On September 25 I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a public art event titled ‘Stringwreck Hits the Streets.’ This interesting and entertaining performance was created by choreographers Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton of San Francisco. Janice Garrett & Dancers were featured along with The Del Sol Quartet, both from the Bay Area.
I had been hoping to introduce street painting into the public art realm, through collaboration, for some time when I received a call from Janice Garrett. She had the inspired idea to somehow add street painting to her dance piece ‘Stringwreck’ and take the piece out to the public on the streets of San Francisco. (Sans Detective Mike Stone.) I thought it was a great idea and Janice, Charlie and I started brainstorming.
While the concept immediately felt right for me, there were a number of challenges that presented themselves in how the street painting could be a part of the performance. The first was the surface I had to work with. The site chosen for the performance was Union Square, right in the heart of San Francisco.Union Square is an amazing place, packed with tourists, locals, business people and foreign students hoping to improve their knowledge of English idioms not taught at the nearby language schools. It’s beautiful and elegant, as a marble plaza should be, only the marble doesn’t really like chalk very much. Let’s just say it wasn’t optimal for street painting.
Challenge #2: How could I create artwork that the dancers and musicians could interact with or perform on? Chalk would be out of the question as it can’t hold up to traffic, but paint might not hold up either, especially with 3 performances scheduled throughout the day. These issues would affect the type of image we came up with for the performance. We could not add any substance that would make the surface slicker than it already was, for the safety of the dancers. I usually don’t have to deal with these types of issues but it proved to be an exercise in alternatives.
As for the subject matter, I thought about ‘Stringwreck’ and what that word signified to me. I came up with a web of string spanning the performance field, in 3d, allowing for the performance to look as if it were suspended above the ground, in a jumble of string. I loved this but logistically it was impossible – it was the problem of the paint or chalk not adhering to the marble for the course of 3 performances.
We decided to stay away from the center dance area and focus instead on a perimeter design that would delineate the staging area for the performers and the public. This way the public could interact with the drawings before the actual performances and get a sneak preview of what they might expect to see. During the performance the dancers would work around the artwork while keeping most of the piece contained within the art boundary.
As a result I again thought about ‘Stringwreck’ and all sorts of images came up: smashed violins, violas and cellos; burning and crumpled sheet music, notes flying off the sheet music pages, cracked pavement, a jumble of music motifs swirling around in chaos – all referring to a ‘wreckage’ of imagery. Some of these motifs were echoed in the performance. Janice and Charlie liked it – I liked it. We decided to go for it.
In the end it was a lot of fun to create. Janice, Charlie and I decided that the images really needed to be in chalk – it lends such a rich look to the imagery and draws people in. Paint would have been o.k. but it never looks as nice as chalk! It just doesn’t have the same magic for street painting. (I think the locals felt a little less apprehensive seeing me apply chalk pastel to their $50 million marble plaza rather than paint with a brush!) The weather cooperated and ‘Stringwreck Hits the Streets’ was given 3 performances throughout the day. An entertaining break in the day for those lucky enough to attend.
I’d like to thank Janice Garrett and Charlie Moulton for including me in their wonderful adventure. I am also indebted to my good friend Mark Wagner for lending a generous hand in assisting with the artwork. (Your energy made it all the more enjoyable!) Thanks to the Janice Garrett Dancers and last, but certainly not least, The Del Sol Quartet. Congratulations on an outstanding job to all of you!