Believe it or not, The Color Condition started with costumes and show skiing. Dallas native Sunny Sliger had always possessed an adoration for the long-lost sport (not to mention a fondness for playing dress-up). Sliger was making costumes for an upcoming event with her show skiing team at a small lake in Fort Worth. Marianne Newsom, a textile designer for Fossil at the time, was an acquaintance of Sliger’s through Dallas’ tight-knit arts scene. A seamstress by trade, Newsom offered to help Sliger finish sewing the show ski costumes, which featured strips of fabric as accents that would dance and shimmy in the wind during the performance.
“I brought my sewing machine, and we stayed up all night,” Newsom recalls fondly. It was the beginning of a connection, and an idea, that would change the course of their lives.
Eight years later, the duo that goes by The Color Condition is making its Technicolor footprint across the country with Sliger and Newsom’s signature streamer installations. In Texas, you may have seen them at Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival, SXSW, or El Cosmico in Marfa; in the U.S., their colored installations have taken them everywhere from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York City to a houseboat in a small coastal town in Washington.
They kept up their full-time jobs for a few years—Newsom at Fossil and Sliger as an art teacher—while they kept the streamer side business running. “Quitting your job is scary,” Newsom admits. “Plus, we were leaving everything behind for plastic streamers,” she laughs.
THE SOUND OF COLOR
It’s a breezy, overcast Friday morning in Austin, where the city is abuzz with the influx of visitors from around the world attending the annual SXSW tech and music conference. Newsom, an Austin native and avid yogi who recently moved back to her hometown, has turned a blank wall along South Congress’ Austin Motel into a full-spectrum rainbow of streamers. Some people aren’t quite sure what it is, but they’re intrigued enough to get a closer look.
A woman and a young girl walk past the wall of streamers, each using a cane to gently feel the sidewalk in front of them. As the girl brushes against the streamers, she turns to the woman and smiles, erupting with laughter.
It was a beautiful moment to have been able to witness. Newsom nods in agreement. “There are so many ways to experience it,” she says. During a TEDxSMU talk, Newsom told a similar anecdote about a young girl who was blind but was curious to see the installation after hearing the sound it produced from farther away. The young girl walks with her hands outstretched and runs her fingers through the brightly colored material.
“Can you imagine the kinds of colors this girl must be feeling?” Newsom asks.
The installations designed for outdoor spaces and festivals are often used as a focal point to “activate,” or draw foot traffic to, a particular location (such as a VIP entrance or a designated children’s area).
So long as their work continues to bring joy, remind us to appreciate the little things and live in the (present) moment, Newsom and Sliger will find new, creative ways to illustrate their message.
Like yin and yang, Newsom and Sliger are a complementary pair. “I think we balance each other out,” Newsom says of their dynamic as teammates, business partners, creatives and friends.
POWER IN TRANSFORMATION
Themes of transformation, mindfulness and impermanence are also at play in the artists’ work. After all, no two installations will ever be the same, as each design is specific to the venue or outdoor space. Elements like industrial fans and gusts of wind give movement and energy to the thousands of flexible yet durable streamers all cut by hand from hundreds of plastic tablecloths.
They installed “Arcade,” a large-scale piece in downtown Houston near the George R. Brown Convention Center in 2017. Hurricane Harvey hit after it was completed, and as a result, the convention center became a rescue shelter for displaced Houstonians, despite a few weathered areas and torn streamers.
“Arcade” remained standing. Its colorful ribbons rustling as if it were an act of defiance, it reiterated that public art doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive to be appreciated. Upon their return to the convention center, Sliger and Newsom placed a woven “HOUSTON STRONG” banner out front, which served as a landmark for victims, volunteers and Texans to gather. It took on an identity that was exactly what the community needed it to be at the time: a symbol of unity and resilience.
“Stanley Marcus and Raymond Nasher were all about bringing art to the public in an accessible way,” Sliger says. Likewise, the beauty of The Color Condition lies in its transience, a reflection of the human condition.
“Once we create an installation, we have no control,” Sliger says. “It’s the space itself, the natural elements and the people that bring the work to life.”