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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Andy Warhol's Silver Pillows

Brandon Collwes & Jennifer Goggans in RainForest. Photo by Rob Strong.

Ok, now that you’ve shared with us your fantasy artistic duos, let’s talk about one for the ages: Merce Cunningham and Andy Warhol. At BAM, we’ve had many art/dance alliances that have made our hearts palpitate, but this one takes the pop-art minimalist cake. In 1966, Andy Warhol created a legendary installation for the Leo Castelli Gallery called Silver Clouds. These helium-filled pillows created an ethereal atmosphere as they gently moved with the air currents, and viewers played with them like children.

Warhol created the installation with assistance of  Billy Klüver, an engineer/artist who introduced him to a bewitching material known as Scotchpak. The shiny silver film was being used primarily for packaging food, but Warhol was so entranced by it that he immediately knew what to do. The reflective pop-art pillows don’t merely float to the ceiling; they hang out in groups, come down to the ground to say hello, and practically dance around the room.

Meg Harper & Merce Cunningham in RainForest, photo by James Klosty.
Merce Cunningham was also entranced by their buoyant movement, as well as the way they responded to human touch. He asked Warhol if he could incorporate them into his 1968 piece RainForest, which will be performed at BAM on December 9th & 10th as part of The Legacy Tour. From an interview in The Guardian:
I was with Jasper Johns at an exhibition and Andy's pillows were just piled in a corner. I immediately thought they would be marvellous on stage because they moved, and they were light, and they took light. So I asked Andy and he said, 'Oh sure.'
 Some of the pillows were filled with air - they stayed on the floor - but some were filled with helium and they floated. The dancers had to understand the technique of working with them: you had to push, not kick, to get them to float. When we first did RainForest they had only had one rehearsal with the pillows, and a lot went out into the audience.
We used them once in an event we did in Persepolis---we thought they would look marvellous against the stone pillars. But it was an open-air performance and most of the pillows got away. They were easy to take on tour, though. The air-filled pillows could be deflated, and the helium ones we gave away to children.
There is something about free-floating silver pillows that brings out the child in all of us.

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