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November’s Free First Saturday: Experimental Expression


By Rachel Kimpton

Guests in front of Bruce Conner’s “Night Angel”.

The warm welcome of family-friendly programming grows all the more enticing as winter creeps its way closer. November is always a busy time at the Walker, especially with the recently commenced performing arts season. This month’s Free First Saturday was no exception. Families flocked in to illuminate their Saturday, basking in the glow of visiting artist Laurie Anderson and experimenting with light, reflection, and inventing.

The morning started off by investigating and playing tricks with light via activities designed by artist Margaret Pezalla Granlund. In the Art Lab, kaleidoscopes of all shapes and sizes beckoned from tables, inviting curious hands and minds to pick them up and peer inside. Each turn of the kaleidoscope showed something different – a thousand pairs of laughing eyes, a thousand loving mothers, or a brief sneak peek at reality interspersed with a thousand tiny polygons.

If the kaleidoscopes were too dazzling, a simpler approach came in the form of two free-standing mirrors and an assortment of small objects. This seemed better suited for our youngest crowd members. With a slight tilt of one mirror, an infinite loop of images appeared, creating millions of apples or blocks or candles that faded into obscurity. The eyes of a child would narrow, and their tiny gears would start to turn. This garnered shared smiles of excitement and endearing gazes between parents. For the older kids brave enough to venture into the dark (some alone, some gingerly holding onto their taller guides), a forest of hidden secrets awaited that could only be revealed through the power of light. By placing the tiny LED against one’s temple and oscillating the finger to which it was attached, visitors were pleasantly surprised when shapes of leaves, trees, squirrels, and birds revealed themselves in the dark curtained tunnel.

Photo by Frannie Kuhs

On the way to exploring the galleries upstairs, visitors stopped at Cargill Lounge to challenge their inner inventors – some for fifteen minutes, and some for two hours. You know you’re doing something right when parents are just as into a hands-on project as their younger companions. Led by arts instructor Alexandra Waters, visitors designed their own illuminated structures using small lights and a variety of transparent materials including recycled film strips and tissue paper. The end products were altogether awe-inspiring. Highlights of the afternoon included: an angler fish, a Tony the Tiger Statue of Liberty, a decent sized model airplane with landing lights and engines, and several movie projectors (a quote from the 7-year-old artist: “Once I’m finished, it will project this film onto the whole side of the Walker!”)

Photo by Rachel Kimpton

Photo by Frannie Kuhs

Photo by Rachel Kimpton

And what better innovator to inspire creativity than multimedia artist and musician Laurie Anderson! An electronic inventor herself, Anderson generously presented an afternoon workshop for kids on top of her three evening performances in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. The promise of experiencing Anderson firsthand had parents geeking out for the entire morning. During her workshop, Anderson shared a chunk of her personal and artistic history, discussed her music and performance pieces, and showcased some of her instruments that she herself invented. Her beloved inspiration and companion for many years, Lolabelle the dog (may she rest in peace), appeared in videos as a skilled pianist. Between these discussions, Anderson performed selections from her recent work and invited young audience members to distort their voices and laughter through one of her filters. A brief question and answer session followed, giving younger audience members a chance to pick Anderson’s brain about her favorite creations and the many processes of inventing.

Guests also had the opportunity to participate in gallery activities in the Midnight Party exhibition. Guests created their own light impressions by applying concepts used by artist Bruce Conner in his piece Night Angel. Conner created this piece by positioning himself between photosensitive paper and a light source to essentially create a photographic negative. The farther Conner was from the paper, the darker the paper became. Toying around with these same ideas, visitors experimented with ultraviolet pens on UV sensitive paper. Unlike Conner’s piece, this paper did not permanently capture the effects of the light. Instead, the image remained for only a few seconds until it slowly faded away, returning the paper to its original blank state. The fleeting images dazzled visitors of all ages, making it hard to venture into the rest of the galleries.

Our other featured gallery activity asked children to share their thoughts on a specific work of art. Kids had great things to say about Robert Motherwell, Paul Sharits, Thomas Hirschhorn, and others. Yayoi Kusama’s sculpture Passing Winter was interpreted as depicting a snow storm inside a mad scientist’s lab, as well as the innards of a disco ball. One 10-year-old guest was reminded of “how lucky [she] is” by Kris Martin’s Still Alive, while an imaginative 6 year old guessed that Ed Paschke’s Painted Lady was inspired by feet that “were walking in the woods and tripped over a bucket of paint.”

Experimenting through art makes the upcoming winter season seem brighter.

All photos by Gene Pittman unless otherwise stated.

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