While spoken word artist Shayna Jones performs her poem entitled What Do You See?, body painter Yvonne Boyd decorates Jones’s legs and feet with swirls of colour and paints constellations on her face, all under black light.
Meanwhile, cellist Rufus Cappadocia performs nearby and also receives paint on his face and fingers.
In a video of this performance, created by videographer Carlo Alcos, we see a blend of body painting, spoken poetry and cello improvisation that blurs the lines between the three disciplines or perhaps invents a new one.
Painting someone’s body changes the way they will perform a poem or play the cello, Boyd told the Nelson Star.
“It was neat to watch the (video) of Shayna before she was painted, and then while she was being painted – the feelings that she was having and how she would recite the poem changed quite a lot.”
What Do You See? is one of four videos resulting from the Nelson and District Arts Council’s Outside the Box project, in which four groups of three artists from different disciplines collaborated within each group to produce artistic works that were then filmed. The artists were given no prompts or guidelines as to the nature of the work.
In this video, the relationship between paint, lighting, music, and Jones’ poem resulted in a piece that pleased and surprised all of the artists.
“Whenever I collaborate, I want one plus one plus one to equal four. If the sum is greater than the parts then I’m happy … great, it worked,” said Cappadocia in an artist statement following the project.
The NDAC chose a lead artist for each of the four pods, and those leaders chose the other two collaborators.
In the case of What Do You See? the leader was Jones, who said she had always wanted to have her body painted and was aware of Boyd’s skills. She also loves the cello and so chose Cappadocia, who is from New York but lives in Nelson part time and has family here.
The video What Do You See? evolved from Jones’s poem of the same name.
“It is built around her nucleus of energy,” said Boyd, “and it’s very bright and very vibrant, and it would have been a completely different thing if somebody else [had written it].”
Jones wrote the piece in the beginning stages of the project, before any video or paint, while sitting with Boyd at Boyd’s house listening to Cappadocia’s music.
“Yvonne just sketched and I began to write, so the piece itself came from us,” Jones said in the artist statement.
Then in their first session with video and paint, Cappadocia played for two hours while Boyd painted their bodies.
“Having Yvonne just right in my body space painting me was so powerful,” Jones said. “And then to have that wrapped up in the music, the sound Rufus was making, and to be so close to Rufus while he was creating such incredible sound … that visceral presence … that was my favourite part of the process.”
Cappadocia agreed that the body painting and lighting created a unique atmosphere.
“Playing in a softly lit environment like that, it felt ceremonial, it was really magical.”
Alcos agreed, saying he felt that magic in the editing process.
“Sometimes things just landed so perfectly. I found that happens quite often in this piece where, the (element) that I was (editing) in the performance just hit at the exact right moment.”
Outside the Box was funded by a federal government grant intended to help keep artists working during the pandemic, said NDAC executive director Sydney Black.
“We selected artists that were well-known in their craft, because we wanted people who we knew were going to be able to be innovative and who had experience … The only stipulation was that they create (a video) that was between two and 10 minutes long.”
In a sector that has been mostly shut down by the pandemic, Black said, the artistic freedom and the room for innovation was a revelation for the participants.
“It was like a love fest, for the most part,” she said. “People were so excited to be working again.”
In the other three Outside the Box projects, all viewable on the NDAC YouTube channel, metalsmith and singer-songwriter Samonte Cruz collaborated with textile artist Jennifer Burke and glassblower Bee Schroeder; poet Jane Byers (recently named Nelson’s Cultural Ambassador of 2022) worked with pianist Siji Olunuga and dancer MJ Armstrong; and Sinixt poet Ksxan and singer-songwriter Tony Louie worked with visual storyteller Derrick LaMere.