‘Cville Galaxy’ challenges the Guinness World Record

“I have a really firm belief that everyone in Charlottesville has a creative piece to them, and we need to find ways to bring that out of them,” says PauseLab’s Matthew Slaats (center). He leads a team of community members in a quest to break the Guinness World Record for largest cardboard sculpture at the IX Art Park on Saturday. Photo by Eze Amos “I have a really firm belief that everyone in Charlottesville has a creative piece to them, and we need to find ways to bring that out of them,” says PauseLab’s Matthew Slaats (center). He leads a team of community members in a quest to break the Guinness World Record for largest cardboard sculpture at the IX Art Park on Saturday. Photo by Eze Amos

According to Guinness World Records, the world’s largest cardboard sculpture, a massive 33′ x 33′ cardboard castle built in April and decorated by art students, is located in D-Park mall in Kowloon, Hong Kong, China.

But probably not for long.

Matthew Slaats has plans for IX Art Park to take over that honor on September 10, with a 35′ x 35′ “Cville Galaxy,” planned around an 18′ cardboard rocket ship surrounded by curls of smoke, stars, planets, a telescope, statue and other objects all made of new and recycled cardboard.

Slaats, former director of The Bridge PAI, is now creative director of PauseLab, a Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission-sponsored placemaking and design-thinking initiative. He says he began PauseLab years ago when living in New York, as a way to “use art and activity to get people to engage with their city in a new way.” He hopes “Cville Galaxy” will do just that.

Maia Shortridge, a local high school student who helped develop the project, says the galaxy theme “represents a new C’ville that has endless possibilities and is open to your own imagination and interpretation, just like a new galaxy.”

“For some people, especially children, public art is their only chance to experience and see art,” and “we really wanted to give communities a chance to express themselves and have their voice heard through art,” Shortridge says.

Slaats and Shortridge, along with Deveny Watson (another high-schooler) and a team of volunteers, have already started to build the structure. They plan to create the smoke for the rocket ship during the community event at IX; people will be invited to write their hopes for Charlottesville’s future on the cardboard clouds coming from the rocket boosters.

“Cville Galaxy” will kick off the beCville project, a yearlong venture that enables residents of the south side of Charlottesville to decide how they will spend $15,000 on public art. They can choose to fund after-school art programs, community block parties, murals of important local figures, mixtapes of neighborhood music or just about any other creative endeavor.

Slaats hopes the cardboard sculpture project spurs the imagination and in the process provokes greater social connectedness among Charlottesvillians. Our community can be so overwhelmed by heavy challenges, says Slaats, citing economic inequality and improving education, that we often don’t know where to begin solving them.

By doing something creative, he says, people start talking more. They open up, get to know each other. They build relationships through small projects like building a cardboard rocket ship and galaxy, and thus will be more capable of tackling big issues together. The more connected we are, the stronger we can be together, says Slaats, whether they break the Guinness World Record or not.

Just super

Kary-OK? is a jilted bride deep in the midst of an emotional purge. “It’s pretty serious,” Sidney Lyon says of her Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestling persona, but she has a catharsis: karaoke.

On stage, Kary-OK? is emotionally unpredictable; one moment she’s flouncing her wedding dress and laughing with her bridesmaids, the next minute she’s crying hysterically between bouts of singing anthems of heartbreak and fitfully eating fistfuls of stale wedding cake.

The character is all about calling into question how society views love and romance; we tend to hold our partners to impossibly high standards and thus find ourselves disappointed, Lyon says, adding, “I like to rifle through my emotional baggage on stage.”

Lady arm wrestling is part pageant, part philanthropy, and on September 11, Lyon will head down to SuperCLAW in New Orleans to compete with lady arm wrestlers from all over the country and raise money for Project Ishmael, a legal clinic mostly for undocumented minors.


Here’s who Kary-OK? will attempt to strongarm into submission in New Orleans: Pearl of the Atlantic (Portland, Maine), Steel Magnolia (New Orleans), Angela Slamsbury (Durham, North Carolina), Minnie Mayhem (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), Sister Patricia Pistolwhip (Los Angeles), Marie ARMtoinette (Olympia, Washington), Gina Tonic (Austin, Texas)

Kary-OK? didn’t have to defeat the likes of Charlottesville’s Cat Hiss Everman, Princess DIEries, Debutaint, Don Toe-lee-own, SparKILLS or Nance Armstrong to get to SuperCLAW. “Due to our hectic upper-body workout schedules” the wrestlers don’t have a lot of extra time to travel, Lyon jokes. She was available, though, so she’s packed up Kary-OK’s wedding dress, rounded up her entourage of bridesmaids and even practiced a new karaoke tune, John Legend’s “All of Me.” With lines such as “You’ve got my head spinning, no kidding, I can’t pin you down,” and “You’re crazy and I’m out of my mind,” Lyon says this is a particularly fun one to belt out while in character.

Prepping for SuperCLAW is “kind of like getting ready for a wedding,” Lyon says with a laugh.

Lyon notes that since CLAW began in Charlottesville, it has raised more than $80,000 for women’s and children’s programs in the community, and she’s excited to embody Kary-OK? on a national stage for a good cause. “It doesn’t get any better than theatrical, philanthropic lady arm wrestling,” she says.

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