The days have been warm recently. The last heat of summer is slowly entering the trees. The nights are growing longer, and when the wind is suddenly filled with the smell of decomposing leaves, I feel the call to be outside, to experience the changes and vibrancy of this time of year. I want to say, “Come out from indoors. Come out to experience the real world around us.”
I went to the 2012/2013 Jerome Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition over the weekend, and I felt the same way. The Jerome Foundation Fellowships have supported emerging artists since 1981. The fellowship comes with $10,000, studio visits from professional critics, technical assistance, and a culminating exhibition. It is one of the premier individual artist awards in Minnesota. The opening was full of people wanting to see that work, to support that legacy of emerging artists, to see who the Jerome Foundation had selected as the artists to continue watching, but I wanted to say, “Come out from the gallery. Come out to experience the real world around us. The work in the exhibition is good and interesting within the gallery, but it has truly come to life as I have lived with it outside, in the real world.”
The installation of One Another, Michael Hoyt‘s bicycle drawn mobile drawing table and drawings of community members he asks to sit with him in parks, playgrounds, and public spaces, is a small distillation of a project that can only exist outside the gallery. The drawings point to longer interactions and conversations that cannot exist in the static space of the exhibition. The questions of what those conversations were and why the participants did not draw have lingered. I have lived with the multitude of imagined portraits of Hoyt all week.
Amanda Hankerson‘s The Hankersons pulls me similarly into the lives of the many Hankerson families she has photographed. The physical presence of the large portraits reinforces the fact that the work is more than a tumblr of related images. Beyond the gallery, I can see into the lives of the other Hankerson families across the country, as they seem to contemplate the trajectory of their own lives more within the collective life of a group of strangers with the same name.
Melissa Loop pushes me away from the internet similarly. Her move away from her former landscapes inspired by endless internet images to the acid skies and dripping, decrepit buildings within the landscapes of the exhibition has inflected my own looking at the buildings we live in, the landscapes that decay around us. Her landscapes feel lived in, repopulated from the emptiness of place online with a flatness that I recall when I see the flickering blue of a television in a curtained room, a depth of life beneath the veneer of exterior walls.
Susannah Bielak’s ongoing project Vientos investigates the wind, “a force made visible by its impact on other things.” The video and static work she presents explore the visible impacts of wind, power, ideals of perfection, but they exist in an environment devoid of any atmospheric turbulence. The impacts of wind, the implications of its layered associations are mediated, but the associations have returned again and again as the wind rushes around me, as I hear wind chimes out my windows, as the piles of leaves change overnight. The ghostly hands of the wind are inescapable. We may grow inured to the way it shapes our lives, but I have started feeling its presence again in the way we talk, the way we interact.
The figures in Lauren Roche‘s paintings partially emerge from darkness, faces, hands, mouths, animals suffused with a palpable energy that is exponentially multiplied by the number of works in the exhibition. The figures are grounded in another reality that continues to speak to me beyond the gallery. I do not speak their language, but they tell me that their transformation from notebook page to finished painting is full of the answers to questions I do not know how to ask.
I often prefer work that forces me to spend time with it, durational works, books, music, film. My understanding of those works changes throughout my experience of them. One of the pleasures of visual art is its immediacy, its more instantaneous consumption. The deeper pleasure is in works that linger, that seed my mind with thoughts, explorations, and revelations that slowly unfold. As I put on sweaters and put up storm windows, I will rest assured that the outside world continues to exist within the indoors we are preparing.
With Venice still in the air and the anticipation of the Whitney hanging over us, the world is changing around me, and I cannot help but draw analogies to the art ecosystem. The squash in my neighbor’s garden is swelling. The layers of crushed acorns are growing, and I have seen the first abandoned leaves start to fall. It is the imminent bursting of milkweed pods and the reminder of the larvae they fed, however, that provides the visual catalyst for ,,, the third Minnesota Biennial that opened at The Soap Factory last weekend. A Nabokovian menagerie, ,,, is a series of butterflies.
The flashiest, brightest butterflies do not need to fly past us to catch our attention. They overwhelm all of our senses. The Basketball Team‘s Sgt. Moore wafts the smell of whiskey throughout the gallery. The looping, Reichian patterns of Nate Young‘s Untitled (Soul Clap no. 1) echo in the silence of the distant companion video Untitled (Soul Clap no. 2). The shuttering of the 16mm projector pulls us into Stefanie Motta‘s Seeing. The drone of the prepared keyboard inside 7-Sided Room with Painted Floor by Andrew Mazorol and Tynan Kerr permeates the galleries and intensifies the rarefied air inside the room.
Some of the butterflies stun us visually. The mountain of fabric of RO/LU‘s Here There Then, Here There Now is inescapable, and Broc Blegen‘s larger than life cut outs of Scrooge McDuck comics, from Allen Ruppersberg, Big Trouble, highlight the bleak portrayal of ego and money in the public art world in the cutout prints on the walls behind them. If taste and touch feel left out, the popcorn from Jess Hirsch‘s reikiwave makes its way throughout the biennial in the greasy hands of visitors, and Adam Caillier and Michael Mott gently enfold us in the absences and presences of Negative Air Room.
Other butterflies are camouflaged, hiding right in front of us, disguising themselves or only revealing their beauty on closer inspection. Allen Brewer and Pamela Valfer‘s mediations of each other’s work are subtle; the twin pieces of The Two Darrins flicker between paintings and the moire of screen mesh. The seemingly static shots of Scott Nedrelow‘s three and a half hour Leaving the Atocha Station invite long-term, real-time reading of the novel’s pages. Infinite Field, Peter Happel Christian‘s collection of altered photographs, stacks of glass, carefully placed tools, is a layered reflection of the interiority of image making. The most obviously camouflaged moth is Ben Moren and Daniel Dean‘s Untitled (Selections From the Permanent Collection), a walking video tour through an alternate exhibition, a second exhibition that reveals itself on top of the biennial.
Some of the butterflies are still nestled within their cocoons. The ongoing dance, music, and other performances are as integral to the biennial as any of the static work, revealing themselves slowly, the chrysalis growing transparent before freeing the fully formed winged creature we anticipate seeing. The opening was full of anticipation as those first butterflies opened their wings, taking flight before a full house, continuously beating their wings in the vinyl LP catalog supplement.
Thinking of all of these butterflies and the weight in the air, I cannot help but wonder about all of the other insects I am missing. Mosquitoes and mayflies have come and gone; earthworms continue to transform the soil beneath our feet. The plants and rocks are as necessary as the rain and sun. When we venture out into the wilds, we can bring our butterfly nets, but what other tools do we need to help us see what is there? Do we need a microscope or a rain coat? Does the art ecosystem change as the external world does? Squirrels begin their annual collections, and geese call to us from their veeing south. There will be a tiger in town tonight with its promise of warmer climes. As it passes, will we understand the beauty that surrounds us more clearly?
,,, is on view at The Soap Factory until November 3rd.
Over the weekend, I visited Gamut Gallery in downtown Minneapolis to see Flag Show curated by Lauren Thorson. It was a quiet afternoon, so I spent as much time as I wanted looking at the 23 flags from local and international artists. I even had a tour of their electronic music classroom. The whole experience was normal and wonderful enough, but the problem started when I went to write about the show. As I was writing, I had a dream I was at a poetry reading. It was the most awesome, the funniest poetry reading I have ever been to, and I had to drop everything I had already written to write about it here. When I woke to rain blowing in the windows, I could no longer remember what had been so awesome, and attempting to decipher my notes led nowhere. The dream has stuck with me over the past few days, lingering in the back of my mind, tempting me with the promise of some deeper meaning between the reading and the flag show.
As much as I dug for that meaning, the promise is empty. There is not any deeper meaning to the dream; the dream reading is exactly that. Its lingering around the edges, however, has made me think more deeply about memorable dreams, the ones that wake you with wonder or fright or joy or confusion. They are the dreams we want to tell everyone about, the dreams full of awesome poetry readings and killer parties thrown by Samuel Beckett. They leave us in the morning feeling the vast difference between dreaming and waking life, and they leave us thankful for both.
My favorite dreams these days are the ones closer to life, the walks down familiar streets, the supermarket with fluorescent lights. In the morning, they are clearly dreams too, but I wake to contemplation instead of surprise or relief. Those closer to life dreams linger in my brain longer, maybe because they are easier to remember, maybe because they blur the line between my waking and dreaming lives. The flashier dreams make more of an immediate impact, but the normal dreams burn much longer and slower.
Flags are meant to be visible and memorable, to represent some message, some place, someone. The artists in Flag Show use flags to call attention to the reality and complexity of waking life. Adam Setala’s I Promise To Not Kill You layers visual and textual cues to confuse who is safe from whom. Brian Walbergh’s White Flag for Misplaced Teenage Angst #1 and #2 carry the weight of personal and societal histories in their visibly heavy denim. Lea Devon Sorrentino questions the differences between long-distance and digital communication with #Semaphore.
Other flags in the show leave me with questions, ask me to look harder at what I assume is objective reality. Maison Nue’s NEMO is the unreachable (vacuum sealed) flag of the unreachable Nemo Point. Michael David Franklin’s beautiful, Christine Jorgensen inspired I Don’t Need the Opinions of Others, I Have My Own was so large it was hung over the door, blowing in the air conditioning. It was hidden until after I saw the rest of the flags, and it is the flag that continues to unfold questions in the corners of my mind.
Long after I have left the gallery, I am still wondering: how do flags represent our public and private lives; how do flags shape the future; how else do we lay claim to imagined places; what would NAVA think; does the dream supermarket contain products I can use in waking life?
The McKnight Foundation is one of the major sources of arts funding in Minnesota. The McKnight Foundation believes “Minnesota’s artists are innovators, organizers, and leaders–as critical to our state’s quality of life as other professionals working in business, health, technology, government, education, and other sectors.”
The McKnight Foundation Arts program funds individual artists, artist-service organizations, and all sizes of arts organizations throughout Minnesota. The McKnight Foundation’s Artist Fellowships have recognized and funded individual Minnesota artists since the program’s inception in 1981, and it currently gives around $1.7 million each year through the statewide fellowships. The Fellowships currently fund artists working in ten disciplines: ceramic artists, choreographers, composers, dancers, media artists, musicians, playwrights, theater artists, visual artists, and writers. The Fellowships for each discipline are administered by a relevant arts organization.
The Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) administers the four McKnight Foundation Visual Artist Fellowships, which are given to mid-career artists and include an unrestricted $25,000 stipend to give those artists “unfettered creative time” and to help artists “set aside periods of time for study, reflection, experimentation, and exploration; take advantage of an opportunity; or work on a new project.” MCAD also hosts the annual exhibition for those artists.
The 2012/2013 McKnight Foundation Visual Artist Fellowship Exhibition brings together four very different artists with clearly defined and distinct bodies of work: Jim Denomie’s overflowing landscape paintings and portraits; Chris Larson’s photographs and minimal sculptures of reclaimed demolition debris; Ruben Nusz’s overwhelmingly saturated color field installation; and Natasha Pestich’s created remnants of an incident at an art school.
During my first visit to the exhibition, I was surrounded by teenagers and their parents preparing for summer classes at MCAD. As I navigated among the tables full of keys and emergency contact forms, I was asked more than once if I needed to be shown to my dorm. The nervous teens seemed unsure that they would be responsible for getting themselves up in the morning. Their parents seemed equally worried about leaving their children in the hands of an art school.
The juxtaposition of the mid-career work on the walls and the teenagers was striking. Those mid-career artists were once teenagers. I was once a teenager. The people we were as teenagers have somehow become the people we are today. I could not help but think of my own teenage years and the ways I filled my summers. I also could not help but think of the path those teenagers are headed down. They are presumably having a wonderful time learning about art, making art, “becoming” artists. Some of them may go to art school. Some of them may continue to be artists. All of them are already absorbing the idea that art belongs to higher education. We all hear about the increasing necessity of higher education in the contemporary world. We know that having a college degree opens some doors, but everyday I realize just how much is not within the walls of higher education.
After revisiting the McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship exhibition, I want to find the teenagers again to tell them there is no rush, the time they spend is all a part of learning to be an artist. I want to urge them to swim in the lakes as much as they read, to spend time on the internet as much as they make, to investigate the complex nature of the work on the walls in front of them as much as they listen to their teachers. We became the people we are today because of the experiences we had then, and we are richer for each of those experiences. At the very least, I want to remind myself to store the knowledge and questions prompted by the exhibition next to my memories of dripping popsicles and humid, star-filled nights.
Guest post by Eric Asboe
My favorite pieces of art in my house were made by children — the volcano floor mat, the map of the United States with a Mason Dixon line to California, the drawing of a space shuttle with its top next to its base because the paper is too small to contain it. Some of my favorite and most meaningful art experiences have been with and through kids; no book has shaped me as much as my friend’s son who, while tschunk tschunk tschunking away at a typewriter, hitting only the space bar with no paper, was writing the world’s longest novel entitled Space. It is easy to say that children have not learned to say no to themselves, to self-censor the ideas they have or that they see down connections in their brains we have lost or that their ideas of perspective and coordination and correspondence are not as fixed as ours. Whatever the reason, we love the world children see and create because it is a world to which we think we no longer have access. The entrance to that world, however, may not be as far away as we believe it is.
Every first Saturday of the month, admission is free to the Walker Art Center with family oriented activities throughout the day. The activities not only make use of multiple areas of the museum, they are inspired by and derive from major exhibitions on view in the galleries. This month’s Free First Saturday, Some Assembly Required, was inspired by Abraham Cruzvillegas’s exhibition The Autoconstrucción Suites, which explores assemblage, local, found materials, and “self-construction,” utilizing “improvised building materials and techniques” when “materials become available and necessity dictates.” Artist Eric Syvertson guided children through making bird’s-eye views of their ideal landscapes, the maps of their ultimately functional worlds. Children were also invited to continue building and adding to the autoconstrucción begun by the Walker Teen Art Council. The changing, expanding structure juxtaposed the teens’ collages with children’s drawings and minimalist inspired tape paintings. In the most living of the autoconstruccións at the Walker, the structure became a new space of creation with the entrance of each child. The works they left behind continued to shape the space into which others entered and altered for their own needs.
As I observed both activities, it was clear that the children were there for more than just making. They wanted to see more, to experience the works that the Walker and the artists that lead the activities do a wonderful job of integrating into their programming. I overheard one boy ask to see “abstract sculptures” after finishing the dog park on his map. One girl asked me where she could find Franz Kline. The Walker is not just shaping young makers; it is fostering people who see art as integral to their lives, encouraging people of all ages to take the museum back into the world. I was not surprised to hear a little boy ask his father when they could visit the “painting museum” again.
I live blocks from In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre and less than a block from the route of their annual May Day parade. In an overflowing abundance of sunny celebration, community togetherness, and integrated arts, the 39th annual May Day parade gathered hundreds of makers, performers, children, teens, adults, older adults, musicians, puppeteers, dancers, bicyclists, hula hoopers, and tens of thousands of spectators to celebrate the coming of growing things and the gathering of so many different people. The narrative of the parade, as adapted from Bread and Puppet Theater, demonstrated what happens when we poison the earth and what can result if we nurture our natural resources. The narrative was illustrated by giant, multi-person puppets, individual masks, and elaborate costumes of animals, humans, plants, polluters, and planters, but no story can accurately portray the power of the parade. The beautiful, masterful masks, puppets, costumes, and actions of the paraders shaped powerful messages through overarching scenes, layers of movement, and stirring music. The music and sound of the parade in particular evoked palpable emotional responses; despite the cheers of thousands of people, the individual paraders and marching bands formed ominous, foreboding cacophonies, deathly silences, and joyous outpourings that echoed throughout the crowds responses.
The most noticeable change during the parade was the transformation of the normally quiet, relatively disparate neighborhood into a temporary community. Residents invited strangers to join them on porches. Visitors shared chairs and blankets to squeeze in more people. Local businesses did not just sponsor the parade they participated, donning costumes and dancing along the route. The barriers between the parade, the parade route, the spectators, the neighborhood, and the visitors disappeared in the up and down migration of people, bicyclists, musicians, dancers, basketballers, business owners, hawkers, activists, animals, and balloons before, during, and after the parade. By the time the tall bike flanked giant bicycle powered barbeque/drum circle/party bus/open flame/empty air tank gong/cage match skate ramp started the parade, everyone welcomed it as an integral and normalized part of the community that had left everyday life behind to embrace the worlds of art, spectacle, celebration, and togetherness.
Maybe I love children’s art because it too is so much a natural part of who children are. They do not switch from being children to being artists to make something; their making is part of the continuum of childhood, the uninterrupted nature of their lives. I know and experience that those boundaries are artificial, imposed by me upon a world that is full of art, wonder, and discovery beyond my compartmentalized imagination. I am thankful for watching children make and play and for the times I can lose myself in the beauty of a sunny afternoon with raucous paraders. On to a summer free from boundaries.
Eric Asboe is an artist, writer, and cultural worker. As Art Director of Public Space One gallery and performance space in Iowa City, Iowa, Asboe helped shape its nationally engaged exhibitions and programming, including the microgranting meal SOUP and the award-winning Free @rt School. Asboe’s creative works prioritize process over product and explore the boundary between practice as improvement and practice as way of life. Forthcoming projects include ubuwebtopten.com. He currently lives and works in Minneapolis.