Torkwase Dyson: Slip 'n Slide as art project



Torkwase Dyson
Yesterday afternoon I found myself barefoot on the beach at the South Shore Cultural Center, where I watched artist (and friend) Torkwase Dyson wrestle an 80-foot piece of metallic bubble wrap in the water. As Dyson crawled atop the serpentine structure, she looked like a kid playing on a Slip 'n Slide. The performance was part of Dyson’s project Crawl, named after William Pope.L’s Crawl series. It makes sense that Dyson effused joy—she grew up in South Shore and spent her summers at the Cultural Center. "All the parents would sit on the lawn and just let us run," recalled Dyson after emerging from the water. "This place is my childhood."

Crawl is part of a larger art-historical project in which Dyson revisits the canon of African-American art through an ecological lens. "With Crawl, I was thinking about the plastic, garbage, and waste that goes into our water, the politics of waste," she said. Dyson uses discarded materials as a form of political commentary. "This piece was from a winery—it was used to insulate wine," she explained, pointing to the bubble wrap. "But I’m interested in thinking about how it reflects light and can be used as a surface for watercolor." When Dyson says "watercolor" she doesn't use the term in the traditional sense—it's more a creative reuse of the word. Dyson's watercolor has water, and a metallic surface reflects some color, but there's no pigment. "My goal with Crawl, and the larger art history project, is to re-create these powerful moments in art history, with zero emissions. No energy except the sun."

It's hard to pin down Dyson's practice. Each project has its own aesthetic—in the past she's experimented with design, performance, visual art, archiving, and even landscaping. Dyson explained that she focuses on three primary areas: ecology, identity, and culture.

Crawl is only one of Dyson's current projects in Chicago. Over the past eight months, she's also designed and built a solar-powered studio at Theaster Gates's Dorchester Projects—Studio South Zero is the first of three structures that Dyson plans to build. Her third project, Shapes We Need, Kitchens We Don't, is a partnership between Dyson, the DuSable Museum, and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Dyson is currently designing a vertical garden that will hold fruits and vegetables from the Botanic Garden's youth farm.

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