Bill Shannon

At age five, Bill Shannon (b.1970) evolved through playing with peers to a specialized movement vocabulary on crutches due to a rare hip condition. In the 1980's Shannon, no longer needing his crutches, became immersed in the emergent youth cultures of hip-hop and skateboarding. In the 1990's, during the reemergence of his hip condition, Bill won a full scholarship to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, during which time his work was presented at the Cleveland Performance Art Festival and the Walker Art Center. Upon graduation from his independent course of study at SAIC, Shannon moved to New York City where he fused his history of childhood play on crutches with his contemporary kinetic expressions of hip-hop and skateboarding. The result was a singular style of mobility, performance art and dance, requiring a series of innovative designs and fabrications of modified crutches to enable the advancement of the form.

While in New York, Shannon received fellowships from the Guggenheim and the Foundation for Contemporary Art, and his works were presented at PS122, Dance Theater Workshop, and The Kitchen, in NY and among others globally. In 1999 The New York Times hailed Shannon's form as "defying gravity" as his name grew in underground street dance battles including the Rocksteady Crew Anniversary Battle and Seattle's Freestyle Sessions Dance Competition. A fixture at NYC’s famed Club Shelter, Shannon became a lifetime member of the internationally renowned StepFēnz Crew.

In 2001 Bill was offered a starring role in a Cirque Du Soleil production, Varekai. but opted to become part of the creative team and train an understudy who would tour with the show. In 2004, expecting their second child, Bill and his partner relocated to Pittsburgh, where he continued to work in performance, utilizing video installation and metal sculpture in solo works for the stage and street while taking on a stronger art activist direction. Supplementing his work as a performer, Bill lectures on his performance practice at universities and conferences around the world and sells his visual art through galleries and fairs. Bill currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA with his partner Leah and three children Arto, Rio and Rex. Shannon’s life and creative work are the subject of a documentary film in progress, The Art of Weightlessness.

In 2016 Shannon was awarded a National Dance Project Production Award from New England Foundation for the Arts, to support the development of his latest work,Touch Update. Currently Bill Shannon is a Fellow of the Frank Ratchye Studio For Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh where he also lives with his wife Leah and their three children Arto, Rio and Rex.

Work in Development | April 3 - 14, 2017

Touch Update

Bill Shannon comes to MANCC as a Visiting Artist for his first residency to develop Touch Update, which combines movement, wearable projection technology and video installation to explore the significant and often subtle implications of physical human contact in the digital era. The project dissects and dismantles the multiple online identities we create in order to offer the world a curated window into our lives—a version that masks and manipulates our lived experience.

As part of the creation process, Shannon stages performances in public spaces that are observed by a handful of “artist witnesses” who then document the experience through their creative lenses. These responses are shared as unique documents that replace the ubiquitous “proof” of digital photography and disrupt the primacy of video as an immutable form of record.

On stage, dancers inhabit sculptural fragmentations of themselves, breaking out via text messages and emoticons in search of an exquisite embrace. Cubist-inspired wearable video masks present the performers’ pre-recorded and scripted faces, as real emotions are expressed beneath—digital identities overlaid on “real" life. Embedded in technology, the performers reveal their yearning to connect, as a choreography emerges in which bodies learn to navigate mobility in the absence of apparatus.

For over 27 years, Shannon has been creating groundbreaking choreographies of personal, political and cultural significance by exploring the social constructions that surround disabled bodies, and developing movement techniques that formulate virtuosic new mobilities. He also has a noted history of examining and experimenting with urban art forms through translating them into theatrical contexts, inventing audience solutions to protect them in their naturally occurring street environs and mixing them with circus arts.

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