My comment, “Sculpture and dance are closely related, much like a creative collaboration” had left some people puzzled at a recent Pacific Northwest Sculptors member meeting. I see dance and sculpture as a continuum of movement and stillness, the ephemeral to the eternal. Almost everything we know of early civilizations comes from sculpture. Indeed, if some form of physical artistic expression can last thousands of years, it’s likely sculpture. Additionally, an installation can encompass the ephemeral, everything from gallery installation to Andy Goldworthy’s nature work.
I’ve been a sculptor for forty-three years, and celebrate thirty years of dancing contact improvisation in 2019. Often what I learn from one discipline transfers to the other. Dance requires that I show up several times a week, fully present, emotionally, and physically. I have discovered this has been a good method for making art. Moving mindfully became my physical therapy, an antidote to the exertion and repetitive motion of carving. That kind of awareness gradually shifted my focus from the object to the space surrounding it.
The Creative Collaboration of Sculpture and Space
That awareness has helped me site my sculpture in clients’ gardens. Conversely, many sculptors believe their collaboration is completed when the art is finished and sold. If you have sited your work outside, you know what happens. It shrinks radically as it contends with the chaos of the rest of the world. Siting sculpture requires shifting focus from the art object to creating an environment that includes art. Blocking some views, framing other sightlines, defining a clear approach, you choreograph how people move through space to better appreciate the art and the entire space it occupies.
My concept of what sculpture is got much larger.
My early artworks often appeared overly polished and careful. There’s a valuable skill in banging out “working-class sculpture” aka stage sets and props for performances. Cardboard is free and quickly fabricated. In fact, I have never made cardboard models for my own sculpture before I started dancing. Now I make them all the time. These models I create act as a physical embodiment of an idea. Indeed, the model serves as a visual placeholder that haunts me until I have time to make it in a permanent medium. Working in a throw-away material encouraged me to work fast, go for big shapes, deep shadows, and lots of bright colors. The results are often very engaging on their own. I now make damn sure that same fun and energy make it into all my sculpture. The question I pose to other PNWS members is, “What enriches your creative practice?”
Creative collaborations with famous sculptor and dancer pairings: Isamu Noguchi and Martha Graham; Robert Rauschenberg and dancers Paul Taylor; Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown; Robert Morris and Simone Forti.