Air Dancer Opera ACT V, camera/edit by Kera MacKenzie
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Grunt Work

with Vida Sačić, Art In Place, Terrain, 2020, Chicago, IL

As spaces of sanctuary shrink and intimate connections are made with utmost discretion, we celebrate the power of the body as canvas and its capacity to reveal, inform, and disclose the poetic and the political. Vida Sačić prints words translated from Croatian folktales and personal journals on garments and pattern pieces constructed out of nylon translucent fabric by Kristin Abhalter Smith. These performative objects reflect an ongoing collaboration responding to relationship, identity, power and strength.

Video: Grunt Work, Video Documentation 1 of 1, 2019


Grunt Work, inflatable dress, installation documentation, printed nylon and thread, dimensions variable up to 72 inches, 2019-2020

We Are Gold Together, Terrain Biennial, 2019
We Are Gold Together,  Colvin House, 2019


We Are Gold Together

Air Dancers — Dancing together — At Last
Irridecent polyester over windproof ripstop nylon, industrial fans, cords, electricity 2019

Created for the Terrain Biennial and shown at the Oak Park and Evanston Block Parties, curated by Jeff Robinson. Since then, they have been shown at Roman Susan Art and Colvin House.

Terrain Biennial, 2019, Oak Park


with André Alves, Flatland, Chicago, 2019

Inflatable sculpture in a defunct garment factory — and an obsession with trying to make the two-legged dance. A collaboration illustrating the work manifesto and personality of the air dancer and it’s role in capitalist structure.

Chris Reeves: Hey you two! I think you could be paired up for a show at Flatland.
(...) That I might know two different artists making work about the air dancer seemed too good an opportunity not to mine. I’m interested both in how your respective approaches to the air dancer’s infinite performance might transform or complement the possible unforeseen ideas in your collaboration.

Kristin Abhalter Smith: Chris tells me you are into the air-dancer...what is your current relationship with them and what are you interested in exploring?

  Two-legged air dancer by Abhalter Smith - Click for video

André Alves: For me, the air dancer has the perfect qualities of the worker desired by the market: never tired, always happy, self-sufficient. And so, I've started to make works playing with the figure of the air-dancer as impossible image.

Site-specific image from Flatland Speigel Factory environs by André Alves

Installation view of air dancer suit made to fit André by Abhalter Smith

Kristin Abhalter Smith:
I am also interested in the tragic aspect of the air dancer. I have always been drawn to them because of their duality and how they seem to exist in this place of turmoil and whenever I encounter them 'in the wild' I am laughing and crying at the same time, since their inane comedy seems to enhance the sad nature of their surroundings.

Outline of a human in gold on an air dancer by Abhalter Smith

André Alves: I’m looking forward for the dialogue that we can come up together around this. How we can develop an exhibition which translates the dialogue we are having, and the spatial exploration we are making around Flatland, outgrowing the art space, spreading to the factory as physical and symbolic site of our intervention.
Kristin Abhalter Smith:
These sculptures are the ultimate wind bags, and I think of them as characters in a visual opera. Through movement, they embody and emit the wildest range of emotions and I am excited about the ways spectators become participants in the emotional journey.

Interaction with the air-dancer suit during installation

With Fábrica I am experimenting with shapes and evaluating the ways in which the air dancer and the human body are similar and what shapes are most animate. I am having fun wearing the glasses of André’s research considering the body of the worker while crafting these bodies through modeling, patterning, and multiple interpretations of figurative representation.

Interaction with the air-dancer suit during installation

I try to make room for as much joy in the process as in the product. It will be exciting to see how Andrés text, sound, and layers of thought expressions further contextualize the air dancer and bend the narrative of the shapes.

A Letter Exchange:
André Alves to Kristin Abhalter Smith


I recall you describing air-dancers as companions of a journey through the Midwestern landscape, popping up to wave at our passage.

They shake everything without breaking a thing and we break everything until we turn motionless. The true power of the tireless dance of the air-dancer that does not tire and does not shatter lies in its smile. We smile with its smile, as we do when babies smile, as if that reflex was written in our DNA; as if our desire to be like it was engrained in our destiny.

In Portuguese air-dancer was translated as “manga louca” - crazy sleeve. It is as if the history of things crept through language, here, as a warning. I see this ‘crazy sleeve’ as a twisted mirror of what we shall never attain: a body that never tires, self-sufficient, that accepts every command, smiling; a perfect, flawless, ready and eager performer; a stunning ‘showcase subjectivity’ that I criticise and envy. 

I tell you that I want to document this contradiction, the roots of this projection, listening to my own desire to become, and the shame of failing becoming an air-dancer, in order to understand labour as what defines my default mental model.

Professional defect: schooled to think about pictures and the projections made onto them, I often forget hands as a method that forms other readings. I imagine you as a pietá, with the fabrics bent over your lap, sewing air-dancer skins. Fingers groping and tending those deflated bodies onto which, with contempt, I project the defeat brought by the pressure to perform. But you sense bodies that can be cared for, bodies waiting for the breath of life.

You say that the tragic duality of the air-dancer attracts you. That whenever you encounter them 'in the wild', you find yourself laughing and crying at the same time, since their inane comedy seems to enhance the sad nature of their surroundings. They mirror the human shape and the human comedy. I think this is why you make them: to capture in them the invisible sense of life, allowing them to rise up by a thread, by an on/off button. You do this so that one can see them not as a totem of the perfect performer, but as a sincere exposition of what vulnerability is: dancing on a thread smiling. 

For you, their movement embodies and emits a range of emotions that we intuit as our own. The material becomes a tool for an emotional journey. Your words move me. Carried by them, I think about methods for a pedagogy of affectivity, a lookout to affect and being affected by others. You make this literal by making an air-dancer that remains as a deflated skin that the passersby can wear in our exhibition. What they ignore is that you took the measurements of my body to make that air-dancer. This deflated skin, deflated body, mirrors my deflated success to become a perfect performer. I wanted to be as exuberant, as potent, as light as the air-dancer. And you sketched and sewed an exuberant skin, so potent, so light, for me and for others to wear.

I told you that I wanted to dress up as air-dancer for my Phd defence. It would be like a parasitical act. I wanted to replace the wind of production that animates this archetype of perfect performance with my imperfect, grumpy, anxious, needy, dumb, disorganised, inconvenient, out of place, brute, unimaginative, memoryless, windless subjectivity. I do not cope well with moments of public performance. I fear examinations. I fear the accusation that I do not belong, that I have not tried hard enough. I will be vulnerable to that pressure to perform. And so, I will wear the air-dancer as a shield, smiling out, hollow in, cared by the memory of your fingers caught in the fabric. I will embody the criticism to the ideology of performance in what might be the greatest moment of performed criticism of my career.

I no longer recall why we decided to call our exhibition Fabrica. Fabrica, which in Spanish refers to the site of production; which in Portuguese refers to the act of production; which only reads in English if understood as an incomplete, imperfect version of the word ‘fabricate’.

I arrived to CMD a couple of days before you did. This gave me enough time to roam the broken industrial giant with my silences and hunger for traces, not of labour - as industrial archaeology does - of the workers’ expressions, traces of singularity beyond function. It’s very hard to ignore presence once you experience it. Who scratched the dancing figure in the poster saying “show your spirit”?; who did the writings on the cork panel (“no work, shit, Spiegle goes on strike January 1st 1989”), and who made the x-shaped cut over these words?; what impact did the strike taking place on the first day of the year have?; who found reconciliation in the motto 'corps de esprit' on the wall? I am thrilled to find the torn poster, the cuts in the “Union News” corkboard and the sentence ‘corps de esprit’ that survived on the wall. These traces were brought to the exhibition and we spread my narrations and your air-dancers in the factory space.

Once you described the air-dancers as characters in a visual opera staged in the open. Their presence becomes an entertaining parody when placed inside the deserted factory. But the power of what we did is bigger than making this normally inaccessible site available to visit. It lives in the rendition of months of dialogue in one afternoon, the power existing in the small gestures of sewing, finding the “right” placements for our pieces, costume try-ons, raising presence with voice, exploring the (literal) debris of capitalist production in Chicago… how much of that micro is the passersby able to feel? Would they feel the tension that I had been feeling?

Production chains, and the chains of production are endless. At a certain point I began fearing you would not stop making or improving new air-dancers to populate the factory. You didn’t. I needed you to stop, because I am looking for ways to halt the mindset that ties artistic worth with more, more, more. Not only artistic worth. Your uninterruptible production embodied what my narrations sought to describe: the joy of work and the endless capacity to perform it as a mental model embodied in the air-dancer. Work is invincible. I envied how you surrendered to making without looking at costs; I envied your energy; I envied that trait of resolute artist truly immersed in the pleasure of creation.

I didn’t expect Fabrica would reproduce the tragic duality the air-dancer embodies. Nor did I expect to be ‘moved by my own research’; that it would cause me so much commotion. My commotion came from the frustration or the failure to persuade you to stop. It was as if such relentless making proved the inefficiency of the critical insight my research tries to reach, as a pedagogy that fails to persuade.

I see myself as a carer, and sensing your increasing tiredness alarmed and annoyed me. How much pleasure can survive an exhausting beat?; how many times have I brought myself to the same state... I saw your energy disappearing in direct proportion to the entrance of more air-dancers in the factory. It was then clear that we were living a prophecy. That the ‘body’ of my narration no longer was a metaphorical body, but the tired body of the artist, the body bewitched by work, unable to shake it off, the body that wants more.

So much goes unnoticed (and is wasted) by the exhibition apparatus. I wonder if we should have stopped or if we should have made these concerns explicitly part of our exhibition. I can’t tell what would be more beneficial. Would it have helped us and the passersby to change how we perceive the air-dancers, the narrations and the factory in relation to ourselves?

Would that exposure help us defamiliarize our role as enactors of research to objects of research? Would these emerging affects teach us about what we really make when we work?

Remember how I have told you I would like to document the whole process, something that I would likely include as part of my dissertation? Perhaps a booklet, compiling the invitation Chris Reeves made us, the dialogue we wrote for the invitation, our early sketches for the exhibition and its documentation… But now I feel this would only feed artistic research as a production system that capitalises on the documentation and communication of art. And for me the documentation of these concerns still lingers in my body, in those things left unspoken, and in openness of this epistolary attempt. This letter is not trying to communicate art, but those unspoken affects.

I write to you carving a place for you. It has been designed for your ear, it calls for your voice, it asks for your heart. For me, this interlocution only extends our process of ‘co-motion’. As mentioned earlier in this letter, production chains are endless, and so, here we are.



A Letter Exchange:
Kristin Abhalter Smith to André Alves

Dear air-dancer brother A —

I recall admitting to my affection for air dancers and doing so with a bit of embarrassment, as they are to me symbols of mediocrity, banality, and tragically distant from cultural advancement while also being so damn foolish and entertaining. I find it compelling that you identify so much with them as tireless, permanently-smiling creatures. I suppose I tend to think more about their audience and their masters. They are still objects to me that are not really doing anything, or taking the place of any real job or action. Maybe it is true that they take over the job of the guy in the goofy suit holding a sign, but that guy in the suit is not the owner of the company, and the guy in the goofy suit probably doesn’t have a direct relationship with any one in the company who actually sees a profit. The guy in the goofy suit is a result of a hierarchical structure that justifies actions in the performance of corporate capitalism at the expense of pride for all involved, including the audience. The air dancer stands in place of the guy in the goofy suit and it is true that we don’t have to feed the air dancer and it smiles more and takes fewer smoke breaks — but the machine is still dependent on the electricity. It is dependent on someone to drag it out to the sidewalk in the morning when the doors open, and pull it inside when it is raining. It is more reliable than the guy in the suit, but it is not altogether tireless. It cannot work if there is a power outage and it shows the signs of wear and tear from wind and exhaust fumes. It is performing through its fatigue, yet it cannot successfully overcome its fatigue. No one wants to buy the same air dancer again. It is going to continue to be pulled out to the sidewalk until the fan dies and then they get a different one that comes with the fan. The air dancer skin will continue to be abused as long as there is blowing air. No one cares about the fate of the air dancer, nor will they miss it when one of a different color replaces it, or one with four arms or a slightly curvier grin. The smile is one of its charms, yet there are other more ubiquitous memes of the smile, including plastic shopping bags and clowns that help sell McDonalds’. We have learned that those smiles are sinister. They might be happy to see you, but they are standing in between you and that which will destroy you. They are meant to put you at ease, and they may, for an instant...but then what? The smile is the first warning of something to be ignored.

I love the Portuguese translation of ‘crazy sleeve’ you may have told me about this on our phone calls — I completely forgot about it and I love this idea. I love the emphasis on the disembodied quality and that it doesn’t assume complete anthropomorphism. It is the skin of a waving arm. It is an attention grabber. (Arms don’t necessarily have smiles, just funny elbows.) I can relate to your desire to achieve a tireless perfection but I guess fail to see the air dancer as perfect. I see your desire to become an air dancer as a rough criticism of yourself — for example, I think of the air dancer as the kid in class who knows all the answers and is waving his hand and everyone already knows what he is going to say, but you are grabbing attention with your quiet excitement as you present yourself as coy and curious, hiding behind a mischievous smirk and waiting to ask a question that will beguile the professor and advance the discussion. I wonder about the usefulness of self-sufficiency and submissiveness in terms of labor. There are certainly situations in which people trade these behaviors for wages but it seems to me, rare, for the worker to be able to be so self-sufficient as to not need to rely on others to carry out tasks, such as within a supply chain, or manufacturing system. Submissiveness is inherent in hierarchy, yet, arguably, with the energy it takes to be a leader, some people prefer to ‘keep their head down’ as it were, in order to preserve energy for the times when they are not at a workplace. I guess I am wondering about the spectrum of labor you are exploring and while I can see the worker in corporate capitalism mirrored in the air dancer— treating the worker as the disposable object of tireless supply — I fail to see the shame in not being able to achieve air dancer qualities because there is no one who should expect you to perform this way in the position you are in.

It is true that I care more about an experienced encounter with an art object than a picture or image. I guess my goal is not to ascribe meaning, but explore the potential for meaning to transpire through the encounter with the object. The movement of the air dancer allows one to move their thoughts to a new place. This is a deliberate simplification. Putting the air dancer in unexpected places allows people to go on a mental journey and discover a new relationship to the guy with the sign, a new discovery — or rather, reminder, of why they hate these things — a new discovery with why they are so lovably exciting — despite hateful associations. The love/hate tug of war is a place where things happen. It is a place that I also find in the workshop, while crafting the objects. There is tedious labor that comes from a pressure to perform, but also a need to understand and select the qualities of motion that are going to tell the story that I want to tell. The unfortunate thing about a choice I made at the beginning of the process is that I decided that I had to make a two-legged air dancer that would actually perform a dance. This proved to be nearly technically impossible, considering I was using the (small) 1/3 horse-power fans indoors. I was attempting to replicate something typically achieved at a larger scale, in an outdoor environment. Still,I believed it was possible, and I wouldn’t accept anything less, and this was where my problems began. I failed to see the beauty in the failures attempting to achieve this goal. (I have since memorialized their bodies on my website with the only documentation of them that survived.) I failed to be compassionate to their sad state of existence. I sacrificed them to try different things, to pursue my goal of representing strength and power. I was creating the ultimate air dancer specimen, but time and again, my attempts were leading nowhere. The skins wanted to flop and flail, they didn’t want to stand up, or if i managed to get them to stand up, they were constantly on the verge of bending over or leaning forward. The only thing on them that would move was their head.

It makes me sad, writing about this now, because they were so beautiful and I killed them all. I gave them life and quickly took it away in order to achieve a more perfect specimen. I see myself not as the virgin mother as in your reference to the pieta, but as playing the role of the mad scientist, selecting genetics to achieve a standard. When I finally achieved my goal, I was holding my breath, still unconvinced by the dance the dancer was performing, despite having achieved balance, uprightness, and movement in one limb. This would have to satisfy a loose description of dancing because it was getting too close to the show to make any changes and I set it aside to attempt to build another with the fashion fabric I had originally wanted to work with. I kept holding my breath in justifying the limitations of this Frankenstein I had created. I was not satisfied with it, despite its meeting my goals. I wanted it to be a different color, I wanted it to stop dancing like Billy Idol and (at least) a little more like David Bowie. I didn’t try to make it do those things. I pushed on and made another piece that I was pretty sure would not hold air, but I was starting to warm up to the idea that failure is beautiful. I liked it when you told me that you wanted to be the air dancer. I was already playing with pattern making and my love of building garments to fit bodies. I used your body as a template to make an air dancer suit. We have an image of this suit in a sad state of inflation. It is bent in an ugly way below the knees. It will never be airborne. It is dis-spirited and lame. It is a little bit funny, but too sad to be delightful. To me, seeing them in a sad state actually reinforces the desperation of the air dancer bodies. As inherently optimistic, I refuse to be the sadist, reminding the viewer of the inedibility of decline. Instead, I provide the option to animate the air dancer in your own way — to give it your own spirit and legs to walk on, dance and be danced. I liberate you from the plug-and-play power supply. I remind you that you are your own master, in motion, or at rest.

Of course, I see this all now, with the power of reflection. At the time of creation, this was not so evident, and that is where the story of self-discovery and mirroring is revealed. I am not entirely sure that I made for you the ideal costume of your dreams as you describe for your dissertation performance. The one you suggest, in my mind’s eye, replaces your head with a giant smile, it hides your body, it dwarfs you, it reaches the sky, it flaps around absurdly, mocking your presence. In contrast, I see you as the shining star of your own performance, drawing maps of conclusions, showing the evidence of careful attention to curiosity and skillful image-reading. I see you wanting to hide your anxieties behind the body of an air dancer, but I think of the air dancer, autobiographically, as the illustration of my own anxieties and vulnerabilities. I don’t think I would want it to speak for me because it is only repeating a phrase, the same way an obsessive thought can become an ear worm that impedes progress. Perhaps we could make you a break-away version that is destroyed at a dramatic moment? The death and birth of an air dancer. (By the way, what do you think about the phenomenon of air dancer costumes? Every once in a while I catch a glimpse of these online or someone sends me an image of someone wearing one. I don’t find them endearing. I really wouldn’t want to be one. It is sort of like a mascot or any costume that eliminates all of the wearer. I think I only enjoy costumes that enhance the quality of the performer. If a costume takes over, it might as well be anyone inside it, and that is not the point of pleasurable shape-shifting. Transformation needs to maintain a kernel of the original. If not, it is merely destruction, or perhaps, sublimation.

I recall that the Fabrica idea was just a play on words in relation to the old factory site and to the fabrics I was using to sew the air dancers. Not very complicated, and also a nod to your heritage as Portuguese. I guess it was more of a private joke title than a useful description. You were lucky to be able to explore the factory, especially the part where you found the relics of Speigel. As you may recall, the parts of the building you were exploring are usually not open, at least, I had the impression that the doors to that section are often closed and Chris had never even been in that part of the building. I remember being awed by the size of the space and probably intimidated since after my visit earlier in the year, I was already wondering how were were going to tell a story with all of that space — and then, upon arrival, the apparent useable space had suddenly gotten almost two times larger — and this was quite astonishing! It seemed exciting that you had found these pieces of the ‘tour’ that we were planning which had appeared in haunted artifacts of the space. It made sense that we would bring people to see your discoveries, which linked so well to your interpretations of the space and your interest in labor. Unfortunately, the next day, access to this part of the building became impossible and we had to resort to changing our plans to tour the industrial giant. Then, of course, the piece that I was planning to use outdoors did not work due to inadequate air flow — which I later discovered was not due to the construction and fabric choices, but instead due to the reduction of amperage to the power supply that occurs when you try to put too many extension cords together in a daisy chain — I had depended so much on this piece of mine, gold air dancers dancing together, to be the feel-good antidote to my impression of the broken industry and the perfect contrast to some of the more lugubrious motions of the other air dancers I had decided to show. It was such an utter disappointment that I couldn’t get the gold characters to work and I suppose I never got over it, since it was the one part of the exhibition I was most excited about. I had been counting on them as a way to take advantage of the scale of the outdoor space and make a statement with my work. It was very difficult for me to express this to you, as you were a new acquaintance and I was trying to be professional, but you were helping me install this work that I was very convinced was going to be successful, and it failed astronomically before your eyes and mine and I was so horrified that you witnessed this failure and my embarrassment was so deep that of course I tried to play cool, but I really was just very anxious at this point.

In hindsight, the character of the deserted factory —the environment for this installation — became a difficult presence for me to overcome in my interpretation of my own work. You say that the presence of the air dancers becomes an entertaining parody — and I agree that there is drama, but I am afraid that the tension that you describe of the debris of capitalist production bleeds too closely for me into the idea of the factory as a ghost town, a place that once thrived, is now a creepy store room of forgotten piles of dwindling supply chains. This space houses potential for artists, but what if it was actually a shelter for the city’s homeless? What is a building without inhabitants? What is a factory without the workers? That is why I was so drawn to the spaces outside the factory, the roofs framed by bricks and windows and train yards and blue skies with midwestern clouds. The places where the workers went for breaks, to get fresh air. That is where I wanted to put my gold dancers dancing, to remind us that togetherness can be an antidote for this dreary industrial wasteland landscape. In the long run, We Are Gold Together, not because of things we make or even the work we do. It is a cheesy, feel good sentiment and the only real reason I see to make anthropomorphic air dancers. Air dancers, dancing together in the ruins of this factory, they have found each other at last, and the dance will go on.

So, I couldn’t just stop after We Are Gold Together failed. I probably should have, but my reason for not allowing myself to stop was based on the selfish interpretation of our collaboration that left your brilliant sound pieces speaking for my air dancer characters. You were lending them your voice. They were playing the role that you had written and produced for them. The pieces went well together and I liked the decisions we made about staging them in the space. The problem for me was that I was still trying to achieve a moment that was separate, where the air dancers were allowed their own voice. That is why I scrambled to make a piece to replace the failed one. This piece I made at the last minute did not come anywhere close to achieving the desired result and I was underwhelmed with its spectacle, yet stubborn in my compulsion to take advantage of the scale of the factory environment. So, you are correct that I was chasing my tail in a fit of anxious energy, but it wasn’t because I was necessarily wanting more, I was trying to alleviate my disappointment and could think of no other way than to return to the workroom.

Now, I see that the air dancer apparel that I made for you that we hung on a hanger in the gallery was achieving a similar goal that I just described with We Are Gold Together. I think I really just saw that piece as my final phrase and to me, it seemed more balanced in terms of statement. One of the things that I remember you saying at the beginning of our conversations was that you wanted me to feel like I was making work not for your pieces, but that we were showing our work side by side. I supposed I wanted to do both because it was inevitable that your text was going to become the narrative for my pieces and in an effort to avoid being the illustrator to your message, I wanted to have a piece somewhere in the theatre that had a message of its own.

Reading your letter again, I am thinking about what I wanted and if I wanted ‘more’. I suppose I did. I wasn’t satisfied. But this was not something that I was aware of at the time. It just felt normal, like the anxious dissatisfaction that one feels when working up to a deadline. The way of producing has become somewhat fashionable. The way that wastes the worker in pursuit of a finished product, while losing sight of the intended outcome. I don’t think that I was upfront with you about what I was experiencing emotionally. I am quite convinced that the anxiety I mentioned was not casual and certainly plays a role in my life experience on many levels. It wasn’t until writing these words that I have come to realize just how much it meant to me that I was unable to share the piece that failed technically and I didn’t have any language for the thoughts and feelings I had at the time this was happening. Your alarm and annoyance seems to me a compassionate response and one that is surprising and lacking in most professional or ‘productive’ situations. So much so, that I was unable to read your cues, despite your sweetness and lovely demeanor. This is not to say that you failed in any way to register your awareness of the spell I was under — you are, perhaps, unpracticed in knowing how to break the spell, as are most people who struggle for perfection in their profession and craft. You instead, reach out to enchant me by offering a place of reflection and insight, as you share with me your memories and feelings in the form of words. I appreciate this gesture, as it is allowing me to consider even further the messages of freedom and joyfulness in my practice and humor in the embarrassment that I couldn’t relax and just enjoy the installation of the exhibition. I was still so caught up in the idea of professionalism and have a history of working in environments where I believe perfection is the goal. (This is another thing that I am discovering — another untruth that I have been telling myself as a producer of art objects.)

I suppose one way to describe it — you write about wanting to be the air dancer, seeing something desirable in the unending energy and the constant unflappable emotional state of ‘happiness’ and I am working from the perspective that I AM the air dancer and I express this joyful behavior in order to disguise the anxiety I am feeling and thinking as I strive to be the perfect version of myself. It is also quite amusing to think about this play within a play — the two of us troubled by our connection to this shape, this wobbly hateful body, symbol of the failure of humanity, symbol of all that is wrong with corporate greed and exploitation of labor, symbol of used cars and cellular phones…. It is also the symbol of glee, kids pointing and laughing and tugging the hand of their papa to stop the car so they can get a better look — mesmerizing, distracting, meditative, and solidly in-the-moment of now.

I don’t think we could have stopped. The fact that there is a little dissatisfaction in each of our reflections shows that we are just doing our jobs as artists. I would be disillusioned if our memories were completely self-congratulatory. Critically, we were doing the best we could under the circumstances. And of course we could have done better and as people just physically meeting each other and having relatively very little time together in the space. We were attempting to match months of theoretical dreamscapes to the tangible reality of the space and I think this, in some way, was a dissolve of a great deal of imagination on my part, as I had to quell loud fantasizes of a music-video type spectacle with air dancers leaping out behind every box and corridor in that space since the moment I set foot in there. I am happy that you convinced me to be minimal in the presentation of the work. I was genuinely pleased about that and I really thought that the exhibition apparatus we managed was strong. I think I was not satisfied in appeasing the spectra of the building, as I felt the need to involve it fully in our story and for that, I thought we needed much more time and at least half a dozen more people.

What happens next? I am having a hard time ending this letter because I have several more ideas about labor questions and how to illustrate ideas about work and how the air dancer applies to labor. The seduction of labor is such an interesting element in your sound pieces that made me reconsider my relationship with my thoughts around work and sparked me to savor the memories of glee I feel when I am sacrificing sleep and health in pursuit of my goals. I am happy to report that since Fabrica, I have pulled back on the demands that I put on my body to perform fantastic feats and I have been spending a lot less time laboring and more time talking, visiting, thinking, and appreciating a holistic approach to making that emphasises the process of discovery over production to meet a very specific goal. To do this, I have had to separate myself from the intense workaholic climates of the film industry and appreciate the private sector and fully embrace my role as a community arts leader. This position involves discipline to be more whole and well-rounded mentally and physically and feel I am learning to engage in consistent rest and recreation. This is probably something that is practiced more intentionally in Europe than in the U.S. As you have probably observed, we are not creatures who learn respect for body, mind, and spirit in the same ways that seem ingrained in the architecture, food, and lifestyle of the places you live. You probably have some thoughts about this and I am sure there are exceptions but I remain jealous of your Europeanness. 

I am digressing again, and to answer you question about documenting the entire process, I am not entirely sure that is very interesting. I have some sketches that I like, but I am more intrigued by these discoveries in the processes around an exhibition that are happening outside the event. It would be interesting to continue the dialog. I am also sharing with you a brilliant moment I just had with my studio-mate, Ruby. We are designing a dress together. Perhaps this is something that could also be developed into menswear for its debut at a Swedish University? Xoxo

Solid Air

STNDRD, 2018, Granite City, IL

Flag of reclaimed vintage china silk from color guard flags, thread, rope, flagpole dimensions variable up to 12’ long
Performance with ritual text by Gwyneth Zelany Anderson & movement by Gwyneth Zelany Anderson, Amanda Bowles, Andrea Freeman, Rachel Hermann, Amelia Jones

Solid Air is imbued with the actions and words of a ritual that manifests energetic transformation. Change is continual, yet transformation can be witnessed through observance of tangible residue such as the shedding of a snakeskin or the ephemeral setting of the sun. Pieces of china silk, once used as marching band flags, re-configured with dressmaking techniques become ritual objects in this evocative spectacle.

Six streamers, each double the length of the STNDRD flagpole wrap six women who are the instruments of change. The women help each other shed their wrappings and attach them to bamboo sticks for a parade down the street in Granite City, passing by a crowd that is participating in another transformation ritual as artist Cam Fuller invites others to demolish his undrivable truck with a sledgehammer.

The percussion of the busted metal propells the momentum of the spectacle which continues down the block to the site of the STNDRD flagpole. The movements of the women propel the streamers through the air and the site is filled with color and form and the intention of energetic transformation. The streamers are then attached to the flagpole and the women stand at the foot of the pole, holding the flags in the air and they perform Gwyneth Zeleny Anderson’s call-and-response text in which they invoke active listening to the sounds of the space around them: the sound of the air, the sound of the earth below them, the sound of those in this world who are yearning for change.

The percussion of the busted metal propells the momentum of the spectacle which continues down the block to the site of the STNDRD flagpole. The movements of the women propel the streamers through the air and the site is filled with color and form and the intention of energetic transformation. The streamers are then attached to the flagpole and the women stand at the foot of the pole, holding the flags in the air and they perform Gwyneth Zeleny Anderson’s call-and-response text in which they invoke active listening to the sounds of the space around them: the sound of the air, the sound of the earth below them, the sound of those in this world who are yearning for change.

The pole is wrapped clockwise as the women walk through tall grasses and wildflowers surrounding the pole, and another text is spoken before the pole is unwrapped. This unwrapping is not easy, as the group of women struggle to remove part of the fabric which has become snagged on the flagpole hardware. This struggle continues while the women hiss like snakes in mutual encouragement before managing to unravel the fabric once again so it can be bundled loosley and tied together, symbolizing unity and left to blow in the wind for two months as a reminder of the work we must do together to bring about desired change.


Ignition Projects, 2018, Chicago, IL

The realm of merging forces. Potential energy. Infinity meets chaos.
Constancy, expectancy, inevitability.
Energetic potency. Windbags and wishes.
Inflation, suspension, grace.
Inflation, suspension, fall from grace.
Force of grace.

The seed of this section of my ongoing opera project is a painting that is part of a series investigating movement and joining.

I animate this image with inflatable sculptures. They are made from various nylon fabrics, some of them screen-printed. They may be handled gently, especially if the sculptures initiate an encounter, or if they are droopy and need an intervention.

The visiting audience is invited to make decisions about the experience through interactive control devices and costume changes. Participants are welcome to take with them a commemorative iron-on patch to enhance their personal wardrobe.

Video:  Installation View, Ignition Projects, 2018


DEMO Project, 2017, Springfield, IL

Ecstasy (or ekstasis; from the Ancient Greek ἔκστασις, "to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere" from ek- "out," and stasis "a stand, or a standoff of forces") is a term used in Ancient Greek, Christian and Existential philosophy.
Source: Ecstasy (philosophy) - Wikipedia

Video: Air Dancer, Aurora Borealis, Installation View, Demo Project, 2017


download:     C.V. Exhibitions    

download:     C.V. Set Design    













Artists Run Chicago 2.0 — Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL
Grunt Work, with Vida Sačić — Art In Place, Terrain Exhibitions, Chicago, IL

We Are Gold Together — Terrain Exhibitions, Oak Park & Evanston, IL
Fábrica — with André Alves, Flatland, Chicago, IL
Like Sirens — curated by Erin Hayden, OPEN Gallery, Circle Contemporary, Glenview, IL
Costumes for Vexations for A Flagpole by Lauren Sudbrink — North Pole Exhibitions, Chicago, IL
Costumes for Essay on the Emil Bach House by Corey D. Smith — Chicago, IL

Antecedent  — Ignition Projects, Chicago, IL
Antecedent + S.P.Q. — Nasty Brutish & Short Puppet Cabaret, Links Hall, IL
Solid Air — performance with Gwyneth Zeleny Anderson, STNDRD, Granite City, IL
Preliminary — Ignition Projects, Chicago, IL

Ekstasis — Demo Projects, Springfield, IL

Myopia — For The Thundercloud Generation Gallery, Chicago, IL

We Are New to the Mountain — SÍM Gallery, Reykjavík, Iceland
Be Mine — Greenleaf Art Center, Chicago, IL

Organized Light — Art on Armitage, Chicago, IL
Flying House — Frameworks Gallery, Baton Rouge, LA
The Art of Human Rights — Heartland Alliance at Palette & Chisel,Chicago, IL
Art One — The Observatory, Chicago, IL
War, Peace and More War — Out of Line Art Gallery, Chicago, IL

Positive Reinforcement — Peanut Gallery, Chicago, IL

Cavernous — Plaines Project, Chicago, IL

Criticorps — Version Festival 10, Co-Prosperity Sphere, Chicago, IL
No-Assumption: Exhibition of art in a Residence — Private Residence, Minneapolis, MN

Abandoned Antarctic Shanty — Art of This, Soap Factory Art Shanty Project, Medicine Lake, MN


Roman Susan Art, Founding Executive Director, Chicago, IL
Develops and supports new opportunities to create, display, and experience art


IAS Professional Development Grant — Illinois Arts Council, State of Illinois
Individual Artists Program Grant — Illinois Arts Council, State of Illinois
Individual Artists Program Grant — Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, Chicago, IL
SÍM Residency — Reykjavík, Iceland
Century Council Scenery & Properties Design Award — University of Minnesota, Twin Cities





Guest Lecturer — University of Illinois Chicago, School of Art & Art History
Portfolio Review Panelist — School of the Art Institute, Chicago, CAPX Department
FIELD/WORK Proposal Review Panelist — Chicago Artist Coalition
Grant Application Panelist — Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, Chicago, IL
FIELD/WORK Proposal Review Panelist — Chicago Artist Coalition
Visiting Artist — School of the Art Institute, Chicago, IL
Panelist, Proposals Class, Deborah Boardman
Lecturer, Sculpture Class, Sarah Berkeley
Teaching Artist — Woman Made Gallery, 20 Neighborhoods, Chicago, IL
Paper-making sessions at Howard Area Community Center


Lead Painter — Rogers Park Mile of Murals, Thomas Kong’s Be Happy, Chicago, IL
Anette Chicago, Artist Storefront Residency Program, Chicago, IL
Rogers Park Arts Alliance, Chicago, IL



Professor of Theatre Design — Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Minneapolis, MN
Staff designer, production crew leader and instructor
Theatre Design Scene Shop Supervisor — University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN



International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Journeyperson
Studio Mechanics Union Local 476, Chicago, IL










Set Designer — Work In Progress, SHOWTIME, Chicago, IL
Set Designer — Untitled Henry & Rel Science Fiction Feature, NETFLIX, New Orleans, LA
Set Designer — Red Line, Warner Brothers, Chicago, IL
Set Designer — Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, SONY Pictures, Chicago, IL
Set Designer — Chicago Fire, Chicago Justice, NBC Television, Chicago, IL
Set Designer — A.P.B., FOX Television, Chicago, IL
Set Designer — Zoobiquity (Pilot), FOX Television, Chicago, IL
Set Designer — Empire, FOX Television, Chicago, IL
Set Designer — Beast on the Moon, Raven Theatre, Chicago, IL
Set Designer — Sinister 2, Blumhouse Feature Film, Chicago, IL
Set Designer — Women at War, Rivendell Theatre, Chicago, IL
Asst. Set Designer — Lift by Walter Mosley, Crossroads Theatre, New Brunswick, NJ
Charge Scenic Artist — Raven Theatre, Chicago, IL
Art Director — Empire Today, National Carpet TV Commercial, Chicago, IL
Art Director — Beat Up, Music Video, Chicago, IL
Set Design Consultant — New Play Workshops, Penumbra Theatre, St. Paul, MN
Charge Scenic Artist — Penumbra Theatre, St. Paul, MN
Scenic Artist — Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
Charge Scenic Artist — Claude Wampler: (career ender), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Set Designer — Aunt Dan & Lemon, Hamline University, St. Paul, MN
Set Designer — The Screen The Thing by Justin Jones, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Set Designer — Tiny Town by Karen Sherman, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Design Studio Intern — Denver Center Theatre, Denver, CO





Continuing Studies in Rhino and Maya digital platforms, laser cutting and 3D applications
3D Printing & Digital Models — The School of the Art Institute, Chicago,IL
Continuing Studies in écorché sculpture and traditional oil painting techniques
Anatomical Sculpting and Painting — Vitruvian Academy, Chicago,IL
Master of Fine Arts in Design and Technology — University of Minnesota,Twin Cities
Production Assistantship as Scenic Charge Artist
Thesis: Techniques for Traditional Victorian Style Backdrop Painting
Bachelor of Arts and Sciences — Washington University, St. Louis, MO
Technical Theatre and Cultural Anthropology