Blogs Field Guide Paul Schmelzer

Paul Schmelzer is managing editor of He was lead organizer of the Walker's 2015 conference Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age and co-editor of its online publishing complement, Superscript Reader. As a writer, he focuses on art, media, and activism for publications including Adbusters,, Art in America, Hyperallergic, Huffington Post, Hyperallergic, Raw Vision, re:form, and Utne Reader, among others. His interviews with architect Cameron Sinclair, artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, and activist Winona La Duke appear in the book Land, Art: A Cultural Ecology Handbook (Royal Society of Arts). He's also been known to ask celebrities, from Yoko Ono and Matthew Barney to Noam Chomsky and Kim Gordon, to sign his autograph. Twitter: @iteeth

2014: The Year According to Jeff Chang

Jeff Chang. Photo: Bert Johnson To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and musician Grant Hart  to  artist Kalup Linzy and designer David Reinfurt—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: […]


Jeff Chang. Photo: Bert Johnson

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and musician Grant Hart  to  artist Kalup Linzy and designer David Reinfurt—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 . 

Jeff Chang is a journalist, music critic, and the author of the American Book Award–winning Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation and the just-released Who We Be: The Colorization of America, which “chronicles the rise and fall of multiculturalism through the lens of visual culture.” Executive director of Stanford’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Chang cofounded CultureStr/ke and ColorLines, as well as the indie record label SoleSides (now Quannum Projects), which helped launch the careers of artists including Blackalicious, DJ Shadow, and Lyrics Born. He visited the Walker in 2007 and 2008 for a panel discussion on Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop and for a discussion with Walker Teen Programs on the state of hip-hop and politics in America today.


asubtletyHow did Americans see race in 2014?

All one needed to do was to spend an hour in Kara Walker’s summer installation in Brooklyn, entitled A Subtlety: or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

There was nothing subtle about the work or the reactions it generated. Her sugar sculpture, an inflated take on 18th century British and French court decorations, inflated stereotypes to factory size—this was a handkerchief-headed mammy-esque sphinx, with Kardashian curves and outsized genitalia. Walker’s art has always meant to provoke, and in some ways this piece succeeded bigger than any of her previous works.

Viewers fell right into their roles. Many walked into the factory, mediating Walker’s art through their camera or phone lens. They posed for each other, grinning, as if they were tourists at their destination. Quite a few mimicked caressing the sphinx’s breasts and thrusting their hands toward her vulva. The whole air was a little too carnival-like.

What was really being exposed here? When it was revealed later that Walker had filmed the crowds it seemed to confirm that she was meant to make all that implicit bias and make it pretty damned explicit.

We live in an era in which multiculturalism has taught us what not to say. From that we have won a new kind of civility—what the reactionary trolls still call “political correctness,” if ever more shrilly each day. But the price for that civility may be an abiding silence about bias and inequity and violence—both the kind that allows cops to pull the trigger on Black women, men, and children, as well as the kind that causes people to snap public photos of themselves in mid-finger-fuck and then to post those images to social media.

A Subtlety broke that silence, loudly. It was the mirror that screamed.

The day I arrived, late in June, the sticky sweet molasses smell had curled into putridity. Rot had set in. Some of the smaller sculptures of attending children had melted and collapsed in the night, their heads rolling away from shards and ponds of molasses that were once supplicant bodies holding baskets. I heard onlookers tsk-tsk Walker’s supposed sloppiness. “It’s ruined,” I heard one woman complain. “I can’t even enjoy this.”

That weekend, a group led by women of color had mobilized a counter-space within the space as if to say, “Race, gender, class, history—anyone?” They passed out stickers to anyone uninterested in playing the Ugly American type. Their organizing would eventually spawn more teach-ins, meet-ups, and mobilization around issues of cultural equity. Those representational tags they handed out that day read, “We Are Here.”

It’s a sign of these terrible times that even when your president is Black, some people still need to be reminded.



YAMS Collective

And so for all the above reasons, salute to the YAMS Collective!



Damon Davis, All Hands On Deck

The tireless Damon Davis’s All Hands On Deck project felt like one of the most urgent. In the days after Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared martial law to mobilize the National Guard against expected protests before the grand jury decision—let’s ponder that for a second—Davis took pictures of the hands of community organizers and leaders, raised in the manner Michael Brown had when he was shot at least six times. He and a team of volunteers then wheat-pasted these large broadsides up and down West Florissant Avenue, Ferguson’s main thoroughfare, on the plywood boards that local businesses had put up in anticipation of rioting.

All Hands On Deck galvanized the local network of young organizers and community activists as they went about the hard work of putting together an infrastructure to organize peaceful demonstrations and create safe spaces for the community to deal with the expected non-indictment. It also made their work and their message visible, against a media hellbent whipping up a frenzy for teargas and fire.

In the hours after the verdict, the National Guard and the police abandoned West Florissant to protect their department, shopping malls, and government buildings. Predictably the fires started up. But many of Davis’s posters remained up, a visible testament to the community’s fight to live.



Hank Willis Thomas, Raise Up, 2014

Hank Willis Thomas’s sculpture Raise Up was completed before Michael Brown was shot with his hands in the air. He had in fact made the piece for series of works called “History Don’t Laugh,” using South African apartheid-era photos. His sculpture was adapted from one by Ernest Cole depicting mineworkers subjected to a humiliating medical exam involving full body searches.

Of course in the past month, Hank’s sculpture gathered new layers of meaning. Art as prophecy, yet again. Raise Up echoes the same transformation that protestors across the country gave Brown’s final gesture of submission, changing it into a symbol of mass resistance.



J. Cole

J. Cole: “All we want to do is break the chains off. All we want to is be free.”



Photo: Phil Sears/AP

DREAMers and Dream Defenders

I’m continually awestruck by the young activists who dare now to speak in the language of dreams, particularly the DREAMers and the Dream Defenders. The DREAMers won an unexpected victory when Obama finally agreed late this year that he did actually have the power to be able to offer deferred action to millions of undocumented immigrants. Five million more are now a step closer to realizing their dream.

The activist organization the Dream Defenders have also been heralds of this national moment in which we have been called to reckon with racial injustice. They emerged in the wake of the George Zimmerman acquittal to occupy the Florida State Capitol for a month to call attention to the travesty that is Stand Your Ground. One of their early manifestoes read, “They expect us to riot; to torch cities and burn bridges. They expect us to disperse; to wait for the next ambulance. But we challenge you to build. Real Power.”

They did all this while wearing t-shirts that read, “Can we dream together?”



Rebecca Solnit

I’m so thankful for Rebecca Solnit. From Men Explain Things To Me and The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness to her timely pieces in Harper’s, across the web, and on her Facebook page, she captured the shift in national consciousness around sexual assault and rape. It was gratifying to hear her tear down the specious, mansplaining rationalizations that have preserved the silence around these issues. It has been a historic year for feminism and Rebecca has been one of our truest guides.



Claudia Rankine, Citizen

More than ever race is about the politics of seeing and being seen. Claudia Rankine’s quietly beautiful book, Citizen, begins with the internal terror that comes from daily acts of microaggression.

Someone says something or does something to you that cuts at the root of your identity. It comes from a favored teacher who mistakes you for the other Black girl, a new acquaintance who can’t get over the fact that affirmative action has prevented her son from attending the school you both work at but instead forced him to attend another elite institution, or even yourself—when you and your husband have unwittingly inflicted the surveillance of white cops upon a close friend.

The flood of doubt that pours forth never seems to subside. You drown in your own questions. Race becomes the constant rupture, the perpetual ache. In precise and beautiful prose, Rankine shows how microaggressions implode you from within.


FlyLo-Cover (1)

Flying Lotus, You’re Dead

In my personal life and in the world, death has surrounded us too much lately. But Flying Lotus’s album You’re Dead made me laugh, cry, shout, and just bug out. In other words, it did all those little big things that remind us why life matters, why Black lives matter, why each of us must fight so hard for all of us to live.



James Baldwin. Photo: Ted Thai

James Baldwin

No words meant more to me this year than these from James Baldwin, who, perhaps in order to hold the despair at bay, modulated throughout his life from a precise, righteous rage to an unbound hope in the good of others. In a speech in November 1962 that came to be called “The Artist’s Struggle For Integrity,” he laid out an ethics of creativity, one that can apply as much to all of us, a blueprint for hopeful living. He begins by speaking about artists who, like all of us, are compelled to create because of a hurt or a trauma:

“You survive this (hurt or trauma) and in some terrible way, which I suppose no one can ever describe, you are compelled, you are corralled, you are bullwhipped into dealing with whatever it is that hurt you. And what’s crucial here is that if it hurt you, that’s not what’s important. Everybody’s hurt.

What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with.

You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less.”


2014: The Year According to LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from artist Korakrit Arunanondchai and curator Devrim Bayar to  filmmaker Sam Green—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to   […]

Me Press Photo 2005

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from artist Korakrit Arunanondchai and curator Devrim Bayar to  filmmaker Sam Green—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 . 

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs is a performer, poet, sound artist, and—as Shannon Gibney put it in her Walker  interview with Diggs last March—an “intercultural mestiza, at once an interloper and a translator, an authentic and an inauthentic voice of ‘the Other.”” A prolific producer, her projects range from the poetry volume TwERK (Belladonna, 2013) to chapbooks, including Ichi-Ban, Ni-Ban (MOH Press), to the album Televisíon. Diggs’s interdisciplinary performance work has been featured at The Kitchen, Brooklyn Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Modern Art, Minneapolis’s Pillsbury House + Theatre, and the Walker—where she performed a reading of TwERK in early 2014—among many others. A native of Harlem, Diggs is past poetry editor for the online arts journal exittheapple and founding editor (with writer Greg Tate) of YoYo/SO4 magazine. In October 2014, she shared her thoughts on her first encounter with artist Ben Patterson, whose work is included in the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, as well her own Fluxus-inspired scores.

What is the ideology behind an exhibition space,
a ”best of,” a poetry reading, a film festival,
a performing arts venue, an “according to”?


Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou dance at the The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou dancing, February 22, 1991. Baraka passed away on January 9 and Angelou on May 28, 2014. Photo: Chester Higgins

In memoriam: Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou

Their contributions to African-American and American literature are immense. To persons of color globally, there are simply not enough words. Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou at times appeared to contrast each other in perception. That said, the two of them shared common goals, loves and commitments. It is because of their friendship that we have that iconic photograph of the two performing an “African custom of ancestral return” at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Widely respected and adored by their readers, their works both touched upon racism and the Black experience. Their activist work placed them in rooms working alongside leaders in America as well as in Africa. Both wrote and collaborated with a number of artists in the visual and performing arts. It is daunting to imagine African American culture without their mark on a great many voices. We came to love and demand that our blackness be celebrated within our communities. We became phenomenal. We became fire.




Bishi @ The Kitchen, May 16, 2014

Singing in Bengali, English, Bulgarian, and Biblical Greek, multi-instrumentalist Bishi’s New York debut of Albion Voice was beyond what anyone witnessing her for the first time could have imagined. And then there were those eight or more costume changes that invoked Diana Ross, Bollywood, Grace Jones, and David Bowie. Not only was there a brown realness in front of you exploring “personal and national identity” through projected video animation and voice, but also this striking brown buoyancy tracing the evolution of English as the medieval mongrel tongue it once was to what it is today. And then she strapped on an electric sitar like a rocker and ran it through effects. Only a fellow sistren could admire such bombastic flair and be so utterly star-struck on a random street in Brooklyn months later. And then she had a wind machine. She brought the “black” back to The Kitchen.


Picture 100

Melvin Edwards, Rouie Rufisque, 2005–2012
Welded steel
16 x 13.25 x 6.5 in
Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
© 2014 Melvin Edwards / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Final Days: Melvin Edwards at Alexander Gray Associates

Between 1972 and 2002, the sculpture Melvin Edwards taught at Rutgers University. Of the classes he taught, one in particular took on a different approach when teaching/learning art history. To interrogate and explore art from a “third world” perspective meant expanding outside the textbook’s limitations, thus allowing broader themes and formal qualities from elsewhere into the work. To ponder upon this as pedagogy and personal mantra, what we see in Final Days is the evolution of such. The careful studies of abstraction and minimalism are not the only items exhibited here. Should we tap into our innate ability to cross-pollinate “between cultural and social realities,” experience here the stories and anecdotes Edwards has come to learn. Occupying both floors of the gallery, these interactions become a sort of engine. His on-going Lynch Fragments—the series of steel wall reliefs that Edwards began during the Civil Rights era—take on names from Wolof, Kimbundu, Serer, Islamic Senegalese, Yoruba, and Kikongo cultures, among others. They also connect to the history of labor and the African Diaspora. As a distinguishable spade reveals itself in an entanglement of mechanical debris in Rouie Rufisque, one feels the letter V shouting from a conjoined padlock. Edwards is in conversation with his fellow artists. He is equally with the farmer, construction worker, weaver, and superintendent. How the ax merges with horseshoe, nail, hoe, machete, and wrench is complicated by either gridded frames or the convexed side of spheres. I feel he wants us to recover something. In one piece, Diamnaidio (2004), we are asked to contemplate on the affect and meaning of roundness nestled under this beautiful explosive tension. In Homage to the Poet Léon Gontran Damas—an installation that has not been shown since 1993—serves as a meditative counterpoint to Lynch Fragments.  In this large scale piece, the use of shape, shadow and purpose are dictated by sunlight. Damas, by the way, was the cofounder of the Negritude Movement. And very dear to my heart is the single work on paper displayed: Untitled Portrait of Jayne (c. 1974). Utilizing spray paint and chains—a common source material in his Lynch Fragments—Edwards uses the silhouette of his late wife, the poet, activist, and artistic collaborator Jayne. A side note: This particular image of Cortez was also the cover art for her album Celebrations and Solitudes. For Edwards, one of the pioneers of African American contemporary art and sculpture, to stencil chains into the foreground creates a reaction near opposite its violent past. As the chains are disrupted by Cortez’s image, they become less weighted and their significance is radically transformed. In sum, much in the tradition of how a poet might use “words in poetry,” the sweetness of life and tribute are profoundly interwoven within the complexities of his work. His second retrospective, Melvin Edwards: Five Decades will open at The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas Texas, January 2015. I need a plane ticket, folks. Hook me up.


4_Birds With Sky MirrorsBirds With Sky Mirrors. Photo: Sebastian Bolesch

Lemi Ponifasio / MAU’s Birds With Sky Mirrors @ BAM Next Wave Festival, November 22, 2014

The audience is haunted by the moving image of a pelican trapped in what appears to be an oil slick – an image that has become all too common of the impact of man’s destructive nature upon nature, of excess and consumption, of the loss of memory. Yet as we are continuously pulled away and abruptly hit with this image throughout the show, we are driven viscerally towards Ponifasio’s question: “What would the last dance on earth look like?” Behind this masterful blend of musculature shadows, ritual and community, the answer takes on an assortment of bodies and voices with an ensemble largely composed of men and three women. At times deliciously challenging and stunning, the choreography calls upon traditional Samoan, Kiribati (a Melanesian island that scientists report will disappear by the end of the century) and Maori song and movement to inform (or be informed by) Butoh. The effortless reversals of gender roles are trickster-like but service this illusive 90-minute performance luminously. In bare amber hues underscored by a transcendental sound composition, BWSM transformed the actual space into succulent yet defiant waves addressing us to contemplate upon our own humanity.


maria magdalena campos pon

Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons at “Carrie Mae Weems LIVE,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Photo: Enid Alvarez. ©Guggenheim Foundation

María Magadalena Campos-Pon’s Habla La Madre at the Guggenheim performance, April 27, 2014

Presented as part of Carrie Mae Weems LIVE: Past Tense/Future Perfect, at exactly 11 am, a performance/procession called to everyone’s attention the forces of nature that aid in our paths and to whom we must ask for guidance. Joined by an ensemble of Afro-Cuban musicians—which included master percussionist Roman Diaz—under the direction of collaborator and composer Neil Leonard and seven women in blue dresses, the Cuban artist María Magadalena Campos-Pon literally gave the Guggenheim a spiritual cleansing. In honor of the orisha Yemanjá and Weems, a cake and blessed water was offered much to the worry of Guggenheim staff. The cake was placed carefully beside the pond. The water—which was poured into the pond—revealed live goldfish! The Guggenheim was not ready. The procession began outside and entered into the main lobby. Once inside, the seven women recited a poem (written by Mike Ladd). During the recitation, Magdalena announced her prayers for Yemanjá and Weems. In a dress that almost resembled the museum’s architecture, Campos-Pon led the procession up the ramp and into each of the floors where Weems’s three decades of photography was on exhibit. In unison, the women and Campos-Pon sang a traditional Lukumi song for the orisha who represents the ocean, the primordial waters and motherhood. This was life altering and, no, the Guggenheim was not ready.


5_Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. Photo: Sonia Louise Davis

Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts

Two-thousand fourteen has been quite a year for the author of the acclaimed book Harlem Is Nowhere (2011). Her essays were everywhere they needed to be. “From the Desk of the Freedwomen’s Bureau” appeared in The Waiting Room Magazine (for Simone Leigh’s The Free People’s Medical Clinic). Another appeared in Creative Time Reports (as part of Funk God Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn, co-curated by Rashida Bumbray). Then there was her essay “The Worth of Black Men, From Slavery to Ferguson” in the New York Times. All the while Rhodes-Pitts—partly inspired by Pig Foot Mary, an African American woman who became an entrepreneurial success by selling pigs’ feet out of a baby carriage, and by the history of Black independently run bookstores in Harlem—created BLACKNUSS: Books and Other Relics, a pop-up bookstore on the sidewalk of 133rd and Lenox Avenue. So what is it exactly? A site-specific installation? An example of situational aesthetics? How about Kujichagulia, one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa by way of shopping cart, travel suitcase, and camping table, ornamented with freshly picked cotton? What does she sell? Books. Some rare charms like a Bob Kaufman broadside. Essentials like luscious uncut shea butter from Uganda (which is now my special occasion shea butter … should I have a special occasion). Incentives for conversation and debates like special brewed teas and bean pies. She also does consignment.  Rhodes-Pitts’s charge for empowerment and self-sustainability (emblematic in the African American community) set up shop recently at Asian American Writer’s Workshop’s Counter Culturalists Series and at The Studio Museum in Harlem. At SMH, Rhodes-Pitts premiered Moor’s Head Press of BLACKNUSS with three pamphlets of essays by Arthur Jafa, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Sylvia Wynter.


6_Rashida BumbrayRashida Bumbray’s Little Red Rooster in a Red House

Rashida Bumbray’s Little Red Rooster in a Red House @ Harlem Stage, April 2014

What was so unadulterated about Rashida Bumbray’s piece is her ongoing homage to tradition. Even in the description, contemporary art curator and choreographer Bumbray credits her choreographic lineage: Margaret Christian, Syvilla Forte, and master improviser Adenike Sharpley, with whom she is featured in the performance. Tap and ring shot are evident. Also are the slender divides between the secular and sensual: the church lady and the juke joint fever pitch. Choreographed to Jimi Hendrix’s recording of “Red House” (1970), the performance was the amen-hallelujah-oh no she didn’t-get it girl moment of the evening. The brevity and complexity within the vocabularies Bumbray used signaled to the audience to do nothing else but combust into a flurry of call and response. It was an enduring blood memory; a repossession of identity and migration that without delay sang of good times. We were in the waters of William Henry Johnson’s I Baptize Thee. Presented as part of Harlem Stage’s EMoves, Little Red Rooster earned Bumbray a nomination for a 2014 Bessie for NY Dance and Performance Award for “Outstanding Emerging Choreographer.” Now we need to see this full scale. Bring her to the Walker Center for reals.


7_Marie-Wilcox Photo Credit Global Oneness Project)

Maria Wilcox. Photo: Global Oneness Project

Language, Politics, and Resistance
Or, why
Marie Wilcox is my latest hero

The 1996 Dover Thrift Edition of Native American Songs and Poems contains 15 “traditional” songs from 15 indigenous nations within the US. What are absent from this anthology are the actual languages these songs originate from. Could we therefore present this as a minor-yet-compelling argument for language revitalization? For many folks, the subject of Christopher Deschene, a presidential candidate for the Navaho (Diné) presidency and the issue of language fluency as an eligibility requirement in Navaho elections were introductions to the sociopolitical and cultural bearings associated with First Nations languages. This same year, Alaska became the second state (Hawai’i is the first) to officially recognize some 20 indigenous languages with the passing of House Bill 216. Included are the Inupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Unanga, Dena’ina, Deg Xinag, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Gwich’in, Tanana, Upper Tanana, Tanacross, Hän, Ahtna, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages. And somewhere in between, a New York Times documentary about Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language in California, seemed to flutter about in social media. In 2000, it was reported that of the “211 indigenous languages still extant throughout the United States and Canada, only 20 of them are spoken by the youngest generation of their communities.” And in 2014, another article stated “according to Unesco, more than 130 (other articles cite 175) of these languages are currently at risk, with 74 languages considered ‘critically endangered.’” Whether or not these numbers are accurate, perhaps it is time for Americans to care about this. The question one wonders is: Will other states follow Hawai’i and Alaska by officially acknowledging languages like Yurok and Wampanoag where, within these communities, First Nation peoples are working tirelessly to retrieve and retain their ancestral tongues?


Martha Redbone by Ebru Yildiz 300dpi[1]Martha Redbone. Photo: Ebru Yildiz

Martha Redbone & Aaron Whitby, A New Musical (a reading), Joe’s Pub’s New York Voices Series, December 2014

Receiving a last-minute invitation, I understood this to be a workshop. That said, what I experienced was enough for me to fight back tears as what was being witnessed had not before been told in this format or setting. Commissioned by Joe’s Pub and with direction by Roberta Uno, this latest endeavor marks Martha Redbone’s premiere musical theater production. Tracing back her lineage to the mining camps in the Appalachia and her African/Cherokee/Choctaw/European roots, the voices of her ancestors tell a deeply charged story of family struggles and triumphs. With just a sampling, the presentation situates the audience enough for what will be revealed later once the musical is complete. From North Carolina to Virginia to Kentucky to Oklahoma to Brooklyn, these already dazzling songs and storyline are profoundly emotional and are at times hysterical with slanted humor. Redbone and Whitby’s musical references are expansive. Bluegrass, gospel, R&B, traditional and contemporary Cherokee (Tsalagi) are mere hints, as are the renditions of “America (the beautiful)” and a starry-eyed reference to Nat King Cole. This is a story that has been missing from the popular American narrative, a narrative that the playwright William S. Yellow Robe, Jr. would be proud of. The project will be workshopped again for three nights at Joe’s Pub in February 2015.



9_Bilmo packs for Abu DhabiBilmo packs for Abu Dhabi. Photo: Jennifer Zelinger

Bill Bragin named executive artistic director of new performing arts center in Abu Dhabi. Bilmo follows.

At Lincoln Center, as director of public programming overseeing summer programs like “Lincoln Center Out of Doors” and “Midsummer Night Swing,” Bill Bragin (along with his team) brought some of the best performances to LC’s audiences for seven years. So when the announcement of his new position as executive artistic director of the New York University’s Performing Arts Centre in Abu Dhabi came out, Bragin’s Facebook page encountered the type of online traffic that could have eminently shut down the site. As vocalist Imani Uzuri joked about at his send-off party on November 24 at (le) poisson rouge—the night’s music was a collaborative Spotify playlist Bragin invited folks to submit their favorite song to—almost every musician, programmer, arts presenter, curator and DJ in attendance had worked with Mr. Bragin in some capacity. And as co-producer of Globalfest, an annual showcase of new and emerging international artists, Bill will remain an integral part of New York City’s live arts scene. But the picture of Bilmo, his most trusted confidant, packing a suitcase? This might be the biggest upset. Bilmo, by the way, is not a puppet. Bilmo, Bill’s illusive half-brother, adorns a puppet costume in order to conceal his immortal arresting allure. He’s always been a bit shy about his good looks. More importantly, Bilmo felt we common folk would then surely pay less attention to the programmer extraordinaire we know as Bill Bragin. Which explains the reason why Bilmo sat off in the far corner of the stage atop of a bass cabinet at the send-off. But Bilmo, we see you, bro. We see you.


10_Chris Ofili:NO WOMAN NO CRYChris Ofili, No Woman No Cry, 1998

Chris Ofili: Night and Day, When Shadows Were Shortest @ The New Museum 

In Trinidad and Tobago, the day length averages 12 hours, according to A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Trinidad & Tobago. With dawn and dusk occurring within an hour (6 am and 6 pm), it is no wonder how transition from light to dark with considerable layering of blue and silver may shift one’s perception of place. This much is embodied in Blue Riders Series, which occupies a portion of Night and Day, When Shadows Were Shortest, Ofili’s first major solo show in the United States. Known for his earlier paintings that utilized elephant dung, on display here are works ranging from painting to sculpture to drawings to costumes (on the fifth floor, you can see some the costumes and sets he designed for London’s National Gallery and the Royal Ballet). The visual samplings, collages that juxtapose cultural references (Australian aboriginal, hip-hop, expressionism) with religious beliefs and mythologies, are extraordinary. Perhaps my favorites are from the Afro Romantics Series, along with Blossom and his exploration of the margin through automatic drawing that nods to abstract expressionist Norman Lewis. But perhaps his most poignant work at this time is the painting of Doreen Delceita Lawrence, the mother of a black teen killed on the streets in South East London in 1993. Gazing at her tears and the small, almost deceptively miniscule images of her son, we are reminded once again of the problem of institutionalized racism. Just go see it.


11_The All-Nite Images : Flickr via Creative CommonsUnknown girl crying. Photo: The All-Nite Images, Flickr, used under Creative Commons license

Michael Brown, Amir Rice, Eric Garner; Palestine, 43 students abducted and found dead in Iguala, Mexico; 219 girls kidnapped in Nigeria;
1,000+ aboriginal women missing or murdered in Canada … I can’t breath … ana’akot noktiipa … inau teo aheahe …

How can one weigh in on the circumstances happening in this country and abroad? For me, it is troubling as any of these events, individually, could be deconstructed and pressed upon for months on end. What is equally disconcerting is that any person (and some have) can fall into the cracks and be forgotten. The underlying challenge here is emotional exhaustion: the feeling that one does not have enough breath for all that needs attention, that one must pick and choose in order to breath. In one breath, currently, Boko Haram militants have abducted more girls since April when they “kidnapped close to 300 from the Government Girls Secondary School” in Nigeria. Second breath: Do we know the names of the four Palestinian boys, between the ages of 9 and 11, who were killed during an Israeli naval and aerial attack on July 16? Third breath: Are we immune to the possibilities of loved ones being kidnapped, killed, and dismembered all because they wanted to protest cuts to their state-financed school in Iguala, Mexico this September? Four breaths: Remember, HR 347 was signed in 2012. Fifth: And how to comprehend the “systemic problems of gender-based violence facing the aboriginal communities” happening in Canada? Sixth: What is being acted upon or in solidarity when we bring attention to some 1,000+ missing and murdered First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women? Seventh: As reported from the neighborhoods of Ferguson, Staten Island, Oklahoma City—are we witnessing the evolution of mass lynchings? Eighth: Since the murder of Michael Brown, 14 black teens across the nation were killed by police officers. Ninth: Do we know the names of those Black women who were killed by law enforcement? Tenth: Is it time that we return to The Anti-Lynching Pamphlets of Ida B. Wells, 1892–1920 to begin reeducating ourselves? Eleventh: Something seems to be happening where, in social media, local concerns are becoming global matters and where we are witnessing and participating in mobilization more than we have in a dang long time. Twelfth: Can there be some form of connected resistance if we allow ourselves to bridge and resist invalidating one for the other? Twelfth: 141 dead in Pakistan. Thirteenth: I am losing my breath. 


12a_Madison Loves Books 1Madison. Photo: ‪Jeff Reidel, WKYC Channel 3

Madison Loves Books

In the midst of reports surrounding the murder of John Crawford III at the Beavercreek Wal-Mart and of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in the Cudell Recreation Center—both incidents occurring in Ohio, an open-carry state—a young girl named Madison reminded me why ”reading is fundamental.” Yes, Madison, the world needs books. It is like you said, books “fuel our minds like cars and gas.” You told us that when books first came into being, colors came. You told us that inventors were born and inventions were made. In your future, dear Madison, I sincerely hope we catch up to your radiance from reading more about others and ourselves. When we do, just maybe we will be able to expand our hearts. So let’s share an iddy-biddy suggested reading list of books that came out in 2014 and will drop in 2015:

Towards the Primeval Lightning Field, Will Alexander, Litmus Press

As We Know, Amaranth Borsuk, Subito Press

All Is Not Yet Lost, Betsy Fagin, Belladonna

As/Us Literary Journal, edited by Casandra Lopez and Tanaya Winder

LIFE IN A BOX IS A PRETTY LIFE, Dawn Lundy Martin, Nightboat Press

Four Electric Ghosts, Mendi + Keith Obadike, 1913 press

Big House/Disclosure, Mendi + Keith Obadike, 1913 press

Petition, Christina Olivares, YesYes Books

Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night, Morgan Parker, Switchback Books

Citizen, Claudia Rankine, Graywolf Press

Silent Anatomies, Monica Ong Reed, Kore Press

Talking Food at the Birchwood: Tracy Singleton Joins Fritz Haeg and Michael Pollan

When artist Fritz Haeg interviewed journalist Michael Pollan in Minneapolis this spring, the setting was key. The pair met up at the Birchwood Cafe, a foodie destination since 1995 and long a community hub for discussion and activism around sustainability. As their conversation neared its end, Birchwood owner Tracy Singleton — who’s also doing the […]

Lily Singleton, Tracy Singleton, and Michael Pollan at the Birchwood Café

Lily Singleton, Tracy Singleton, and Michael Pollan at the Birchwood Café

When artist Fritz Haeg interviewed journalist Michael Pollan in Minneapolis this spring, the setting was key. The pair met up at the Birchwood Cafe, a foodie destination since 1995 and long a community hub for discussion and activism around sustainability. As their conversation neared its end, Birchwood owner Tracy Singleton — who’s also doing the catering for the August 8, 2013, opening of Fritz Haeg’s Walker exhibition — joined in, and the trio discussed genetically modified organisms, the influence of another restauranteur, Berkeley’s Alice Waters, and the meals Pollan’s own mother made as he was growing up. Here’s an unpublished excerpt from the discussion that didn’t make our official interview between Haeg and Pollan:

Michael Pollan: I find it very empowering to learn that, “OK, here’s a bunch of people just making decisions about what to eat for dinner. We’re building a new food economy.” We all feel so helpless in the face of these huge problems, but we’re not, actually. If we organize our lives in the right way, we can have a tremendous impact. One of the things that draws people to this food issue is that they are seeing it happen in front of their eyes.

Tracy Singleton: When I try to talk to people about food and where it comes from, I don’t want to scare people or leave them feeling like they can’t go out to eat again.

Pollan: It’s definitely not all or nothing. I have to be really careful of that because people do feel like, “If I can’t go all the way, I am not going to go anywhere.” That’s why I said that last night [at Pollan’s talk at Beth El Synagogue] that if you can just cook one more meal at home, that makes a difference. If you can spend $10 on local food every week, that makes a difference. We’re in this all-or-nothing culture, and I think that’s used to make people stop doing anything. “It’s not realistic for me to cut down my carbon footprint, so fuck it.” But to me, half a loaf is still half a loaf. It’s not trivial.

Singleton: I am noticing that a lot with the GMO [genetically modified organism] labeling issue. Once people become aware of GMOs, they’re like, “Well, I’m not going to eat those.” I say, “Good luck trying to avoid them!” As long as we’ve been in existence we’ve been trying to source our food under certain principles. But it can be hard to totally avoid them. With the non-GMO foods, people have this expectation: they think that because I’m talking about the issue they therefore think I’m a totally GMO-free restaurant. As much as I try to be–

Pollan:  —It’s is very hard to do. But not only that, a lot of people now think if they’ve made that choice, they have taken care of the whole issue.

Singleton: No. That’s not good enough either.

Pollan: In fact, people selling organic food are struggling with this because now the consumer feels that if they get the no-GMO label, they’ve done their bit. But in fact, they’ve only taken agriculture back to 1996, where it was not so great. People are not buying organic now and buying non-GMOs, which is really bad, because they are not connecting the dots. I was talking to someone who is selling some organic grain product or something, and she said, “Yeah, the consumer just feels like our stuff costs more and non-GMO costs a little bit more and they are figuring I have done my bit if I get that,” which is really a shame because it’s hurting organic producers.

Singleton: So if they are choosing a non-GMO item then it’s not an organic item?

Pollan: It’s not organic. It just means it’s made with conventional agricultural without GMOs, which is OK, but you’re not really doing much for the environment.

Singleton: How did you two first meet?

Fritz Haeg: Around six years ago, when I was writing and editing the first edition of the Edible Estates book, I emailed to Michael to inquire if he might let us reprint “Why Mow?” from his book Second Nature. We have corresponded a bit ever since, and last year Alice Waters invited me to come join her presentation to the Edible Education class that Micheal teaches at Berkeley. It’s an amazing, amazing class.

Pollan: Yeah. Fritz came to my class last year and gave an amazing lecture. He and Alice Waters each. It was a powerful class.

Singleton: Dynamic duo right there?

Haeg: After class we went to Chez Panisse. I was with Michael and Alice, and thinking, “OK, this is cool” — pinching myself a bit.

Pollan: It was fun. We’ve had so many great people come through this class and the students of class have become so inspired. They’re all online — Edible Education at Berkeley. Watch his class.

Haeg: Sitting here at Birchwood, Michael, I have one last question: What was your table like growing up?

Pollan: My mom was a really good cook, and she was a stay-at-home mom until I was 14 or 15, then she got a job. She had four kids, and we had family dinner four to five nights a week. But she was kind of a progressive 1960s woman, so she watched Julia Child and learned and she would try. She would make beef bourguignon or coq au vin for us. Just the kids. My dad was never home for dinner because he worked really late.

Haeg: That’s amazing.

Pollan: We were kind of lucky that way, but then we had our basics. There was a rotation. Monday night, it was usually beef. Tuesday, it was pasta. Wednesday, it would be exotic, like stir fry or pepper steak with canned pineapples. She had her rotation, and I loved her food. It was really good. Then we would get to have TV dinners on the weekend when they went out. They would go out on Saturday night.

First Crayons

Acclaimed food and wine critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl muses on the perils and pleasures of trying to raise a creative kid for the e-journal access+ENGAGE. When my son was fifteen months old, I bought him his first box of crayons. I was leaving the Galleria after a business lunch, and I bought them with […]

Acclaimed food and wine critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl muses on the perils and pleasures of trying to raise a creative kid for the e-journal access+ENGAGE.

3b84ff07e8650338416a0ca3c74da89c.jpgWhen my son was fifteen months old, I bought him his first box of crayons. I was leaving the Galleria after a business lunch, and I bought them with the typically bizarre mixture of best intentions and overwhelming guilt that seems to come with being a parent.

On the one hand: What was I doing at the Galleria when I could be at home with the baby?

On the other hand: I had read on the Internet that some other mother of a fifteen-month-old was already archiving her child’s drawings. Why wasn’t I archiving my kid’s drawings? How could it be that my darling didn’t even have any drawings to archive? Bad mother!

On the third hand: Didn’t I want to be modeling good, strong, working-woman behavior for my little boy? And if I didn’t, what was the alternative? Modeling living-under-a-bridge behavior?

On the hundredth hand: Does buying crayons for a fifteen-month-old put undue pressure on a kid, like buying an SAT prep book for an eight-year-old? Once I was in the store and surveyed the options, I had new doubts: maybe fifteen-month-olds should work, not in crayons, but with collage! Perhaps the two of us should be exploring Jean Arp‘s ideas of automatic composition and the organic beauty of chance? Don’t Arp’s collages kind of look like they were done by toddlers anyway? Or, wait: Is it wrong to buy scissors for a fifteen-month-old?

Bloody hell.

It was out of just those thousand-arms of doubt and hope that Creative Kidstuff netted eight bucks for soy-crayons and paper. I would say the hardest thing about raising creative kids is that you don’t do it in a vacuum: the world intrudes.

Read the rest at

Pictured: Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance by Jean (Hans) Arp. 1916-17. Torn-and-pasted paper on blue-gray paper © 2007 Artists Rights Society, New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Image appears courtesy MoMA online collection.

Kid Kritics: An interview with the Zolls

Community Programs manager Megan Leafblad conducted the following interview, a version of which appears in the July/August issue of WALKER magazine. A karaoke hut on a frozen lake is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you are looking to interview a family about the Walker. But as luck would have it, […]

Community Programs manager Megan Leafblad conducted the following interview, a version of which appears in the July/August issue of WALKER magazine.

366384762_705ab266e4.jpgA karaoke hut on a frozen lake is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you are looking to interview a family about the Walker. But as luck would have it, this is where I first met the Zoll family. This past winter a group of friends and I participated in the Art Shanty Projects, in which artists build structures inspired by the tradition of ice fishing during Minnesota winters. On one of my many trips to sing karaoke at the Norae Shanty, I was blown away by a father/son duo who sang “Fulsom Prison” by Johnny Cash. Sitting out in the cold listening to Cash come back to life I thought to myself: This family rocks, I want to know them. At the time I was absorbed by having to follow their performance up with my own rendition of “Ice, Ice Baby.” Luckily for me I ran into the Zoll family in the Walker galleries at a recent Free First Saturday and was able to have a more in-depth conversation with Forrest (age 10) and Ingrid (age 7) about art and growing up with a dad who lulls you to sleep with Johnny Cash tunes.

Megan Leafblad: If you could only use one word to describe Raushchenberg’s Trophy II (for Teeny and Marcel Duchamp) what word would you pick?

Forrest Zoll: Creative!

Ingrid Zoll: Funny.

ML: Why did you pick that word?

FZ: It is really creative that he put in objects.

IZ: I think it is funny because I don’t know why people would put things like glasses and spoons and clothes in art, and it seems very strange to me.

ML: What is the funniest piece you have seen on view at the Walker?


FZ: The Dolphin [Oracle II]. It says funny stuff and I’ve talked to it before.

IZ: I can’t decide between the everyday object and the Dolphin. It’s so hard to choose.

ML: What is your favorite experience coming to the Walker?

FZ: I like walking through the sculpture garden when the weather is warm.

IZ: I like seeing the cherry.

ML: What is your favorite piece of artwork in the collection?

FZ: Well, right now I just found the Flags one. It’s pretty cool, and I think that might be my favorite.

IZ: My favorite piece so far today is the Dolphin.

ML: What did you and the Dolphin talk about?

IZ: I asked if we were friends, and then she said, “ Are we friends? Am I a friend?” Then I let someone else talk and that person said, “ Yes, you are.”

ML: Do you make art?

FZ: Yeah, I make art. Right now I am doing a video project on this street artist called 27, who does a lot of street art. And I’ve interviewed a person who owns a warehouse that got graffitied.

ML: How did you find out about this artist?

FZ: Well, I first saw one of his artworks and I loved it. So I searched online and found out more about him. His street art is around town, and one I liked said 27 on it, and I found some more of his art that said 27 on it. He has some stuff in an art store that I like; it’s called Robot Love. He has a poster there and he doesn’t let anybody know his name, not even the people in the store. So, I wrote a letter to him and asked if they could send it for me and it said, “ Can I interview you? I think you are one of my favorite street artists.”

ML: What do you think makes art good art or bad art? Why were you attracted to 27’s work?

FZ: Most other graffiti artists tag their names, and he made pictures. I had an idea of how I wanted to draw, and he was basically doing that. I think anything can be good art, if you really look at it.

Hip-Hop’s Howard Zinn: An interview with Jeff Chang

Dubbed “hip-hop’s Howard Zinn” by, Jeff Chang is a cultural historian best known for chronicling the first rumblings of what in 1968 was yet to become hip-hop in the book Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. His followup, Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, looks at how this […]

7585600.jpgDubbed “hip-hop’s Howard Zinn” by, Jeff Chang is a cultural historian best known for chronicling the first rumblings of what in 1968 was yet to become hip-hop in the book Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. His followup, Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, looks at how this culture influenced artforms beyond the big four of graffiti, DJ-ing, b-boying/b-girling, and MC-ing, from poetry and dance to fiction, visual arts, and design.

A co-founder of SoleSides, the record label (now Quannum Projects) that launched the careers of DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, and others), Chang is heading to the Twin Cities for a free panel discussion on “hip-hop aesthetics” Thursday night, June 14. He’ll be joined by graphic artist/designer Cey Adams, Roger Cummings of Juxtaposition Arts, and filmmaker Rachel Ramist. But before packing his bags, he took time for an email volley on topics big and small, from hip-hop’s social potential to the Walker performing arts project his book inspired to his son’s Halloween costume.

In Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, you wrote about the cultural, econonic, and political conditions in the Bronx in the late 60s that gave rise to hip-hop culture (you called it the “politics of abandonment”). Here in Minneapolis, like elsewhere, we’re seeing record-breaking home foreclosures, inner-city school closings, and a spike in violent crime in our urban neighborhoods. How is today like that seminal period in the Bronx? Is there a creative counterpoint to all this bad news?

Well, I would never want to suggest that we need to have social upheaval in order to create beautiful art. In fact, often societal turmoil does not lend itself to progressive work, but to xenophobic, constricted cultural production. What I can say is that it’s deeply human of us to want to make beauty and truth in the face of despair. Hip-hop, in its most vital forms, lives close to these stories, and can tell them more truthfully than most of what we are confronted with in this ether of globalized, corporatized images and narratives.

In an an interview about Total Chaos, you said, “Name your genre, and I can probably tell you how hip-hop has changed it.” Ok: Crocheting. Kidding. But what about, say, mainstream media? Or country music? Is there a far-flung genre you can name that I’d be surprised has changed because of hip hop?

Mainstream media–er, Don Imus? OK, very bad example. Country music–Big & Rich?! How about modern dance? I’m still surprised at how choreographers like Rennie Harris have transformed the ways in which elite dance critics now discuss Black social dance.

You’ve been praised for highlighting the non-celebrities of hip-hop, local organizers who are pushing for small-scale change in their own neighborhoods. Can you name one in the Twin Cities?

How can I stop at just one? I think the work of folks at Intermedia Arts and Juxtaposition Arts is amazing–they actually are creating global models. And although I haven’t been to the B-Girl-Be events, believe me I’m feeling the repercussions of their work everywhere I go on tour and the topic of gender and hip-hop cultural production comes up. I think the B-Girl-Be folks are creating a wave of inspiration all around the world, not just among girls and women, who finally get to be centered in the discussions and the cultural production, but among boys and men who now have a space to really express more of themselves.

What do you do when you’re not engrossed in all things hip-hop?

I love the Oakland A’s. I respect the Minnesota Twins. I very much enjoy seeing the Yankees and the Red Sox lose to the Twins or the A’s.

What was your favorite Halloween costume as a kid?

I wasn’t very good at dressing up, although if I did now I might dig a pirate costume. Last year both my sons dressed up as Frank Thomas.

What contemporary artists do you currently follow? What about non-rock/hip hop music?

I really dig Mark Bradford’s work. Just got to see a show with him, Robin Rhode, and William Cordova at the Nasher and it was great. Musically, I’m omnivorous, so I’m always munching on other stuff as much as I am hip-hop or rock. Right now, I’m digging lots of dubstep, the new Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Chuck Brown albums, a new reggae album by Natural Black, and this old school house track by Joe Smooth called Promised Land.

What’s on your bedside table right now?

Theme, Dwell, ColorLines, and the New York Times Magazines, Brian Coleman’s ridiculously great Check The Technique, Tezuka’s Buddha series, Morrie Turner’s Wee Pals paperbacks (Kid Power! and Rainbow Power!)

Next April, we’re bringing Marc Bamuthi Joseph‘s The Breaks to the Walker. It’s inspired, in part, by your work. What’s your involvement been and how does it feel to have your social history and cultural theory brought to life by dancers and artists?

Bamuthi and I are good friends, which to me is a major bonus, because I think he is one of the most exciting people working in theatre right now. In fact, I have told him this, a lot of what Bamuthi does with the word in his pieces–the density and depth, the multiple levels of references, the sheer joy of saying and hearing it all tumble out–gave me the courage to cut loose on my writing in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. It’s a loop of inspiration! While we have had lots of conversations about the piece, and I’ve seen portions of it so far, I really can’t claim to have any hand in his brilliance. The Breaks is going to amaze people.

And: can you dance?

Yes, but as my wife and kids often remind me, not well! Stick to the writing, they say, so I will!

Photo by Rachel Perry for Red Bull Music Academy

Dara Moskowitz: Light From Below

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is known in the Twin Cities and beyond for her culinary writing in the alternative weekly City Pages (for which she’s picked up multiple James Beard prizes). But at home, she’s mom to 17-month-old Asa, who, she writes in an email, “is a big art lover. He’s at the MIA right now […]

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is known in the Twin Cities and beyond for her culinary writing in the alternative weekly City Pages (for which she’s picked up multiple James Beard prizes). But at home, she’s mom to 17-month-old Asa, who, she writes in an email, “is a big art lover. He’s at the MIA right now with the nanny. Let me know if you want his thoughts on Rembrandt.” Grumdahl wrote a reflection on Sarah Sze’s installation Grow or Die in the Cowles Conservatory, a series of three subterranean chambers crafted from Q-tips, transistors, wires, beakers, and other tiny objects. She’s agreed to share her essay, which first appeared on the blog Open for Design, here.

Someone pointed out to me that the Bean’s new language explosion of what I consider to be very odd words – pinecone, keyhole, grate – is not so odd at all. All those things can be found at his level, which is, roughly, the bottom two feet of the world. And so it was that we spent yesterday exploring Sarah Sze’s “ Grow or Die,” a 2002 installation in the Conservatory of the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden.

The installation is underground, three separate installations made of Styrofoam, nets, thread, glass beakers, lights, fans, and countless tiny, tiny, tiny things. They look like teeming miniature cities, or teeming coral reefs, or teeming medical storage facilities sprung to life. They’re clinical, eerie, and magical.


So, Asa laid down on his belly beside each Sarah Sze sculpture, and pointed at this flower, that net, this test tube, saying “ See? See?”

We go back and forth like this: “ I see a flower, what do you see?” I ask, pointing at something. Then he points at something he wants the name of, and prompts me with “ See?” We saw thread, spools, wires, lights, gauze, test tubes, flowers, all sorts of things. Finally I ran out of words, and settled on pretty’. “ Pretty, pretty” the baby would say, stabbing at the covering glass with his little forefinger.


We probably spent a full hour in reverie over Sze’s haunting installations. It made me think: The imagery directed at babies is so relentlessly saturated with teddy bears, farm animals, the alphabet, and such that you kind of assume that that’s the content they’re capable of understanding. However, I have direct evidence now that babies are entirely capable of enjoying abstract, contemporary, sophisticated, non-figurative work – if it’s presented on their level.

Hot Art IV: Prepare to “oogle.”

As WACTAC and the Teen Programs staff are busy installing the fourth edition of Hot Art Injection, a teen-curated showcase of teen art from the Twin Cities, I’ll post on their progress in preparing for Saturday night’s opening. (It’s been a grueling several-month process–selecting art, working on exhibition marketing, hanging the show–so please stop by […]

As WACTAC and the Teen Programs staff are busy installing the fourth edition of Hot Art Injection, a teen-curated showcase of teen art from the Twin Cities, I’ll post on their progress in preparing for Saturday night’s opening. (It’s been a grueling several-month process–selecting art, working on exhibition marketing, hanging the show–so please stop by the Soap Factory Saturday, July 1, between 7 to 10 and see what they’ve been up to.)


Hot Art Injection IV: Full Throttle

Mickey Bloom, WACTAC ’06

We last left our heroes picking art for the great Hot Art Injection, and now they are left with the ultimate challenge: finishing the show by Saturday. Can it be done? Will our heroes prevail? Will Witt stop distracting our work by repeatedly showing us his “wiggle dance”? With my mutant-driven telepathic powers, I foresee that the answer to all of these questions is a resonating, invasive, yet strangely beautiful “yes.” Our success will be ensured by our work of the past week, which has included cleaning the oh-so-dirty (no, not dirrrrrty, just dirty–sicko) soap factory, placing art, making a lot of phone calls, wiring art with the intent to hang, sanding stuff, spackling stuff, painting stuff, grilling wholeheartedly, and wiggle-dancing towards the land of milk and honey. Anyway, yall best be coming to the show on Saturday which will contain much art and live performances to–how do you say?–oogle at. So tune in next time kiddies for the further adventures of the WACTAC, and remember, as my dad always says to me to instill confidence, keep putting the “f” in art! Huzzah!


Dateline: The Soap Factory

Nick Lalla, WACTAC alum and Teen Programs intern

“It’s not spaced right, but I like it.” It’s good to hear from teen curators, and I just did. The last thing I heard a non-teen curator say was “It’s just like Sophie’s Choice,” which was a little harder to swallow. From what I can see at the Hot Art Injection installation here at the Soap Factory, the attitude expressed by the teens is, comparatively, appropriate and is bleeding into the way the final show is going to look and feel. Things look painting-heavy; a little bit grab bag, but I can’t deny that there are good eyes working the door. Everything I’ve seen was worth the first look and a second. It’s all another fine example of how teens know how to hold the world’s attention better than anyone these days. As a former WACTACer and Hot Art curator myself, I thought I could offer some advice, but these kids are running circles around me, now and as I remember myself then. Since they’re all too busy to listen to me anyway, I’ll give advice here and they can do what they want with it: “Go with your guts, teens, before you go to college and they get all fat with beer and Holocaust sublimations.”

Rirkrit, Bruce and SP

As Chuck Olsen‘s interview with Bruce Sterling from last week goes online at the NYC vlog Rocketboom and our webcast of Sterling’s discussion with Rirkrit Tiravanija hits the Walker Channel, I’ve got a good excuse to sing the praises of Education’s Sarah Peters (or “sp” as her blog name goes), whose introduction last Thursday night […]

As Chuck Olsen‘s interview with Bruce Sterling from last week goes online at the NYC vlog Rocketboom and our webcast of Sterling’s discussion with Rirkrit Tiravanija hits the Walker Channel, I’ve got a good excuse to sing the praises of Education’s Sarah Peters (or “sp” as her blog name goes), whose introduction last Thursday night was superb. How she tied together a semi-itinerant Thai “relational aesthetics” artist and a cyberpunk author whose current obsession is the “internet of things” is…Things.

Tonight we are here to watch two people sit on a stage and talk about stuff. It’s a bit old-fashioned, when you think about it, since we have blogs and vlogs and videoconferencing and MySpace for social interaction and learning these days. Why haul down here and pay for parking when you can watch a lecture like this on the web (as some people are doing tonight)? I get paid to be here, so you all out there are the ones who can actually answer this question, but I think it has something to do with the necessity of human interaction. Which has everything to do with the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Rirkrit, as we all have the permission to call him, is an artist who works with environments rather than objects. He is said to have “transformed the notion of contemporary art by taking his environments out of the museum to the ends of the earth, literally.” In the early 90s he made a name for himself by creating installations during which he cooked curries for gallery visitors and staff. He has created low-power pirate radio stations in museums, a pirate television station in Italy, and built a replication of his entire New York City apartment in a gallery that was open 24 hours a day for visitors to use in whatever way they pleased. His ongoing, long-term project called The Land is a site located 20 minutes outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand that was envisioned as an open space without the concept of ownership. Activities on The Land consist of growing and harvesting rice, gardening, yoga, and performance workshops. This site was not intended to be labeled “ art,” yet with the development of so called “ relational aesthetics” and The Land’s various artist-initiated projects that blend environmental sustainability with architecture and video, the art-world has tuned-in to the endeavor. This is not to say that the art market has figured out it, as collectors are happy to purchase the soiled cooking utensils of Rirkrit’s food-based installations. But who could blame them, really. If you can’t purchase a moment, you’d do best to settle for a dirty frying pan.

Bruce Sterling, on the other hand, likes to talk about objects. His recent book published by MIT press called Shaping Things outlines his thoughts on the future of environmentally sustainable, track-able, user-alterable objects. He calls them “ spimes,” and insists that they are coming and we will need them to live. This book is the product of a year her spent as the Visionary in Residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Sterling is foremost a science fiction writer, a genre where his interests in technology, culture and environmentalism merge in fictional futures where massive global-warming induced tornadoes threaten the Midwest, cyber-security experts join the U.S. government to fight against terrorism, and people live in a post-television world.

Back in the present, he is the founder of the Viridian Design movement which strives to popularize ecologically sustainable design. An obsessive blogger, Sterling lives online, blogging his way between speaking engagements in Switzerland, Belgrade, and Texas, giving us web readers the impression that he is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.

There are numerous connections between the ideas and practice of tonight’s accomplished guests, yet their thinking presents us with a interesting conundrum: Sterling claims that the future of spimes and the “ Internet of Things” will fundamentally change our relationship to objects, while Rirkrit’s environment’s ask us to change our relationship to other humans. In what direction are we really headed, and what sort of interaction do we really need? Let’s let the visionaries figure it out. Please welcome Bruce Sterling and Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Photo: Tiravanija and Sterling in the exhibition OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement).

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