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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.

Freezing Man: Putting a Temporary Autonomous Zone on Ice

Inevitably, upon explaining the idea of the Art Shanty Projects to someone unfamiliar with them, a comparison to Burning Man will be made. NPR, BoingBoing, City Pages are all guilty. I’ve even caught myself pitching the event as “Freezing Man.” I lived in San Francisco for the past three years, and so I’ve picked up […]

The Sparkle Parade during the 2014 Art Shanty Projects' kickoff weekend. Al photos by Eric William Carroll

The Sparkle Parade during the 2014 Art Shanty Projects’ kickoff weekend. All photos by Eric William Carroll, except where noted

Inevitably, upon explaining the idea of the Art Shanty Projects to someone unfamiliar with them, a comparison to Burning Man will be made. NPR, BoingBoing, City Pages are all guilty. I’ve even caught myself pitching the event as “Freezing Man.” I lived in San Francisco for the past three years, and so I’ve picked up a second-hand knowledge of Burning Man (though I have yet to attend). In fact, the first time I had heard of it was after I had moved to the Bay Area and noticed that for one week at the end of summer the city got really quiet. Being a native midwesterner, and having recently relocated back to the Twin Cities, I was no stranger to the Art Shanty Projects — and ice house culture at large. So I was eager to make the trip up to White Bear Lake to see this year’s incarnation.

Shanties

Shanties in the 2014 edition of Art Shanty Projects

On the surface, Burning Man and the Art Shanty Projects may seem to have a lot in common. I assume that’s why the comparison is so often made. However, if you dig a little deeper, I think the comparison is a lazy one, and actually does a disservice to the Art Shanty Projects by writing it off as a smaller off-shoot of a larger, more important event. And it couldn’t be further from the truth. Let me explain.

Dance-Shanty

The Dance Shanty

My source for all things Burning Man is my friend Jason Meyers, who incidentally grew up in White Bear Lake, but has lived in San Francisco for what seems like forever, and has attended Burning Man over the past 16 years. On paper, Burning Man is an experimental community that pops up in the Black Rock Desert for one week — the last Monday in August through the first Monday in September — every year. Radical utopian ideals of society, commerce, and relationships are played out in a mixture of art, performance, and socializing. Unfortunately, like anything that achieves a certain level of popularity, the culture begins to dominate the content. According to Jason, today’s Burning Man attendees are largely relegated to two camps: “Old Guard Burners” who have attended over the years but have become increasingly cliquish and closed-off to newcomers, and the younger urban crowd who use the event as an excuse to experiment with drugs and strangers’ bodies. Still, he believes the openness of the community and freedom of expression are the event’s highest priorities.

A nearby cluster of icefishing shacks

A nearby cluster of icefishing shacks

Now the Art Shanty Projects have neither the history nor the reach of Burning Man: its attendance is estimated to be over 60,000, while the Art Shanty Projects drew around 2,000 on opening day this year. However, the two events do have some things in common. Both are arguably held in otherwise inhospitable landscapes. Both encourage the idea of encountering art and art experiences outside of the museum and gallery (Burning Man with its Mutant Vehicles and various installations, Art Shanty Projects with their artist-commissioned shanties). And both envision the landscape as a blank canvas or “Temporary Autonomous Zone” of sorts. Even the founder of the Art Shanty Project (and former Bay Area resident), Peter Haakon Thompson, said that he found inspiration in the desolate solace of both the Nevada desert and the frozen lakes of Minnesota. That said, if community is to be understood as the central focus of Burning Man, Art, I would argue, is the focus of the shanties.

INside the Eleveator Shnaty

Inside the Elevator Shanty

On opening day I arrived just in time for the “Sparkle Parade,” arguably the most Burning Man-esque aspect of my entire visit. A marching band with various large bicycle-driven polar bears danced along the temporary ice-road in joyous fashion. Toddlers and senior citizens alike joined in and made the loop past the 21 shanties about three or four times. From there on it was a largely voyeuristic experience, opening doors to strange structures with no concrete idea of what to expect. Some were more social than others. The Dance Shanty greeted me from the outside with thumping bass of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” and upon entering the geodesic dome a group of delighted strangers cheered at my arrival. Then I danced. The Elevator Shanty is a kind of short-form theater, which is actually quite hilarious if you’re invited “backstage.” The Meta (as in metaphysical) Shanty offers itself up as healing center, leading workshops on aromatherapy, yoga, and astrological readings. Aesthetically, it’s a gorgeous structure with the center part of its floor constructed of pink Himalayan salt bricks. It’s a space where you just want to sit, warm up, and listen to the conversations of others.

Meta-Shanty

Himalayan salt bricks make up the floor of the Meta Shanty

Like an inverse Burning Man, the one aspect that is rarely discussed in regards to the Art Shanty Projects is the culture. The ice house, by definition, is a structure on ice to protect one from the elements while fishing. However the popular culture of ice houses is overwhelmingly male, isolative, and alcoholic. Sure, you might socialize with your fishing/drinking buddies, but it’s an unspoken rule on the ice that you don’t go around knocking on other people’s shanty doors and walking in uninvited. The Art Shanty Projects completely subverts this aspect and turns the ice house into a family-friendly and open art experience that makes it OK for what midwesterners commonly find horrifying — approaching and talking to strangers. In that respect, the shanties (and midwestern culture) still have a ways to go. I didn’t feel that the shanties had formed a tight-knit community yet (it was just the first day, and the Town Hall Shanty was still soliciting names for the community at the time of this writing). But should I even be expecting that tight-knit community from the shanties — or is that an expectation born from the comparisons to Burning Man?

Ribbon-Cutting

The ribbon cutting for Art Shanty Projects 2014

To me, it seems more fruitful to compare the Art Shanty Projects to events like Chicago’s Guerrilla Truck Show or Brooklyn’s Lost Horizon Night Market, both of which use the back of moving trucks to host temporary art installations. Like the shanties, both repurpose an existing structure and transform it into a space for experiencing art. Or perhaps Elevation 1049, a site-specific art experience located in the Swiss Alps, would be a good touchstone for the Art Shanty Projects, with its focus on contemporary art outside of the museum and off the walls. But enough with the Burning Man comparisons! It’s a superficial similarity at best, and at worst it stunts the discussion of an otherwise exciting artistic experiment on ice.

Burning-Tree

A Burning Man–style pyre across Highway 61. Photo: Tucker Gerrick

But if you are looking for a Burning Man experience, I recommend trekking across Highway 61 to Bald Eagle Lake. It was there that I encountered a structure of more than 300 Christmas trees, stacked more than 20 feet high and meant to be set ablaze that night. In addition to the pyre the residents of the lake had created their own snow castle — complete with draw-bridge — that housed a fully stocked ice-bar. Ice-cold.

Eric William Carroll is an artist living in Minneapolis. He currently teaches at Macalester College.

Acshah’s Map

Throughout her residency as part of  Fritz Haeg’s At Home in the City project, artist Katie Bachler will be blogging about the people and ideas she encounters. Greetings from the ArtLab Map Room! This is Katie. I’m here at the Walker working on a community-created map of the Twin Cities. People can draw their own […]

BLOOOG

Throughout her residency as part of  Fritz Haeg’s At Home in the City project, artist Katie Bachler will be blogging about the people and ideas she encounters.

Greetings from the ArtLab Map Room! This is Katie. I’m here at the Walker working on a community-created map of the Twin Cities. People can draw their own maps of what they love here, and I will make a map based on what I learn from everyone! This is Aschah. She was born in Brooklyn Park and now lives in Maple Grove. Her map is really interesting because she put herself in the center. It is a representation of all of the things that she loves coming from her brain. She loves the Mississippi River, the library, her friends’ houses. When looking at the map, we see her version of the city, based on use and connection. She has the sparkliest eyes and biggest smile when she tells me she loves Maple Grove because there are nice kids there.

The Library is an Ambush

For the past several weeks, Lightsey Darst has been holed up inside the Walker’s resource library. A dance critic, poet, and author of Find the Girl (Coffee House Press, 2010) and the forthcoming Dance (September 2013), Darst was the first writer selected to participate in The Writers and Readers Library Residency Program, an initiative presented by Coffee House Press […]

One of four volumes of the short-lived surrealist periodical VVV. Published in the 40s by sculptor David Hare, VVV's editorial advisors included Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Andre Breton.

One of four volumes of the short-lived surrealist periodical VVV. Published in the 1940s by sculptor David Hare, VVV‘s editorial advisors included Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Andre Breton.

For the past several weeks, Lightsey Darst has been holed up inside the Walker’s resource library.

A dance critic, poet, and author of Find the Girl (Coffee House Press, 2010) and the forthcoming Dance (September 2013), Darst was the first writer selected to participate in The Writers and Readers Library Residency Program, an initiative presented by Coffee House Press through a grant from the McKnight Foundation. She entered the library well-intentioned: exhausted from a long semester of teaching, she hoped to explore library choreographies, to further her research into the private life, and to compose new poems.

In a space filled with more than 13,000 artists monographs, 30,000 exhibition catalogues and some 1,800 artists’ books, Darst found more than a few distractions.

“I believe in encounter — it’s why I’m here,” Darst wrote in her final dispatch from the library. “Research in the library is difficult. It is an encounter with actual and irreducible difference.”

The distractions, it seems, proved to be helpful. “I am here trying to find a thing that sparks a certain kind of question and seeking,” wrote Darst. “I am here to do something new.”

“At some point all books open to all other books,” Darst concluded. “Even a relatively small library becomes inexhaustible in terms of paths through it.”

With its Writers and Readers Library Residency Program, Coffee House Press aims to create a body of work that will inspire a broader public to engage with their local libraries in a new and meaningful way, and to encourage artists and the general public to think about libraries as creative spaces.

Join us in the Lecture Room here at the Walker on Thursday, June 20 at 7 pm to hear Darst and Walker archivist Jill Vuchetich discuss the residency. To read more of Lightsey’s dispatches, visit the Coffee House Press blog, Unfiltered.

“Lifelike” Redux: A Six-Year-Old Re-creates the Exhibition, by Hand

By Emma Cohen Six-year old Ella and her grandmother Karen were on their way home from the Walker discussing the many amazing and interesting things they saw. Grandma Karen, picking up on Ella’s excitement, suggested making a work of art when they got back home.  But Ella was quick to offer a more ambitious idea: […]

By Emma Cohen

Six-year old Ella and her grandmother Karen were on their way home from the Walker discussing the many amazing and interesting things they saw. Grandma Karen, picking up on Ella’s excitement, suggested making a work of art when they got back home.  But Ella was quick to offer a more ambitious idea: “Let’s make the museum!” Inspired by Lifelike, the pair used a combination of household items and handmade objects to make their own version of the exhibition.  When we got word of their undertaking we had to see it for ourselves. Here is what we found…

Robert Therrien made Walker visitors feel small by making his No title (Folding table and chairs, brown) larger than life. Ella also created a shockingly new sense of scale–but in a creatively different way:

(more…)

Perform Me a Picture

Who wouldn’t be curious about a place called The Museum of Everyday Life? And who wouldn’t want to know what that museum’s Chief Operating Philosopher is up to? Well, as it turned out, the woman bearing this title recently visited Minneapolis so I seized the opportunity to find out more. Last Saturday I witnessed Mild […]

Who wouldn’t be curious about a place called The Museum of Everyday Life? And who wouldn’t want to know what that museum’s Chief Operating Philosopher is up to? Well, as it turned out, the woman bearing this title recently visited Minneapolis so I seized the opportunity to find out more.

Clare Dolan performing cantastoria

Last Saturday I witnessed Mild Light, an evening of cantastoria performed by Clare Dolan. Ushered into the In the Heart of the Beast Theatre, I took a seat close to the stage. I was, I confess, hopeful that Dolan could clear up my ignorance surrounding this term “cantastoria.” She managed this with the gusto of a puppeteer, the elocution of a storyteller, and the insight of a philosopher.

But since I am none of these things, I’ll just lift a definition from the Web:

Cantastoria is an Italian word for the ancient performance form of picture-story recitation, which involves sung narration accompanied by reference to painted banners, scrolls, or placards. (Source: Museum of Everyday Life, Performance Department)

“Look.         Listen.        Observe.”

In a sing-song voice punctuated by gesture and music, Dolan urged the audience to examine the images depicted on a series of hinged canvases. This plea to look—deliberately, intentionally, and consciously look—had me hooked. It struck me what allies  we have in puppeteers! As museum educators, my colleagues and I work to enliven and animate the Walker’s collections. And I believe we could learn from puppeteers, artists who expertly imbue still things with life and feeling. The show charged me with energy (and questions) to bring back to the Walker. How can storytelling and theater amplify and enrich a gallery experience? How can multi-sensory experiences make the process of interpreting images more memorable and meaningful? How do cadence, musicality, and body language transform communication and yield an impact markedly different from ordinary speech?  I’ll be reflecting on the sensations of that night as I work with my colleagues to make meanings with objects, decipher stories within images, and share this process with our audiences.

What’s next for Dolan? She and her colleague Dave Buchen are organizing and curating  Banners an Cranks,  a festival of cantastoria performance. Curious to see for yourself right now? I recommend Dolan’s YouTube Channel.

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