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Paper Grotto Live Performance opens Friday at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center

Tom Hall
Tom Hall

The City of Fort Myers’ Biennial Grant Recipient Show opens at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center on Friday, May 6th in conjunction with Art Walk. Local artist Lily Hatchett will open the exhibition with a performance of her Paper Grotto Live with musical accompaniment by award-winning flutist Kat Epple.

Paper Grotto is an art happening that combines sculpture, drawing, video and live performance. The latter incorporates aspects of Butoh, a form of theater that features a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance and movement. Butoh is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled movement and playful or grotesque imagery in extreme or absurd environments. Like a grotto, as Hatchett explains:

"A grotto is a type of cave and Butoh is a type of art that is performed in caves, so the whole thing made sense. Grotto has been used in religion as a place where you see the Madonna. Grotto also comes from the word grotesque, and grostesque means from the grotto, strangely enough."

As the name implies, Hatchett’s grotto is fashioned from paper, or to be more precise, seven totem-like white paper sculptures that range between six and eight feet in height. She arranges them in a way that resembles a cave or grotto, and during daylight hours, Hatchett’s monochromatic sculptural environment is not unlike Louise Nevelson’s Dawn’s Forest, which greeted travelers passing through RSW back in 2012 and can be seen today in Hayes Hall at Naples’ Baker Museum of Art. But Hatchett’s history with paper sculpture has a more amusing origin, as Lily relates.

"I’ve worked with paper my whole life, including large drawings," she said. "But it really came out of having to sit through banquets and dinner parties where my dad was speaking and my mom and my brother and I would be sitting there watching our ice cream melt and then I started making paper dogs out of napkins just to entertain whoever was sitting next to me. And they like it. And I found that I had a knack for wrinkling paper and having it look like something."

But unlike the assemblages in Dawn’s Forest, Hatchett’s pieces are more than mere sculptures. At night and during performances, they function as movie screens.

"When you project a movie, you project it on a white screen so this becomes a substitute for just a blank white screen," she said. "It’s white because I project video on it. It looks great. And also the white connection with the original Butoh performances being performed by people who coated themselves with clown white."

Hatchett gives credit to Mike Lawler for the use of video in her Paper Grotto performances. Lawler played piano and synthesizer for the Allman Brothers between 1980 and 1982. Lily travelled with the band – along with other rock groups – and got to see all kinds of projection videos. But she especially liked what Lawler did with oil lights projected with an opaque projector.

In Hatchett’s case, the video comes from three sources. The first is a clip of a mop bobbing in the wake behind a Circle Line ferry that she worked on when she was still living in New York City. The second is garden-variety foliage, like the ferns of fantail palm growing in her backyard. And the third is a red-shoed marionette with whom she has a special relationship to which Hatchett will only allude.

"I got rights from Moby to do a marionette show using Moby music and that’s on my YouTube channel, and that’s the marionette and then she gets twisted into some deep filtering too. And then I use that video to do further things to the marionette."

The colored filters that Hatchett uses give the videos with a non-linear, abstract quality that infuse her static sculptures with a kinetic aspect that makes them appear to move or shift about. For those of you who are J.R.R. Tolkien fans, think Treebeard and the Ents.

But Hatchett also uses performers to provide further movement. Besides herself and her husband and fellow artist David Hatchett, popular local actor Trace Meier often appears in Paper Grotto performances.

"He’s so gifted. He’s one of the first people I met here in Fort Myers," she said of Trace Meier. "He was in Kiss Me Kate. He was the lead. And like I’m ‘I love this guy, he’s like Broadway-worthy’ and then when he was willing to perform with us I was totally honored and thrilled to have him, and he’s been pretty much a regular in my shows ever since."

Dressed in white and wearing dog heads, the actors become part of Hatchett’s activated projection screen. And they don’t just interact with each other and the paper sculptures. Hatchett provides them with toys because, after all, what dog doesn’t enjoy playing with toys?

There’s a long tradition in theater of actors wearing animal heads, but religious and spiritual metaphors aside, dogs resonate with the audiences who turn out for Paper Grotto performances, especially children. On more than one occasion, a child has come out of the audience to pet the dogs on stage, as happened when they were performing in New Orleans several years ago during a fringe film festival.

"A kid walked on stage … a little kid, like maybe a five-year-old … and started petting us on the head. There were four of us in the show. We didn’t want to scare the kid, so we got down on our hands and knees and the kid’s petting on us the head," she recalled. "And the mom’s like, ‘Come here, come here.’ No, he wanted to stay in the show. It was a real primal response from a kid who has no awareness of anything other than this is good, and I think I had that same kind of response from people who’d never seen performance art and maybe weren’t that sophisticated about art in general."

In addition to the sculpture, actors, and colorful video, Paper Grotto Live! has come to be known for its music. Lily’s husband, David, wrote a song called “Shadow World” that’s particularly appropriate in Paper Grotto performances. But while they have their own original prerecorded soundtrack, Hatchett and her team relish performing to the musical accompaniment provided by Kat Epple, and other local musicians such as Nathan Dyke and Sonic Combine.

"The music really influences the performance. It’s not about whether it live or recorded. It’s about what’s playing," she said. "All my performers like working with Kat because she has that beautiful, melodious flute thing going on that’s really cool."

A Peabody, Edward R Murrow, and EMMY Award-winning composer and flutist, Epple has released 42 original music albums, composed film scores for National Geographic, Nova and Valentino Fashions, and has performed at the United Nations and museums around the world including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim and Bob Rauschenberg Gallery. And she’ll be performing with Paper Grotto at the opening of the Grant Recipient Show.

So make plans to visit the Fort Myers River District during Art Walk on Friday, May 6th and drop by the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center around 7:30 for the performance of Paper Grotto Live. For WGCU News, this is Tom Hall.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.

Lily’s husband, David, knew Louise Nevelson. Both he and Lily are very conversant with her body of work and Lily is extremely flattered by any comparisons of her Paper Grotto environments with Dawn’s Forest.

  • The tradition of theater masks and animal heads dates back to the ancient Greeks, who employed them so that actors could play several different characters, including the gods who often took the form of various animals. The improvisational commedia dell'arte that originated in Italy in the 15th century also used exaggerated masks to identify characters and in Japanese Noh theatre, masks were worn as early as the 14th century to represent a variety of characters, including nonhumans, children and old men.
  • Hatchett uses white paper because its diaphanous translucence becomes an ambient light catcher when seen in full light. But when light is projected onto the white paper, it takes on a mysterious “3rd dimension.”
  • Hatchett’s first Paper Grotto Live performance took place in New York City in 2007. After she and her husband relocated to Southwest Florida in 2008, Hatchett orchestrated a two-day live-action multimedia art event featuring art, music, dance, fashion, video presentations, performances, and a DJ and dance party at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. This Global Warming Art Report extravaganza did not include a Paper Grotto performance, but Lily did project video onto a makeshift white paper screen.
  • In addition to New York City and the New Orleans Fringe Festival in 2014, Hatchett and company have performed Paper Grotto Live! at Florida Gulf Coast University Black Box Theatre in 2012; Miami Art Week in Wynwood in 2013 through 2016 and in 2019 as well; Shangri-La Springs Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs from 2017 through 2019 during its free Art & Nature Community Nights; Bob Rauschenberg Gallery in 2019; Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in September of 2017 to open the City of Fort Myers Individual Artist Grant Recipient Show; Everglades Wonder Gardens during Masque Soiree in March of 2021; and the historic Langford-Kingston Home in November of 2021 to open the City’s COVID-delayed Biennial Individual Artist Grant Recipient Show.
  • In 2013, Hatchett produced a very unusual fashion show that incorporated elements of Paper Grotto, during which models hiding behind her paper creations surprised the audience.
  • Born in Belgrade, Lily was raised in Paris, Honolulu and Ohio before moving to New York City to become immersed in the latter’s arts and cultural scene.
  • Lily received her bachelor’s degree at Antioch College in Ohio, where she studied staging, rigging, inflatable architecture, prototype 5 (covering one acre of land), early childhood education and fine arts. She earned her master’s in fine arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art, LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting in Baltimore. She moved to Fort Myers in 2007.
  • Hatchett has received individual artist grants from the City of Fort Myers in 2020, 2018, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010 and 2009, along with a grant from the Meisenberg Family Foundation in 2020 and grants from Buffalo and New York City. Among her awards and accolades are a 2013 sculpture award from the Alliance for the Arts and a Paper Art Award from Big Arts in Sanibel.