A Greater Boston native, I'm a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, art, and graphic design. I'm co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), art director of Art New England magazine, senior contributor for The Arts Fuse, and am the Boston area dance critic for the international Fjord Review. I recently completed a one-year term as co-chair of the Arlington Cultural Council, and am regularly hired as an arts advocate to speak at events ranging from legislative assemblies at the State House to entrepreneurial panels for students at Mount Holyoke College. This blog serves as a behind-the-scenes peek into the life and journal of an interdisciplinary artist. Learn more at merliguerra.com or luminariumdance.org, and thank you for reading my thoughts on setting the visual and performing arts into motion.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kinetic Craft Residency: Thoughts on Metal

Before beginning this project, I never could have rattled off the five crafting elements (metal, ceramics, fiber, glass, and wood), yet now I find myself thinking about them all the time. Be it wrapping my hands around a hand-thrown mug, hearing the different pitches of a coin bouncing down a metal grate or enjoying the tactility of a journal’s weathered pages, I am now constantly aware.

While I would love to pair each of these with the five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch), I sadly don’t have the sanitation means to encourage our viewers to lick a series of metal spoons, or create the pleasing aroma of a burning wood fire inside the museum, so instead I’ve chosen to utilize the remaining three while focusing on the properties of each element that intrigue me most.


For Metal, I am focusing on its sound—from tinny tinkling to rich melodic tones. The page from my sketchbook below shows my preliminary thoughts and images for how I eventually grew to envision using metal bars and movement to create a large-scale, dance-propelled wind chime. As always, this project took several conceptual (and logistical) twists and turns through the creation process. Consistent across all versions was my intention to give the dancer a wide space for full-bodied movement, and to create a playable instrument of sorts. Yet getting there took several steps.

Preliminary sketches for Merli V. Guerra's Metal Breathing Installation; March 2017.

I first pictured the dancer in the center of several stationary xylophone-like structures of different tonal qualities, however I soon realized that in order to achieve a clear sound from each, I would need some kind of wooden striker. Suddenly I became aware of the fact that the dancer would likely need to hold the striker in her hand and intentionally move her hand across the chimes around her, which felt far too disconnected to me. How so? I wanted this to be a wind chime propelled by the complete range of the human body, rather than a single limb—regardless of how creative the performer might be as she danced from structure to structure, she would be limited to the use of one hand to ultimately "play" the installation.

Detail of preliminary sketches for Merli V. Guerra's Metal Breathing Installation; March 2017.

This led to the illustration above, in which I devised a way for all body parts to be able to instigate sound as the dancer moved through the installation, yet as I began setting it up, I soon came across another obstacle: delayed resonance. The cords, while clever in concept, actually caused a disconnect between visual and audio. As I moved, my body would push against the cord, pulling the striker away from the chime. It wasn’t until I had already released and moved on that the striker would then swing back into the chime and make its rich sound! The result was a delay of perhaps 1-2 seconds, yet it was enough to make it difficult, as the performer, to feel as though my actions were directly causing each sound, not to mention the visual lag similarly experienced by the viewer.

After trying cords of different lengths, weights, and stiffness, I ultimately omitted them—rehanging all of the chimes and strikers (a tedious task!) on a multitude of levels that now allows the dancer to move through them directly for the instant gratification of correlated movement and melody. I’m eager to set this up in a space larger than my 10 x 5’ living room and allow the dancer’s notes to reverberate throughout the Great Room and likely down the halls as well.


This blog post is related to Luminarium Dance Company's upcoming one-week Kinetic Craft residency at the Fuller Craft MuseumGuerra's 2017 Cultural Community Outreach Project

Kinetic Craft
Luminarium Dance Company in Residence

April 18-23, 2017  .  10am-5pm, daily
Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton MA

 This project is supported in part by a grant from the Brockton Cultural Council, a branch of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.