“Between Light & Shadow: Objects and Evidence” by Cave Dogs at Jane St. Art Center | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Every child experiments with shadow projection, forming their fingers into dancing silhouettes of rabbits and bats. "It's something we all know," says Suzanne Stokes.

Stokes is cofounder of Cave Dogs, a performance troupe that's been telling stories with shadows for 31 years. "Between Light & Shadow: Objects and Evidence" is the first art show to display their props, as well as costumes, still photos, and videos of their performances. The exhibition, at the Jane St. Art Center in Saugerties, continues until July 31.

Cave Dogs began as an art project. Suzanne Stokes was working on her MFA in metal sculpture, and became more intrigued by the shadows her objects cast than by the sculptures themselves. As part of her master's thesis, she gave a shadow play performance at SUNY New Paltz's McKenna Theatre. Her sculptures had come to life.

Plato compared the entire visible world to shadows on the walls of a cave. Cave Dogs made that metaphor quite literal in their first performance at the Widow Jane Mine, a former cement quarry in Rosendale. The venue gave birth to their name.

The backstage personnel are also performers. All of them are grips, actors, lighting technicians. Cave Dogs uses both front projection—a video projector in front of the screen—and rear projection (a second projector behind the screen), sometimes simultaneously. The performers behind the scenes also carry independent light sources. The show for them is an intricate dance of flashlights, shadow-casting cutouts, and pantomime. "Everything we're doing backstage is backwards of what you're seeing," cofounder James Fossett explains. "We're doing everything backwards, and in the dark." One connotation of their name is that they work like dogs.

Dean Jones and Emerson Fossett produce the prerecorded music.

The team uses a wide variety of materials to generate shadows: wood, acetate, cardboard, metal, paper. They tend to avoid glass because it can break in the backstage darkness and become hazardous. Cave Dogs often tours, so the props must be portable. Some roll up; others divide into pieces to be reassembled.

Not all the shadows are black. Translucent colored stencils cast images of various hues. In a violet-tinted photograph titled Tree Puller Rain, a woman wearing a flower wreath—or is she a fairy?—creeps through a forest in a furious rainstorm. Cave Dogs is known for its experiments with scale. Because of the magic of optics, a 24-inch cutout can represent a 20-foot-tall tree.

When you shine a light on most objects, the shadow is not recognizable. That's why Cave Dogs cast member Adam Mastropaolo had to build a fake (three-dimensional) sewing machine, which is in the exhibition. Nearby, a video from the show "Sure-Minded Uncertainties" (2013) reveals the sewing machine at work. At first, fabric passes through it—then actual people! No wonder children at all chronological stages enjoy this troupe.

In the rear of the Jane St. Art Center, some of the cutouts may be seen in action, shooting out alluring shadow-shapes.

Both Fossett and Stokes are art professors at SUNY New Paltz when they aren't telling tales with light and shade. (She teaches sculpture; he specializes in video and photography.)

Cave Dogs will also perform their most recent show, "Liquid States"—about the increasingly crucial resource of water—at Upstate Films' Orpheum Theatre in Saugerties on July 1 at 2:30pm. There will be a Q&A after the show, at Jane St. Art Center.

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