Off the Walls in Z Space

For the past year, Artist Fellow Sarah Wilson and her artistic partner Catch Me Bird have been creating Off the Walls, a multimedia performance based on the de Young Museum’s iconic painting Aspiration (1936) by Aaron Douglas. On September 20, the world premiere of Off the Walls will take flight in the Koret Auditorium at the de Young. Today we highlight Z Space, one of the project’s collaborating partners, whose technical residencies offer artists and performers the time and resources to experiment with various staging elements and production designs integral to the creative process.

Z Space B_W

Photo by Adrian Arias

As indicated by its name, Z Space’s institutional goals are defined by space, both architectural and metaphorical—space to work, to think, and to creatively solve artistic problems. According to executive artistic director Lisa Steindler, “Because development is such a core tenet of the Z Space mission, we wanted to explore innovative ways of utilizing our space. We were looking around the field wondering, ‘How can we help facilitate and raise the quality of the work that’s out there? How can we support organizations, projects, and artists to get to where they want to go?’”

Z Space upside down

Photo by Adrian Arias

When you enter Z Space, there is an immediate sensation that you’ve entered a creative hub. The offices sit against a backdrop of Gothic windows set in brick walls that harken back to the building’s days as a factory. In the exhibition space, a candelabra made of lights and cords hangs over a black-walled gallery of new art. Behind these walls is a private workspace where artists ensconce themselves to mine and test out new ideas.

Z Space Windows

Photo courtesy Z Space

For two weeks in August, the Off the Walls ensemble and their technical crew took up residence in the 13,000-square-foot studio. After they constructed the truss, secured the rigging, and turned on the lights, Catch Me Bird dove into the difficult task of choreographing an original aerial performance that will make up Off the Walls, set to Sarah Wilson’s music.


Photo courtesy FAMSF

Providing this type of technical space is still a challenge for many museums. Although they have a longstanding history of exhibiting and caring for works of art, many museums have only recently begun to open their doors to performing artists, allowing them to inhabit and enliven museum spaces through performance. A multimedia event that brings together Wilson's original compositions, aerial, dance, spoken word, and video projections, Off the Walls captures the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance and brings new life to one of the de Young’s most iconic paintings.

Aspiration Live

Photo by Adrian Arias

In its role as an Artist Fellows collaborating partner, Z Space has served as a perfect compliment to the de Young. At the de Young, Off the Walls will celebrate key places in the museum, including Drawn Stone by Andy Goldsworthy in the main entrance, Wilsey Court, and Koret Auditorium, where Aspiration will literally come “off the walls.”

Don’t miss the world premiere of Off the Walls in the de Young’s Koret Auditorium on Thursday, September 20 at 7 pm, Friday, September 21 at 7 pm, and Saturday, September 22 at 2 pm.

Tickets are on sale now!