Inside and Out of Andy Warhol’s ‘Silver Clouds’

Workshop participants dance with Andy Warhol's 'Silver Clouds.' Photo by Matthew Cumbie

This past weekend I was able to partake in a very unique and wonderful experience: Dance Exchange facilitated a workshop in and among and with Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds. These clouds, on display at Artisphere in Rosslyn, are part of a traveling exhibit and are in residence at Artisphere for the next few weeks. For those that are a bit unfamiliar with these floating mylar art pieces, they were first designed in the late 1960s in a collaboration that had Warhol interested in the intersections of art and science. After their premiere, choreographer Merce Cunningham became interested in using them for a dance, and worked with Andy Warhol to use these balloon-like pieces as part of a set for his dance ‘Rainforest.’

Workshop participants circle up with Dance Exchange before experiencing Andy Warhol's 'Silver Clouds'. Photo by Matthew Cumbie

Now, when I heard that we were going to play in these clouds I became as giddy as a schoolboy. These are such important artifacts for both the fields of dance and visual art, and feel particularly relevant to Dance Exchange given the parallels of their collaborative history between art and science and the work that Dance Exchange has done to explore those same intersections (see Liz Lerman’s ‘Ferocious Beauty: Genome,’ ‘The Matter of Origins,’ and Cassie Meador’s ‘Moving Field Guide’). The workshop itself was fantastic. We had about 32 movers come and play and make from the experience, some who were familiar faces and some who became familiar after our couple of hours together, and really spanning a range of ages and backgrounds. Working in these kinds of situations is always such a treat.

Also a treat was being able to step back and observe the interactions with the actual clouds. From the inside, it’s such an exhilarating, uplifting, and whimsical experience; feeling as if one might be floating through a reflective, metallic pool. And when you’re in the center of it all, with clouds swirling around you, it becomes difficult to see much beyond where you’re standing, adding an additional element of surprise and excitement. On the outside, though, it’s a very different experience and carries a different sort of weight for me. The title alone harkens images of our natural world and landscapes: rolling hills, blue skies, and white, amorphous clouds strolling by. Instead, though, before me was a white room filled with reflective, metallic, balloon-like pillows that softly bounced off of each other, the walls, the floor, and the people hidden within them. At moments, it was like a surreal painting or movie scene as the clouds slowly revealed a group of people that moments before were hidden, billowing out and away and retreating to another part of the room. At other moments, I was a bit scared at the comparison between this environment that had been created and the environment that exists naturally, and the knowing that so often in our desire to make something somewhere, we are unmaking something somewhere else. The metallic sheen of the floating pillows was almost cold and sterile, an interesting contrast to what I typically think of when I hear the word ‘cloud.’ It had me wondering how far were we willing to go to simulate environments, and what is the effect on or towards the natural environment?

Cassie Meador experiencing Andy Warhol's 'Silver Clouds.' Photo by Matthew Cumbie

For me, my time observing people in the clouds became a complicated negotiation between enjoying those beautiful, serendipitous moments and feeding off of the energy of those playing in the space, and understanding this discomfort that arose from my questioning. This is not to discredit the exhibit at all; I think it’s absolutely wonderful and that, given the opportunity, you should check it out. When looking for opportunities to check it out, I encourage you to join Dance Exchange on one of our next visits. This workshop, and our upcoming rehearsal periods, will culminate in a FREE performance in the gallery with Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds on October 11 at 7, 8, and 9 pm. For more information on when you can observe the company in rehearsal at Artisphere, check out their website here. To get to Artisphere, take the Orange or Blue line to Rosslyn and walk approximately 2 blocks. I’m really looking forward to seeing how these experiences, those had by our workshops participants and my own, inform the dance that we’ll be making in the gallery. I hope you’ll join me in the clouds for the show, and share your thoughts afterwards about Andy Warhol’s work!

About Matthew Cumbie

Matthew Cumbie (Associate Artistic Director) is a dance artist and collaborator who currently lives in Washington, DC.