Cover Photo: Project Tool at Chicago Cultural Center (2018). Photo by William Frederking.
Project Tool is a performance project in which Onye Ozuzu initiated the building of a collection of sprung wood dance floors with a team of dancer collaborators. What they learned physically, emotionally, and conceptually in the process of building has become the material used to craft almost three years of skill-building, art-making, performance, discussion, community engagement, and learning. Through the process of using hand held tools and legacy processes, the team underwent a somatic excavation of the relationship between mind, body and tool. The actual, real-time making of the floors through sawing, hammering, sanding, and nailing has had the effect of unearthing an improvisational landscape in which tasks, tools, and the body all work together to form and inform the dance itself.
Started in 2016, the team of collaborators began a yearlong process with residencies at Columbia College Chicago and the Rebuild Foundation to learn how to build dance floors by hand. Artist Steve Silber designed hexagonal modular floors that can be arranged and configured in numerous ways to transform many different types of spaces into places where performance (dance performance, particularly) can happen.
Local woodworker and carpenter Bryan Saner joined as a Wood and Fabrication Consultant to support the initial team of dancer-builders Keyierra Collins, Keisha Bennett, Jessica Marasa, Onye Ozuzu, and Anna Martine Whitehead. Filmmaker Jovan Landry documented the process in photos and video that is accessible in an online archive of the project. The sound, designed by Damon Locks who was present for the wood working for a full year of the project’s development, likewise engages tools—drum machines, samplers, synths–and the concepts and lessons of the work. The first phase of the project was a performance installation at the Chicago Cultural Center in (2018) that included a visual design by Petra Probstner.
The second phase of the project moved from the act of building the floors to the translation of that exploration into performance contexts. Supported by residencies at Ragdale Foundation (Lake Forest, IL) and Dancing Grounds (New Orleans, LA) as well as cross-cultural trips to Haiti, the team expanded to include video/projection artist Simon Rouby, dramaturg Brianna Alexis Heath, and dancer/performer Aaliyah Christina.
The work–featuring performers Aaliyah Christina, Keyierra Collins, Keisha Bennett, and Onye Ozuzu–evolved into a complex structured improvisational performance installation that weaves bodies, ideas, words, and images. The latest iteration includes projection designs by Simon Rouby. The design integrates film, projection, and live dance to recall body memory and ancestral experience as coded in the use of tools to accomplish tasks that are basic to humanity and our survival.
Project Tool found its culmination and official premiere at Sweet Water Foundation, as part of Hyde Park Jazz Festival September 2019. Sweet Water Foundation (a dynamic Regenerative Neighborhood Development neighborhood demonstration site, campus, and arts + culture hub that spans 4 city blocks on Chicago’s South side) fabricated the final floors to create a complete set of nine modular platforms with an interlocking system. Sweet Water Foundation is the current steward of the handmade floors.
Multiple iterations of the performance have been presented across cities and venues, from a major performance installation last year at the Chicago Cultural Center to a cultural-exchange performance in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. The small, portable hexagonal floors have also traveled throughout the southside of Chicago laying the foundations for dance performances in dynamic and unexpected spaces through and in our communities. This project outgrowth, Project Tool: Set Free, was curated by Project Tool dancer/collaborator Aaliyah Christina.
The offshoot performances fulfilled Ozuzu’s vision to initiate a movement of dancers empowered to create, activate and engage their own infrastructure and presence across Chicago. This project carries on through Ozuzu’s body and the bodies of other dancers who participated through the skills and know-how to make the floors upon which we danced and the opportunity to channel that practicality into our artistic practices. Project Tool offers us the opportunity to stand strong in the embodied fact that we can literally build our own platforms.
Dive deeper into the project by visiting the Project Tool Archive.
Project Tool is supported by the Joyce Award (2018), a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award (2016) and is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by Links Hall in partnership with Dancing Grounds and NPN. Development of Project Tool was supported by a Ragdale Foundation residency, NPN Development Fund supported residency at Dancing Grounds, and a Rebuild Foundation residency at Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative. Completion of the floors was made possible by Sweet Water Foundation. This project was also partially supported by an Individual Artist Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, as well as a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, a state agency through federal funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Finally, this project was made possible through a grant from 3Arts that matched funds by 67 donors to 3AP (3Arts Projects).