PUSH DOWN & TANGO is a public community arts installation I designed to shift the paradigm around illness in my home town and nationally. The work grew out of my own experience with tango lessons which I took in spite of chronic pain and fatigue.
Backers of the project sponsored Resiliency Roses in honor of survivors they admired in exchange for having their honoree's names hand lettered on the piece's dance floor, surrounding the Loyalty Leaves.
By highlighting the resiliency of survivors, the project empowered viewers and participants to keep illness in perspective; to consider taking dance or other healthy risks to enlarge their experience even while experiencing symptoms.
Over 120 people helped create the work. Read more by clicking the Artist's Statement link above.
PUSH DOWN & TANGO was part of a public art exhibition I curated entitled “MINIMUM DAILY REQUIREMENTS”. I asked three other artists to explore the question, “What does your body and soul need on a daily basis to be healthy? What are your daily needs for dance, music and laughter?” Our four projects were exhibited in our downtown post office storefront windows for four months.
My project originated from a very personal place. I always wanted to take tango lessons, but thought I couldn’t because of my health issues: over 17 years of chronic pain and fatigue (and cancer in 2002). But I decided to follow my heart and found the dancing was phenomenally healing; strengthening my core and providing me with a fun, social outlet.
As I showed up week after week, tango began to influence my work. One day as I was staring at the top of one of my medication bottles which read, “PUSH DOWN & TURN”, I realized “Hey! These are tango instructions!” In that moment I decided I would make an installation about tango's impact on wellness and resiliency. As the project developed, it took on an additional objective - to express the radiance of resilient people in my community, bring them out of hiding and publicly celebrate them.
I also wanted the piece to influence the health of the upcoming generation that frequents Mill Avenue. It’s a vibrant walkable area filled with Arizona State University students. I hoped viewers would be moved to sign up for dance lessons or take some other healthy risk towards wellness. Viewers with chronic conditions could feel less isolated and helpless about their condition.
What the viewers actually saw was a Resiliency Rose Cluster, 59” in diameter suspended from the ceiling over three Loyalty Leaves approximately 36” long by 24” wide. The 120 Resiliency Roses were 6” - 13” in diameter and made from pink lamé and denim fabric. Safety pins, spray painted pink, attached the roses to the armature which was constructed of wire, wood, duck tape and fabric. The Loyalty Leaves were constructed of 150 medication bottles covered in photographs of tango dancers. I took the photos myself in my classes and also did a photo shoot of Arizona State University tango dancers on our Tempe Pedestrian Bridge. I edited the photos and tinted them green so that once placed on the bottles they’d read as healthy, green leaves.
Although I began the project by myself, it became collaborative and took on a life of its own when I decided to raise money through crowd funding. Over 120 people stepped up to support the project by financially backing it, helping with construction and donating materials. I raised $6000 including materials and free space donated by local businesses.
Backers sponsored a Resiliency Rose or a Loyalty leaf in honor of a resilient loved one. As a thank you, I gave them rewards; their honorees’ names included in the installation, a thank you card or photo featuring the finished artwork, accolades in my e-newsletter and a poem I wrote just for them.
I couldn’t possibly complete PUSH DOWN & TANGO on my own and since I preferred to collaborate, I organized five Maker Parties where community members gathered and sewed Resiliency Roses or labeled medication bottles for Loyalty Leaves. The Maker Parties brought together people who might not ordinarily meet; tango dancers, cancer survivors, artists, retirees, nurses, programmers, etc. Some Makers even took roses home to complete. Their support was very generous. At Andara Senior Living Center in Scottsdale, 15 seniors (including one man) spent two hours hand sewing roses while talking about their past sewing projects.
I was grateful for all of my helpers’ efforts and knew they had a profound impact. Although I can not accurately measure its positive effects, I’m proud that PUSH DOWN & TANGO reached 21,100+ viewers. This number includes on-site viewers from regular street traffic as well as visitors of the Tempe Arts Festival held at the same location. It also includes my social media reach via Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and a 1x month update to my 500 e-newsletter subscribers. Additional viewers were reached when three articles about the project were published in local newspapers.