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November 6, 2023

University of Michigan Museum of Art and U-M Stamps School of Art & Design Award Commission and Roman J. Witt Creative Residency to Machine Dazzle

Dazzle, photography by Gregory Kramer

Ann Arbor, MI—November 6, 2023—The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) announced today a commission with New York-based artist, designer, and multifaceted maker Machine Dazzle for a site-specific installation filling their Irving Stenn Jr. Family Gallery. To support production of the work, UMMA is partnering with the U-M Stamps School of Art & Design, awarding the annual Roman J. Witt Residency to Dazzle for the 2024 season. Titled Ouroboros, the installation will be on view starting March 14 and will transform in increasing maximal iterations, unveiling again in April, and in June when the sculpture will become animated and wearable by a team of 15 U-M students.  The exhibition continues through August 25, 2024.

This is Machine Dazzle’s first museum installation commission and his first exhibition in the Midwest. It follows his performance commission by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle, both in New York, and Harbourfront Centre’s Art and Intention exhibition in Toronto (on view until December 10th).

“The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol, depicting a snake eating its own tail,” explained Dazzle, “Originating in ancient Egypt and the Greek magical tradition, it represents infinity, eternal life, and birth, death, and rebirth; the meanings resonant as I plan to construct the Ouroboros using found objects, much of this from local bodies of water. As part of the collaboration with UMMA, I look forward to the opportunity to experiment, to push my artistic practice in new directions.”

Ouroboros is envisioned as an evolving artwork. Three distinct chapters will fill the 1,200-square-foot Stenn Gallery, with the artist expanding, transforming, and activating aspects of the installation during the exhibition’s six-month run (Ouroboros closes on August 25). The dynamic installation includes a soundscape produced by playing instruments made from found objects underwater—a new, experimental process for Dazzle.

Ouroboros: Chapter One opens on Thursday, March 14 and will be accompanied by Dazzle’s appearance as featured artist on the high-profile Penny Stamps Speaker Series for an audience of more than 1,000 at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater.

Ouroboros: Chapter Two opens on Friday, April 30, and will include the activation of U-M student creations inspired by the installation and created in collaboration with Dazzle.

Ouroboros: Chapter Three will open on Friday, June 28, culminating in a performance activation of Ouroboros where the sculpture will be worn by 15 performers and promenaded beyond the gallery. The June opening will also include a public capstone interview with the artist that explores his process and reflections on completing the installation. This culmination of the project coincides with the climax of LGBTQ Pride Month.

Dazzle’s first visit to the U-M campus is planned for November 27 through December 15, 2023, during which he will begin work on the central frame of Ouroboros, spend time salvaging found materials that will serve as the foundation for his installation, and engage with students and faculty across the campus in preparation for the exhibition.

Support from the Roman J Witt Residency program, which Dazzle was awarded for this project,  makes the production of new work possible and will see Dazzle integrating collaborations with students into the project, using U-M studios and other facilities, and allowing the broader community to see the creative process in action.

“Machine Dazzle’s work is a glittering kaleidoscope of joyful creativity, where every color, shape, and sparkle is testament to the limitless possibilities of the queer imagination,” said Jim Leija, Deputy Director for Public Experience and Learning at UMMA and the co-producer of this project. “We are thrilled to bring Machine to U-M’s campus and to partner with him. The commission with Machine also continues UMMA’s commitment to supporting artists and fostering dialogues about contemporary social and political contexts. This also presents a new milestone in the ongoing evolution of Machine’s groundbreaking multidisciplinary practice.”

For nearly two decades, Machine Dazzle has been producing spectacular costumes, sets, and performances that transfix audiences with a maximalist kaleidoscope. In recent years, Dazzle has brought his vibrant vision, informed by queer culture and expressions of the queer body, to the creation of intricate wearable art pieces and bespoke installations.

Ouroboros follows the opening of Cannupa Hanska Luger: You’re Welcome, which included a commissioned installation on the exterior of one of UMMA’s buildings and a gallery presentation. You’re Welcome, which was developed in partnership with the nonprofit public art and history studio Monument Lab, explored the foundational narratives of the land occupied by the University of Michigan and engaged in discourse on nationalism, land sovereignty, colonialism, and sites of memory.

Ouroboros continues UMMA’s vision to present artists, whose work reflects both formal breakthroughs and thoughtful engagement with the issues of our time.

MORE ABOUT MACHINE DAZZLE

Machine Dazzle has been providing dazzling costumes, sets, and performances since his arrival in New York in 1994. Describing himself as a “radical queer emotionally driven, instinct-based concept artist and thinker trapped in the role of costume designer, sometimes” he is the creator of intricate, unconventional, wearable art pieces and bespoke installations. His ongoing collaboration with Taylor Mac, including costumes and sets for his Pulitzer Prize-nominated A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, is now a documentary available on HBO, co starring Machine Dazzle. Mac’s most recent production, Bark of Millions, premiered at the Sydney Opera House in October 2023 with costumes by Machine Dazzle. This is just one of Machine Dazzle’s many collaborations with significant artists from the New York downtown scene.

In 2019, Machine was commissioned by Guggenheim Works and Process and The Rockefeller Brothers Fund to create Treasure, a rock-and-roll cabaret of original songs with a fashion show inspired by the content. The three sold-out performances were followed by appearances in multiple venues, including sold-out performances at the Joseph Papp Theater’s Joe’s Pub. Described as “a future psyche-sex-adelic synthe rock experience with stories about Machine’s mother, their relationship, and the legacy she left to him,” an album of these songs was released digitally in 2022.

Recent collaborations include Bassline Fabulous – a reimagining of Bach’s Goldberg Variations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – with the Catalyst Quartet and costumes for Opera Lafayette’s for the historic premiere of the never-before-seen Rameau comedic opéra-ballet, Io.

Other collaborations include works with Julie Atlas Muz, Big Art Group, Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, Basil Twist, Godfrey Reggio, Jennifer Miller, The Dazzle Dancers, Big Art Group, Mike Albo, Stanley Love, Soomi Kim, Pig Iron Theatre Company, Opera Philadelphia, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, The Curran Theatre, and Spiegelworld; as well as bespoke looks for Diane von Furstenberg and model Cara Delevingne who commissioned a headpiece for the 2019 Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala (adorned with bananas, fried eggs, teeth, and eyeballs).

Dazzle was a co-recipient the 2017 Bessie Award for Outstanding Visual Design, the winner of a 2017 Henry Hewes Design Award, and a 2022 United States Artists Fellow. He delivered a TED Talk at TED Vancouver in 2023.

Machine Dazzle’s work has been exhibited internationally. His first solo exhibition, Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle, was held at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City in 2022. Born Matthew Flower in 1972 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, his family moved to Houston and eventually to Idaho Falls, where he felt alienated amongst the predominantly Mormon community.  Recalling Idaho as, “more Mormon than Salt Lake City,” Machine Dazzle told Hilton Als for a profile in The New Yorker, “I was always the tallest and the gayest.” He frequently cites hitchhiking to the Olivia Newton-John film Xanadu at the age of 8 as a defining moment. At 19 he came out as gay to his conservative parents.

Machine Dazzle graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, earning a degree in art. In 1994 he moved to New York City. His myriad of day jobs including a position as a jewelry designer and at the non-profit cultural center Exit Art, which supported a growing fascination with New York City’s nightlife, including The Pyramid Club and Jackie 60, where he arrived in extravagant costumes of his own design.

His name, Machine Dazzle, came from dancing in costume at one such club as a Dazzle Dancer. A friend referred to him as a dancing machine, which quickly morphed into Machine Dazzle. As Machine’s costumes began to catch the attention of other club kids, he was offered commissions from drag queens and dancers. Julie Atlas Muz asked Machine to design a full show in 2004. In 2008, Machine Dazzle designed the sets and costumes for Lustre, a Midwinter Trans-Fest, starring Justin Vivian Bond.

Machine Dazzle is exclusively represented by Pomegranate Arts worldwide: Pomegranatearts.com.

ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN ROMAN J. WITT RESIDENCY

The Roman J. Witt Residency Program, developed with the support of University of Michigan alumna Penny W. Stamps and named in honor of her father, is an annual international competition that awards one residency per academic year to a visiting artist/designer who proposes to develop a new work in collaboration with University of Michigan students and faculty.

Machine Dazzle in front of Brooklyn Waste Management Facility
Machine Dazzle in front of Brooklyn Waste Management Facility. Photo by Enrique Pastor.

Related Exhibition

Ouroboros

Machine Dazzle

March 14 — August 25, 2024