Blogs Field Guide

Call for Dancers: Merce Cunningham’s Field Dances

The Walker Art Center is seeking a core group of dancers to participate in the reconstruction and showings of Merce Cunningham’s Field Dances (1963). To celebrate Merce Cunningham: Common Time, former Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancers Patricia Lent and Jamie Scott will conduct movement workshops for community dancers, culminating in outdoor public showings during the […]

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Merce Cunningham at Black Mountain College. Photo: Hazel Larsen Archer

The Walker Art Center is seeking a core group of dancers to participate in the reconstruction and showings of Merce Cunningham’s Field Dances (1963). To celebrate Merce Cunningham: Common Time, former Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancers Patricia Lent and Jamie Scott will conduct movement workshops for community dancers, culminating in outdoor public showings during the opening festivities of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

ABOUT FIELD DANCES

Field Dances was choreographed by Merce Cunningham in 1963. The structure and performance of the dance are indeterminate: it can be done by any number of dancers, last any length of time, and be performed in any space. The material for the dance includes a series of simple movement phrases incorporating everyday movement like walking, running, skipping, falling, sitting, and leaning. The instructions for the phrases are both precise and open-ended, offering dancers opportunities to make choices while performing. Cunningham’s subtitle for the dance, “Dances for Everyone,” refers to his intention that the choreography can be done by people with varying levels of dance training and experience.

WHO

We’re looking for 30–40 core group participants with some dance experience—which need not be in Cunningham technique, or even modern or postmodern dance. We welcome artists who work in other dance and performance forms to experience this Cunningham work.

SCHEDULE

Core Group A:

  • Training on Thursday, June 1, 11 am–2 pm
  • Training on Friday, June 2, 11 am–2 pm
  • Showings and drop-in workshops on Saturday, June 3: 10 am–5 pm
  • Rain date: Sunday, June 4

Core Group B:

  • Training on Thursday, June 1, 5–8 pm
  • Training on Friday, June 2, 5–8 pm
  • Showings and drop-in workshops on Saturday, June 3: 10 am–5 pm
  • Rain date: Sunday, June 4

You may state your availability for either the group A schedule or the group B schedule, but you must be available for all four time commitments. Once you share your availability with us, please hold the dates until we notify applicants. All trainings and showings will be held at the Walker Art Center.

COMPENSATION

The core group of dancers will receive two complimentary workshops in which they can learn about Cunningham’s work through the lens of Field Dances. The core group will also receive a $120 stipend for assisting with drop-in workshops and participating in the public showings on June 3.

CONTACT

Contact Field Dances coordinator Emily Gastineau at emily.gastineau@walkerart.org with any questions about this opportunity.

Fill out my online form.

Signposting Inclusion: On All-Gender Restrooms

Up until Wednesday evening, transgender students had the right to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice while in public schools. President Trump changed that. The departments of Justice and Education rescinded federal guidelines created under the Obama administration that protected transgender students under Title IX and allowed them to use the bathroom or locker room […]

All Gender Restroom sign

All Gender Restroom sign at the Walker. Photo: Chris Cloud

Up until Wednesday evening, transgender students had the right to use the bathroom or locker room of their choice while in public schools. President Trump changed that. The departments of Justice and Education rescinded federal guidelines created under the Obama administration that protected transgender students under Title IX and allowed them to use the bathroom or locker room that best suits their gender identity.

A few months ago, the Walker Art Center unveiled a new lobby, a space resplendent with a canary-yellow entryway, shining floors, and soft, grey couches. There was another addition, too—less heralded, but just as important: public restrooms. To be specific: two single-occupancy restrooms, each with a lock and a baby-changing table.

With these new restrooms came questions: What should they be called? Unisex? Gender-neutral? W.C.? All-gender? And, what should the graphic symbol on the door be? Half man and half woman spliced together? A toilet paper roll? The silhouette of a toilet? A bird’s-eye view of a toilet? As the Walker’s accessibility coordinator, I knew these questions had to be answered by a variety of Walker staff, from different departments and with different perspectives.

We chose the term “All Gender Restroom” because it both emphasizes inclusion and departs from the exclusive gender binary. The Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden belong to everyone—regardless of their gender orientation or gender identity. We strive to create an environment that supports visitors, employees, and artists no matter where they identify on the gender spectrum.

An art center can serve as a sanctuary to escape the tumult of a cacophonous world. And hopefully, the all-gender restrooms act as a small gesture that say to visitors—and particularly to transgender youth visitors: “You are welcome here.”

And, by the way: we chose the silhouette of a toilet for the graphic symbol because, well, it looked best.

You can find two all-gender restrooms (single-stall, locked bathrooms) in the corridor between the parking garage and the Bazinet Lobby. Men’s and women’s restrooms, as well as a family restroom, are located on the lower level, next to the Art Lab.

Native Youth Give Voice to Frank Big Bear’s New Work

Since this writing, Minneapolis’s Little Earth community has witnessed a tragedy: a January 28 residential fire displaced six families and left three people in need of medical attention. To contribute to the rebuilding effort, please go to the Little Earth Residents Association’s GoFundMe page to make a tax-deductible donation.  During one of the coldest nights of the year, a fortunate few were warming […]

Frank Big Bear's mural, The Walker Collage, Multiverse #10 in the new Target Project Space. Photo: Gene Pittman

Frank Big Bear’s mural, The Walker Collage, Multiverse #10 in the new Target Project Space. Photo: Gene Pittman

Since this writing, Minneapolis’s Little Earth community has witnessed a tragedy: a January 28 residential fire displaced six families and left three people in need of medical attention. To contribute to the rebuilding effort, please go to the Little Earth Residents Association’s GoFundMe page to make a tax-deductible donation. 

During one of the coldest nights of the year, a fortunate few were warming up inside the Walker Art Center. Those who braved the blustery weather were not only greeted with a new, more accessible entrance connecting the sculpture garden to the galleries and a new destination restaurant but also a huge new commissioned mural. Created by Duluth-based, Ojibwe artist, Frank Big BearThe Walker Collage, Multiverse #10 is 40 feet worth of collages made using images from art history, everyday Native American life, and the Walker’s permanent collection. It is a powerful visual anchor that draws visitors inside off of Vineyard Place. Just after the work’s December unveiling, one could not only visit the stunning mural but also receive a thorough education from a new set of experts of the work—members of the Little Earth Arts Collective, a cohort of youth based in the Minneapolis Little Earth Residential Community.

One visitor, who stopped in after visiting the Holidazzle festival in nearby Loring Park, was pleasantly surprised to see the mural and have the Little Earth guides on hand to answer questions. In an attempt to take in the incredible amount of imagery on the piece’s 432 panels, she asked the two Native youth, “Can you tell me what to look at in this piece?” Having been trained in arts education and workshops over the course of ten weeks, one adeptly answered using the Socratic method: “Well, where are your eyes drawn to? What do you see when you look at the mural?” A family of four stopped by and were taken in by Big Bear’s chosen medium: “How in the world did he make this?” Due to their experience making their own collages with Big Bear a few weeks prior, the pair knew firsthand how painstakingly difficult making the massive work was: “Let me tell, you cutting all those magazines and putting them together to make something important is not easy.”

epp2016ffs_openhouse_1203 Education, Public Programs. Family Events, Free Events. Free First Saturday, Walker Open House, December 3, 2016. Watch a live animation performance that is assembed and disassembled before your eyes, in the Cinema. Art-making in the Art Lab and Cargill Lounge. Views of people in the galleries of the exhibition Question the Wall Itself. People in the Main Lobby, seating and "poufs", people viewing the Frank Big Bear work in the Project Space.

Little Earth Arts Collective member Lacey Lachapelle gives a tour of Frank Big Bear’s collage on December 3, 2016. Photo: Alice Gebura

The Little Earth Arts Collective didn’t become experts on the Frank Big Bear piece overnight. These Spotlight Talks were the culmination of a Walker program aimed at both helping Native youth see the arts as a viable career path and teaching valuable job skills such as organization and public speaking. Fifteen teenagers participated in the workshops, which ran for 10 weeks, from September until their final public talks during the December 1–4 Walker Open House Weekend. The trainings tackled skills like resume-building and featured one-on-one time with artists, including Big Bear. At one such workshop, participants were led in writing exercises by Twin Cities–based rapper and spoken word artist Alexei Casselle. He encouraged the teens to reflect on their personal identities by sharing his own background through a spoken word piece about being mixed-race and having both black and white family members. Impressed by Casselle’s spirited performance, the youth set to work creating their own identity pieces. Through exercises like the six-word memoir and identity-mapping, they reflected on their identities as women, artists, students, siblings, tribal members, Natives, Minnesotans, and daughters. Casselle, an ally to Native people who’s been active in fundraising in support of water protectors at Standing Rock, was impressed with the Little Earth teens and their ability to share and reflect on their identities. The exercise would become the foundation for the confidence the youth would bring to the remainder of the program.

With a sense of humor and perseverance, participants transformed, in just 10 weeks, into community art docents and experts of the Big Bear’s gigantic artwork. One of the most inspiring parts of the program was the honesty with which they approached their work. While many arts professionals and other adults approached Frank Big Bear with a reverence reserved for the famous, the youth approached him like any other Native person they knew. One described Big Bear as “shy and quiet,” while another was surprised he just seemed like a normal guy. The youth were encouraged to ask questions of the artist in preparation for their roles as docents for the mural. Like: “Frank, why did you include so much nudity?” When he replied that it was just “for fun,” the youth knew better: “I know that the artist included all of these images for a specific reason. He was trying to make statements about art, women, and other things he cares about.”

epp2016BigBearWkshp1022 Education, Public Programs. Frank Big Bear workshop with the Little Earth Arts Collective, Garden Terrace Room, October 22, 2016. Spotlight Talks by the Little Earth Arts Collective will take place during the Open House weekend of December 1-4 at the Target Project Space (formerly known as the Art Wall): Learn about the commissioned work by Minnesota-based artist Frank Big Bear. The artist’s large-scale piece—The Walker Collage, Multiverse #10 (2016)—is the first artwork to be installed in the new Target Project Space. Join teens from the Little Earth Arts Collective for a spotlight talk that draws from stories and experiences gained in their activities with Big Bear during his artist workshop.

Frank Big Bear discusses the imagery in his massive new collage. Photo: Gene Pittman

The teen skills-building workshop program isn’t the first partnership between the Little Earth Arts Collective and the Walker. Throughout the years, they have worked with the Guerrilla Girls on their big Twin Cities “takeover” in 2016 and several other teen-focused programs through the Walker’s education department. Yet, the engagement between the Walker and Native youth has not always been so successful or long-lasting. One participant spoke about how uncomfortable she typically feels when inside the museum. She becomes self-conscious and worried about “being a person of color and wondering if I really belong here.” Another mentioned that the space “seems to be for white people or fancy people but not my family.” For years, many Native people have criticized the center for its lack of inclusivity for Native arts and people.

One person trying to change this is Maya Weisinger, the Walker’s Access and Audiences Coordinator. Her role is a new one, intended to better integrate inclusive practices at the Walker, including those concerning the Native community. She began to build the partnership between the center and the youth arts collective by simply having coffee dates with Heidi Hafermann and Joe Beaulieu, staff members at Little Earth. She attributes the success of this most recent collaboration to this relationship and trust-building: “It is one of the most important things about creating a more inclusive space. I really believe there should be one person who just spends all of their time meeting with people. I think it often goes overlooked how powerful showing up and listening can be.” Together, the three arts and youth advocates designed a program for that would re-welcome Native youth into the Walker, pay them for their time and commitment, and create opportunities for the Little Earth residences to gain professional experience in the arts and culture field.

epp2016BigBearWkshp1022 Education, Public Programs. Frank Big Bear workshop with the Little Earth Arts Collective, Garden Terrace Room, October 22, 2016. Spotlight Talks by the Little Earth Arts Collective will take place during the Open House weekend of December 1-4 at the Target Project Space (formerly known as the Art Wall): Learn about the commissioned work by Minnesota-based artist Frank Big Bear. The artist’s large-scale piece—The Walker Collage, Multiverse #10 (2016)—is the first artwork to be installed in the new Target Project Space. Join teens from the Little Earth Arts Collective for a spotlight talk that draws from stories and experiences gained in their activities with Big Bear during his artist workshop.

Frank Big Bear discusses his mural with Little Earth Arts Collective members Lacey Lachapelle, Sofia Hernandez, and Thalia Garcia during an October 2016 workshop. Photo: Carina Lofgren for the Walker Art Center

Such efforts by Walker staff seemed to make all the difference. According to all involved, the partnership with the Walker was a big success. Hafermann remarked on the growth of the Little Earth teens as the 10-week program progressed: “It was wonderful to see their confidence in their voices grow as they worked with Maya and the Walker.” She also spoke to the importance of Native youth interacting with the arts, especially given the nationwide underrepresentation of Native professionals in the cultural sector. “Joe and I are so happy to see them form their own relationships with folks in the arts.”

Walker staff are equally impressed with the youth. “They pushed themselves to do things they didn’t want to do, and definitely didn’t need to do when they could be tackling many of the other issues in their lives, and things that were big challenges to them,” Weisinger said. “I’m very motivated by this and very thankful for their energy.”

But staff at the Walker and Little Earth are not the only ones calling the program a success. The youth themselves have been appreciative of the opportunity to work with the museum. Some say they joined the arts collective to meet people and make friends, while others saw it as an opportunity to get income and improve their financial situation. But many received even more than they bargained for. “After meeting Frank Big Bear and talking to him about his art, it just makes me want to meet more artists,” commented one Little Earth youth, who was surprised to find that she felt more comfortable inside the Walker and is now considering a career in the museum field.

Like Weisinger, who has pledged to keep strong the relationships she formed with Little Earth, every party involved in the project was transformed by the passion and dedication exhibited by these youth. As an arts and culture professional, I, too, am more confident in the future of my field after watching these Little Earth teens excel in this art project. Toward the end of the program, I watched the youth give their spotlight talks about Frank Big Bear’s mural in the brand new Walker entrance. As they answered question after question and shared with the public their new-found confidence and knowledge about the piece, I grew emotional. It filled me with a tremendous sense of pride and awe to see these youth grow into community art docents. The future of Native arts and the museum field is as bright as the youth of Little Earth.

epp2016BigBearWkshp1022 Education, Public Programs. Frank Big Bear workshop with the Little Earth Arts Collective, Garden Terrace Room, October 22, 2016. Spotlight Talks by the Little Earth Arts Collective will take place during the Open House weekend of December 1-4 at the Target Project Space (formerly known as the Art Wall): Learn about the commissioned work by Minnesota-based artist Frank Big Bear. The artist’s large-scale piece—The Walker Collage, Multiverse #10 (2016)—is the first artwork to be installed in the new Target Project Space. Join teens from the Little Earth Arts Collective for a spotlight talk that draws from stories and experiences gained in their activities with Big Bear during his artist workshop.

Workshop participants with Frank Big Bear, October 22, 2016. Back row, left to right: Joseph Morrison, Joua Lee (Walker Art Center), Daniel Robbins, Frank Big Bear, Mason Santos (Walker Art Center), Shaylin Hanks, Lacey Lachapelle, Thalia Garcia, Alyssa Hicks, Gabriella Moose, Joe Beaulieu, Heidi Hafermann, Jamison Hart, Tre Pemberton. Front row, left to right: Sofia Hernandez, Ashley Hicks, Maya Weisinger (Walker Art Center). Photo: Carina Lofgren for the Walker Art Center

The Future Should Come in Multiples: A Conversation with Extrapolation Factory

How can we imagine alternative futures? What role does design play in such thinking? And, most importantly, how can anyone contribute to such imaginings? These are questions at the core of the practice of Extrapolation Factory, the Brooklyn-based art and design team of Elliott Montgomery and Chris Woebken that works to apply techniques used by think […]

GM Platano garden

Extrapolation Factory, GM Platano Garden Cart, Mobile Service Stations, New York, 2014. All images courtesy the artists

How can we imagine alternative futures? What role does design play in such thinking? And, most importantly, how can anyone contribute to such imaginings? These are questions at the core of the practice of Extrapolation Factory, the Brooklyn-based art and design team of Elliott Montgomery and Chris Woebken that works to apply techniques used by think tanks, futurists, and designers to collaboratively reshape the future. Transforming the Walker’s Art Lab into a laboratory for futures studies, the duo invites visitors this weekend to survey, from a bird’s eye view, the natural surroundings of the Walker and neighboring Loring Park and to collaboratively design solutions to address the future effects of climate change in this area.

In advance of their Walker Open House visit, Walker public programs manager Jacqueline Stahlmann sat down with Montgomery and Woebken to discuss their practice, why design is an important component within it, and what participants can expect at this weekend’s workshops and during their return to Minneapolis for the reopening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in June, 2017.

Jacqueline Stahlmann: To start out, could you explain your name, “Extrapolation Factory”?

Elliott Montgomery: I think that’s a great question because the name of the practice is a pretty helpful metaphor for thinking about the way we think about futures. So “extrapolation” is the practice of taking a series of data points and then starting to imagine what might come next if you start to draw the line between these data points. And so in the Extrapolation Factory’s work, we generally start with signals from the world around us. Whether that’s in the case of the project we’re doing with the Walker, shifting climates and migratory patterns, species moving into and out of certain areas—like the Mississippi watershed, for instance. So we look at all these signals and then start to think about what the world could look like in very specific stories, and we try to look at multiple different versions of extrapolations. We extrapolate up, we extrapolate down, left, right, all sorts of directions, and that’s where the “factory” comes in.

So when we do the work that we do, we try to bring in a large, diverse group of participants to create multiple, different versions of the future. So you can imagine a factory line where these ideas for the future are the output of the factory and each idea pops off the assembly line, but each one is its own vision of the future. So when we get together with a group of participants working on these projects, they’re the workers fabricating these visions in a sort of factory.

Extrapolation Factory duo Elliott Montgomery and Chris Woebken in Moscow, Russia

Elliott Montgomery and Chris Woebken

Stahlmann: You two met in a program in London. Was it a design program?

Montgomery: Design Interactions.

Stahlmann:  And then who extrapolated, if you will, into futures work when you met again in New York? Was it taught in your program, the idea of futures design?

Montgomery: It wasn’t really taught. We were in a program that challenged the notion that design should serve to just satisfy the most glamorous human needs or solve problems in the simplest way to describe this. And instead, design could play a role as a provocateur, where designers are challenging our assumptions and getting us to rethink the world around us, almost introducing problems instead of answering or solving problems.

Chris Woebken: And we really like the fact that people can come together, old folks, young folks, and all sorts of people from the community can do this, and also have fun doing this visioning and come up with a tangible outcome that you can share and talk about. So what we would like people to take away from coming to our workshops is that maybe this, as a practice, can radiate into other spaces, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be confined to think tanks and gallery spaces.

99¢ Futures, Studio-x, New York, 2013

Stahlmann: We were introduced to you guys through Emmet Byrne, the Walker’s design curator, because he knew you through that world. So initially, we thought your work might be more design-focused, but really it’s much more futurist-focused. Do you consider yourselves more as designers who think about the future or as futurists who use design as part of your practice?

Montgomery: I think we both take different approaches, and part of the reason that our practice is what it is is that I come from a certain background and Chris comes from another background. I really think of myself as a designer, and I use design to make futures thinking in the think-tank context more accessible to people who weren’t trained, traditionally, in futures. I’m really interested in how we can break down methods, distill them, make them useful and engaging and accessible to a broad community, and allow them to pick them up and tinker with them and apply them to challenges that they’re already thinking about. Design, to me, is a perfect example of that language, because we’re constantly surrounded by designed experiences, designed artifacts. And so we speak the language of design whether we are traditionally trained in design or not. We’re buying things and using objects to get through our day-to-day lives and these objects are, more often than not, designed objects.

Woebken: Yeah. And I think the other aspect that we like to explore is how can we create these spaces for people to have fun and get engaged with this. It maybe connects to what Fluxus was doing. There’s a certain history of instructional art, and we want to create experiences and spaces where people can come to and enjoy engaging with some of these methods that we’re presenting. And then ultimately, take that away as an inspiration that they can maybe do this in their own community or their own life or maybe in their profession. So that’s what we are aiming for enabling with these participatory workshops, installations or performances that we’re doing.

Modeling Futures, Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, NY, 2016

Stahlmann: Let’s back up a step. Could you both define what a futurist is and where we see the work of futurists in our day-to-day lives? Most people probably know what a designer is, and we see the work of designers day-to-day, but perhaps they’re not familiar with this idea of the futurist.

Woebken: I have problems with the term futurist. It’s a complicated relationship. I like the practice, definitely, but I don’t agree with everything that comes with it. There is a bigger history of how we think about the future, and a lot of it is coming from government and military practice. At some point, we understood how to extrapolate from data and create models to model the weather and make predictions, etc. But I don’t like the language of predicting. There are a lot of futurists who sell the product of predicting a trend or a vision of what it might be like. We like the idea of multiplicity, and not necessarily saying, “This is our prediction and this is going to happen.” What we do is participatory futures, so that is more our niche field of our futurist space.

Montgomery: Just to nuance that answer a bit more, not all futurists consider themselves to have predictive capacity or a vision for the way the future will go. I think oftentimes futurists describe themselves as people who have experience using tools to think about many possible futures. And so I think it would be short-sighted to say that all futurists are attempting to predict the future, and there are some futurists who do operate much more from a methods perspective to begin with. And that is actually a really healthy way to think about the future.

I FUTURE NY (proposal), 2013

Stahlmann: How will Walker visitors relate the work of your project to their daily lives?

Montgomery: The most useful way to describe the stuff that we do is, at least for me, to talk about the experience of being a young person and having elders. Maybe a guidance counselor in high school asked you to come up with a five-year plan. And so that person asks you to take on this feat and they never give you any approach or tools for doing it. They just say, “Yeah, come up with your five-year plan.” Then you’re stuck there trying to think about what the future looks like, five years out into the future. Maybe you’re only a 15-year-old person, and so this is already one-third of your lived life that you’re extrapolating into the future, and that can be paralyzing.

I think in a culture that asks us to think about long-term futures but doesn’t give us tools or languages for thinking about future, we actually just have an inherent need for this type of capacity. So as we’re introducing tools, methods, and languages from these other contexts, part of what we’re trying to do is answer to that vacuum of ability to, or comfort with, working in futures and visualizing possible futures for ourselves, for our communities, for larger organizations or even the world.

Extrapolated Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, 2015

Stahlmann: You’ve been described as engaging in “democratized futures work and elucidat[ing] strategies and techniques pulled from think tanks and futurists.” What techniques are you using and how are you applying them to the project at the Walker?

Montgomery: There are many tools we use, but we start out with basic ground rules for the way we think about the future—starting out with, as Chris said, this idea that future should come in multiples, that there shouldn’t be any one future but there should be multiple futures. So that guidance counselor really should say, “Come up with five five-year plans,” instead of one five-year plan. “Come up with lots of different alternatives and then let’s use those alternatives to start a discussion about how we navigate forward from the present,” as opposed to just picking a path and then feeling like that’s the only way. It’s either that way or you failed pursuing your future.

Stahlmann: Could you speak to the intersection between your futures work and design and why those two intersect and why it’s important that they do?

Montgomery: As we’re talking about the future, so much of it is… Well, all of it is just a fiction, right? The only ideas we have for the future are fictions and they will not be factual or real until they arrive in the world around us. And so the act of design is, in some way, akin to or parallel to this act of futuring where you’re translating an imagined concept that’s in a brain to something that exists in a material form that allows us to evaluate it, assess it, build on it, make it better or decide that we don’t like it and steer away from it. So, in some ways, design is really just the process of getting our ideas out into the world.

Futures capsules (3 of 4)

Futures Capsules (3 of 4), Whistler, British Columbia, 2014

Woebken: That’s also a big difference of presenting these speculative fictions or speculative design, not necessarily in a white gallery, but in these environments where we are allowed to interact with these fictions and these diverse futures. It becomes more activated.

Montgomery: Which is actually a nice segue into what we’re doing at the Walker, where we’re starting with this sketch possible versions of the future, these new ideas that we’re hoping to introduce, that we’ll invite people to contribute to, and then we’ll work to translate the ideas that are generated through this participatory process into habitable, physical, interactive elements that will exist in the real world several months down the road. And so in some ways, this is the most direct impact one might have on the future in the near term: they can come in and sketch something out and then come down to back to the Walker six months later and see that thing sitting there before them and know they have designed the future.

Stahlmann: So, for this project, you created a map of the Mississippi watershed area that the campus of the Walker is a part of, which includes the Sculpture Garden, the Upper Sculpture Garden, the Walker Art Center itself as well as Loring Park across Hennepin Avenue. You’ve been doing some research around that and you’ve already given a teaser of, “If you come in December, your work will be forayed into…” “You’ll see your work here again in June…”

Montgomery: Yeah. We’re going to try to select ideas that may have the most impact to transform the ecosystems around the Walker Art Center campus.

walker-ecosystem

Walker Ecosystem model, November 2016

Stahlmann: Could you talk about the map that you’ve been working on? What might participants in the Art Lab project expect to experience? Is there’s any prior knowledge that they need in order to participate?

Montgomery: We are taking the geographic area immediately surrounding the Walker as this canvas of sorts, a test bed, where we would like to examine possible versions of habitats that could allow species to thrive in or occupy, and at the same time to allow for some kind of human need to be addressed. As a lot of species are getting edged out of their habitats or seeing other organisms move into their habitats, there’s just a condensing, there’s a compression, there’s less availability of resources, spaces. And so if we think of habitats serving multiple purposes—sometimes to serve an ecosystem or a natural system, and then at the same time, to serve a human need—that allows us to think of habitats as being these hybrid spaces or symbiotic spaces.

Woebken: So we’re identifying species in Minneapolis that are local. We are also particularly interested in these indicator species where when we see behavioral change that reveal shifts in the environment, and from that we can learn what might happen in the next 10 years from now. We looked at common species: the beaver, certain kinds of fish, the walleye, the ducks that migrate and so on and so on, amphibians, insects, and so on. When you come to the Walker, we try to really present all these characters and some research that indicates how they might be impacted.

How can we communicate with the earthworm? Or how do we build better landing pads for a particular kind of insect or ducks? And then also we will look at the infrastructure in the surrounding area. So we’ll present a bunch of design opportunities of where we can intervene and plug into potentially. And that’s what we present as research and then visitors will come and start responding to this and creating proposals.

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Extrapolation Factory Operator’s Manual

Montgomery: You asked if there’s something that visitors should prepare for. I think it could be great for visitors to explore the space that’s covered in this map and to look for examples of infrastructure that are currently serving human needs that could be transformed to serve both needs of human systems and natural systems simultaneously. So what happens if the goal posts on the football field become birdhouses and they serve both as a football goal and a birdhouse at the same time? Or what happens if our parking deck becomes an apiary and we have bees living in the parking deck? So we’re actually drawing bees back into the local area. Maybe there’s a flower garden on the top of the parking deck and the bees are pollinating the local plants around us.

Woebken: And then we’ll also try to make these responsive, so we can add some sort of opportunities for communicating with animals and with understanding these patterns and understanding these shifts. Maybe start with quantification but also going up to actually communicating and responding…

Montgomery: Or coexisting—some kind of proximity that gives us a sense that these organisms are as fascinating as they really are.

Work with Extrapolation Factory December 1–4 during the Walker’s Open House Weekend

Students of the Open Road: Alec Soth’s Winnebago Workshop

A few weeks ago I found myself in the parking lot behind a small industrial building. It was raining, I was in St. Paul, and I was lost. I knew I was in the right place, though, when I saw a giant RV parked in the corner—even more so when I noticed a cheerful man […]

The pilot program's culminating show. Photo courtesy of Little Brown Mushroom.

The Winnebago Workshop’s culminating show. Photo courtesy Little Brown Mushroom

A few weeks ago I found myself in the parking lot behind a small industrial building. It was raining, I was in St. Paul, and I was lost. I knew I was in the right place, though, when I saw a giant RV parked in the corner—even more so when I noticed a cheerful man waving enthusiastically at me from the window: Alec Soth. The photographer and his studio, Little Brown Mushroom, have been hard at work on a new project called the Winnebago Workshop, an educational program for teens. In the past, Little Brown Mushroom focused primarily on publishing, while dabbling in educational projects through experiments like the Camp For Socially Awkward Storytellers, a program for mid-career artists that serves as the Winnebago Workshop’s spiritual sister.

Winnebago Workshop is a seemingly straightforward concept: a group of young people are invited to take part in a workshop with Soth that focuses on the art of storytelling. The catch? The workshop lasts a week and takes place on a moving RV. What’s more: the RV is traveling to a destination determined by throwing a dart at a map. Oh, and also: the RV picks up teaching artists along the way. The humble Winnebago RV is essential to the success of the project because, as Soth tells me, photography and writing are “so often best when you’re forced into the world and you’re not behind a screen, sitting in your office.” As he puts it, Winnebago Workshop strives to “give that experience so it’s not in a classroom, it’s out in the world.”

"Is Life a Random Walk?" Photo courtesy of Little Brown Mushroom.

“Is Life a Random Walk?” Photo courtesy Little Brown Mushroom

The six teenagers who participated in the pilot Winnebago Workshop. Photo courtesy of Little Brown Mushroom.

The six teenagers who participated in the pilot Winnebago Workshop. Photo courtesy Little Brown Mushroom

During the summer of 2015, Little Brown Mushroom experimented with a precursor program, a weeklong project that consisted of six teenagers and two teaching artists. LBM staffers had thrown around the idea of the Winnebago Workshop for many months and, motivated by the feeling that “we have to do something just to stop talking about it and see what really happens,” Soth launched this pilot program. The group traveled around Minnesota taking photos, telling stories, and discussing ideas. At one stop, as Minneapolis-based artist Andy Sturdevant talked to the teenagers, Soth had his ah-ha moment, realizing that the Winnebago Workshop would indeed work: “The intimacy of being in a vehicle with a visiting artist is so different. And to have an artist talking with students while you’re moving. It was just like, it worked. I felt the goosebumps.”

The focus isn’t on teaching students how to use a camera or how to create good composition. “I don’t care if people use their smartphones,” says Soth, as long as “we can really cut to the meat of the subject matter and of engagement with the world.” A story from Soth about this summer’s Winnebago Workshop encapsulated his goal for students to interact with their surroundings in a real and meaningful way. He recounts:

So we traveled around in the RV. I mean, we would literally throw a dart at a map and go to that place. In one case, the dart hit this rural area, and we thought, you know there’s not going to be anything there. But let’s just go and see what the nearest thing is. And right there is this farm house, and so we were like, “Well, we’re here, we’ve gotta approach.” It ended up being this 75-year-old couple who farms this enormous acreage just by themselves, without their children, without migrant workers, any of it. And the wife takes us down to the basement and shows us her canning system, and the husband takes us and shows us his tractors, and the wife did this little dance for us.

Alec Soth in action. Photo courtesy of Little Brown Mushroom.

Soth in action. Photo courtesy Little Brown Mushroom

The Winnebago Workshop culminated in a pop-up show projected on the side of the eponymous vehicle in a parking lot in south Minneapolis. There were slideshows and performances by the teenagers, all at a location that was—of course—decided by a dart thrown at a map.

After the success of this summer’s test run, Little Brown Mushroom has decided to go ahead with its plans and officially launch the Winnebago Workshop program. There may be some changes when it does, however, such as encouraging collaboration between participants who are interested in diverse art forms. Soth would like young writers, comedians, and journalists to be part of the Winnebago Workshop and be in dialogue with teenage illustrators, filmmakers, or photographers. “Those lines can be blurred,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

Photo courtesy of Little Brown Mushroom.

Photo courtesy Little Brown Mushroom

To fund the project’s future, Little Brown Mushroom launched a Kickstarter campaign  in late October (which has already surpassed its fundraising goal). Soth’s aim is to keep the Winnebago Workshop free for all teenagers who participate in the project: much of the funds earned from the Kickstarter will go towards this goal.

After Soth told me about the elderly farmers inviting him and a handful of kids into their home, I asked incredulously if the couple was happy about the situation. “They were!” he responded. “It was a miracle, but it’s the miracle I realize as a photographer all the time. If you go out there, stuff happens, and stuff doesn’t happen if you just sit around thinking about it.” In this age of technophilia, Soth strives to teach teens to leave their computer, get outside, and live—an important lesson that we can all learn, regardless of our age.

Photos displayed on the side of the infamous RV. Photo courtesy of Little Brown Mushroom.

Photos displayed on the side of the infamous RV. Photo courtesy Little Brown Mushroom

Photo courtesy of Little Brown Mushroom.

Photo courtesy Little Brown Mushroom

Inspired by Whitten: Painting with Ed and Jeremy

Ed Charbonneau picked at a layer of plastic wrapped along the edge of a large canvas. Leaning forward, he delicately pulled upwards, raising the Saran wrap away from the painting and lifting up a thick layer of wet paint. A large group of college students who had dropped into this Target Free Thursday Nights program clustered […]

Jeremy in front of one of the three paintings. Photo of Angela Lundberg.Ed Charbonneau picked at a layer of plastic wrapped along the edge of a large canvas. Leaning forward, he delicately pulled upwards, raising the Saran wrap away from the painting and lifting up a thick layer of wet paint. A large group of college students who had dropped into this Target Free Thursday Nights program clustered around the paintings, enjoying the close-up view.  

Standing at a nearby table topped with tubes of oil paint and linseed oil, Jeremy Szopinski demonstrated to a six-year old how to mix oil paint with a palette knife. Jeremy held up a homemade tool that he and Ed created in their St. Paul studio—a giant apparatus composed of twenty hardware store paintbrushes hammered together—and dipped it in paint. Gingerly at first, a teenager picked up the mega-paintbrush. Gaining confidence, he spread it onto the canvas in a curving motion, adding a swathe of bright, textural paint onto the abstract composition of red and orange streaks.  

In another part of the building, a public tour listened to curator Eric Crosby discuss the work of Jack Whitten, a contemporary artist who is the focus of the Walker’s new exhibition, Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting. When looking at Untitled (1970), Crosby explained that Whitten swept everyday objects—in this case, a carpenter’s saw—across layers of wet acrylic paint to create the textured surface.

One can’t help but draw similarities between the ways that Ed, Jeremy, and Whitten used tools—ranging from squeegees, to carpenter saws, house painting tools, and Afro picks—to create texture. And while many museum educators might shy away from oil paint—a medium that takes days to dry, stains clothing, and prompts many complaints about odor—it was clear that people enjoyed rolling up their sleeves and wearing a painter’s smock. Experiencing the creation of a painting from beginning to end allowed visitors to place themselves in Whitten’s studio for the evening.

Jeremy and Ed tearing plastic wrap off their painting. Photo by Angela Lundberg.

Jeremy and Ed tearing plastic wrap off their painting. All photos by Angela Lundberg unless otherwise noted

Participants painting. Photo by Angela Lundberg.

Participants working together. 

Photo by Angela Lundberg.

Two sisters paint together. 

Jeremy explaining the process. Photo by Angela Lundberg.

Jeremy explaining the process. 

Ed mixing oil paint. Photo by Angela Lundberg.

Ed mixing oil paint. 

Photo by Angela Lundberg.

The tools that Jeremy and Ed used included a squeegee and a house painting trim guide , all purchased at a local hardware store. Photo by Angela Lundberg.

The tools that Jeremy and Ed used included a squeegee and a house painting trim guide purchased from a local hardware store. 

Mixing paint. Photo by Angela Lundberg.

Mixing paint. 

Jeremy and Ed at the end of the night, in front of the finished products. Photo by Julia Anderson.

Jeremy and Ed at the end of the night, in front of the finished products. Photo: Julia Anderson

Cute Cat Alerts

15-beaner

Did you miss seeing your cat on the big screen at the 2015 Walker Internet Cat Video Festival?

Well, have no fear! Cute Cat Alerts are here! As an added bonus, we’ve paired the audio from Ed Vogel’s audio project The Secret Music of Cats.

For those having a listen, Vogel’s music is an “inventory” of all the notes he collected from the “Discover the Secret Music of Cats” activity at CatVid. The Sonata using themes from “the inventory” development is a work in progress.

Cute Cat Alerts were collected, designed and produced by the great Andrea Brown!

 

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