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ArtPrize Artist Profile: Dave Ford, swinging into sound

Dave Ford has created an artful connection between the joy of swinging and sound. With his Swing Set Drum Kit, participants can explore sound through a unique mode and leave never to think of swing sets or sounds in the same way.
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The Swing Set Drum Kit all set up at Calder Plaza!

The Swing Set Drum Kit all set up at Calder Plaza! /Mark Spohn

One of the many noise makers!

One of the many noise makers! /Mark Spohn

“Come on! Grab a Swing!” says the artist Dave Ford as he reaches out and directs several adults toward one of the three fuzzy white seats. As if they were kids that received permission to do something they never expected approval for, they cautiously approach the carefully engineered swings. The once cautious bystanders become a part of the piece, carefree, chuckling back and forth, bringing a beam of satisfaction to Ford's face. Standing over six feet tall, Ford wears a black coat carefully sprinkled with white paint. Parts of his "Swing Set Drum Kit" still lie on the ground in a box. Exchanging “thank you’s” with those around him, Ford continues to connect the final pegs, shoes, playing cards, bells and other ear-catching noisemakers. The closer one explores the "Swing Set Drum Kit" the more intricate the piece becomes. Each swing is individually connected to its own set of dings, booms, clicks and clacks. How the series of noises will play is dictated by how fast or slow one swings. When all three swings are up and running, it’s hard to look away.

Ford started drawing as a kid.

“I never really stopped. I remember when a student from another school recognized me as a really good artist. That was my first real confidence boost,” says Ford. He continued to pursue his passion for art throughout college and received a BFA in Sculpture from Grand Valley State University in 2003.

“I would love to be a full time artist,” he says, though he has yet to achieve such a goal. Still, Ford has found a way to integrate art into his occupations. When he drove trucks for a living, he placed pencils on the bottom of bottles and suspended them in the air over the floorboards. Whenever the truck would move or bounce the pencils would map the movement on the large sheets of paper below. He took several trips across the country and each time the pencils mapped his travels.

“I try to find a source of energy and go from there,” Ford explains. He has objectives, but the pieces themselves take shape as he creates them. “I really don’t know what they will look like until I am done. The properties of movement dictate the shape of the piece.”

One day while at the park with his kids, Ford thought it would be a neat idea to incorporate drums and percussion into the swings—to create a connection between the movement of the swings and the variants of percussion. He didn’t really know how to achieve it, but that’s when he began to put pen to paper.

“In the creation process a piece will really ask its own questions. In some ways it makes my job a lot easier,” he says. It took Ford roughly seven weeks to construct and it has evolved several times over the year since its creation.

"The squeak is a brand new edition,” he jokes with a bystander, “just came in today!” Depending on how fast or slow an individual swings, different beats and noises emerge from the piece. It may be an old leather shoe landing on a bell, or a bucket landing on a rubber horn or a drumstick clicking through the spokes of a wheel on its stammered trip to the head of a bass drum. The "Swing Set Drum Kit" not only allows us to relive our childhood swing set memories, it also creates an opportunity for kids and adults to analyze and explore aspects of music and sound in a unique way.

“If someone can stop and enjoy my work and never think of a swing the same ever again then I’m happy," Ford explains.

Ford helps people think outside the normal for five minutes and creates a memory for all of those who participate and witness his work.

Ford has competed in ArtPrize before.

“I like it a lot, it’s a great experience,” he says. For him it is not about competition.

“With so many people that come through, why not enter?” he says. You can see the enjoyment in Ford’s eyes when others find pleasure in his work. The more children, parents and grandparents that can come through and see his piece the better.

To Ford, art is something that changes you. It may be the way you think about an object or feel about an ideal; nevertheless in one-way or another, art changes the viewer, he says. Ford knows he has seen a good piece when he gets jealous about it. He loves that it is out there and that it exists, but it drives him back to his shop so he can work out his next piece.

Ford’s "Swing Set Drum Set" will be on display in Calder Plaza from Sept. 19 – Oct. 6, and is part of the work from curatorial team Adoration Detroit.

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