Monday, April 14, 2014

Urban Acrobatics Chicago: What Does Inter-Genre Collaboration Look Like?

What connects circus and graffiti, and how, aesthetically, can they be put into communication? This is a question that we will attempt to broach through discussion tomorrow, but today two of our performers, Melon James and Polly Solomon, began to imagine what it may look like through performance and shared movement.

Meeting with Melon, Polly first tried to describe what painting opportunities aerial acrobatics would allow, primarily by describing the relationship between her moving body and the fabric that sustains her in the air, lifts her up, and allows her to do fifteen to twenty foot drops. 

Urban Acrobatics NYC. September, 2013. Photo Credit: Sarah Alcantara.

What became increasingly clear is that in doing an aerial routine, it is not just about bodily poses, but the dance between texture and the body, a play with positioning, extension, gravity, and folds. "I move into different poses, and can sometimes hang out, for a slow count of ten or more," Polly explained, "and will drape the fabric so that it unfolds vertically or horizontally." Melon responded, "I am thinking about what I could paint in ten seconds...its like a game, because the fabric will shrink down, so [the question is] what can be painted?" What can be painted in ten seconds on a moving canvas that will have visual impact even as it is contorted, reversed, and turned upside down? A tag can be written in ten to twenty seconds, but can the tag retain its impact when spatially manipulated?

For the performance on Saturday, little is pre-written. All that exists are the constraints of space, and the opportunities afforded by materials and surfaces. There will be a drop cloth, a cellophane wall, the silk, and wooden panels. The challenge is to introduce moving bodies among and within those materials that can make the scene dance.
A work by Melon, in progress. Chicago, IL. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
We mused about music, the soundtrack for the performance. For our New York show Polly mixed soundbytes from interviews I had conducted and selections from the panel discussion along with music, including a song about Chicago graffiti by writer and rapper Demon/Dmnology, but a different kind of soundtrack came to light: that of the paint cans themselves.

Lavie Raven taught a spraypaint workshop last year at the Evanston Art Center where he emphasized that to do graffiti one must develop an intimate relationship with the can and consider the energy and sound of the can as an extension of one's own breath. If the can breathes cleanly, lines will be clean as well. When watching live painting, then, it is as important to pay attention and listen the persistent hiss of aerosol paint and its steady, practiced rhythms, as it is to watch the unfolding of confident lines, pure colors, and deft fades.

Melon calls this "graffiti yoga." He explained: "I call it graffiti yoga, because, for me, since I'm not very tall, to get a line from here [gestures to floor to left] to here [gestures to upper wall to right], I have to really stretch to get a clear, straight line."Such practice is intimately related to animating the letters, keeping one's knees soft, shoulder contracted, and arm straight, which requires, even in the drawing stages, breaking free from the limits of the page. "Do you know Cove? He...influenced me...and told me, 'Don't limit have to get off the sheet [of paper]." In such a sense, doing graffiti involves visible traces but also physical movements that are only visible in the dynamism of resulting lines. I mentioned how Ruben Aguirre, Like, mentioned at the same panel discussion in Evanston in 2013 that doing graffiti offered him a deep sense of quiet, and was an almost meditative practice. Melon mused that in his work he too falls into a meditative trance, one time falling so deep that he simply did not hear ten minutes of conversation. "The idea of breath...this is related to creativity as a process," Polly responded. "To inspire, that is drawn from the fact that the word inspire means [etymologically] inhalation, taking in breath. When you inspire them you become part of them, transforming them."
A work by Melon, in progress. Chicago, IL. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Inspire, exhale, and stay tuned for more updates tomorrow.

You can follow us on twitter @UrbanAcrobats and on instagram at urban_acrobats.
A tired but inspired Polly. Chicago, IL. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

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