Tiny Circus A&D students, dressed in white and photographed from above, look surprisingly like snowflakes gathering and dispersing, thanks to the magic of stop motion animation.

The idea for "Snowflake Formations" (see video below) grew out of a collaboration with A&D students and Witt Visitors, Tiny Circus. The Circus travels around the country in a caravan of vintage custom-built Airstream trailers, engaging local communities in the art of stop motion animation. Last fall, their tour brought them to A&D for a Witt residency at the school. During their two days here, they worked with all seven sections of the course, TMP: TIme (Texture, Materials & Process) on a group animation. The inspiration, in anticipation of the winter months, was the formation of snowflakes.

The Making of Snowflake Formations

Each group of students was instructed to choreograph their own unique interpretation of a snowflake formation and to wear all white on the day of the taping. The groups had 20 minutes to record each snowflake formation. Over 200 still photographs were taken that day. When the stills are edited together, the snowflakes appear as a moving formation. Students helped to create the soundtrack too.

"Snowflake Formations", Tiny Circus 2009
Images from Tiny Circus' visit to A&D. Click to view full size.

Ever Dreamed of Joining the Circus?

Jessica Freylinghuysen The Circus didn't find its way to A&D by chance. A&D lecturer and recent Cranbrook grad, Jessica Frelinghuysen, happens to be one of the founding members of the group and yes, she did dream of joining the circus. The dreaming began on visits to her grandmother who just happened to live near a circus training camp for highschool students in Sarasota, Florida. The training camp captured her imagination early on and she always longed to attend the camp.

But, alas, Jessica ended up in art school, not the circus. Still, during that time, she found herself avoiding "gallery culture", always finding ways to bring her work out into the world at large and "make life more interesting for people."

Jessica Freylinghuysen: Nature Insecurity Poncho. Click to view full size.

The seeds for Tiny Circus were planted during a residency at Sculpture Space in 2007 when she met Carlos Ferguson who was living in a refurbished Airstream and making tiny robotic landscapes. Carlos had just begun to realize the potential of his mobile residency as a (literal) vehicle for public engagement, using the bus to project Super-8 home movies onto the sides of buildings. For Jessica, whose work had been focused on public interactions for some time, the possibilities inherent in a mobile art bus were too good to pass up.

A collaboration between the two artists began to ferment. Though neither of them knew anything about animation, they began to narrow in on stop motion animation as a format, thinking about storytelling, outdoor movies and art making activities that brought people together.

A Tiny Circus, Born in a Barn

The next summer they formed a sort of residency of their own, bringing together other artist friends to camp out on Carlos' family land in Grinnell, Iowa. They worked in an old barn which had been converted into a studio and began to breathe Tiny Circus into existence. They envisioned the group touring and engaging communities across the country to create short "Histories of the World" using stop motion animation. All the movies would be created collaboratively with the participants: from idea-generating, to storyboarding, making the materials, filming and creating the final soundtrack.

But first, there was a lot of work to do. They had to learn stop motion animation, for one. And, they had to transform three old rotting airstreams into comfortable studio and living spaces for the tour.

The Tiny Circus gets to work. Click to view full size.

The building and working were highly collaborative. They did everything together, living, working, eating and making decisions. By the end of the summer in 2008, they had eight animations shot, one airstream built and a solid conceptual map, giving them the basis for a grant request to take the project on a proper tour.

"The History of Smiles", Tiny Circus 2009

This past summer marked the beginning of Tiny Circus's tour of Iowa, through small towns and festivals. They worked with five or six communities across the state, inviting the participants to come and live with them, dream up their "History" and put it into film. At the end of each workshop, they projected the final film in public spaces such as a parking lots, where the community would gather for a movie-watching night.

Tiny Circus on Tour. Click to view full size.

Next summer Tiny Circus hopes to expand its tour outside of Iowa. Their goal is to bring the power of art-making to communities across the country, providing creative experiences of intense concentration, collaboration and imagination.

So watch for this circus, coming to a town near you. And, watch a few videos by A&D students inspired by their lessons in stop motion animation.

"Mannequin", Mike Syron
"Raindrops in Watercolor", Millicent Wibert