MakerThinker Profile: Elizabeth Streb
Artist as philosopher... I buy it. Art is more than craft. But there is more than one way to think. This is the first in a series of meditations about MakerThinkers.
MakerThinkers are not mere art workers, fabricating someone else's thoughts, and are more than art thinkers, whose skill is verbalizing their ideas for others to make visual. MakerThinkers stand outside the richkid/poorkid caste system. MakerThinkers actively create new propositions by thinking nonverbally: with their bodies, hands, relationships to materials.
You can't start talking about MakerThinkers without invoking Elizabeth Streb. Streb is playing with the limitations of the human body, Newtonian physics, and the relationship between the body and physical law. There is a sweet, thin packet of space between flying and falling. There is a moment of time when a body can push past an unegotiable boundary, like gravity. A body can navigate amazing obstacles using grade-school science concepts. A pendulum has a period. A brick has weight. Flesh is soft and flesh is hard.
Streb's company actively mines these relationships and searches for new information about what a body can do, what a prop can yield, what the negotiable points are in physics. I was lucky enough to talk to Elizabeth Streb after a show once. I asked her how her company started to rehearse Gauntlet, in which dancers dodge swinging cinderblock pendulums. Obviously using a foam brick wouldn't work--it would be a different weight and the pendulum would have a different period. "Did you give everyone a helmet?" I asked.
She said no. She said that they watched, and counted, and when they understood the pendulum's period, they started working with it. Un-outsourceable... that's MakerThinking!