Art of the State 

click to enlarge art22_art_skull_100.jpg

Looking a Head

Who's that one guy? The naked people guy? The photographer who gets big groups of nude people together in stadiums and public streets and arranges them in such a way as to highlight the eerie beauty of the human form when seen en masse? Sort of "Where's Waldo?" for perverts?

Well, anyway, something similar, sort of, is happening here June 1 on Belle Isle. Artist Noah Scalin is inviting anyone and everyone to come to the island, bringing one white and one black T-shirt, so he can assemble the models into the shape of a skull to be photographed from above. It's not art museums in Dusseldorf, but it does have a purpose.

Scalin is (Spencer Tunick! That's the photographer's name! Spencer Tunick!) completing his Skull-a-Day project, an art experiment that started as a weird idea to create a skull, in any medium, every day for a year. "It was a total random thought I had," Scalin says. "It was really the most arbitrary thing I've ever done."

He posted his creations on www.skulladay.com, a blog that chronicles his experimentation with media, and the techniques he picked up from artist friends, to close that 365-day gap. On the site you'll see skulls in paintings and collages, sure, but also skulls rendered in tea leaves and butterflies, hidden in a pattern stenciled on wallpaper, made of Tinkertoys, arranged from scooter gears at Scoot Richmond and on a wall of DVDs at Video Fan and spray-painted on the back wall of Exile.

"You kind of have to just be open to what happens," he says, a one-day-at-a-time, whatever's-at-hand philosophy that became the lesson of the project. "I think it's a pretty good thing to apply not just to my work but to life in general."

The site recently won the People's Voice Award for Personal Web Site in the Webby Awards (the sprawling Oscars of the Internet). Scalin's going to New York for the awards ceremony June 11. There's a book, "Skulls," collecting some of the site's best efforts, due out in October. So as far as random projects go, this one has born a lot of grim fruit.

Scalin says one of the best (and perhaps inevitable) side effects of the project is the community that rallied around it in its nearly yearlong life, the people sending in skulls they'd made or found to fill out his mission. "As an artist," he says, "I think there's nothing better than that you've inspired others to creativity."

To that end, after he creates his big people-skull on Belle Isle, he'll hand over control of Skull-a-Day to its community, posting daily their submissions of lively, unexpected death's-heads.

He'll move on to his next project, "League of Space Pirates." Ask him about it June 1 after becoming a part of his great skull.


The Virginia Historical Society just named Paul Levengood its new president and chief executive, following outgoing head Charles Bryan. Levengood has been with the VHS since 2000 and is managing editor of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Bryan was president for 20 years of the 175-year-old society, leaving Levengood with a recently renovated museum and 20 years more history to deal with. Which includes Virginia's early '90s love affair with Mötley Crüe.

The Richmond Symphony just announced it received $750,000 from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation. It's coming just in time, too: The symphony begins its 51st season, in which the homeless band of musicians will finally move into CenterStage sometime next year, try out applicants for the vacant music director's job and continue its outreach programs. It'll also move Kicked Back Classics into The National, where a highlight will be "Video Games Live," a "multi-sensory concert" of famous video game soundtracks. We geeks see right through your attempts to get us cultured … and yet, the thought of Dig-Dug with saxophones …

Alas, poor Bozo! I knew him, Flopsie (or: Infinite Jest)

I don't know, but I hope this means more pies in the July production of "Henry IV, Part 2": Richmond Shakespeare is host to a "Clown Intensive" for those who want to make children laugh or, alternately, wail helplessly.

Matthew Ellis, professor at the University of Oklahoma and director of the summer production of "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)," holds a five-day course on the dynamics of clowning as part of the company's sort of continuing education for stage folk. Apparently it's not all birthday parties and balloon-renderings of the Taj Mahal -- Ellis is channeling Buster Keaton more than Bozo here. It's about learning how to move, how to be present on stage, how to find that red nose of the mind.

Ellis says on Richmond Shakespeare's blog: "The clown is the part of us that lives in a simpler place. Our inner clown is rife with problems to solve, and he or she solves those problems in a variety of 'creative' ways."

Like by smelling this flower …

The classes are June 16-20, 6-9:30 p.m., and cost $250. Scholarships are available. What? That's not a joke. Call 232-4000 or visit www.richmondshakespeare.com.

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