BATAVIA – It’s hard for Greta Bell to describe her colorful and animated R/Evolving Circus performance art piece.
Simply put, it’s an 8-foot-tall carousel that’s powered by a bicycle. While it spins, it displays colorful oil paintings of treasured items that hold a lot of significance to someone.
“It doesn’t matter where I go ... people say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’ and I say, ‘You never will again because it’s really unusual,’” she said.
Bell, who lives in Batavia, has been working on the piece since October 2011, when fellow artist Jim Jenkins of Geneva helped her build the carousel. Initially, the carousel was 12-feet tall, making it too large to travel with. Jenkins helped scale it down to 8 feet in height, and since the spring, Bell has been able to travel with the R/Evolving Circus, otherwise known as Our Evolving Circus.
Her goal, she said, is to bring the carousel to places where people might not have as much access to art, such as schools in certain areas, nursing homes and even prisons. It takes her about two hours to assemble the piece, and once it’s up, people can read the stories of sentiment associated with each painting.
The paintings are of objects, such as a cassette tape, a chandelier, a wood stove and a wheelbarrow. Bell also has been collecting narratives of the memories tied to each piece.
“It’s a whimsical thing,” she said. “It’s just for fun and to make people happy.”
But in order for the R/Evolving Circus to come to life, Bell said she needs people to participate by sending her their stories and memories through her website, www.gretabell.com.
That’s how it evolves, she said.
So far, Bell has painted 35 of what she calls stories on pieces of canvas, which measure 2-by-4 feet. She said her goal is to paint one piece of canvas each month to keep the circus evolving. To date, she’s taken her circus to Canada; the most eastern part of mainland in the United States, which is in Maine; New York; and Vermont.
“It’s very, very fun and rewarding,” she said. “I want to do it for at least 35 more years. I’m not really a traveler, but this forces me to get out of my comfort zone.”
She said the piece tends to draw all sorts of people, including those who are purely interested in the mechanics of the carousel and those who are drawn to the bright, colorful paintings. A pair of puppets, who are dressed to match Jenkins and Bell, also help draw interest, Bell said.
“I get to draw in a whole section of people who wouldn’t care about, quote unquote, art,” she said.
Bell’s R/Evolving Circus will be on display at the Art in Your Eye festival in Batavia on Saturday, Sept. 21, and Sunday, Sept. 22. People can watch her set up the carousel starting at 10 a.m. each day, and Bell said she plans to give a short 15-minute presentation and read some of the stories associated with her pieces at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Bell said she couldn’t have executed the piece without the help of her family and strong community support. She said she hopes the piece simply brings joy to peoples’ lives because it’s reminiscent of the joy she felt as a child when something new and exciting would come along.
“I’m hesitant to sell anything,” she said of her canvas paintings. “I’m just creating a little bit of joy and making people feel special.”