Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24, 2010

So first I have to say that although I said Wed. was going to divulge my thoughts about the Circus, I have to admit to having gone to be early.  And all is well given that I have decided to keep my thoughts about a certain artist's personal project about the Iron Curtain in my head for now as respect to both the artist and the magnitude of the project. 
So Circus huh... hmmm the greatest show on earth... the role of the performer as spectacle a magical metaphor of delight and defiance.  I am working on a collaboration with another artist and group of artists.  My role, what am I going to do, this thought has been circling around and around for weeks so I decided to try and get to the bottom of why the circus became so popular, what is it about something that can be so uplifting and yet so dark that draws people to it, without fail regardless of politics, economics and status?  If we are interested in creating a show that mimics the themes or aura of the carnival or circus, then we must look at the many roles that the performer played as a metaphor for the many roles of an artist.  Artist as performer.  Artist as spectacle, or even art as spectacle.  The delight in the whimsy and the addiction to the spangled grandeur and the conscious ignorance of the seedy dark underside.  What brings people back over and over again to a circus? 
I remember going to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus as a kid.  I remember watching the animals and trainers parade from Downtown Houston to the Sumit(now the home of the Oasis of Love Church, a huge mega evangelism church) Complex by The SouthWest Freeway (HWY 59).  It was amazing.  I remember all the rope dancers, and the tiger tamers, and the elephants and seeing the entire arena ablaze with these weird rotating tiger light flash lights.  I remember being in awe of the enormity of the whole affair.  There may have not been a Big Top but it was very impressive. 
And then as a University of Chicago college student I went to see Barnum's Kaleidoscape Circus under the Big Top at Soldier Field for my birthday in 2000 (image is from the outside of the tent from a web image I found ). It was the first Big Top Circus produced by Ringling Bros. since 1956 and the first one ring performance in more than a century (according to my Wikipedia findings).  It was amazing!  It was intimate, we sat right next to the ring and felt like we were taken back in time to a place where the circus truly originated  It had very few animals, but I remember the costumes were amazing and the performances were memorable.  The performers were even outside of the tent mingling with the crowd and performing all of these little vignettes before the main attraction.  I was twenty years old and I felt like such a little kid.  I found myself believing in the illusion and being taken away from the daily burden.     
Although it has been a long time since I have been to the circus, my interest in bedazzled performance and illusion still continues.  Not only did I become obsessed with HBO's Carnival, but I also began working for The Vermont Painted Theater Curtains Project (now known as Curtains Without Borders the image above is from Westminster Historical Society in Westminster, VT).  This became the largest on-site conservation project in New England, conserving turn of the last century painted theater back drops found in Town Halls and Grange Halls. While on this project I became quite enamored with the artistry of the itinerant artist and traveling vaudevillian. 
And now I am reading Water for Elephants as well as researching the history of the circus and the big top, with specific detail to the costumes.  I am interested in the Spangles or sequins and feathers, and the dichotomy of the beauty vs. the grittiness of the showman/show woman.  But what is it about the performer and their costume that so intrigues me? well... that is what is keeping me up at night.... is it the lace? the sequins? the little bit of naughtiness with the practicality of wearing it for some incredible performance feat?  There seems to be some kind of bad-assness to the whole vintage female circus performer... even her costume says I've got guts... hmmm these thoughts could just drag on... instead I will post some images to mull this idea over... clearly there is something here, I'm just not sure how to put it into words.... maybe I will just have to make it.

1 comment:

  1. Wylie, I grew up going to see the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus in New York. At a young age I also had the thrilling experience of going backstage at the Ice Capades with my grandparents, as they knew one of the skaters named Anna. The visit to her dressing room is very vivid to me to this day. I am certain that these early experiences made a mark on my fascination with costumes, finery, and textile spectacle. In the circus I am especially enamored with what I call the "Twirly Girls" and have been photographing them and other circus acts locally whenever I get the chance and am working on a series about them. I agree with your description of some of the things that draw us in to this world. I do think it is some combination of the grit and the glamor. As a child I fantasized for years about running away and joining the circus and becoming an aerialist, even though I am afraid of heights! I look forward to seeing where this work takes you.