I was trained to practice as an architect. We plan for four years and build for two. We’re taught to research, diagram and present before ever putting a detailed construction to paper or screen.
I do not know what I’m building with this newsletter as I write every week. I do not know what this practice will become as I set out to make it part of my life’s work. I do not know what needs to happen next. It’s a Surrender Experiment to get out of my own way. (…bites white knuckles…) Also that’s an incredible book.
Yet there are tiny people with very little ‘real life’ experience doing this everyday. How do kids do it?! This week we’re talking big kid play.
We’re born in this world with relentless curiosity. Then our egos are formed and we tragically grow up. For the rest of our lives our work is to find our way back to pure joy. This is my ambition for Neon Fabrications, to make large-scale making accessible to everyone for the fun of it. I want to create joy for no reason, support seemingly pointless curiosity and champion child-like play on a big scale.
I didn’t build Lego towers as a kid. I built city-scaled theme parks from K’NEX that left our basement un-walkable for months at a time. Today it feels like my apartment is trying its best to get back there in any way possible.
My living room is piled with primary colors, a 3D printer sits next to the refrigerator, plastic kids toys pile under and atop the coffee table including K’NEX, copper pipes roll next to drawing tools to clutter my desk, and fabric scraps fall out of drawers with tangled embroidery strings. Don’t worry I’m obsessively tidy too. I’m just relentless about freeing my mind and making has been my way to do that. Even before the graceful impact meditation has wielded on my life.
This week we’re bringing joy to the Neon Fabrications table by sharing the toy I designed for a Brooklyn dance company, highlighting queer toy-maker Cas Holman’s much more astute work and crowning Alexander Calder with felt and wire for performing his greatest artwork.
As usual, follow my Instagram now renamed @neonfabrications for fast and easy content throughout the week. Or scroll down for material right now if you can’t wait. Yes!
High Velocity Crash-Landing
Elizabeth Streb “is an extreme action specialist who flies, crash-lands and invents hardware to get higher, faster, sooner, harder. Her entire oeuvre obsesses over capturing a single fleeting idea that disappears even before it’s created. The high impact, high velocity, heavily engineered, dangerously, kinetic scaffolds and machines in their S.L.A.M. studio here in Brooklyn are all constructed to support the dancer’s fleeting and imperceptibly thin idea of ‘human flight.’
That’s a lot of investment into such a seemingly naive concept yet MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Grant is behind it too. It’s all about the fraction of a millisecond experiencing exceptional weightlessness and loss of control right before a seemingly unprepared landing.
Her autobiography and movie are telling as she recounts about growing up as an adopted misfit, riding her motorcycle thousands of miles cross country and being an outcast in the dance community till this day.
I wrote to her when I was an Associate at SHoP and she surprisingly invited me to come sit with her during a rehearsal. I was elated, played hooky at work to meet her and couldn’t help but look for collaborations. For the next two years she commissioned me to design and fabricate her annual Action Maverick Award. Both were kinetic constructions.
I fabricated the first award in 2017 for the legendary Neil Mazzella who began Hudson Scenic who has constructed the set for countless Broadway shows and amusement park worlds you know very well. The second was made the following year for LGBTQ+ heroes Billy Jean King and Ilana Kloss. I’ll post tbt and fbf detail shots of the awards this week on Instagram.
Speaking to the Weirdos
“I want my designs to speak to the weirdos, to be tools for children to feel understood.”
While she’s designed more toys than we can count, Cas’ most prolific endeavor, Rigamajig, is a “glorified pile of construction debris,” as Cas puts it in her Abstract episode on Netflix . She also helped work on Imagination Playground at Rockwell Group. I like to believe it’s no coincidence I accepted a job offer there weeks before UAP came through with their offer. Now Cas is a student to kids around the world and teaches adults as a professor at RISD.
You’ll find the arc to her Abstract documentary center around her coming to define her sexuality and the desire to be human above anything else. She’s used design as a way to find home and heal from the trauma many of us queer people easily relate. It’s finding our roots and playing like a grown kid that can be a window into a higher intelligence that moves us beyond the playscape. Cas cares deeply, is dedicated to serious play and is a hero.
The Ringmaster’s Private Show
Alexander Calder’s Cirque Calder is his crowning achievement in my eyes. I ran into it at the Whitney Museum a couple years ago and was mesmerized. He would carry the contents in briefcases and pull out the toys to present a circus to friends. Check out this incredible video from 1927 of his antics!
In the video you’ll also see the soberness to his actions. He’s not elated and carefree while performing the Cirque Calder though they would last for hours. It’s no coincidence from my perspective that he found refuge in his making of toys and kinetic sculptures. It was a way to construct joy where something else had been lost. Creating his circus and other works are mechanisms for processing and healing. I see you Calder, I see you.
This newsletter is my briefcase and our performances are in the works. Stay tuned for a Neon Fabrications website, expanded documentation of some complex constructions and more collaborations on their way!
“Enjoy the forms but don’t identify with them. Be in this world, but not of it.”
– Eckhart Tolle