Bill Shannon (US) Blueprint for an Ethereal Structure

dance performance, 2007

Bill Shannon takes the stage on crutches, though he can clearly walk on two legs. It’s disconcerting to see him - is he walking on crutches to make an artistic statement? To explore a four-legged dance style? Because he’s faking?

He knows you’re asking this question, so starts his talk with medical validation, “Until I validate, you won’t really be looking at me. I have to tell you why I’m using crutches.” Shannnon has a bilateral hip deformity - his hips aren’t round, and puting pressure on them creates swelling. It’s possble to have hip surgery, but that requires new surgeries every ten years. Instead, Shannon has raised walking on crutches to an amazing art form.

He demonstrates what club dancing looks like on his rocker bottom crutches. As people in the club watch him, some end up saying, “I think he might be faking it.” His response, he tells us, is “the faker squared, faking to the second power, faking faking to show my reality.” He demonstrates, taking a big step on crutches, then four baby steps with his feed on the ground, so that people can say, I knew he was faking, man - busted!”

Shannon’s art form requires an amazing range of technique. He shows us the basics of a rocker-bottom crutch. With the crutch tops in his armpits, he’s 'in saddle'. But he’s capable of a 'highbar thread', where he moves his weight onto a midbar support, which allows him to reach the floor. A 'lowmid' involves the armpit supported by those middle suports. Moving through these positions, he’s able to move between standing up and working on the floor. But “you can have all the technique in the world, but if you ain’t got style…”

Shannon’s got style. He started using them at age five, and as a result, he considers them an extension of his body, something he thought was very cool when he was a kid. He got off them in his teens and took up skateboaring, but came back to them in his mid-twenties. But his fluidity and style are a product of years of experience and years of non-crutch movement as well.

Lately, Shannon has been performing publicly, challenging images of disability through performance art. He explains that people don’t rush in to rescue a skater who’s trying a trick and blows it. People watching him perform on crutches initially respond by seeing him “as a poor, crippled guy”. Over time, they start seeing him as “a crippled guy who’s having too much fun.”

People project narratives, he tells us - “this guy is in trouble, I’m here to save him.” This good samaritanism can be an obstacle. So Shannon performs his “disability-based utilitarianism” in public, doing amazing things like picking up bottles while being fully upright on the crutches. It’s important, he tells us to “retain neutral pallette” so he can see people’s authentic reactionsa to his movement.

Some of Shannon’s most amazing movement is on a skateboard - he uses one for mobility purposes, moving long distances through airports, for instance. “A skater’s relationship to architecture is different from the average pedestrian.” These surfaces of the urban environment can be pushed off of, tricked on. There are tricks Shannon can do that are impossible for conventional skaters because he’s capable of making one foot weightless with the crutches. He describes his style not as “extreme”, but as “extremely laidback skating.” - Ethan Zuckerman

"My obscure spatiotemporal and aesthetic artistic pursuits exist underneath a hovering massive and terrible freedom. It is a cold time now. That is the background. I keep moving. I project heat. To stretch the unspoken moment between intent and action I attempt a neutral palette fitting to my identity. A delicate process. I fail often. What colors you will choose be they hopes, fears or indifference are yours to place upon me or hold back. You, the random pedestrian laugh, cry, smile, frown, hug, hold, spit, push and pull. I embrace you always. The stories that are told in the gestures of kindness, the fleeting moment of a laugh, the scuttle of an embarrassment, these are my treasures. On a microscale I have learned that in all contrasting and conflicting energies balance is possible in the most unexpected of ways. Humans before speaking, they moved. Body language was instinctively positioned. It is very difficult to position a body to convey a position other than what it physically is. I know this from experience. I trust it."

Bill Shannon

Bill Shannon (US)

Bill Shannon is a conceptual, interdisciplinary dance and media artist who creates both solo and group projects. He considers his work rooted in street culture and informed by the fine arts. He is widely recognized in the dance/performance world, the underground hip-hop and club dance scene, the urban arts movement, as well as the disabled artist community. His performance and video work have been presented nationally and internationally over the past ten years at various venues, festivals and events including Kaaitheater, Brussels; Sydney Opera House Studio Theater, Australia; Performance Space 122, NYC; The Kitchen, NYC; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, OR; Central Park Summer Stage, NYC; Dance City, Newcastle, UK; Contact Theater, Manchester, UK; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Arizona State University, Tempe; The Exit Festival, Cretiel, France; Amman International Festival of Independent Theater, Amman, Jordan; The Holland Festival, Amsterdam; Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland; URB Festival, Helsinki, FI; Melbourne Fringe Festival and Teatro de la Ciudad in Monterrey, Mexico, among many others. In 2002, he completed a project with Cirque du Soleil where he choreographed specific elements for their production Varekai.

His visual and multimedia art have been exhibited in contemporary museums, galleries and fairs in the U.S. and Europe. Shannon’s video installations have been presented at Kiasma, Helsinki Museum of Contemporary Art in Finland (2005), at the Tate in Liverpool, UK (2003), and the Headlands Center for the Arts in San Francisco (2005). Shannon has been honored with numerous awards including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2003), a Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, a Colbert Award for Excellence: The Downtown Arts Projects Emerging Arts Award and a Pennsylvania Council of the Arts Interdisciplinary Arts Fellowship. He has received support for his work from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York State Council for the Arts, James E. Robison Foundation, Bossak-Heilbron Charitable Foundation, The Harkness Foundation for Dance, and Arts International: The Fund for U.S. Artists at International Festivals.

He has also been honored by Dance Magazine as one of its “25 to Watch.” Shannon also won Mantis Battle (Solo Category) in NYC in 2000, placed second in ProAms Florida (Abstract Category) and in 2002 was awarded Most Creative Street Dancer by the LA Urban Dance Festival. Shannon holds a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.