us, dancing with enthusiasm, for 3-5 minutes.

This was a delightful occurrence, and we didn’t anticipate the high level of engagement. What a delightful exchange! What fervor, what zeal! If this is a small proof of the leaps public art can make, sign me up for more.

https://www.wonderfoolproductions.org/artists

Kudos to BrushMonkeys for the fanciful window art. Find out more about all the artists who participated here:
https://www.wonderfoolproductions.org/artists

Shibori

How can words, fibers and performance intersect? I’m still contemplating the connections myself, but I know that creating textile/fibers pieces, for me, satisfies a specific desire to invent.

Additionally, because most dances require threads of some kind– scenery, decor, or costume,– I bet many of my pieces will end up as wearables.

I can happily report that three of my recent performance ventures have included my fiber crafting and/or shibori. In chronological order, these are the installation for “Cave” (November 2020 and April 2021, Ypsi Glow (October 2021) and a suite of liturgical pieces for First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor (December 2021.)

Over the past year, I’ve been learning Fibers from the best, Suzanne Boissy, who is a Faculty member in our neighboring School of Art and Design at EMU. Since I am also a Faculty member (teaching Ballet to non-majors) it’s just a hop, skip and a jump between the Fibers’ Lab and our Dance Studios in the Warner Building. Suzanne is also one of my best friends, so I count my lucky stars that I get to study with– and shadow, her– in full Studio Action.

If you’d like to read more about Shibori, including an approach I call “Trash Panda,” fill out a contact form and I will keep you updated when my next blog post drops.

Subscribe, like or follow me to learn more about “Trash Panda Shibori.” In 2022, I will be sure to share updates with you!

Working on a Poetry Collection

So, I’ve been hard at work on my poetry collection. While decompressing, I made a visual piece from my slush pile yesterday.

What’s a slush pile you may ask? (Hint: It’s not where I toss the melted popsicles and juice bars from last summer.) It’s really just a document, mostly. I find it’s easier to get my big editing shears out, and employ them, if I have a file to drop those sweet little gems of lines that just don’t fit in a particular poem.

I call it tumble tussle.

September Slushie

If you have a few moments, let me know your thoughts. Do you use a “slushie pile” too? What helps you gain distance on your work, and make those all important edits?

Intertextuality the ‘ZINE

I like to go through the zine sections of local bookstores when on the road and have found a lot of really great kind of underground stuff that way.

It all feeds into everything else.


Jeff VanderMeer, Author

Why a zine?

‘Zines are quick and snappy. ‘Zines offer writers and artists a means of production that is fairly barrier-free. ‘Zines are pretty easy to organize and range from low-cost to moderate-cost production.


Comments about the Intertextuality Process.

I undertook a few days’ research to learn about ‘Zines. I had only made one before, and that was an old-school process; with paper, scissors, copier and a special type of stapler- a saddle-type. While I am fascinated by book arts, fibers, and hand-made goods, I decided to make this inaugural edition digital.

I put out a call to approximately 100 folks I knew from my earlier career as a dance artist. I also reached out to students in the Creative Writing and Literature Programs at Eastern Michigan University, my alma mater.

Submissions trickled in at first, then built to a steady stream. I love the diversity that is represented in this first volume.

Poets, cyber-artists, photographers, musicians, ballet dancers, somatic therapists, body workers, labor organizers, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs all have thoughts about the theme “Words on Dance.” I actually couldn’t fit in all the submissions. Thanks to all the artists and writers who trust me with their submissions.

I hope you enjoy the ‘Zine. Due to reader interest, print copies are also available. If you’d like to purchase a paper copy, they are $12, mailed via USPS, to any where in the US. International orders are $15.

Message me or respond to this blog post to order a copy, or just enjoy the ‘Zine electronically.

Donations are accepted.

My Venmo handle is: @Christina-Sears-17. If you’d like your own paper copy, remember I will need to collect your mailing address. Email that to me please and place “Zine order” in the subject line.

Intertextuality the ‘Zine

Words on Dance

Collage Image by Sarah Imhoff-Jones

Multimedia journeys

handmade artbook

Since September 2018, I have been studying Creative Writing @ EMU. No stranger to EMU, having been a member of faculty in Music and Dance since 2011, I’ve always enjoyed the campus and community. However, studying with Creative Writing Professors in the program has been an incredible journey. One aspect that makes the Creative Writing Program at EMU special is hybridity.

Many higher education programs (MA’s, MFA’s) direct writers into a stream of study right from the point of application. As a multi-genre Movement Artist making the leap into Literary Arts, I had a deep desire to explore it all-

Poetry, fiction, flash-fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, and hybrid forms. This blog post documents my third project in MultiMedia, the art booklet. Today I’m sharing a photo gallery of DOCuDrama of a Dream, my second artbook project. I’m discovering a whole world of art books, collage, and multimedia composition.

As a person with health challenges and some level of disability, I’ve really had to take quarantine seriously during COVID-19. Even though I’ve struggled with social distance limitations, for example having to put my band BadjaMutha on complete hold, I’ve really never been more creatively productive.

Part of the impetus has been due to my extreme thirst for creative exploration, part of it is due to having a wonderful collaborative partner/teammate and delightful community of artists to interact with/ and learn from, and part of it is slowing down and attuning to my inner rhythms and the energy of the earth.

Winter, even in the disordered climate-change version of winter, offers opportunity for peering inward, and contemplating shifts, affinities and contrasts. I haven’t been posting a lot on my blog due to demands of life, job and school-work- I hope you enjoy this December post.

In today’s blog post, I offer glimpses of my new art booklet DOCuDrama of a Dream. I used many different compositional tools, techniques and technologies to construct this piece.

First, I concentrated on harvesting and recycling images and language from my dreams. I dedicated my focus to writing as soon as I wake, no matter what the hour, for a period of about 14 nights. Later, I processed the language into edited hand-written compositions. In these compositions, I hone the text into a bi-fold article: the meaning of the text is important, but the visual element of the writing has equal weight. Therefore, instead of typing the text and applying the usual (computer-based) options to the text, I tried to really focus on the act of writing as mark-making. I’m obsessed with line!

Textual Meaning and Materiality

Style of writing gains import here. I invented a kind of block-lettering that reminded me of early computers. And by early, I’m talking about the computer technologies of the late 70’s and early 80’s- ginormous computers that had a footprint of 20 square feet. My father, Dave Sears, an engineer at Allison’s at the time- took me to visit this computer at work. Allison, a branch of General Motors, was HQ’d in Indianapolis, Indiana, where I was born.

This computer used punch-cards and binary coding to function. It was a far cry from the nanochip tech we all have access to today. But this vintage tech was an aesthetic motivator for the hand-lettering you see below.

Additionally, I fleshed out my dream-material with character names (Lisa, Jill and Arthur Robinson, Barney, etc.) and gave Lisa, a leading lady, her own enscriptive style, a loopy cursive script. I even created a signature for her. Finally, I typed up the bulk of the content on a vintage typewriter I scored of Ebay. I was absurdly excited for the typewriter and it’s accessories, two ribbons, one black and one red to arrive. Quickly, working as a choreographer does, I established some aesthetic rules.

First- due to typing on unusual paper(s) I decided to accept all mistakes as fate, and work them into the flow of the text. One reason was that the corrective technology for this mid-1960’s Coronamatic typewriter is pretty primitive. The second reason was aesthetic: imperfection proves this item is made by human hands.

My own life is full of mistakes, shortfalls, and imperfections. Why should this booklet be any different? I decided to accept the mistakes of this booklet process, and integrate them, even when errors of spelling or fact occur. This led to another interesting sidebar- Tabloid type elements.

Some of the mistakes I made were mundane, but some were early steps in my research process. For example, one day, during a hike in the woods, my partner and I were discussing the Beatles’ song: “Give Me Money.” We both had a sneaking sense that this song, is, in fact a cover. I dreamed about it later, and dreamed it is a cover of a Bill Withers’ tune. That proved incorrect. I discovered a fascinating music research line. Berry Gordy’s administrative assistant at the time, Ms. Janie Bradford, is a co-writer of the song. She also was in the Motown Offices on the day the Beatles expressed interest in covering the song, and probably took the call where the deal was sealed.

Is she appropriately credited? Yes, today she is and does receive royalty compensation for her many songwriting credits. Check out this cool blog post for more about Janie Bradford, her accomplishments in music here. However, this is not the typical outcome for musicians, especially in blues and rock-n-roll music. Even in the case of the house bands for Motown’s various labels, many of the musicians suffered from poverty and instability in their careers and lives. Thus, creative exploitation, and a specific sidebar, exploitation of women, became a thematic sub-current in the booklet. This theme can’t be identified in the photos, and likely will only come to complete fruition a the next version of the project. (Spoiler: women’s reproductive capacity and monetization of biological reproductive capacities through the practice of surrogacy, sperm and ova donorship, etc. will be a theme in future drafts.)

The booklet components lay fallow for about six weeks this past fall, while I tried to decide upon a strategy to complete them. With the aid of art found in a little free library (LFL’s) on Oak Street in Ypsilanti, MI, I generated a cover. Memories of growing-up times with my father are layered underneath the medieval lady (greeting card art) on the back cover: a jingle from a radio advertisement for Smith Brothers’ Wild Cherry Cough Drops is penned in messy gray and royal blue marker.

Front Cover

On the front cover, I include a photo I took in 2009 on a visit to the Dominican Republic. The signage in English reads “No Passage, Private Property.” According to Frederick Engels’ 1884 Book, Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State the conceptualization of Private Property, ushered in a transition from matriarch to patriarchy. Family bloodlines and the establishment of trackable paternity made monogamy and privatization of land the new system in 18th century Europe. Industrialization in the mid-19th century allowed for the development of the middle class, and the widening divisions between workers, landowners, middle class managers of industry, etc. Finally, nuclear family practice and models of patriarchal tradition formed the perfect vehicle for the transfer of white privilege through heirs and inheritance. As society continued to evolve, a centralization of wealth and familial lines through the father created a cult of domesticity for certain classes/ races of women. The fence in the sepia-toned photography, and the off-center sign speak to all of these meanings.

I choose, with great zeal and joy, to stitch the whole booklet together on a fancy modern sewing machine. This choice of technique echoes centuries of female labor and points to women’s integrations and roles in testing technology. Also, women’s roles in fashion, textile production, manufacturing garments.

I hope you enjoy this post and my booklet.

Flash Fiction Workshop

Join Christina-Marie and the Creative Writers Association for a Flash Fiction Workshop this coming Sunday March 8th, from 4-6 pm at Cultivate.

Write a short short story of 300, 500 or 1,000 words and bring it to the workshop for peer or small group review.

Look for our table at Cultivate, in the Main Cafe area. Excellent coffees, beverages and snacks are available for purchase, but purchase is not required to participate.

This workshop is free and open to serious creative writers. For those who are not currently students, a suggested donation of $7 to $15 applies. Funds raised will support the Creative Writers Association of Eastern Michigan University. We ask that writers commit the full 120 minutes to the workshop, so everyone has a chance to receive feedback on his/her/their projects.

Email to RSVP