Museum Without Walls: Sarah Wilson and Catch Me Bird Go Off the Walls

The blog series Museum Without Walls features de Young Artist Fellows working outside of the museum with other artists and local, community based arts organizations. In this edition, we catch up with Sarah Wilson and Catch Me Bird at their Djerassi alumni artist residency where they gave us a glimpse into the early stages of their creative process.

Trio

When Sarah Wilson first met Catch Me Bird in 2009, it was instant inspiration on both sides. Wilson, a composer, trumpeter and singer-songwriter began to play around with the aerial/dance duo, composing pieces as they choreographed movement.

Floor Dance

When Sarah Wilson was selected as a de Young Artist Fellow two years later, her first instinct was to incorporate the aerial stylings of Catch Me Bird, and together during Wilson's Artist Fellowship, they will create Off the Walls.

Collaboration

Wilson’s connection to the museum has been strong since her first concert at the de Young in 2008. Catch Me Bird, the husband-and-wife team of Nehara Kalev and C. Derrick Jones, is an LA-based performance company whose Bay Area roots run deep. Catch Me Bird brings their real lives to the stage—beginning with their 2004 wedding—in what they call “reality performance.” Their collaboration with Wilson continues in this vein by drawing on Jones’s personal relationship to his “Uncle Doug,” the Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas.

Aaron Douglas

Douglas, left, with Grace Goens, Alta Douglas [Derrick’s aunt], and Dr. W. W. Goen at A Severa-Restaurante Tipico, Lisbon, Portugal, 1956.

A highlight of the Museums’ permanent collections, Aaron Douglas’s Aspiration depicts the African American rise from slavery to freedom, an evolution that was mirrored in his own career as a pioneer in the Harlem Renaissance movement. Douglas was a progressive who socialized with the likes of Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and W.E.B. du Bois. His legacy has been passed through generations of civil rights activists and educators–among them members of Jones’s own family–and straight into the arms of Catch Me Bird.

Aspiration

Aaron Douglas (American, 1899–1979). Aspiration, 1936. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase. 1997.84. Currently on view at the de Young.

Using Aspiration as a jumping off point, Off the Walls will reinvent Douglas’s iconic work as a multimedia performance. Wilson’s unique compositions will evoke the effervescence of the speakeasy setting, as well as dark undertones found in Douglas’s painting, Charleston. Dancers and aerial performers will embody the ideas of adversity and hope that saturate Douglas’s work from the 1920s and 1930s, conceived in the context of today.

As part of her Artist Fellowship, Sarah Wilson will share her process from start to finish. The next opportunity to see her work will be on May 25 when the Sarah Wilson Ensemble performs at Friday Nights at the de Young. Throughout July, visitors to the Kimball Education Gallery/Artist Studio at the de Young will be able to observe Wilson and Catch Me Bird, and Off the Walls as a work-in-progress prior to the final presentation in September.

Off the Walls will premiere at the de Young on September 21–23 when audiences will be led by a procession of musicians and performers through the de Young as Sarah Wilson and Catch Me Bird bring Douglas’s paintings to life!