BareBones provided a two-week June residency in visual and spectacle arts at TCHDC’s Calibre Ridge Resource Center in Roseville, MN. Resident youth at Calibre Ridge Apartments spent the first two weeks out of school at Excursions Into High Art, engaged in the practice of three different “high arts”. Participants made papier-mache pole puppets, built and launched solid engine model rockets, and practiced stilt walking. On the last Friday, everyone joined in a community parade that showcased their puppetry, stilting, and parading skills.
Mark Safford’s log from the Excursions Into High Art Residency
Barebones excursion into High Art, at Calibre Ridge, began with Artists Xena Huff, Mark Safford, and Tara Fahey (longtime Barebones Artist Shelly Chinander had a family conflict the first week, but came in to the program, like great guns, in the second week of programming). We were met at the site by many of our excited participants from former years Trevon, Jared, Jada, Kayla, Don Don to name a few.
We were a little late getting started but I had incredible help from the above mentioned, prepping the stilts and taking out the materials for the projects.
Rebecca was terrific support and directed the children in bringing their signed forms back, which had the feel of watching a relay race The numbers of children participating hung around 15-18 with some additional kids coming in the last hour There were overall closer to 26 kids served, but not every kid showing up every day Becca was also a quick and confident study in stilt tying which was a real asset as there was a strong drive to get up on stilts from all who were there.
We started out with name tags, and a circle name game, with a little debriefing and then after a little discussion up they went on the stilts for more than an hour. We had a break with watermelon for snack on the grassy hill, as it was warm it turned out to be a “three watermelon” week. After snack, cardboard armatures were made and paper mache’-ed in incredible warm wind that made things difficult. Inside the garage, Xena was directing the stilt construction with sawing and measuring going on like gangbusters. Tara and Mark stapled like mad as the children bent and shaped cardboard strips – occasionally had to chase them down. The wind continued throughout the week and made me think that kites or kite puppets might be neat sometime at this site.
We followed the format of stilting first and then Mache and construction after snack for the whole of the week and by the end we had two giants, three dragons, an octopus, a globe, a bee and a curious fashion statement with cardboard strips. We also had visits from past alum of the program; Marky, and Dre who were as tall now as they had been on stilts as children. Both young men gave the stilts a try and found they still had the knack.
On Thursday we began talking about air pressure and launching pop bottles at about forty pounds psi in a terrific circular tarmac that was perfect for these launches, but it was the following week we launched into rockets with vigor creating Parachutes from Estes kits and using poster board to make cylinders and cones for the two liter pop bottles.
The weather was a little nasty on Tuesday and built up to a tornado warning at the end of the day. The energy inside was also difficult, as there is no large space at the site inside and the garage was increasingly full of puppets. During the time we were inside, balloons were passed out, and while they were inflated, Mark talked about Newton, equal and opposite forces and how the balloon was different than the bottle. The children experimented with blowing the balloons up in different amounts and releasing them and predictably there was pandemonium, capped off by the tornado warning. We were able to start creating engine mounts with some of the older and more focused participants and by the end of the week there were some beautiful rockets, very heavy on the paint, truly High Art.
Wednesday and Thursday were spent painting and stilting alternately with rigging pole puppets for our final Parade Launch and Pizza party 10, 9, 8, 7…
The final day of the residency was fantastic. The weather was bright clear and cool. The parade had a real drumming section, for the first year, at Xena’s suggestion. This gave a real pulse to the parade which was contagious, and spread to the upper stories of some of the residences. One in particular which was jammed with kids yelling the parade play by play “There goes an Octopus!” as Justin’s creation danced by. Montee was brilliant on one of the Giant pole puppets, which he performed while stilting with Steven and Trevon, each on a hand. Jared was brilliant in the Backpack Giant chasing around with young ones on the side of the road.
The parade this year did not have the turn out that we had at the show the previous year which was our largest audience ever. Post parade it was time to launch the Model Rockets. Set up on an ideal circular tarmac turn about, away from the homes, we launched from the center of this blacktop. The children were hanging onto the curb with a couple of exceptions that stopped the launch, as bicyclists entered the sixty foot diameter circle to witness what was going on. Johnette who is a natural engineer, was very curious about the construction of the igniters and how they worked illuminating a missed directive to spend some discussion time with this. As a result three people were party to a discussion from which all would have benefited. The other intended activity, which we were unable to actualize, was the sewing. We ended up using staples. This was disheartening to me as this group had some amazing sewers two years ago when we did quilting and stilting and I wanted to keep their chops up.
The rockets were very, very successful racing up out of sight on a clear day, falling back into vision, opening and falling slowly toward the grassy slope to the southwest of the tarmac and in four cases landing within forty feet of the launch (This is good!) As a consequence only one rocket was lost in the glade to the west getting caught in a tree. Montee’s Blue Fire was perfect in every respect .Blue with a blue chute it floated back onto the tarmac, and was caught by its creator not twenty feet from where he launched it. We were able to launch some rockets multiple times so that even kids without a rocket, like Steven, who had variable attendance, were able make the electrical launch connection.
The kids that made rockets were thrilled, and everyone enjoyed them. Xena made four pairs of stilts with the kids collectively, which were a real point of pride, energy and excitement .Tara Fahey’s and Shelly’s mache’ skills and quiet firm direction bore fruit in the pole puppets, from Jada’s Earth, to Joshua’s bee, they were phenomenal.
Costs attendant with the three activities seemed to creep beyond their budget even with the donation of many supplies; foam noodles, PVC poles, Staples, staplers, and fabric (in the case of the pole puppets), electric cord and alligator clips, (in the case of the rockets), and duct tape and foam (in the case of the stilts). This said, many of the materials that were purchased will be reused at the Liberty Plaza residency and with the children there. With care both camps materials in synthesis will be on budget. We did have additional support of percussionist Ryan Billig and Javanese master painter Munir Kahar, who were outstanding although not originally in the budget and will be paid out of preparation monies. One reason that this camp tends to have a higher material cost than Liberty Plaza is that the monies for the Celebration Pizza come from the Materials Budget effectively reducing it by eighty dollars more than its sister program. The other practical reality is that since it comes first, it tends to show the cost for many materials that are used collectively by the two programs. (Examples being: much of the launch system used for the rockets, and the paint used on all the projects, and spare rocket parts.)
The Pizza’s timing this year was also perfect rolling up with the descent of the last rocket and seemed to underscore that this year there was a feeling of synchronicity within our inquiry into high art, and as Xena said “The rockets were perfect!”
The kids learned a little about physics (aerodynamics, momentum, pressure and electricity), construction, painting, drumming, and wielding puppets on poles, (sometimes on stilts at the same time!) all to brilliant effect.