Dancing Soft Sculptures
Stretch, sway, and dance with your own soft sculpture inspired by artist Senga Nengudi.
Time: 1 hour +
Grade Level: grades 3–5
Art Speak: soft sculpture, performance art
DCPS Arts Curricula: building
Look Closely. Trace the lines of this artwork with your finger in the air. Now, picture yourself touching the soft sculpture. What do you think it would feel like? What makes you say that? (Readers, please remember that when visiting a museum do not touch the art—only look with your eyes!)
Get on your feet and pretend to stretch your body from one side of the soft sculpture to the other. A soft sculpture is a 3-dimensional piece of art that is not hard or rigid. How would your body move through the soft sculpture? How would the soft sculpture move?
Watch This. Watch the video from 18:51-26:57 to see how the performer and the soft sculpture move.
On Art and Collaboration: Artist Talk with Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi – Hirshhorn Museum
Please note: the video is linked to the start of the performance, which runs approximately eight minutes, starting at 18:51. The full video runs about an hour.
Did the soft sculpture and performer move the way you imagined? Why or why not?
Were you surprised that the soft sculpture was stretchy? Senga Nengudi makes soft sculptures out of nylon stockings because they are stretchy just like skin! For Nengudi, the nylon stockings remind her of her skin when she was pregnant with her children.
Her soft sculpture and performance is titled R.S.V.P. X. Have you seen these letters before? You may have seen them on an invitation to a friend’s birthday party. R.S.V.P stands for “répondez s’il vous plaît,” a French phrase meaning “please respond.” The artist is inviting us to watch, listen, and respond to the performance! How do you feel when you see R.S.V.P. X?
ABOUT SENGA NENGUDI
Senga Nengudi (b. Chicago, Illinois, 1943) is an American sculptor and performance artist who is inspired by the movement of the human body. As a young girl she was curious, shy, and loved to dance! In elementary school, she decided she wanted to be a dancer and an artist. In Los Angeles in the 1970s, Nengudi joined a group of Black artists called Studio Z that included Maren Hassinger, Barbara McCullough, and David Hammons. Together they experimented and created art about being African American.
Nengudi creates body-like sculptures from plastic, dirt, water, and fabrics that sway in the wind or wiggle when bounced. Her soft sculptures become performance art when a dancer interacts with them. Nengudi works together with the performer to create movements inspired by the traditional dances of West Africa and Japan. When she’s not dancing or making art, Nengudi teaches art educators in Colorado and transforms art activities to highlight the diverse artists of her community.
Want to learn more? Read more about Senga Nengudi’s life and work.
In R.S.V.P. X, Senga Nengudi stretches, knots, and fills nylon stockings to create web-like soft sculptures as locations for performance art. For this project, you will create your own soft sculpture and make it move!
- Gather your materials. First you will need paper and pencil to jot down your ideas. Most importantly you will need nylon stockings, but if you do not have them, socks and stretchy clothing and fabrics are great substitutes! You will also need tape and something to fill the fabric with. Nengudi often uses sand, rocks, dirt, and flower petals. If you do not have those materials, anything with lots of small pieces goes! We used rice, quinoa, and chia seeds, but dried pasta, beans, beads, and small plastic building blocks work too! Remember, don’t eat your art materials! Tip: to contain the small pieces we recommend using a shallow tray or cookie sheet.
- Fill your soft sculpture. Pour your chosen filler into your soft sculpture. Things might get messy so grab a friend to help you fill it! Remember to knot your nylon at the top so the filler won’t spill out. Tip: roll the top of your nylon around a glass so you can pour in your filler hands free.
- Twist and tie. Senga Nengudi twists and knots her soft sculptures. How will you stretch and knot yours? Tip: fill then knot then fill again to create segments of soft sculpture in the same nylon stocking.
- Sketch your space. Think about where you will hang your soft sculpture. Will you hang it under a table? Between two chairs? From a door frame? Tip: do a quick sketch of the space and your ideas about how the soft sculpture will hang.
- Hang out! Now bring the pieces of the soft sculpture to your chosen space and stretch and hang it to the space. As in Nengudi’s R.S.V.P. X, place the heaviest parts of the soft sculpture on the ground, then pull and stretch the unfilled parts and tie or tape them to the surfaces of your space.
- Make it move. Think about how you want your soft sculpture to move. Will you stretch and dance inside your soft sculpture like R.S.V.P. X? Senga Nengui often asks her friend Maren Hassinger to dance in her soft sculptures. Do you want to invite a friend to dance with you? Do you want music played as your soft sculpture moves? Once you’ve decided on your performance, show it to your friends!
- Title your performance. Think about the mood or feeling of the performance, what would be a good name for your soft sculpture and performance?
We want to see your creations! Share on social media @hirshhorn with #HirshhornInsideOut.