Blogs Field Guide

Talismanic Song: Gillian Conoley & Brian Laidlaw in Conversation

This Thursday, Rain Taxi will co-present Bay Area poet Gillian Conoley and local troubadour wunderkind Brian Laidlaw in a multimedia showcase, involving projected drawings of Henri Michaux, original and translated poetry and other texts, and composed and improvised music (let it here be known that Laidlaw on vox and guitar will be flanked by California’s […]

Brian Laidlaw. Photo: Ali Rogers

Brian Laidlaw. Photo: Ali Rogers

This Thursday, Rain Taxi will co-present Bay Area poet Gillian Conoley and local troubadour wunderkind Brian Laidlaw in a multimedia showcase, involving projected drawings of Henri Michaux, original and translated poetry and other texts, and composed and improvised music (let it here be known that Laidlaw on vox and guitar will be flanked by California’s Danny Vitali and Minnesota’s Bex Gaunt on multi-instrumental madness). The event celebrates the release of Conoley’s poetry collection Peace, as well as her translations of Michaux, Thousand Times Broken, and Laidlaw’s Amoratorium, a song-cycle about Bonnie and Clyde on vinyl with accompanying poetry chapbook.

Confused?  You won’t be as all these artists make magic together on stage. To whet our appetites, we asked the poets to riff a little on how the various disciplines they engage both dovetail and diverge.

Brian Laidlaw: Gillian, let’s get right down to it: What can poetry do that visual art and music can’t? And what can visual art and music do that poetry can’t?

Gillian Conoley: If we think of poetry or “the poetic” as being the ineffable, as something that can’t be said in any other way than in art, then poetry is in music and visual art. Music is certainly in poetry as in “if it ain’t got that swing, it don’t mean a thing” (thank you, Duke Ellington). Visual art has the gesture and movement of music, no? All I know is I couldn’t live without any of these arts and have a hard time separating them. Can you?

Laidlaw: Woof, who really can? I think of all these art forms as delivery systems for the same substance, and “the ineffable” is a great term for that substance. The delivery systems have their own logic and limitations: a song is fixed in time (its 3:38 duration), a drawing is fixed in space (its 12.5 x 9.5 inch area). Poems are special to me because, fundamentally, their content is timeless and spaceless; a poem reconstitutes itself in a reader’s mind.

When I first started writing, my songs and poems closely resembled one another: all metered and rhymed. That formalism is great for songwriting, but it severely limits the terrain in which a poem can roam. Encountering your work—Profane Halo and The Plot Genie were the first books of yours I read—was an absolute watershed moment for me. Your use of poetic form is virtuosic; it induces hallucinations, vertigo and enlightenment. How has your relationship to form changed over time? And (how) do music and visual art insinuate themselves into your poetic forms?

Conoley:  Always glad to induce a hallucination. Form: formal form, as in English form, metered and rhymed, I never could do it—I would write horrible things and it seemed like a math I couldn’t do, it almost made me want to cry. But I very much admire people who can do it and who make me forget it’s even there: I love Marianne Moore, for example. Even though I can’t do it I have studied prosody and still like to do so.

My relationship to form has changed a lot over time. When I first started to write, everything was justified left-hand margin, and I learned to break a line and make a stanza, and then I started to think about the page as a material in and of itself and how that might enter the poem—the page more as canvas or field or soundscape came into the writing. I’ve always written in black sketchbooks with no lines on them, where I make a big mess of words and images and phrases; I try to let everything in and not think about it or even think that I am writing a poem. I do this for pages and pages and then I wait for something to coalesce. I’ve learned (or I am still learning) how to wait, to work/trust in the materials. I also write lines I get just walking around into my cell phone–so much more trustworthy than scraps of paper I would lose!

Music has always been in my DNA because my dad and mom ran a small-town rural radio station thirty miles outside of Austin from the late 1940s to the 1980s: country western, soul, Mexican polka, Czech polka, rock ‘n’ roll. Johnny Cash, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Elvis, they all came to the station and played live in a little one-room studio lined with egg cartons for acoustics. I was really young, and not even born when Elvis came, so I only remember Joe Tex, but my older sister remembers James Brown. Painting I didn’t get a sense or love for until college, but it is life-long. If there were more time in the day and I didn’t have to work I would maybe try to learn to paint. I see things and write them down. I hear things, too, but my imagination runs more toward the visual than the auditory. I have a poet friend who says she doesn’t see ever, she only hears, so that’s interesting. Everyone has their own path.

I think artists have to be the most patient beings on earth. If you rush or strain, it shows. When do you know a line you get in your head is going to go in a poem or in a song? Or does it matter?

Laidlaw: There’s a Johnny Cash–encounter poem in Peace, and I wondered if it was a little autobiographical . . . what a wild time and place to have been running a radio station. I also love that you describe the pre-poem page as a canvas or field. It makes me think of Annie Dillard’s passages in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that describe how cataract patients, immediately after sight-restoring surgeries, first see the world as a patchwork of undifferentiated colors and shapes. Poems – particularly ones that treat the whole page as a visual field – have the capacity to depict the world in the same, frighteningly fresh, almost newborn way. It’s also in the presence of that fresh/frightening imagery that the most fresh/frightening insights happen; both as a writer and as a reader, those are the moments I live for.

When I’m writing, I’ve learned to dwell in a somewhat trance-like state where lines spontaneously form in my mind’s ear (it’s entirely aural, like your friend – not visual at all for me.) The process allows me to be surprised, even shocked, by the lines I’m writing.

I wanted to ask you one last question, to wrap things up: When audiences (students in particular) encounter unfamiliar music or visual art, they often seem comfortable letting the pieces wash over them, simply enjoying the new aesthetic experience, but when they’re encountering unfamiliar poetry, they seem likelier to resort to an “I don’t get it.” In your own work, how much do you worry about the reader “getting it”? Is there a specific “it” to get?

Conoley: The Johnny Cash encounter is autobiographical! When I was in my twenties I worked as a journalist both at Dallas Morning News and freelance and went on a B-movie film set where Cash was acting—really bad movie, I don’t even know if it ended up getting released. I didn’t, after all, write an article, so that part’s true, too.

The “I don’t get it,” the “it” there is to get: I think that has to do with a kind of default mode humans can go to when it comes to language. We have expectations of language that we don’t necessarily have when it comes to paint or sounds in music. Language, when we encounter it, we often think it is going to tell us something or give us information.  So the first step in reading poetry is to let go of that expectation, and to welcome in the other aspects of language: the sonic, the aural, its ability to trigger the visual in the mind.

This takes us back to the ineffable, where we began our conversation. Sometimes poetry is taught early on, say in elementary school, as though it is symbolic and there are symbols one must figure out: that’s the “get it” part. When really, if there is a symbol in a poem — and so many poems don’t even contain one — if there is a symbol, if the symbol is truly acting in its full-force, it is huge and associative and reaches us at an almost subliminal, subconscious level that one couldn’t even begin to paraphrase.

Having said that, though, it doesn’t mean that poetry is just this open art that is whatever the reader wishes to make of it. Of course there is intent, but what’s key for readers first coming to poetry is to open themselves up to what language can do when it isn’t busy just giving information. It’s a song, it’s talismanic; it reaches the intellect, the heart, and the body.

How Do You See the World?

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*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

Nearly 75 years ago, the Walker Art Center became a public art center. The Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections exhibition is part of the looking back through the years. If you visit the Walker you can also pick up a Walker Sketchbook. The sketchbook is built upon questions while also creating space for drawing, writing, and general on the page creativity.

I have an 8 year old daughter named Irene. She’s amazing and she’s the reason I went from writing and performing adult theater and comedy to making all-ages live theater and creating projects that connect with young people and families. Children have countless measurable and immeasurable impacts on the lives of their parents. I’m sure there are things in my life now that I’m not even aware are the result of my having and raising a child. So, it’s really exiting for me that so much of my creative work has been directly influenced by my parenthood.

I love questions. For me, questions are the best way to learn about other people and about ourselves. The Walker is a place built upon questions and, as the common wisdom goes, all good art raises more questions than it answers. So I was quite happy to my daughter light up when given a Walker Sketchbook last time she joined me at the Center. One of my favorite things about young people, although it can also be horribly frustrating, is their ability to think in wildly unpredictable ways. This week my daughter presented me with her completed Sketchbook. So I thought I would share some of the results here.

Q: What makes you Curious?

Worms? [coupled with a pencil drawing of a worm]

Q: What is a Dream?

A Sleeping imagination.

Q: Where does art take you?

It takes me to a whole nother world.

Q: How do we make art together?

Community.

Q: What is the story (of art)?

Love.

Q: What if there was no art?

My brain will melt.

 

I love these answers and can’t imagine I could give better answers. But I encourage you to get your own Walker Sketchbook and see where it takes you.

 

Fame Adjacent

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*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

As I was wandering through the Walker library this week, pretending I knew anything about most of the artists written about in the numerous shelves full of books, I started thinking about how important “fame” is to our understanding of art.

While it makes me feel a bit like a cliche, I’ll admit this thought hit me when I noticed that Andy Warhol had hundreds of books on him and his work. One of the first things a young person learns when exploring modern art is that Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

What struck me, though, was that there were so many more books on Warhol than all the other artists covered on the Walker shelves. Warhol’s work was and continues to be important and influential to art, artists, and popular culture. But, I think he has so many more books because he’s an art celebrity who transcended the art world and became and pop culture celebrity.

Much like how the people who win the wars are the ones who get to tell the stories of those wars, the people who become celebrities in their fields are ultimately the ones who make up the stories of those fields.  With the ease of finding a voice provided by online tools, there seems to be an increase in people seeking celebrity for celebrity sake without any real concern about making something worthwhile or being know for a skill or ability. This is troubling but perhaps inevitable as the people we hold up as important, even if they’re viewed as important because of what they accomplished, are celebrated as people. We almost always put the people first and then get into the actual accomplishments.

I don’t know that I have any conclusion for this post but I do have a question. Are you able to think about the art that you find compelling or that moves you without it impacting how you think about the artist who made that work? Should you be able to?

Meet the Walker People’s Archive

As the Walker celebrates its 75th anniversary, we’ve inaugurated the Walker People’s Archive (WPA), a crowd-sourced compendium of Walker history from the ground up, where visitors can see what others have to share and submit their own photos. Alycia Anderson, WPA intern, recently sat down with Jennifer Stampe, WPA project manager, to talk about the […]

As the Walker celebrates its 75th anniversary, we’ve inaugurated the Walker People’s Archive (WPA), a crowd-sourced compendium of Walker history from the ground up, where visitors can see what others have to share and submit their own photos.

Alycia Anderson, WPA intern, recently sat down with Jennifer Stampe, WPA project manager, to talk about the project. Jennifer has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Minnesota and has taught Museum Studies at New York University and Anthropology at Brown University. She was recently co-curator for an exhibit marking Brown University’s 250th anniversary at its Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Anniversaries seem to be her thing.

Walker Art Center staff in the lobby of the Barnes Tower, 1990

Alycia Anderson: What is the WPA? What’s its status today? How do you see it growing and developing in the future?

Jennifer Stampe: The WPA is a crowd-sourced, online compendium of people’s photographs and, just as important, stories about the Walker over its 75 years as a public institution. Over the summer, Education and Community Programs staff members began soliciting photos and stories from visitors at scan days held during Free First Saturdays and Target Free Thursday Nights. We also reached out to staff, volunteers and members who were likely to have great photos. The photos we collected allowed us to build a small archive and experiment with ways organize it.

For the Walker’s anniversary kick-off celebration, Walktoberfest, we launched a website where people can view the archive. More importantly, they can upload photos, caption and tag them, and tell their stories. This is an exciting time: now that we’re online, the archive will really start to take on a life of its own. We also want everyone to know that they are invited to participate in this project. For those who don’t yet have a relationship with the Walker, this is a chance to begin building one. New members of the Walker community are as important to us as long-standing ones.

AA: The WPA is a project created by the people of the Walker as a reflection of themselves, their relationships and their memories. How would you describe the Walker community?

JS: I see this project as an opportunity to learn about the Walker community, so I wouldn’t want to try to answer that question yet. But I will make a couple of guesses about what we might find. First, I think we’ll see that there is not any single Walker community, but rather many, overlapping communities. Second, I think we’ll see affiliations that disrupt the usual kinds of associations we think of when we hear the word community. So beyond expected communities — of staff, artists, or neighbors, for instance — I think we’ll also see clusters of people who share something based on where the Walker fits into their lives. I’m thinking about those who’ve gotten married in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, students who have visited the galleries on a field trip, or fans of the Internet Cat Video Festival. Or something else we don’t imagine at this point. I’m hoping that  responses to this project will surprise us, and that we’ll learn something unexpected about the Walker and its people.

AA: The WPA is designed to be a place where the past and present mix, with polaroids and iPhone snaps illustrating decades of Walker experiences. With all of that potential diversity and change, do you expect visitors’ stories will have a theme which connects them?

JS: The main thing the stories we’ve heard so far share is an emphasis on family and friends. We don’t always think of it this way, but museum-going is a social experience: the people we’re with matter as much as what’s going on within the museum’s walls.

We’ve heard a few stories about moms, in particular. Carol Lichterman, a charter member of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, gave us this photo and told us about attending the Garden’s opening in 1988 with her mother, Sylvie Lichterman.

Sylvie Lichterman at the opening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1988. Photo by Carol Lichterman.

As the morning’s ceremonies drew to a close, Carol asked Sylvie to pose in front of her favorite piece. Without hesitating, Sylvie chose Claes Oldenburg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry. Once the photo was taken, Sylvie exclaimed, “All of a sudden I feel like having an ice cream sundae with a cherry on top!” and proposed that she and Carol told Carol skip their planned lunch and proceed directly to dessert. Carol says, “Every time I explore the Garden now on my own, I think of [my mom] and how we enjoyed the Garden’s opening together.” The opportunity to make that kind of memory, based on spending time together exploring new ideas, is a thing the Walker has been able to offer people in its capacity as a public institution.

AA: What attracted you to the Walker and the WPA? Has your work in anthropology influenced your perception of the project and its goals?

JS: I’ve lived in Minneapolis (or had it as my home base) for a long time and I’ve been a Walker member for several years, so coming to work here was attractive. The project is particularly appealing because it’s multidisciplinary, as so much at the Walker is, with its archival, curatorial and outreach components. The way I think about the WPA is definitely informed by my background in anthropology. My research to date has examined the ways that people understand new kinds of museums, like those oriented to serving specific communities, so this project is right up my alley. Beyond that, I see the submissions we’re getting as a kind of data; my role is to analyze that data and to create opportunities for others to do so, and in creative, expansive ways. Fortunately, my training in the social sciences equips me with the tools for conducting ethnographic interviews and oral histories, and those have been useful in the conversations I’m having with people who are submitting photos and stories to us. Most importantly, anthropology is interested in describing social worlds in ways their participants would recognize: I’m hoping that people will see themselves in the WPA.

AA: The next question you may have seen coming: what’s been your most vivid experience at the Walker? And do you have a favorite contributor story or photo you’ve encountered so far in the archive?

JS: My most vivid Walker experiences don’t have photos to go along with them. I’m a fan of the Out There performance series, and I always attend the annual Choreographer’s Evening. I have had my mind blown during these and other performances over the years. And I loved visiting the Walker when the expansion opened in 2005. I remember wandering the new spaces wondering at the then unfamiliar building materials, and thinking about how that was a very different experience than looking intently at works in the galleries.

I have clear mental images of these experiences, but nothing I can share with the archive. That’s probably true for many potential contributors, so we encourage creative solutions: submitters with a memory but no photo could make a drawing to illustrate their story in the archive. Or they could get their friends together for a photo re-enactment of an important moment.

As for favorite submissions, I get the feeling that I will always love whatever photo has come in most recently. We recently finished scanning a binder of photos from Bob Teslow, a longtime art instructor at the Blake School’s Kenwood Campus, our neighbor on Vineland place. Bob was on the scene as the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden took shape in 1988, and he took wonderful photographs of many of the sculptures being installed. This one shows Mark di Suvero swinging on his sculpture Arikidea.

Mark di Suvero swings on his Arikidea during its installation in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1988. Photo by Bob Teslow.

Or there’s this photo, submitted by Peter and Peggy Georgas. Peggy made her own gowns for the Walker exhibition openings she attended with Peter, who was the Walker’s publicist from 1964 to 1979. Peggy made this dress for a reception held for Andy Warhol in 1968. She told us that she routinely finished the (sometimes very short!) hems of some of her creations in the car on the way to the party.

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Peggy Georgas, ready for another Walker evening, 1968. Photo by Peter Georgas.

AA: Personally, I can’t wait to see a collection of awkward family portraits or visitors’ first impressions of the Walker. What kind of kinds of submissions will you be most excited to see?

JS: I’m most interested in seeing those that include rich, reflective stories. Don’t get me wrong: we do want absolutely want photos of everything and everybody, snapshots and selfies, from serious to silly. But there are some particularly compelling shots and narratives out there, and those are central to the archive. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

As for genre, I’m partial to photos of people taking photos. I could say it tells us something about the ways we use photography, but really they just make me laugh. I also like mysteries, shots where we don’t know what’s going on or who is pictured, and I hope that people will help us identify unknown subjects and activities in others’ photographs. Over the coming months, we’ll hold events at the Walker that will give WPA participants a chance to meet and respond to one another’s photos.

AA: Have you taken the obligatory selfie at Spoonbridge and Cherry?

JS: I have to admit I haven’t, yet. Let’s go take some pictures. We can start making #OurWalker memories today!

At John Cage’s 33 1/3 in Art Expanded, 1958-1978

With FACES: Set #8, Darryl Nelson in Art Expanded

Getting our Spoonbridge on

In the swing with Arikidea!

Questions about the WPA? Contact Jennifer at wpa@walkerart.org

 

Strong, but not too strong, opening.

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Untitled (Andromeda) spin-painting. Alfons Schilling.

*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

The Walker Art Center was built on an ancient burial ground. Alright, as far as I know, that’s not true. But I bet that opening sentence would make you want to keep reading that story.

First sentences to stories can be perilous. Whether it’s meant to be read or being written for a live performance, the first sentence has the job of being interesting enough to pull the audience in but not so exciting as to over-promise or set-up the rest of the story for disappointment. As a writer and performer of comedy I know that if the first thing I say on stage is the funniest thing said in the entire performance the audience will walk away disappointed or at the very least underwhelmed by the overall experience. And if you see a popular band you’ll notice they will never play their biggest hit to open the show.

The same challenge exists for curators when staging a museum exhibition.

On October 16th, the Walker’s new “Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections” opened. In celebration of the Walker’s 75 years of public institution-hood, the new exhibit covers the past 75 years of acquisitions and exhibitions. This exhibition is laid out over three galleries with multiple entry points. There’s very little control over where a visitor first engages with the exhibition or how they consume the work.

At one of the entry points to “Art at the Center,” visitors are confronted by Alfons Schilling’s Untitled (Andromeda) spin-painting. Schilling’s piece spins at a rate of 3 revolutions per second which not only impacts how a visitor connects with the work but also sets a tone for experiencing the exhibit overall. The work actually moves, which immediately disrupts expectations of art hanging on a wall in a gallery. But it’s neutral in black and white colors and it manages to be fairly non-aggressive for a large spinning piece of art. The piece works to pull a visitor into the exhibition without being so overwhelming or even so compelling as to as stop visitors from wanting to move on or draining their energy.

It’s fun to think of how curators pace out an exhibition the same way I would think about putting together a comedy show or how a choreographer would put together a dance. You have to consider how the audience will feel from moment to moment and how each of the various parts can impact one another. And when a curator gets it right, just like in comedy, no one really notices the intentionality behind the staging.

Joke Telling and Fill In The Blanks

Walker fill in the blanks

Walker fill in the blanks

*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

For the October First Free Saturday we put together a fun Fill-in-the-Blanks activity that lets folks create their own unique description of Art Expanded, 1958-1978. You can print your own Fill-in-the-Blank with this pdfWalker Fill In The Blanks – Art Expanded exhibition edition

Here’s how 8 year old Benjamin put together his description of the exhibit.

Walker fill in Benjamin

We also helped visitors write jokes and invited them to share some of their favorite jokes with us. Below is a video compiling some of those awesome jokes.

how to be more like Ben Patterson when I grow up

“I was not ready for Patterson.” The first time writer, vocalist, and sound artist LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs witnessed legendary Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson’s work, she left with a puzzle: “How would I approach my own scores, and how might I play with instruction to express my curiosities/concerns by employing mundane objects?” In anticipation of  […]

“I was not ready for Patterson.” The first time writer, vocalist, and sound artist LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs witnessed legendary Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson’s work, she left with a puzzle: “How would I approach my own scores, and how might I play with instruction to express my curiosities/concerns by employing mundane objects?” In anticipation of  Patterson’s arrival at the Walker this week, we invited Diggs to reflect upon these first instructive encounters with Patterson’s work and to compose a few original scores of her own. Diggs appeared at the Walker last March to present poems, songs, and myths from her acclaimed debut book TwERK  as part of the ongoing Free Verse literary series (copresented with Rain Taxi Review of Books). She’ll be making a return to the Twin Cities next month when her piece muscle memory (a work in progress) will be performed at Pillsbury House Theatre.

Benjamin Patterson, A Penny for Your Thoughts, 2012 Performance at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, January 5, 2013 Courtesy the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Max Fields.

Benjamin Patterson, A Penny for Your Thoughts, 2012 Performance at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, January 5, 2013
Courtesy the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Max Fields

“The explicitness of the black body, the explicit body’s blackness, is not only about the way a certain lived experience can be said to bear the traces of bareness; nor is it encompassed in what is it to bear the only black body on-site or onstage or in the room or in the frame.”

                                                                        —Liner Notes for Lick Piece, Fred Moten

To have your own style is to crystallize.”

                                                                       —Bruce Lee

 

Admission: I heard a brief mention of his name years ago but was slow on my homework. So on March 31, 2011, when Ben Patterson did an evening of chance operations, scores, and a talk at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the first embarrassed, muffled utter from my mouth was “He’s black?” Sitting there sandwiched between artists Mendi + Keith Obadike and composer/pianist Courtney Bryan, it was difficult to not hide my personal joy in his playing and toying with how art, poetry and performance are defined. And despite my personal exploits in innovative poetics and deconstructing “the reading,” I was not ready for Patterson.

I sit. Watch Patterson do Patterson. He orchestrates with our bodies. Our feet. We shift forward, backward, right and forward again. He scores our bodies. Then there is a fish bowl and a small fishing pole. He’s smiling. As he instructs and addresses, a whole new vocabulary is being gifted to me. The poet/performance artist Edwin Torres wrote that “poets are creatures of awareness; receptive beings that embody transition.” Before experiencing Patterson in action, a handful of artists I’ve encountered embodied Torres’s words. And now,  Mr. Patterson has sent me home with a puzzle of sorts. How would I approach my own scores, and how might I play with instruction to express my curiosities/concerns by employing mundane objects?

Water Score Front Back Cover

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Water Score #1

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Water Score #1, 2011

In 2013, at the Roulette in Brooklyn, I, along with the Obadikes, are now participants during his retrospective concert. I am one of several people wearing Victorian paper masks, offering him a rose to be blended and drank, shooting confetti into the air and playing a multicolored party horn as I would my first clarinet in grade school.  And thinking in the car ride back to Manhattan, how I composed before was now pleasantly warped. Patterson altered my appreciation of Br’er Rabbit, of Coyote, of Raven, of Èṣù, of shape-shifters. And then there is his linear timeline. His proficiency at shape-shifting within the creative realm (as well thrive as an arts administrator) was a template to move me forward in my ventures as a novice of the avant-garde, the experimental, the curatorial.

Back to 2011. A slide comes up. There is a photo of a performance where Patterson digs a hole. His audience: a handful of white onlookers.  I am perplexed by this footage and action. A black male body digging into the earth for hours. The action conjures up sharecropping. It even invokes death. For whom is not explicit. Enter the coyote god again. To play upon hard labor as something of ease. To present accessibility when historical action is far more complicated and unnerving.

Program leaflet from the Studio Museum Harlem, which includes an image of Patterson's Methods and Processes (detail), 1962.

Program leaflet from the Studio Museum Harlem, which includes an image of Patterson’s Methods and Processes (detail), 1962

I read:

and think garbarge man, boogy man, Eichmann, etc.”

                                                 Methods and Processes (details) 1962, Ben Patterson

I see:

James Earl Jones in Claudine, The Spook That Sat By the Door, COINTELPRO.

 

When someone rings a bell, we conjure and call upon spirits. When we light a candle, we keep our ashé strong.  These are actions I’ve come to understand as ritual. Should I see Patterson’s work as a bell? As a candle?

 

Paternity

(Performed to “America the Beautiful” as performed by Ray Charles.)

  • Paint ten Darth Vadar masks in various shades of brown from brownish black to beige.
  • Place in 10 manila envelopes one sheet of blank paper.
  • With 10 volunteers, have each place the mask on their face.
  • Give each of them an envelope.
  • Instruct the volunteers to stand in a semi circle behind a chair center stage.
  • Sit in the chair.
  • Have each volunteer walk toward you, reveal the paper and announce one of two statements:
  1. I am your father.
  2. I am not your father.
  • After they have announced the results, volunteers will hand over the sheet of paper to you.
  • Volunteers rejoin the semi-circle.
  • Tape the sheets of paper together and swaddle yourself.

 

82 Combo 28 Straight (in 2 parts)

Materials for action

  • 1 Box of TNT Bang Its
  • Roll of Brown Paper
  • Jar of Molasses
  • Brita/Pur water filter pitcher (32-64 oz.)
  • Sharpie Marker

Part 1

  • Make a doll in the shape of a boy out of brown paper.
  • Leave it faceless.
  • Place the paper doll on the pavement.
  • Smash and trample the doll.
  • Proceed with throwing meticulously 1 bag of bang-its at the doll.
  • Leave paper doll on pavement, near a gas station for 7 days.
  • On the 7th day, carry the doll to the ocean.
  • Pour molasses on the doll and place it in the ocean.
  • If it sinks bid it farewell.
  • Take a picture.
  • Press [enter] to continue.

Part 2

  • Fill up a water filter pitcher with water.
  • Allow the water to go through the filter.
  • Carry the pitcher with water to the ocean.
  • Once you arrived at the ocean, empty the pitcher into the ocean.
  • Refill the pitcher this time with the ocean.
  • Wait for the ocean water to go through the filter.
  • Pour the ocean water back into the ocean.
  • Repeat this process until you’ve cleansed the ocean of all impurities.

Artists Respond to Fluxus

What do Walker Open Field, the avant-garde art movement Fluxus and socially-engaged art practice have in common? That is what the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department explored through this summer’s program, FluxField.  This project took advantage of the concurrent timing of Open Field and the opening of Walker exhibitions Art Expanded: 1958-1978  and Radical […]

What do Walker Open Field, the avant-garde art movement Fluxus and socially-engaged art practice have in common? That is what the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department explored through this summer’s program, FluxField.  This project took advantage of the concurrent timing of Open Field and the opening of Walker exhibitions Art Expanded: 1958-1978  and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, both containing a strong Fluxus presence.

We invited a range of artists to create projects or events for Open Field inspired by or in some cases in reaction to the works, philosophy, and cosmology of Fluxus.  FluxField artists included Beatrix Jar (Bianca Pettis and Jacob Aaron Roske), BodyCartography Project (Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad), Andy Ducett, Mike Haeg, Rachel Jendrzejewski, Chris Kallmyer, Maria Mortati, and Margaret Pezalla-Granlund. The indomitable Laurie Van Wieren also jumped into the flux fray with her Open Field piece, 4×4 = 100 Choreographers Dancing Outside.  Key Fluxus figures Alison Knowles and Benjamin Patterson were invited to perform their work during the summer and fall.

We asked several of these FluxField artists to share their thoughts on working with Fluxus, and what follows is a compilation of their responses.


 Part One: What is Fluxus?

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Alison Knowles walks down Nicollet Mall with Jacob Aaron Roske, photo by Lacey Criswell

Fluxus is People

I think of Fluxus first and foremost as the loose network of artists in the late 1950s into ’60s who first carried the name – who understood art as inseparable from everyday life, and vice versa, and performed lots of public experiments accordingly. And who also constantly disagreed with each other about what “Fluxus” was about. I think of names like John Cage, George Maciunas, Alison Knowles, George Brecht, Nam June Paik. So in that sense, I think Fluxus is people.

Rachel Jendrzejewski

Fluxus began as a network of ad-hoc, often disputed, orchestrated acts that turned noticing into craft. These orchestrations were performed around the world, and have infected all fields of art.

Maria Mortati

Maria Mortati's FluxField Interpretive Trail

Maria Mortati’s FluxField Interpretive Trail

Fluxus is the Score

If you were to say one true thing about Fluxus, you could say that Fluxus is about the primary experience itself. The vehicle for exploring the now moment in Fluxus is through the Event Score or the Fluxkit. To create a score, we have to envision ourselves as someone uninitiated with our ideas. We put ourselves in the shoes of another person—an act of empathy—and we offer an experience to anybody who would invest time to decode the document and act it out in real time and space. A score is a set of rules for engagement. It is the same for a recipe, a manual, or a blueprint.

Chris Kallmyer

Event Scores involve simple actions, ideas, and objects from everyday life re-contextualized as performance. Event Scores are texts that can be seen as proposal pieces or instructions for actions. The idea of the score suggests musicality. Like a musical score, Event Scores can be realized by artists other than the original creator and are open to variation and interpretation.

Alison Knowles (via Chris Kallmyer)

Through the Fluxus score, I find a great closeness in the contract between the artist and participant.

Mike Haeg

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Rachel Jendrzejewski’s Walker Yam: 100 Scores for Open Field, photo by Steve Cohen

Fluxus is Contradiction

I think of Fluxus as a kind of fluid philosophy and practice, which is still very much alive today— a view that art is indeed inseparable from everyday life, and vice versa, and an embrace of constant contradiction. You can’t actually pin Fluxus down because it’s always moving:  Fluxus says that all of life is art, and yet it’s deliberate in its framing and rigor; Fluxus says that art is for everyone, but it’s not necessarily people-pleasing or meaningful;  Fluxus simultaneously disowns and embraces institutions, not to mention the very concept of “art.” And I believe all those contradictions are exactly what makes it true to everyday life- it’s a way of seeing that embraces the complexities of the world, that doesn’t pretend anyone or anything is static.

–Rachel Jendrzejewski

Fluxus is an insular form speaking to the art world’s nuanced concepts of the object, vision, and experience. Simultaneously, Fluxus is an open initiation to life and living, enabling the public to take the scores into their own everyday.

–Chris Kallmyer

In the words of founding Fluxus member Ben Vautier, “Fluxus was a pain in art’s ass.”

–Maria Mortati

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Chris Kallmyer’s Play Catch, All Together, photo by Gene Pittman

Fluxus is Experience and Togetherness

Fluxus is changing together.

—Mike Haeg

Wandering in a field is experiential, and fit the notion that I needed– for people to be, do, and have the opportunity to ‘participate’ as well as reflect; to take in and try it on for size, in a low stakes way.  The public wandered along, beer in hand, taking a picture or two. Near the “Play Ball” score, a giant poodle took off with all the balls. In the end, the question of “What Is Fluxus?” came down to experiences.

—Maria Mortati

[Fluxus Drawing Club] didn’t just point at the art history and try to teach someone something, but facilitated doing — and that doing was the Fluxus part. The doing — everyone doing — is the art part and the experience part; the understanding part, and the “it” of it.

Margaret Pezalla-Granlund

 Part 2: Why Fluxus?

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Chris Kallmyer leads catch with lemons, photo by Gene Pittman

I’ve always been drawn to Fluxus for the way it can both disrupt us from and draw us deeper into everyday life. Those sound like two different actions, but both are wake-up calls. I particularly love the early Fluxus event scores – the text as well as the actual doing of them. They feel simultaneously sacred and disposable, which I think signals a certain kind of wisdom – related to loving fully while not clinging too hard, or honoring all life while accepting nothing lasts forever, or keeping a healthy sense of humor about serious hard things – in short, getting comfortable with letting contradictions co-exist. I think our culture could use way more of all that, hence the ongoing appeal and relevance of Fluxus.

–Rachel Jendrzejewski

I’m inspired by the playfulness of Fluxus and the simplicity. But most of all, I’m moved by Fuxus’ spirit of kindness and revolution: change the world with a box full of smile– hell yes!

–Mike Haeg

I saw the original Walker Art Center Fluxus show years and years ago, and have remembered and thought about it often since. What has stuck with me is the sense of wide-ranging curiosity and creativity, the willingness to cede some seriousness to get at something engaging, and the feeling of wit and humor and shared experience. I also think it’s really smart: as much as Fluxus was about freedom and play, it was also about context and care and a kind of precision. Simple is not easy.

–Margaret Pezalla

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Mike Haeg’s Fluxus Running Club, photo by Gabby Coll

This is the thing that surprised me about the Event Scores: the works are a direct invitation to play, as well as an invitation to presence. Serious focus and purposeless play are both intensely human and increasingly rare. Goofing off is another form of presence, or rather a complete lack of presence when we abandon our veneer to embrace a purposeless sense of wonder. We goof off and are human. In this way, Fluxus and their Event Scores point to our human condition in a way that is wildly dynamic. The score is an invitation, a call to action, and first-hand study and performance of these scores would be healthy for any of us.

–Chris Kallmyer

Part Three: Making Something Out of Fluxus

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Mike Haeg’s Penny Event, photo by Gabby Coll

Fluxus is all about change right? So, why not shine a spotlight on change? That’s why I made the Penny Event change tray sculpture emblazoned with its inherent and unintentional score “LEAVE-A-PENNY / TAKE-A-PENNY”. I placed the pieces on the counters in gas stations and bodegas to spark an artful exchange in an unexpected moment of the day and to spark a thought of commerce at a point of give and take that has been obscured by the credit process.

–Mike Haeg

I’ll be the first to admit that “living the life of the idea” of Fluxus was not something that came easily. On projects I take the deep dive into the world of the place, space, or community until I can swim around with it. It was a harder start to get my brain around and into Fluxus. I am accustomed to museums wanting to pin things down, so working with the antithesis was both liberating and focusing. It sharpened my thinking around the historical trajectory of social practice art, and around opportunities to bring the public into art and vice versa.

–Maria Mortati

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Walker Yam: 100 Scores for Open Field, photo by Steve Cohen

My performance/writing practice is a kind of awareness practice, and Fluxus always has served as an influence in that sense, but I’ve never really written Fluxus-style scores. Talking with Sarah Schultz about why Fluxus matters in 2014, and how Fluxus might live in Minneapolis on the Open Field, made me want to write my own Fluxus-inspired scores to find out. I spent a lot of time reading through the Fluxus Performance Workbook, and I started writing my own scores in response to some of them, and then spinning off some of them, and then writing some completely removed from them. I wrote them quickly (and I don’t usually write quickly) because I really wanted to let them be disposable. I wrote them on the bus and in my apartment and in parks and on an airplane. I thought a lot about the field, and people coming and going from the field to other places. I edited them down to a batch of 100 that felt the most rooted in this time and city. I don’t know why the number 100 felt right — but it feels like just the beginning. Now I want to write 1000.

–Rachel Jendrzejewski


Benjamin Patterson, a key figure in the Fluxus network of artists, visits the Walker on October 9 as part of the exhibit Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art.  Art Expanded, 1958-1978, which explore the expanded arts of the 1960’s and 70’s, is on view through March of 2015, and includes the work of Alison Knowles and George Macunias, among other notable Fluxus figures.

4×4 = 100 Choreographers Dancing Outside

What do Walker Open Field, the avant-garde art movement Fluxus and socially-engaged art practice have in common? That is what the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department explored through this summer’s program, FluxField.  This project took advantage of the concurrent timing of Open Field and the opening of Walker exhibitions Art Expanded: 1958-1978  and Radical […]

What do Walker Open Field, the avant-garde art movement Fluxus and socially-engaged art practice have in common? That is what the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department explored through this summer’s program, FluxField.  This project took advantage of the concurrent timing of Open Field and the opening of Walker exhibitions Art Expanded: 1958-1978  and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, both containing a strong Fluxus presence.

We invited a range of artists to create projects or events for Open Field inspired by or in some cases in reaction to the works, philosophy, and cosmology of Fluxus.  FluxField artists included Beatrix Jar (Bianca Pettis and Jacob Aaron Roske), BodyCartography Project (Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad), Andy Ducett, Mike Haeg, Rachel Jendrzejewski, Chris Kallmyer, Maria Mortati, and Margaret Pezalla-Granlund. Key Fluxus figures Alison Knowles and Benjamin Patterson were invited to perform their work during the summer and fall.

Choreographer and curator Laurie Van Wieren also jumped into the flux fray with her Open Field piece, 4×4 = 100 Choreographers Dancing Outside, a celebration of the Twin Cities’ thriving dance scene. She describes the process of putting together the piece below.


Laurie Van Wieren prepares the audience for the coming event

by Laurie Van Wieren

When Laura Holway, coordinator of Walker Open Field, asked me if I had anything that I might want to share this summer, I realized I knew something that most people aren’t aware of: there are more than 350 dance-making entities in the Twin Cities. I suspected that, if I designed a structure that lasted just 30-minutes and was very clear about the parameters, I just might be able to gather together 100 choreographers at Walker Open Field on a Saturday afternoon. This was a chance to demonstrate the diversity and quantity of choreographers in the Twin Cities, as well as to explore my own dual role as choreographer and curator.

Background

My connection with the Walker Art Center started early on in my life in the Twin Cities. I was a guard at the Walker, and as a dancer and visual artist, I was influenced by many of the choreographers and performance artists that came through, including the Fluxus artists. My first work of choreography was presented at a Walker Choreographers Evening in 1981– a dance made up of looped gestures, performed by my fellow guards (artists themselves) within a grid pattern.

Dance community members reunite, including Molly Van Avery, Chris Garza, Baraka de Soleil and J. Otis Powell

Dance community members reunite, including Molly Van Avery, Chris Garza, Baraka de Soleil and J. Otis Powell

I have been working as a choreographer and performance artist in the Twin Cities since then. Ten years ago we didn’t have many places to show works in progress or talk about dance work, so I started 9×22 Dance/Lab at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater. Every month, I invite three dance-makers to show and discuss their work. With that experience, I stepped into the role of curator at the Southern Theater, and then the Ritz Theater. My hope was to help grow the presence of dance in those venues. Unfortunately both of these mid-sized theaters have folded as presenting institutions, and are now struggling to find their footing.

The numerous props are set for 4x4=100 Dancing Outside

The numerous props are set for 4×4=100 Dancing Outside

For artists and choreographers, it is a new, not-so-brave world. The low economy pushed performing art onto the back burner in the minds of the audience community. Yet, the artists are still out there creating work in ever more expansive ways, as well as blurring the lines between presenting, producing, curating and making art directly. To survive and thrive, dance artists are compelled to create new models all the time. I am hoping that we can find new ways to sustain ourselves. Until then, we work with what is in front of us.

Motivation and Logistics

The impulse to create 4×4=100 Choreographers Dancing Outside came from a handful of different ideas and influences: an interest in experimenting with Curation-as-Choreography and the artist as curator; my visual arts background; the Fluxus score; my interest in compositions of live action. I am especially proud of being a part of an extremely engaged and active dance community. I wanted to showcase this profusion of talent. For me, curation is about making space and time for artists to do their own specialized work. I created parameters within the piece that allowed all participants to simultaneously perform their own dance and be seen within a large community group.

The choreographers parade into the chalked grid, including Arwen Wilder, Sharon Picasso, Kristin Van loon, Morgan Thorson, Deborah Jinza Thayer, Stacy Sabin, Dylan Fresco, Chris Schlichting, Max Wirsing, Emily Gastineau, Chris Holman, Neel and Pramila Vasudevan, April Sellers, Judith Howard, Megan Mayer, Matt Regan, Paul Stucker, and Anat Shinar

The choreographers parade into the chalked grid, including Arwen Wilder, Sharon Picasso, Kristin Van loon, Morgan Thorson, Deborah Jinza Thayer, Stacy Sabin, Dylan Fresco, Chris Schlichting, Max Wirsing, Emily Gastineau, Chris Holman, Neel and Pramila Vasudevan, April Sellers, Judith Howard, Megan Mayer, Matt Regan, Paul Stucker, and Anat Shinar

This summer’s Open Field had ties to the Fluxus art movement, which felt like a happy coincidence. My interest in Fluxus started in art school, where I was drawn to the work of John Cage and Yoko Ono. In 1993, I was invited to work with Fluxus artist and archivist Larry Miller on the Walker exhibit In the Spirit of Fluxus. We performed the scores of Alison Knowles, George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Lamonte Young, Emmett Williams, Yoko Ono and more. I loved that the actions of the Fluxus scores were simple and restrained, but also exciting and fun; every Fluxus artist seemed to have their own style of putting a score together. Fluxus influenced 4×4=100 Dancing Outside in a number of ways, from the organization of the grid pattern, to the simple score (or set of instructions) described below.

Akiko Ostlund and the other 30 minute performers begin

Akiko Ostlund and the other 30 minute performers begin

The piece was an open call, with a notice put in the dancemn newsletter and on Facebook. The first week of the notices, 25 people signed up. By the middle of June there were 80, and one week before the show, 100—plus a waiting list. Some people had to drop out at the last minute, and all waitlisted folks got in. In the end we had exactly 100 choreographers.

Dustin Maxwell cuts a piece of grass

Dustin Maxwell cuts pieces of grass

Each choreographer was instructed to perform in an assigned 4’x4’ space, within a larger 40’x40’ square for one of three intervals: 10, 20 or 30 minutes. There were no restrictions or stipulations on what they performed (it could be an improvisation or finished work or anything else), other than that they stay exactly within their 4’x4’ space. There were no group rehearsals, although the performers were invited to practice on the field if they chose.

100 Outside

Judith Howard and April Sellers spray paint squares outside of the 40'x40' space

Judith Howard and April Sellers spray paint squares outside of the 40’x40′ space

The night before the performance, Laura Holway and I created the grid with a baseball field chalking machine, aided by the very helpful math and spatial skills of Jael O’Hare. Fortunately, it didn’t rain…yet.

Pramila Vasudevan and her son Neel in their 4'x4' space

Pramila Vasudevan and her son Neel in their 4’x4′ space

The next day all 100 choreographers showed up, raring to go. We talked through the score, made sure that everyone knew the location of their assigned square, and set props. It was a quite pleasant day; the weather folks predicted showers later in the afternoon, but we remained undaunted. The group prepared to parade towards the grid, dancers costumed in bright, beautiful and sometimes extravagant attire. It was a cacophony of riotous color. And then, 8 minutes before show time a very dark and ominous cloud parked itself immediately on top of us.  With this not-so-subtle prompt, I started us off early. As the large mass of choreographers and dancers moved up the hill, the dark cloud began to leak. Out went the 30-minute performers. The rain quickened, and I sent out the 20-minute performers early. Suddenly the steady sprinkle became a downpour and the audience, surrounding all sides of the 40’x40’ grid, grabbed their umbrellas and let out a collective shout… and NOT ONE PERSON LEFT!

Deborah Jinza Thayer pours water over her head

Deborah Jinza Thayer pours water over her head

Jennifer Arave performing as the rain begins

Jennifer Arave performing as the rain begins

Erika Hansen dances, surrounded by Courtney Baga, Leah Nelson, Galen Higgins, Dylan Fresco and HIJACK

Erika Hansen dances, surrounded by Courtney Baga, Leah Nelson, Galen Higgins, Dylan Fresco and HIJACK

It poured buckets! The wonderfully diverse (and drenched) mix of dancers stayed and continued to perform with even more focus: modern, post-modern, ballet, Cuban folk, belly dancing, character dancing, jazz, Flamenco, percussion, Butoh-like, comic…and more. From the audience, the group felt like an orchestra: you could pick out one dancer, or take in the whole group. Everyone became more themselves in the rain. With a frenzied concentration, it was wild, wonderful, glorious and transformative. The wind whipped up; the skies became even more ominous. The Walker Security bellowed over their loudspeakers, “You must clear the field now!!!” When I heard something about a tornado, I cut the piece short…not wanting to wipe out a large part of the dance community in one fell swoop. The performers bowed. After a speedy group photo, we all ran for the Walker lobby.

Members of the first and second groups dance together, including Jael O'Hare, Robert Borman, Meriam Colvin, Sherry Saterstrom, Jennifer Arave, Stacy Sabin, Morgan Thorson, Heather Klopchin, and Edna Stevens waiting to go on

Members of the first and second groups dance together, including Jael O’Hare, Robert Borman, Meriam Colvin, Sherry Saterstrom, Jennifer Arave, Stacy Sabin, Morgan Thorson, Heather Klopchin, and Edna Stevens waiting to go on

The audience huddles as the rain increases

The audience huddles as the rain increases

Pam Plagge performs a set of dances from the Orisha tradition, including a rain dance, while her teacher Rene Thompson looks on; Billy Mullaney reaches new heights on his ladder

Pam Plagge performs a set of dances from the Orisha tradition, including a rain dance, while her teacher Rene Thompson looks on

Dancers in the pouring rain, including Kenna Cottman, Kaleena Miller, Sherry Saterstrom, Mary Easter, Charles Campbell, Jennifer Ilse, Penny Freeh, Maggie Bergeron, Jeff Wells and Tom Kanthak

Dancers in the pouring rain, including Kenna Cottman, Kaleena Miller, Sherry Saterstrom, Mary Easter, Charles Campbell, Jennifer Ilse, Penny Freeh, Maggie Bergeron, Jeff Wells and Tom Kanthak

Reflecting

At the beginning of the project, Laura Holway asked me what audience members could expect the piece to look and sound like. I responded: A mass of chaos and beauty, framed. It will sound like Conlon Nancarrow, John Cage, Britney Spears, birds calling and children yelling. It might remind people of a flash mob, but an anti flash mob- no one will be dancing the same way- they will be doing their own singular work at the same time as everyone else, in the same very 40×40 foot grid.

This was all very accurate, but with torrential rain and more joy!

The audience joins in for the annual dance community photo

The audience joins in for the annual dance community photo

To all the participants: Thank you so much for coming out and taking a chance on being involved in the piece. You were fantastic! It was a joy to watch you collectively and individually. It was obvious that we have a hunger to convene; let’s find more ways to do it.

To the Walker: Open Field is an outstanding project, and it was great to be involved. I cannot say enough about how encouraging and helpful you were! Thank you especially to Sarah Schultz, the Education and Community Programs staff, Walker interns, and Laura Holway.

4×4 = 100 Choreographers Dancing Outside included the choreography of

Berit Ahlgren, Arlys Alford, Gabriel Anderson, Nika Antuanette, Jennifer Arave, Courtney Baga, Emma Barber, Maggie Bergeron, Bonnie Berquam, Olive Bieringa, Blake Bolan, Young-Tse Bolon, Robert Borman, Emma Buechs, Tim Cameron, Charles Campbell, Tom Carlson, Mike Cohn, Miriam Colvin, Beverly Cottman, Kenna Cottman, Angharad Davies, Ryan Dean, Baraka de Soleil, Mary Easter, Torre Edahl, Rachael Freeburg, Penney Freeh, Dylan Fresco, Emily Gastineau, Lazer Goese, Izzi Gorowsky, Susanne Grochett, Robert Haarman, Marilyn Habermas-Scher, Annika Hansen, Erika Hansen, Lara Hanson, Deborah Heltzer, Galen Higgins, Chris Holman, Judith Howard, Alison Hoyer, Colette Ilarde, Jennifer Ilse, Kalila Indiver, Margaret E. Johnson, Justin Jones, Tom Kanthak, Ellen Keane, Robert Keo, Missa Kes, Tara King, Heather Klopchin, Amy Lamphere, Nick LeMere, Jim Lieberthal, Erin Liebhard, Jennifer Mack, Theresa Madaus, Megan Mayer, Dustin Maxwell, Kaleena Miller, Julia Moser-Hardy, Kara Motta, Motion Arts, Billy Mullaney, Blake Nellis, Leah Nelson, Jael O’Hare, Akiko Ostlund, Jane Peck, Sharon Picasso, Pam Plagge, Otto Ramstad, Matthew Regan, Sally Rousse, Stacy Sabin, Sherry Saterstrom, Chris Schlichting, April Sellers, Anat Shiner, Sean Smuda, Darius Strong, Paul Stucker, Deborah Jinza Thayer, Jennifer Theodore, Monica Thomas, Morgan Thorson, Svitlana Shtilman, Michael Sommers, Edna Stevens, Kristin Van Loon, Pramila Vasudevan, Vanessa Voskuil, Jeff Wells, Arwen Wilder, Josie Winship, Christopher Yaeger, and Nan Zosel.


Benjamin Patterson, a key figure in the Fluxus network of artists, visits the Walker on October 9 as part of the exhibitRadical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art.  Art Expanded, 1958-1978, which explore the expanded arts of the 1960’s and 70’s, is on view through March of 2015, and includes the work of Alison Knowles and George Macunias, among other notable Fluxus figures.

More Conscious

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*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*

“Before answering your question I want to be sure that all of us understand what I mean when I say artist. I am not only talking about painters or sculptors, I am talking also about the men who design furniture, automobiles, refrigerators, tableware, and the things we all have around us every day. For all of these artist the Center does a very great deal. Artists must have people who use and appreciate their work. It stands to reason that if we, as a people, are more conscious of what the artist does for us, the artist will have greater support and more economic security. The Center is building among people an interest and appreciation for art. Although the Center also provides 80 jobs for artists and technicians, in the long run, its work of bringing more people to the support of art is more lasting than the paycheck it gives the artist.”
—Daniel Defenbacher, first director of the Walker, radio interview, August 1941

I’ve been digging through the Walker archives recently and, with the help of the amazing Walker archivist Jill Vuchetich, I got my hands on transcripts from correspondences and radio interviews from 1940 and 1941 surrounding the early days of the Walker’s public institution-hood. (One quick side note about archivist Jill Vuchetich: she is lovely and super-knowledgeable. Seriously, I dare you to try and ask her something about the Walker’s history that she can’t answer. End of digression.)

There’s this fascinating thing I’ve noticed while going through random images, texts, and other museum detritus from the past. Half of the things I’m reading or seeing from 50-plus years ago feel very dated and specific to their era, and the other half feel entirely relevant and contemporary. I know things are often cyclical and art is specifically a place where something old is constantly being made new again. I’m not a genius, but I work hard to stay on the right side of total idiot.

But the above quote I pulled feels so close in so many ways to conversations that are surrounding my creative community all the time lately that I can’t quite process my reaction to it. I can’t decide if it’s thrilling to see that 70 years ago significant thinkers in the art world were working to remind the general public that art is so much more than what you typically see in a museum or if it’s disheartening to think that one of the biggest barriers artists have in connecting with their audience, being perceived as human and accessible, hasn’t actually progressed in any significant way.

Luckily, I’ve got a plan. I love working creatively with young people for many reasons; they’re not worried about looking stupid, they’re generally excited to try something new, and they think up awesome and unique ideas constantly. But the main reason is because young people have not yet been told that fart jokes aren’t “Art.”

I think the democratization of art and what people think of as art lives and dies with our children. Any programming I create for young people, any performances I stage for an all-ages audience, any work I make with this audience in mind is in service of highlighting to them that they are constantly making and consuming art in countless forms. It’s not just about making people “more conscious of what art does for us,” but also about making people more conscious of how much art they are doing all the time. The more people who self-identify as makers of art, the more support there will be for art in all its forms. The only way to change people’s relationship to art and artists on a grand scale is to connect with them when they’re young and keep connecting as they make their way through the world.

A vital part of that ongoing connection is pointing out how funny it is when someone slips and falls on a wet floor, and then pointing out how artistic that funny fall can be.

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