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The Signature Project



                              By R. Pikser



The Signature Project is an immense (76x36 feet) painting of the sun, the seasons, the universe, nature, and one glowing heart.  The painting is composed of many panels, as one might expect of such a large piece.  But that is only the most obvious level of this conceptual work.  Each panel that makes up one tiny part of the large picture, is composed of the signatures of the people who have viewed the painting.


As Patrick Dunning, the painter and presenter of the evening, speaks to us about the many elements that make up the panels and the painting, we see photographs of these people morphing into each other and we learn a tiny bit of their stories, much as a signature is a tiny bit of who a person is.  The signatures have been digitized and color coded, then transformed into larger images, so that one would not know that signatures make up the larger work. 



Photos: Ingrid Butler


The project is also the telling, on stage, of how the work has developed over the twenty-six years of its creation.  That creation involves, besides the signatures and the overall picture itself, underlying layerings of X-rays, Morse code, Theremin vibrations, and the thought that has gone into making this project.  One must follow Mr. Dunning beyond the range of what it is normally possible for us to see and hear in order to apprehend his work.  Mr. Dunning speaks, and thinks, of the space between things as being not empty, but full.  There are colors we cannot usually see, sounds we cannot usually hear, and thoughts we do not normally take the time to think.


Another level of interconnectedness is the theatrical presentation itself, by Mr. Dunning and his actor/musician/dancer colleagues, including his brother in Ireland who speaks to the audience and plays the flute for all of us in real time.  Each of these elements makes different aspects of the painting come to life for us, in their present and in their past, which becomes present.  Mr. Dunning, though he has crossed the United States multiple times presenting this work, seemed to be speaking about his work for the first time, to just this group, as he described the work and its history and its levels.  We expect this discipline from theatrical performers, not necessarily from painters, but Mr. Dunning is nothing if not a perfectionist.  He moves us from the intimate and specific, like his black and white family photographs, to the universal, to the hidden, then back again, each time showing us how to look at things from different perspectives so as to uncover more.  His use of technology is integral, not only as it hides and reveals itself in the painting, but in the performance.  All aspects of the evening partake of this consummate professional care, including the young Irish dancers from the Aherne Sheehan School of Irish Dance.  One presumes dancers are found from local schools across the country as Mr. Dunning travels, but one expects that, no matter where they are from, they will be professional.


The journey we are taken on is like a recursive meditation.  An example:  We begin with one panel of the painting, move to the old black and white photographs projected onto a scrim, to projections of stars and flowers also onto the scrim, which then spill beyond the proscenium to surround us.  We are taken back to the scrim, where we see a glowing heart like the one that is the center of the painting; suddenly it appears on Mr. Dunning’s black t-shirt, then he plucks it off and holds its light on his fingertips for a moment before casting it away, into the universe perhaps.


Like all good art, this presentation summons magic.  The real magic of this evening is the transformative effect it has on the audience.  Which of us will ever be totally unaware of our connectedness to the stars and the cliffs of Ireland, the butterflies and the snowflakes, and to each other after this evening, especially after we have added our signatures to the project?



The Signature Project

March 8th -25th 2018

The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture      

18 Bleecker Street      

New York, NY

(212) 925-2812.

Box Office Hours: M-F: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. & One Hour before Performances

Tickets $45-$55