Now you see it, then you won't:
Dragonfly formation celebrates artistic collaboration, impermanence
By Greg Bolt
Published: Saturday, October 15, 2005
Like clouds against a summer-blue sky or a dew-coated flower, Daniel Dancer's art is here and then it's gone.
It was here Friday, on a lawn at Lane Community College where more than 100 people and a pile of old clothes were momentarily transformed into a brilliant, quarter-acre dragonfly. And after 10 minutes it was just a lawn again.
"One lesson I think humans need to grasp is impermanence," said Dancer, a Hood River artist who paints with people and uses grass as a canvas. "One of the secrets to living a happy life is to embrace impermanence and live every single moment as if it is our last, because we never know when that last one is going to come."
That's only part of the message Dancer tries to convey as he travels the country committing temporary acts of art, usually using schoolchildren as his paint. This time, though, it mostly was participants in the Oregon Bioneers Conference, a gathering of scientists, environmentalists and social activists brainstorming ways to boost sustainable lifestyles.
Dancer calls it "Art for the Sky," images of salmon, bighorn sheep, flowers, birds and other scenes composed with masses of children whose colored shirts serve as paint. The pictures are all done on a large scale that can only be appreciated when seen from above, much like the mysterious Nazca Lines carved into the desert plains of Peru that inspired Dancer as a youth.
The idea that the images can best be seen from above also is part of Dancer's art. It's a way to show people - children in particular - that sometimes you have to take a few steps back from your own life to really understand what's going on.
"It's about seeing the big picture," he said. "It's using our imagination to rise above our problems and make sense of them and discover the solutions that live in that big-picture zone."
Typically, Dancer spends a week working with students at an elementary school to design the artwork. He encourages teachers to connect the project to lessons in art, music, math, history and science by exploring the creature or object to be created and how it interacts with its environment.
This time he spent three days with the Bioneers doing workshops on his art and how it blends with history and environment. He often has participants use organic or recycled clothing; Friday's event used clothes donated by The Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and Goodwill.
On the final afternoon of the project, participants troop out to a field or playground and form themselves into their chosen image, which Dancer first outlines with nontoxic paint and occasionally fills in with accents made from clothing and other material.
They hold their positions long enough for Dancer to photograph them from a fire department ladder truck, a bucket truck or, as was the case Friday, a handy rooftop.
"Children just love this," Dancer said as he sorted through clothes for Friday's project. "There's so much joy and excitement. They'll remember it all their lives."
The lesson that life is here and then it's gone or the value of taking a larger view aren't the only lessons he hopes participants come away with. It's also about teamwork and how people working together can do things they could never do alone.
"We can't succeed in life without collaborating with other people," he said. "This art does not work if we don't all collaborate together with one goal in mind."
As fleeting as Dancer's work is, it doesn't disappear entirely when the project is over. The school or sponsor gets a large print and a CD of the image to remember the occasion, and it's added to the gallery on Dancer's Web page, www.inconcert withnature.com.
Dancer hopes participants take something else away with them: an appreciation for Nature's own artwork.
"It's a way to give thanks for the beauty we see every day," he said. "It's teaching us to create something beautiful and then let it go."