Changes are coming to the Twin Cities. Spring is slowly arriving. Daylight lingers. I can look up and around when walking outside. I notice the holes from trees felled in last summer’s storms, but I find the tulips poking through in their place. We need this renewal. We need these moments to gather strength after winter’s long cold nights before heading out into the rush of spring. I have seen great shows throughout the Twin Cities, great works of art, openings and closings left and right, an embarrassment of riches. I am, however, still lingering in the quiet moments, the eddies in the cultural stream rushing around us.
I have been consistently impressed with the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s New Pictures exhibition series. Last year’s Stan Douglas and Sarah Jones‘s exhibitions were excellent, expanding into multiple places throughout the MIA, engaging other works in the collection, rewarding multiple viewings. Tucked into a small gallery, next to flashy 20th century design and big name artists, New Pictures 9 features Rinko Kawauchi’s works from Illuminance. They are quiet, thoughtful moments that stretch into deep concentration and surprising connections
Kawauchi’s investigations of light, as the title suggests, come forth in large individual prints and clustered groups of smaller images. The arresting images of a dead deer with livid blood, a cluster of fish eyes, a sparkling diamond are quickly lost in the iterations of light. The exhibition builds a language of light, but there is no need to become fluent to be absorbed in depth of her process, her exploration as end not as means.
The looping video, Illuminance, extends and enlivens the process, endlessly teasing out the subtleties of light in the everyday situations it presents. The subtle, ambient audio soundtrack was barely audible at times, but the suddenly louder rushing of water or rustling of leaves brought her abstracted process back from the realm of static image making to the world around us. The beauty of the exhibition is that Kawauchi presents no conclusions, but it prepares us to see the world differently. I left full of questions. I struggled to distinguish the works in the rest of the museum from the play of gallery lighting, the wash of grey, clouded light from the windows, the sudden shadows of people walking past.
Whenever I visit the MIA, I am drawn to the period rooms, sparsely populated, austere, in sharp contrast to the lines for the cafe and the children running between family activities. They are moments of concentrated attention and time. They simultaneously hold the past of their objects and the past of their meticulous reconstruction in one moment. I entered the period rooms to consider the light they would have seen, the electric light that illuminated it now never envisioned in their original homes.
As I exited The Providence Parlor, I saw a little girl pull on her father’s hand, point excitedly to a portrait of George Washington, and exclaim, “Dad, look! It’s President Obama.” I could not have said it better. The world is new with spring, with refreshed eyes that allow us to see our future in our past, to see our presidents for who they really are.
Winter is not yet over, but I have already felt the urge to start spring cleaning. I want to air out the bedroom and beat the rugs, to scrub the floors and clear the clutter hidden behind the heaviest winter clothes in the back of the closet and the last summery jars of canned vegetables in the far reaches of the pantry. My house is heavy with things, and I am ready to clear them out. I am ready for objects that play multiple roles, that open the doors to new thoughts, new worlds, new seasons.
EVEN IF IT KILLS YOU by Bryan Thomas Daly at White Page Gallery is an attempt to move away from the “library of Alexandria” he had amassed around himself, a purposely object-full attempt to transcend the physicality of the collections that maintain our place in consumer society while reinforcing the belief in our individuality. The modified vinyl and record covers revel in their identity as objects that contain the depths of content we know exist in their grooves. Daly levels their value, eliminating their use through his playful, spirited modifications. The work was made as part of a residency in the gallery, and it is in conversation with the objects that fill the corners, hallways, and studio spaces in the other half of White Page Gallery. The finished and in progress pieces, the raw materials, the tools, the giant, decades-old, fire hazard of a boiler all bear witness to the diverse studio practices, the collective experience of working and making decisions together. They are a testament to exploration and the opening of horizons.
Objects were also at the forefront of the first Sound.Art.MIA event at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Paul Metzger‘s sublime performance was mesmerizing. His 23-string banjo was inescapable as the visual locus of his plucking, strumming, bowing. Similarly, the Body/Head performance was centered around their guitars as objects, as unfamiliar extensions of their body to be explored by pushing, pulling, swinging, and hefting them through waves of feedback and mountains of sound. The video projected behind them distracted from their performance, pulling attention away from the objects they lovingly cradled, stroked, and manhandled. The night culminated in minutes of Kim Gordon exploring the crackling, scratching soundscape of the length of her output jack, flooding the room with the slightest adjustments of the very place her body flowed out into the rest of the room.
The recent few days of thaw have transformed the monochrome snowscape into the grey rainbows of exhaust-filled slush and ice. The receding snow reveals more than the objects hidden beneath it. It reveals the forgotten body of the city that surrounds us. It unleashes the vast symphony of drips and rushing torrents that arise from the barely visible stormdrains, and it opens windows onto the vast water system that has silently been working beneath our feet throughout the winter. It embues the objects that surround us, that care for us, with a new life, an unfolding wonder that will continue to expand as the weather warms and as I make more room for it in my less cluttered house.
It has been cold everywhere recently, colder than it has been in many years. The cold here has seeped into my bones. The days are lit by brittle sunlight, full of the illusion of warmth. The nights open to the icy vacuum of space, filled with the frigid, unblinking stars, and my mind, of course, turns to death.
Recently, I walked in from the cold, whitewashed world to Made in Minnesota at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the Regis Center for Art at the University of Minnesota, and I entered the gallery equivalent of a greenhouse teeming with orchids. The show was full of life, full of objects. The air was humid with production and the presence of artists’ lives embodied in their work. The electric colors of Jay H. Isenberg’s 6 Lil’ Smokeys embraced the dreams of long summer afternoons. Kim Matthews’s barnacle-like works are labor-intensive, tenacious holds on life. Eileen Cohen enlivens her flocked ceramic with organic forms. Rollin Marquette’s Pear-Shaped lies seemingly incomplete, life-interrupted for the viewer to mentally assemble and imbue with new life. The show surges with an abundance of life, a force that has been packed into homes and studios, sealed away from the winter winds, yearning to get out, to express itself in any and every way.
That reminder of life is wonderful, a welcome respite from the cold. I was drawn, however, to the quieter moments of the show, buoyed by the spaces to breathe and reflect, invigorated by the explicit invocations of death. Mayumi Amada’s startlingly large Doily of Foremothers, hidden around a blind corner, is a delicate reminder of the eternal cycles of life and death, a call to remember that we are here because of the lives that are no longer with us. Judy Onofrio’s bone vessels remind us that “fertility and eroticism live side by side with mortality and fragility.” They open a space between what we are and what we will become, holding the life we inhabit within the lives from which we arise, expanding out into the lives that will grow from our deaths. The show opens and closes with George Morrison’s delicate, intimate postcards, small, powerful reminders of a life fully lived, a life shared with others and enriched by the living world around him.
Death surrounds us in all seasons. It is a natural and necessary part of our lives. It is in the food we eat, the air we breath, the leaves of grass beneath our feet. It confronts us more starkly in winter, in the seeming death of plants and the hibernation of animals. We know life is buried beneath the snow, waiting for the warmth of spring to awaken it, but these endlessly cold days make it difficult to see.
We cannot avoid the cold, and we cannot avoid death. We can let them overwhelm and control our lives, or we can rise each morning confident that we can face the cold, that our lives are full of beauty and meaning because they are finite.
Death is not frightening. It is comforting, full of hope, a blessing that allows us to thrive for our few moments. Spring is coming, and we will again see that life buried beneath the snow. When those shoots poke up through the warm soil, let us remember that death is still here, waiting to welcome us all into its quiet, its rest, its never-ending cycle that allows that birth to come forward for the living.
Made in Minnesota is on view until February 15.
A few weeks ago, I went to the Walker Art Center on a very busy night. A few new exhibitions had just opened; the Fritz Haeg residency was coming to an end; there was a live DJ; it was only the first snow of the season and the roads were still clear; admission was free. I walked through hundreds of people dancing and drinking to the pulsing DJ set. I elbowed my way through a crowd to see Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s work. When I finally made it up to the real reason I came, the Lucky Dragons immersive/participatory experience/performance on the crocheted rug at the heart of Fritz Haeg’s At Home in the City, it was quiet. People spoke in hushed tones, looked and read intently, gathered on the rug to crochet scarves and sweaters and commune over what they had brought. A small circle at one side of the rug sat with ribbon-like instruments, holding them to activate various sounds that morphed as you touched another person, formed chains with the others holding the ribbons, alternated who held the ribbons and where they were in the circle.
I had a great time at the Walker, but there was something missing, something that I had experienced the last time I saw Lucky Dragons. At that time, I was immersed in a basement full of people completely in sync with one another, aware of our bodies without speaking as we shaped the immersive sound and videoscape that enveloped us. Lucky Dragons eliminates the line between musician and audience, yet the people playing on the crocheted rug were not completely present. They were transient, ready to move on, to be pulled in the hundreds of other directions the busy night offered. Even the people who lingered the longest, who invited onlookers to join the circle, to commune with touch and sound, to experiment with creating the atmosphere of the room, could not make the circle hold. The Walker was incredibly successful at drawing people in to experience the multitude of events that night. The engagement I had hoped for, however, was pulled in the many directions of those events, and I was left wanting to find it in other ways.
I went to the Artists’ Quarter last weekend to hear Happy Apple. The crowd had braved subzero temperatures for a standing room only show, and Happy Apple delivered what we had come to hear. They were in their stride before they began and ran further and faster than we could believe. They drew out their songs, opening doors through even their most bombastic pieces into quiet, minimal moments that never ended. They defied time, asking us to make the fleeting minutes we were together last all night, embodying the desire of everyone jammed in the tight, dark basement to keep that basement open forever. As we slowly peeled away at the end of the night, we knew we could not stop the Artists’ Quarter from closing at the end of the year after decades of supporting young, experienced, local, and touring groups, but we were united in a joyful, music-filled affirmation of its power and importance.
Dave King, the drummer for Happy Apple and many other groups, recently spoke about the importance of quiet in music venues, the difficulty of playing and listening over the clank of caesar salads and clumsy servers, the noise of crowds and busy bars, the incessant distractions of large venues. The Artists’ Quarter, however, provides “the environment to hear and play [...] music without those interruptions.” Every show I have seen at the Artists’ Quarter has been quiet enough to hear a pin drop. Everyone from the front Â of the stage to the back of the bar is there to listen, watch, completely engage with musicians. It is powerful and humbling to see musicians and audiences connect so deeply.
At the Happy Apple show, in that basement with no distractions, with nothing else pulling the crowd away, I found the engagement that I missed at the Walker. Everyone left the Artists’ Quarter energized, amazed, and lamenting the loss of a great venue, an invaluable resource for artists and audiences, a place that will be sorely missed not just because it will be harder to see the musicians they supported but also because the loss of any arts venue is a loss to the entire arts ecosystem. King reminds us, “Whenever a place for art outside the commercial paradigm is lost, it becomes harder to sustain the more progressive stuff found off the straight and narrow.” We all know that to be true, but we must sometimes be reminded. We can only hope that reminder does not come too late.
Go to the Walker, support its programs, but go to the Artists’ Quarter too. We need both big and small art institutions, places to hold thousands of people and others to allow for moments of intimate engagement, venues where everyone can find something and others where a few can find a once in a lifetime experience. The Artists’ Quarter has shows through the end of the month. If you are not in Saint Paul, go to your own local arts venues big and small; they need your presence too.
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.