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Flying and Falling: Images for future research

I had the great good fortune to be one of dozens of artists who received a UETF grant in 2022. The award funded photographic research into trained dancers moving through moments of lift, flight and descent.

Having spent a handful of years studying favorite New Mexican flora and fauna and applying the results of my research to murals, I knew I wanted to begin a cycle of study, research, and the development of a new visual vocabulary that would fuel the next few years of mural work. The UETF opportunity sounded like the perfect vehicle for a first round of research into the topic that fascinated me last year, and that continues to unfold for me today: flying and falling, or the educated, intelligent body-based practices of trained athletes and dancers caught at the dazzling edges of their skills.

I began my project fascinated by the relationship between momentum and inertia as expressed in the human body. Looking at sports photography of football fiend Pele doing a mid-air bicycle kick, or of gymnastics genius Simone Biles flying 12' off the ground, I was struck by the raw power such athletes played with. Photos of Ms. Biles at the peak of a ridiculously difficult leap from the pommel horse showed the intensity she brought to the 1/1000th of a second of the photo. We can see pectoral muscles at a peak of contraction, a hand so full of intention and energy that it's twisting beyond the ballet-informed "presentation" common to the sport... we are witness to something so human, and so magical, that I'm just stunned.

I wanted to collaborate with Albuquerque dancers to make photos that revealed muscular action very specifically, and unexpectedly—your perineal muscles taut, your quadriceps flabby; pectoral muscle stringy and taut, a pointed foot almost crabbed. I wanted to photograph a balance trained intentions, and the unintentional needs of movements at the edge of an athlete's ability. I wanted to make images of dance, and eventually of sport, as a way of picturing the consciousness in the body, as evidenced by muscular work within an action. This idea, a dance that asks the dancer to take herself to the edge between conscious intention and the unconscious voice of the trained body itself--this is a Butoh idea. I studied Butoh in every way I could after learning about it in high school. I'm still moved by its ideals and images today.

These images are often a balance between blur and crystaline focus. I love that continuum! I think of the work of Francis Bacon, who used his skill with dry-brushed gesture and his stark, flat electric backgrounds to make a powerful friction between stark stillness and rabid speed. I long to play with similar effects as I develop a visual language from this research.

Next steps: while 2023 is just about full of good work, I'm looking forward to a period of studio work in November and December, in which I'll take these images as starting points for sketchbook iterations and digital paintings, two of which are up on my Instagram feed already. In January and February 2024, I'll make painted studies of them, parsing the photographic effects of blur and sharp focus into that medium. And some time in 2024, I'll paint a mural for Airdance New Mexico using these techniques. I'll then take that work out into the wider world, seeking commissions from gyms, professional sports teams, dance schools and other places of physical education.

Albuquerque is home to some of the most astonishing dancers I've ever met. Thank you, Gina Shorten, Cortney Baca, And Madrone Matysiak for your time, your flexibility, and your incredible skill.

Gina is flying using silks on a backyard aerial rig. Cortney is leaping on her own, in the upstairs gallery of Harwood Art Center, where I had a studio for a good while. And Madrone is flying onto crash pads at Airdance New Mexico.


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