Just before the actors hit the STRUTT runway, they are captured in full wearable art glory by photographer Brian Yungblut. Brian provides invaluable record of thousands of hours of work that shine for only a few minutes on show night. Below are photos of Swizzle Studio’s project, It Came from the Welland Canal.
When the Niagara Artists Centre decided to expand STRUTT, its annual wearable art show, into a two-day event, they asked Swizzle Studio for help.
In 2008, Christine Cosby had curated a project called (The Return of) 3-D Exquisite Corpses, in which textile artists created imaginative three dimensional body parts, which were then mixed & matched to create new exquisite corpse creatures (Exquisite Corpse is the surrealist parlour game in which a folded piece of paper is passed around a table with each participant drawing a head, a body, or legs without knowing what the previous person has drawn).
NAC wanted Swizzle to do an Exquisite Corpse as a piece of wearable art, with multiple actors joining up to form a giant figure. Initial ideas for an upright figure were rejected after we assessed the likelihood of electric wire entanglements and injurious falls.
Creating something exciting on a horizontal plane was a challenge. We didn’t want to appropriate a Chinese lion, and we wanted something with more variety than a snake. Christine and I realized that a caterpillar, with its strange marking and defensive features, would be a perfect template for the project.
Christine spent an afternoon visiting St. Catharines hardware stores talking with the staff about the project and trying to come up with solutions. Everyone was excited about the challenge and offered lots of great ideas. We ended up building the body segments out of snow fence, plastic molding, and pipe insulation tubes.
The segments of the Exquisite Caterpillar were to be decorated on the Friday afternoon before STRUTT as part of the Downtown Strutters Ball. Given how busy everyone in the local arts community was getting ready for STRUTT the next day, attendance was low. A few people stopped by and added some innovative flare to the caterpillar, but at 25 feet long, this creature needed a lot of flare.
Thankfully, NAC member and teacher Dan Brown brought in a class of boys who really took to the project. They tackled the enormous piles of shiny material, paper plates, and party favours that Christine had collected as potential coverings and completely reimagined them. The kids combined technical skill (I expected them to love the hot glue gun, but these boys could sew too) and enormous creativity to turn our snow fence skeletons into amazing skins.
The kids had to return to school evnetually, so Christine and I were left with the head to finish. We were unable to bring the caterpillar to the Friday night party portion of the Downtown Strutters Ball as originally planned, and spent much of Saturday working on the head. While I had originally envisioned a much more Sid and Marty Krofft sort of head for the caterpillar, it ended up being influenced by its segments. With a huge lop-sided grin, pie plate eyes and multi-panelled skin, the head fit its riotous body.
At Saturday night’s STRUTT, held in the huge WS Tyler building, we saw our creation on the runway. We had no idea why director Deanna Jones had insisted that caterpillar be happy, but now we understood. The 25-foot long creature emerged at the very end of the extremely theatrical production, ushered on stage by the driving music of Old World Vulture and the Niagara Symphony string section. At this point in the production’s plot, the World of STRUTT had been been snuffed out, and it was the caterpillar who symbolizes the return of creativity. The Exquisite Caterpillar: all goofy grin, and crazy quilt child-imagined skin, and brought to life by a bunch of enthusiastic actors. I will admit that Christine and I got a little choked up by the whole spectacle.
If riot is the new rave, why is everyone wearing black?
That was the question posed by my ensemble, Bright Riot, at the STRUTT wearable art show in St. Catharines. The concept, which featured a mirror-bejeweled riot cop battling grinning protesters to the sounds of the Soup Dragons “I’m Free”, proposed to inject colour and energy into what have become predictable and scripted events. Bright Riot was inspired by contemporary riot fashion, the 90s European dance scene, and cinematic depictions of youth and authority cultures. I created the outfits in six days (with the help of Christine Cosby), using mirrored tile, foam rubber, trophy parts, Hallowe’en costumes, and repurposed clothing.
When I submitted Bright Riot as a concept to the Niagara Artists Centre earlier this year, I included a lot of production notes regarding the way the characters should interact. But when I saw Bright Riot close out STRUTT, the final and fiftieth ensemble to come down the horseshoe-shaped catwalk, I was still blown away.
Director Deanna Jones used a breakdance troupe as the rioters, while the Woodshed Orchestra played a burning live version of “I’m Free”. The breakdancers hit the stage with tremendous energy, pushing the cop aside, hurling day-glo foam rubber bricks and molotov cocktails at the audience, and performing jaw-dropping acrobatics.
STRUTT was an amazing event to be part of, 15 pounds of awesome stuffed into a 10 pound sack. The WS Tyler factory building was converted into a one-night wonderland by dozens of people contributing their labour and creativity. STRUTT and NAC itself are great examples of what can be achieved by getting volunteers and participants excited about a project, and making them feel their energy is being well-used.