Ed Charbonneau picked at a layer of plastic wrapped along the edge of a large canvas. Leaning forward, he delicately pulled upwards, raising the Saran wrap away from the painting and lifting up a thick layer of wet paint. A large group of college students who had dropped into this Target Free Thursday Nights program clustered […]
Ed Charbonneau picked at a layer of plastic wrapped along the edge of a large canvas. Leaning forward, he delicately pulled upwards, raising the Saran wrap away from the painting and lifting up a thick layer of wet paint. A large group of college students who had dropped into this Target Free Thursday Nights program clustered around the paintings, enjoying the close-up view.
Standing at a nearby table topped with tubes of oil paint and linseed oil, Jeremy Szopinski demonstrated to a six-year old how to mix oil paint with a palette knife. Jeremy held up a homemade tool that he and Ed created in their St. Paul studio—a giant apparatus composed of twenty hardware store paintbrushes hammered together—and dipped it in paint. Gingerly at first, a teenager picked up the mega-paintbrush. Gaining confidence, he spread it onto the canvas in a curving motion, adding a swathe of bright, textural paint onto the abstract composition of red and orange streaks.
In another part of the building, a public tour listened to curator Eric Crosby discuss the work of Jack Whitten, a contemporary artist who is the focus of the Walker’s new exhibition, Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting. When looking at Untitled (1970), Crosby explained that Whitten swept everyday objects—in this case, a carpenter’s saw—across layers of wet acrylic paint to create the textured surface.
One can’t help but draw similarities between the ways that Ed, Jeremy, and Whitten used tools—ranging from squeegees, to carpenter saws, house painting tools, and Afro picks—to create texture. And while many museum educators might shy away from oil paint—a medium that takes days to dry, stains clothing, and prompts many complaints about odor—it was clear that people enjoyed rolling up their sleeves and wearing a painter’s smock. Experiencing the creation of a painting from beginning to end allowed visitors to place themselves in Whitten’s studio for the evening.
Jeremy and Ed tearing plastic wrap off their painting. All photos by Angela Lundberg unless otherwise noted
Participants working together.
Two sisters paint together.
Jeremy explaining the process.
Ed mixing oil paint.
The tools that Jeremy and Ed used included a squeegee and a house painting trim guide purchased from a local hardware store.
Jeremy and Ed at the end of the night, in front of the finished products. Photo: Julia Anderson
Over a four-month span of the darkest days of Minnesota winter, I worked with members of the Walker’s education department and the Walker’s librarian to develop a series of monthly workshops that drew inspiration from the work of Fluxus artists featured in the exhibition, Art Expanded, 1958–1978 and were a continuation of Fluxus-infused activities that […]
Fluxus Club in the Art Lab
Over a four-month span of the darkest days of Minnesota winter, I worked with members of the Walker’s education department and the Walker’s librarian to develop a series of monthly workshops that drew inspiration from the work of Fluxus artists featured in the exhibition, Art Expanded, 1958–1978 and were a continuation of Fluxus-infused activities that took place in Open Field over the summer of 2014. The charge of the workshops was to offer a hands-on activity for visitors of all ages that made a connection with the Fluxus artworks on view in the galleries. My hope was to develop workshops that:
offered a contemporary take on Fluxus, inhabited the spirit of the original Fluxus, while also accommodating and reflecting the present.
connected the art lab with the resources of the institution—in particular, the collection, the galleries, and the library.
turned the art lab into an energetic, comfortable space with a sense of context, communal activity, and history.
Fundamentally, we all wanted the workshops to be both fun and thoughtful. And, maybe most importantly, we really didn’t want to find ourselves trying to answer the question, “What is Fluxus?”
Thinking in Series
The suggestion to offer a series of workshops—rather than a single, one-off event—sealed the deal for me. Designing multiple sessions meant we could work with the Fluxus collection in greater depth and develop multiple activities that responded to some of the diversity of Fluxus production. The structure naturally supported an iterative design process (develop, test, reflect, revise) and after each Fluxus Club, we met to talk about the previous event and finalize plans for the next one. All the workshops responded to a single, broad theme (and we sometimes even repeated successful activities) but each was differentiated:
November: Fluxus Poster Production Shop
December: Flux Newspaper
January: Art Into Life (New Art/New Year/New Life)
February: Flux Valentines
Most importantly, however, a series meant we could adapt the workshops as we learned what worked well, and what fell flat. After the December workshop, for example, we realized we struggled to explain Fluxus when visitors asked for a definition: the workshops were about an invitation to actively participate, but when we switched to the role of “expert explainer” we shifted the dynamic of the space (and didn’t really clarify much about Fluxus.) We suggested visitors seek out Fluxus works in the gallery, but didn’t have a great way to get them there.
New Year’s art resolutions
In response, we rethought our strategy for the January event. We expanded our use of scores, writing them not just for individual activities , but for the event as a whole. On the giant chalkboard in the Walker’s lobby, we posted a score that invited visitors to take off their winter coats and directed them to the lab, library, and galleries. We worked with the gallery guides (who were great at talking with visitors about Fluxus), and provided them with envelopes of scores to give visitors, who could try them out in the gallery, then explore further in the art lab. Through the scores, the workshop expanded beyond the art lab, to the galleries, to the library, and to the lobby.
Fluxus Club chalkboard sign in the Walker lobby
Detail of the poetry-generator activity in the Walker library
One of our goals for the series was to make best use of the resources of the institution and to facilitate connections between the art lab, the library, and the galleries. The collaboration with Margit Wilson, the Walker’s librarian, was especially productive. The Walker library, beloved but relatively inaccessible (open to the public only by appointment), initially appealed because it made available a trove of Fluxus resources just a few steps from the art lab (the galleries are more distant from the lab space). During the first month’s program, Margit hosted an open house in the library, with an assortment of Fluxus publications and exhibition catalogues for browsing. As we reflected on that first event, however, it was clear that the library could be more than a space for browsing—it could be a making space as well. We developed activities and Flux-like scores to inspire visitors, that required only book-safe, dry media, and made use of library resources (books, photocopier, typewriters.) The making activities in the library and the lab complemented each other: visitors could make chance poetry in the library, then add their poem to the Flux Newspaper (December) or Flux Valentine (February) in the art lab. The keys to the art lab/library collaboration: staffing (like the art lab, the library had to be staffed and visitors supervised during the event); a few rules (clean hands required in the library); and good signage (we posted scores that sent visitors to the library from the art lab.).
Detail of table with materials
Fluxus-inspired installation in the Art Lab
I hoped we could thread the ideas and spirit of Fluxus through all aspects of the workshop: the activities, the setup of the space, how we collaborated with the library and how we connected with the rest of the Walker. We began by thinking about the workshop space: the art lab is a great space for art activities, but is quite sterile: white floors and walls, bright lights, big tables covered with paper. To bring a bit more spirit to the space, we turned down the lights and decorated: we covered tables with mismatched, thrifted tablecloths, projected images of Fluxus artworks from the collection; wrote scores on the chalkboard and posted them on the walls; and, most importantly, filled the space with stuff we (and the visitors) made. We invited visitors to contribute to the space: they could add their posters to the wall, contribute a collage or poem to the Flux Newspaper, or add their New Year’s art resolution to our recreation of Ben’s Window (by Ben Vautier) as seen in the exhibition Art Expanded. And we saved all the material from month to month, so the space had a sense of history: by February, the space was filled with posters, signs, collage, and collaborative poems made during the previous sessions. Each month, the space got visually richer and less lab-like. (All this was possible because of the efforts of the program’s intern, Sheila Novak, who deinstalled and collected all of the materials at the end of each evening, then reinstalled them the following month.)
Event score for the January Fluxus Club
Score posted at the entrance to the Art Lab.
Perhaps our best tool for infusing the events with the spirit of Fluxus was the use of scores. We used scores to introduce visitors to the evening’s activities, to get people from space to space, and to pick up a brush or pen and make something. Because they were both concrete and open-ended, scores gave participants enough direction to feel comfortable diving into activities without being worried about getting it “right.” By January, even the informational sign in the lobby was part of the thread: we created a Flux-like meta score for the event, so the act of coming down to see what was going on in the art lab was a sort of performance. We weren’t explaining Fluxus; we were making opportunities for visitors to do their own Fluxus.
What We Learned
As the artist leading the workshop, I appreciated the opportunity to work on this series: the chance to reflect and make revisions from month to month meant we had multiple chances to get things right and could explore the Fluxus collections in greater depth. It also gave us time to develop meaningful collaborations, especially between the art lab and the library. Because we “threaded” the Fluxus spirit through all aspects of the events (from wayfinding to the physical setup of the art lab), the series was time-intensive: scores had to be written, designed, printed and distributed; the space had to be recreated (with increasing amounts of stuff) then cleaned up each month; materials had to be saved and stored from month to month. But because this was a series, that staff time was well-spent: we were able to bring back successful activities and use what we learned to develop new, better strategies.
A Fluxus poetry project in the library
We could have done some things better: because we had trouble defining Fluxus in general and these workshops in particular, outreach and publicity were more difficult than it would have been if we’d been advertising just a single, concrete activity. Fluxus Club drew fairly small audiences (winter weather and competition with other museum events certainly contributed to the numbers.) On the other hand, smaller audiences made it practical for the library to host activities. Our best and most engaged audiences came the evening we partnered with the gallery guides who were posted in the galleries: they talked with visitors about Fluxus, handed out scores, and invited them to the activities in the art lab and library, where the staff there could engage them in the making activities. That one-on-one, personal interaction was key—and practical on a relatively quiet evening.
Fluxus Club in the Art Lab
We may never have come up with a great response to “what is Fluxus,” but by inviting visitors to get involved—and by creating spaces that made it easy and inviting to dive in—we certainly inspired a kind of active and playful participation that celebrated the spirit of the Fluxus artists.
In October of last year, the Walker invited me to produce a stage companion to the Walker People’s Archive, the crowd-sourced photographic and anecdotal history launched on the museum’s website earlier that month. After looking over the archive, I met with Jennifer Stampe, project manager for the WPA, and Ashley Duffalo, coordinator of Public and […]
In October of last year, the Walker invited me to produce a stage companion to the Walker People’s Archive, the crowd-sourced photographic and anecdotal history launched on the museum’s website earlier that month. After looking over the archive, I met with Jennifer Stampe, project manager for the WPA, and Ashley Duffalo, coordinator of Public and Community Programs for the Walker, and we discussed our incipient ideas and settled on a performance date in mid-January. The commission was appealingly open-ended. Ideally, the show would represent, recontextualize, and have fun with the archive, but the means by which it did so was unfixed.
Imagining a variety show that would blend the authentic WPA material with a modest fictional element, I started working on scenes and songs and reached to out to a group of collaborators: actors and codirectors Lara Blackwood Avery, Jenny Adams Salmela, and Bill Schoppert; singer Jayanthi Kyle; and bassist Jeffrey Sugerman. In the end, “The WPA Revue” was composed of three interlaced parts: an emceed slide show of WPA photos and their accompanying text; a lounge act of sorts in which Jayanthi, Jeffrey, and I performed original songs and thematically apt covers while photos flashed by without commentary; and a playlet centered on a fictional Twin Cities family, the Heitkes, Walker patrons and barons of the typewriter industry who fell into embarrassed circumstances with the rise of the personal computer.
The archive itself is a mix of tones: some of the submissions are goofy, others poignant; some are snapshots, others carefully composed. My hope was that the show would echo this tonal mix, that it would be funny but sometimes openly sentimental, loose but considered, and that it would casually treat some of the ideas suggested by the photos.
For instance, the Walker owns or has displayed many pieces made up in part or entirely of reflective surfaces, sometimes both reflective and distorting ones. Not surprisingly, WPA submissions often take advantage of these surfaces toward a kind of funhouse metaphotography. The archive includes selfies taken in one of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s mirror paintings, Three Girls on a Balcony, in sculptor Dan Graham’s Two-Way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth, in a Morris Graves set piece for Merce Cunningham’s Inlets. These submissions in particular spurred thoughts about memory, photography, distortion, and point of view.
Walker Reflections (2014). Submitted by Marti Gudmundson
DiNino Father and Son Portrait in a Jim Hodges Piece (2014). Submitted by Ben DiNino
In the show, Lara played Jessica Heitke, an aspiring artist who’s working with a group of photographs found in an alley by her friend Emily. The project has led Jessica to research what psychologists have to say about memory perspective. “In field perspective,” she summarizes to Emily, “you picture the memory more or less as you actually experienced it: through your eyes, watching your hand shake someone else’s hand—you’re the subject. In observer perspective, you see your whole body in the scene, right? As if you’re in a movie or a photo.” (Maybe the vantage of every era and place resembles its signature entertainments: Don Quixote is the hero of novel who believes he’s the hero of a novel; we create online personas and sometimes feel as if we’re the stars of our own biopics.) Emily answers that all of her childhood memories are like photos. “But sometimes that’s because they are photos,” she says. “I don’t know whether I’m remembering the moment or the photo.”
Probably most of us have memories like this; they’re conflations of lived experience, photographic documentation, and the stories that attend the photos. The raw and the cooked blur: the photo might seem to provide evidence for a memory, which we understand to be fallible; or the photo might seem to have altered or created the memory. Now that many of us can easily photograph everything—our parking spaces, our children, our lunches, our outfits, our kegger antics—regular and photographed life are presumably blurring still further. It’s currently conventional to worry that our lives are so mediated that only documented and publicized personal events feel real. The ironies aren’t subtle. On holidays we take a break from our families to post on social media about the importance of spending time with one’s family. We use our phones to post a TV clip of Louis C.K. talking about how estranging current technology is, how it’s a defense against underlying sadness, and how he found an antidote when he stopped to weep over a Bruce Springsteen recording playing on his car radio. In other words, we see new technology as phony, impoverishing, defensive; old technology as authentic, enriching, cathartic. (I mean, I’m with the comedian to a point: I love the Boss and have resisted getting a cell phone, which is how I know how easy it is to get sentimental over this stuff.)
The last time I went to the Getty Museum, another visitor stepped in front of me to get an obstructed photo of—I don’t know, some painting. I kept an eye on this ludicrous man for a while and found that he was swiftly moving though the galleries, apparently photographing every piece of art the Getty then had on view. (If only I’d had a camera, I could have photographed him photographing art, à la Thomas Struth.) As I’ve already let on, I felt superior to this man shooting rather than seeing art, art that had already been professionally photographed and could in most cases be viewed on the Getty’s fine website. Then again, it wasn’t as if my viewing that day was terribly deep or concentrated: I can’t remember the painting the man stepped in front of, after all, and for several minutes he interested me far more than the art did. Who knows, maybe he’s not a compulsive collector of photographic souvenirs, but rather a postmodern aesthete who can only enjoy art at one remove. I count as favorites many paintings that I’ve only seen in reproduction, or that first caught my eye through a photo. Case in point: I had stood in front of Günther Uecker’s White Field before seeing Alycia Anderson’s WPA photo of it, but only her close-up made me a fan.
Wondering at White Field (2010). Submitted by Alycia Anderson
When my mother-in-law was in hospice a few years ago, my wife posted a few old family photographs to Facebook. The moment I saw these photos (alone at my computer), I started to cry, more than I did, it turned out, at the funeral a week or so later. Partly I was responding to the outpouring of support for my wife and her sisters in the comments section, but also there was something about how the images looked on the screen. I thought immediately of the photos that turn up with the closing credits for based-on-a-true-story movies, those yellowing snapshots of the actual person whose life has just been dramatized. Those photos tend to prod tears as well, and I found myself in an ambivalent spot: I was having a profound, genuine emotional experience that was triggered in part by its association with kitschy, manipulative TV movies. To get to the real, I had to summon the fake.
Our show ended with Jessica and Emily sitting and talking in James Turrell’s Sky Pesher, a piece Jessica was originally wary of because she suspected, at second hand, “a certain coercive spirituality.” Her view has changed by the last scene, though, and she and Emily have a tender, perhaps transcendent, moment inside the piece, a moment of tenderness and transcendence that they self-consciously decide to preserve with simultaneous cell-phone snapshots. Then—I suppose I was thinking again of those TV movies—the selfies were projected on the Walker Cinema’s screen and (a recorded) Robert Smith, of the Cure, started singing, “I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you / that I almost believe that they’re real.”
This Thursday, Rain Taxi will co-present Bay Area poet Gillian Conoley and local troubadour wunderkind Brian Laidlaw in a multimedia showcase, involving projected drawings of Henri Michaux, original and translated poetry and other texts, and composed and improvised music (let it here be known that Laidlaw on vox and guitar will be flanked by California’s […]
Brian Laidlaw. Photo: Ali Rogers
This Thursday, Rain Taxi will co-present Bay Area poet Gillian Conoley and local troubadour wunderkind Brian Laidlaw in a multimedia showcase, involving projected drawings of Henri Michaux, original and translated poetry and other texts, and composed and improvised music (let it here be known that Laidlaw on vox and guitar will be flanked by California’s Danny Vitali and Minnesota’s Bex Gaunt on multi-instrumental madness). The event celebrates the release of Conoley’s poetry collection Peace, as well as her translations of Michaux, Thousand Times Broken, and Laidlaw’s Amoratorium, a song-cycle about Bonnie and Clyde on vinyl with accompanying poetry chapbook.
Confused? You won’t be as all these artists make magic together on stage. To whet our appetites, we asked the poets to riff a little on how the various disciplines they engage both dovetail and diverge.
Brian Laidlaw: Gillian, let’s get right down to it: What can poetry do that visual art and music can’t? And what can visual art and music do that poetry can’t?
Gillian Conoley: If we think of poetry or “the poetic” as being the ineffable, as something that can’t be said in any other way than in art, then poetry is in music and visual art. Music is certainly in poetry as in “if it ain’t got that swing, it don’t mean a thing” (thank you, Duke Ellington). Visual art has the gesture and movement of music, no? All I know is I couldn’t live without any of these arts and have a hard time separating them. Can you?
Laidlaw: Woof, who really can? I think of all these art forms as delivery systems for the same substance, and “the ineffable” is a great term for that substance. The delivery systems have their own logic and limitations: a song is fixed in time (its 3:38 duration), a drawing is fixed in space (its 12.5 x 9.5 inch area). Poems are special to me because, fundamentally, their content is timeless and spaceless; a poem reconstitutes itself in a reader’s mind.
When I first started writing, my songs and poems closely resembled one another: all metered and rhymed. That formalism is great for songwriting, but it severely limits the terrain in which a poem can roam. Encountering your work—Profane Halo and The Plot Genie were the first books of yours I read—was an absolute watershed moment for me. Your use of poetic form is virtuosic; it induces hallucinations, vertigo and enlightenment. How has your relationship to form changed over time? And (how) do music and visual art insinuate themselves into your poetic forms?
Conoley: Always glad to induce a hallucination. Form: formal form, as in English form, metered and rhymed, I never could do it—I would write horrible things and it seemed like a math I couldn’t do, it almost made me want to cry. But I very much admire people who can do it and who make me forget it’s even there: I love Marianne Moore, for example. Even though I can’t do it I have studied prosody and still like to do so.
My relationship to form has changed a lot over time. When I first started to write, everything was justified left-hand margin, and I learned to break a line and make a stanza, and then I started to think about the page as a material in and of itself and how that might enter the poem—the page more as canvas or field or soundscape came into the writing. I’ve always written in black sketchbooks with no lines on them, where I make a big mess of words and images and phrases; I try to let everything in and not think about it or even think that I am writing a poem. I do this for pages and pages and then I wait for something to coalesce. I’ve learned (or I am still learning) how to wait, to work/trust in the materials. I also write lines I get just walking around into my cell phone–so much more trustworthy than scraps of paper I would lose!
Music has always been in my DNA because my dad and mom ran a small-town rural radio station thirty miles outside of Austin from the late 1940s to the 1980s: country western, soul, Mexican polka, Czech polka, rock ‘n’ roll. Johnny Cash, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Elvis, they all came to the station and played live in a little one-room studio lined with egg cartons for acoustics. I was really young, and not even born when Elvis came, so I only remember Joe Tex, but my older sister remembers James Brown. Painting I didn’t get a sense or love for until college, but it is life-long. If there were more time in the day and I didn’t have to work I would maybe try to learn to paint. I see things and write them down. I hear things, too, but my imagination runs more toward the visual than the auditory. I have a poet friend who says she doesn’t see ever, she only hears, so that’s interesting. Everyone has their own path.
I think artists have to be the most patient beings on earth. If you rush or strain, it shows. When do you know a line you get in your head is going to go in a poem or in a song? Or does it matter?
Laidlaw: There’s a Johnny Cash–encounter poem in Peace, and I wondered if it was a little autobiographical . . . what a wild time and place to have been running a radio station. I also love that you describe the pre-poem page as a canvas or field. It makes me think of Annie Dillard’s passages in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that describe how cataract patients, immediately after sight-restoring surgeries, first see the world as a patchwork of undifferentiated colors and shapes. Poems – particularly ones that treat the whole page as a visual field – have the capacity to depict the world in the same, frighteningly fresh, almost newborn way. It’s also in the presence of that fresh/frightening imagery that the most fresh/frightening insights happen; both as a writer and as a reader, those are the moments I live for.
When I’m writing, I’ve learned to dwell in a somewhat trance-like state where lines spontaneously form in my mind’s ear (it’s entirely aural, like your friend – not visual at all for me.) The process allows me to be surprised, even shocked, by the lines I’m writing.
I wanted to ask you one last question, to wrap things up: When audiences (students in particular) encounter unfamiliar music or visual art, they often seem comfortable letting the pieces wash over them, simply enjoying the new aesthetic experience, but when they’re encountering unfamiliar poetry, they seem likelier to resort to an “I don’t get it.” In your own work, how much do you worry about the reader “getting it”? Is there a specific “it” to get?
Conoley: The Johnny Cash encounter is autobiographical! When I was in my twenties I worked as a journalist both at Dallas Morning News and freelance and went on a B-movie film set where Cash was acting—really bad movie, I don’t even know if it ended up getting released. I didn’t, after all, write an article, so that part’s true, too.
The “I don’t get it,” the “it” there is to get: I think that has to do with a kind of default mode humans can go to when it comes to language. We have expectations of language that we don’t necessarily have when it comes to paint or sounds in music. Language, when we encounter it, we often think it is going to tell us something or give us information. So the first step in reading poetry is to let go of that expectation, and to welcome in the other aspects of language: the sonic, the aural, its ability to trigger the visual in the mind.
This takes us back to the ineffable, where we began our conversation. Sometimes poetry is taught early on, say in elementary school, as though it is symbolic and there are symbols one must figure out: that’s the “get it” part. When really, if there is a symbol in a poem — and so many poems don’t even contain one — if there is a symbol, if the symbol is truly acting in its full-force, it is huge and associative and reaches us at an almost subliminal, subconscious level that one couldn’t even begin to paraphrase.
Having said that, though, it doesn’t mean that poetry is just this open art that is whatever the reader wishes to make of it. Of course there is intent, but what’s key for readers first coming to poetry is to open themselves up to what language can do when it isn’t busy just giving information. It’s a song, it’s talismanic; it reaches the intellect, the heart, and the body.
“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 bookTwERK 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
“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.”
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?
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
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?
People came to the picnic tables on Open Field and were prompted with cat-themed phrases to encourage them to draw the many cats on their minds and in their imaginations.
Some of these phrases included: Fat Cat, Leonardo Di-Catprio, Catastrophe, Digi C@, Cat Burglar, Live Long and Pawsper, and many more. People also took liberty and drew cats unprompted, because… well, why wouldn’t you?
In just over 48 hours, the Walker Art Center’s backyard will become a haven for cat video lovers, cat lovers, amused bystanders, reluctant participants, and everything in between at the Internet Cat Video Festival. Mostly, it will become a place for all of us to come and watch 70 minutes of internet cat videos together. […]
In just over 48 hours, the Walker Art Center’s backyard will become a haven for cat video lovers, cat lovers, amused bystanders, reluctant participants, and everything in between at the Internet Cat Video Festival. Mostly, it will become a place for all of us to come and watch 70 minutes of internet cat videos together.
To help communicate the full range of fun and delight we have planned for you, and, more importantly, to help you plan for the event, we have compiled this guide that will hopefully answer your questions and make your Thursday as enjoyable as possible.
This event is free and open to everybody.
That’s right – this is an all ages, no tickets required, totally free event. Everybody can come, from your baby to your grandma.
Everybody… including my cat?
We strongly encourage you not to bring your cat. Maybe some cats have a lot of experience hanging out in a crowd of thousands of people, but we’re willing to bet that most of them don’t. So please, for the comfort of your cat, please leave him/her at home. If you do decide to bring Fluffy, be aware that the field has no shade, and we have no facilities (litter boxes, water bowls, cardboard boxes) for animals. (That means dogs, too. If you absolutely want to bring your pup, please be aware that if any cat fights break out, we’ll have to ask you to leave.)
What time do the videos start, though? The actual cat videos will start at dusk (approximately 8:40 pm). Come early! Activities start at 6, and Jack Klatt and the Cat Swingers, a cool band with an even cooler name, will play from 7-7:50 pm.
In addition, the event will be ASL interpreted. We also have an area that will be roped off for ADA access.
You may have heard that it was super packed in 2012, and yes, we had a full hillside. But the hill is big enough for everybody, and the act of watching cat videos together will make you feel that much closer to your neighbors, literally and emotionally.
However, we encourage you to plan ahead. Please bike, walk, or take public transit to Catvidfest. It’s easy!
1. Bike – We will have 35 bike racks set up on site. Half will be at the top of the hill on the south side of the Walker (Groveland Terrace) and half will be along Vineland Place (between the Walker and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden). Lovely volunteers will be at these locations to greet you and your bike and direct you to the racks. We also have a NiceRide station!
2. Bus – Metro Transit has offered free bus rides to anybody heading to Catvidfest! Simply fill out this brief survey and download your passes. Be sure to have them in hand when you get on the bus. You can reach the Walker on lines 4, 6, 12, and 25. Download your pass here. Map your route here.
3. Walk – It’s going to be a lovely evening. Stretch those legs!
4. Drive – If you’re from out the area, the Walker has an underground parking ramp available on site. We expect this to fill up early in the evening, so please plan accordingly. Event rate parking is $7, and CASH ONLY.
Event parking is also available at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Hennepin Ave. for a $10 flat fee. There are two parking lots available to attendees, either at the cathedral at 15th Ave and Oak Grove St or at 1730 Clifton Place. Information and maps can be found here.
No reserved seating is available; all space is first-come, first-served. Bring thick blankets to sit on, as much of the field is currently covered in wood chips.
Please don’t bring lawn chairs, as it makes sightlines difficult for your new friends behind you.
No shade is available on the field, so bring proper sun protection.
No outside alcoholic beverages.
Pack it in, pack it out: Please take any disposables you bring on site back home with you.
Screenings in the Walker Cinema
If you can’t make it this Thursday, not all hope is lost! We’re screening the new program of videos in the Walker Cinema on Thursday, September 4 at 7 pm (preceded by Cat Poetry) and Saturday, September 7 at 2 pm. Tickets go on sale on Friday, August 15.
Now for the Fun Stuff
– Dress for the event! There is a lot of stylish cat gear out there in the world. You can also get catted up at the event by donning a brand new Catvidfest T-shirt for 2014. Then you can head over to the Walker’s booth and apply a special edition artist-designed cat tattoo to help you show your devotion (at least for a couple days). After that, if you feel like you’re still missing something, head over to Animalist’s booth to apply some whiskers with the help of a team of face painters. Then, to document your new look, you can head to Animal Planet’s animated GIF photo booth for a digital keepsake.
– Eat and drink at the event! There will be two cash bars on site. We’re working with St. Paul’s Flat Earth Brewing Company to provide their special cat-themed beers: Hep Cat and Tabby Cat (pictured above), both refreshing summer ales. Prefer something fruity? Try the Sourpuss Cocktail, a blend of Prairie Organic vodka, sweet and sour, lemon juice and soda, garnished with a lemon wedge and a cherry. (Other non-alocoholic beverages will be available as well.)
For sustenance, grab a salad or sandwich from the Garden Café inside the Walker, or a treat from one of the three food trucks parked outside: AZ Canteen, A Cupcake Social, and Gastrotruck.
– Meet two real engineers! Paul and TJ from “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” (and current People’s Choice Award nominees) will be here, and they’d love to meet you and talk about cats or engineering (but probably more so cats). You can catch them at the Feline Rescue booth from 6:30-7:30 pm.
– Grab a seat at Cat Drawing Club with local artists Todd Balthazor, Alyssa Nassner, and Shannon Joyce. Draw from several catty prompts, including “Live long and pawsper” [see: engineers], “Meow-na Lisa,” and “Cats with laser eyes,” among others.
Oh, and BUB. Lil BUB, “the most amazing cat on the planet,” will be making a special guest appearance on stage as a guest of Animal Planet. You can meet her at a ticketed event in Minneapolis on August 15.
That’s all for today. We can’t wait to see you, and most importantly, we can’t wait to watch cat videos with you.
On the day, share your photos and your fun using hashtag #catvidfest. Questions? Hit us up on Twitter (@catvidfest) or Facebook.
A dugout conversation, a rented organ, a baseball game, and 90 lemons: sound artist Chris Kallmyer visited the Walker Art Center in June to make a plan for his July residency on Open Field. Earlier this month Chris Kallmyer met with two Minneapolis experts to map out his project, Baseball Day to Day, a sonic exploration of […]
A dugout conversation, a rented organ, a baseball game, and 90 lemons: sound artist Chris Kallmyer visited the Walker Art Center in June to make a plan for his July residency on Open Field.
Earlier this month Chris Kallmyer met with two Minneapolis experts to map out his project, Baseball Day to Day, a sonic exploration of baseball in the spirit of Fluxus. You may recall Kallmyer’s 2011 Open Field piece, the american lawn and ways to cut it, in which he invited members of the public to bring their reel lawnmowers to cut the shaggy field in concert. This year the everyday sounds of Americana take a sporty slant.
Chris Kallmyer and Larry DiVito discuss groundskeeping.
On a baseball fact-finding mission Chris Kallmyer, Sarah Schultz and I had the pleasure of meeting with the Minnesota Twins’ Head Groundskeeper, Larry DiVito, to ask his counsel in the matter of building a regulation pitcher’s mound on Open Field. We met in his office, a dugout overlooking Target Field, with his crew dutifully grooming the pristine paradise beyond. DiVito is a baseball Zen master of sorts. He is kind, generous with his knowledge, and seems entirely at peace in the literal landscape of his making. In the end, plans were modified in scope to build a functioning baseline instead of a pitcher’s mound, but what we learned in that meeting has forever changed the way I think about baseball. I can’t share all of the details here but I will say that it involved lasers. The 40-foot baseline will be built on Open Field as part of the project Live Action Groundskeeping and will be mindfully tended to by Kallmyer and open for public play from July 9-17.
View of field maintenance from the bullpen at Target Field.
Larry DiVito shows Sarah Schultz the pitcher’s mound clay.
It’s time to cast your vote in the most important People’s Choice competition of the entire year. The coveted Golden Kitty Award for the internet’s best cat video is now on the line. You may know its short but storied history: During the first Internet Cat Video Festival, Will Braden’s Henri 2: Paw de Deuxtook home the Golden Kitty statuette. Last year, Grumpy Cat was awarded the top prize for her work in The Original Grumpy Cat. (FYI: We talked to Braden about winning the award and the process of choosing the nominees in this recent interview.)
Who will it be this year? After a year of watching hundreds of cat videos, reviewing your nominations, and considering the invaluable feedback of our panel of jurors, we present the five nominees for the 2014 Internet Cat Video Festival People’s Choice Award (in alphabetical order):
How to vote: There are two ways to vote for your choice for the Golden Kitty. You can either vote in the poll below OR you can vote on Twitter!
Follow @CatVidFest and use hashtag #goldenkittyaward, plus the name of the video to cast your vote! Try it!
Example: I vote for Henri 2: Paw de Deux #goldenkittyaward #catvidfest (Obviously, Henri is not up for the award again this year.)
Voting closes on July 18 at midnight. The winners will be revealed at the 2014 Internet Cat Video Festival on Thursday, August 14. And remember, just because you may not see your favorite video on this list, doesn’t mean that it’s not in the reel or we don’t have something special planned for it.
Track 1: Cabin Fever Winter is lingering on like a bad cold. While this will definitely go down as one of the worst subzero spells in recent history, there were some really fun moments in January and February that made the season more bearable. I’m referring to our series of Thursday night programs called Cabin […]
Lexa Walsh and Jerry Brownrigg
Track 1: Cabin Fever
Winter is lingering on like a bad cold. While this will definitely go down as one of the worst subzero spells in recent history, there were some really fun moments in January and February that made the season more bearable. I’m referring to our series of Thursday night programs called Cabin Fever that invited artists to design and host events that were social, participatory, and slightly idiosyncratic—including a poetry and printmaking party, butter-making aerobics, B-movie bingo, and a collaborative song-writing session about the long northern winters called Fever Songs.
Oakland-based artist Lexa Walsh and local music hero John Munson (Trip Shakespeare, Semisonic, The New Standards) hosted Fever Songs, with support from artist Chris Larson who supplied the rustic cabin, musician Jerry Brownrigg, and sound recording engineer Richard Medek. It took a talented team to pull off a one-night-only recording studio and an engaged audience willing to put some time into composing a song. The lyrics people contributed were fantastic and covered a range of emotion, from hostility to humor. Lexa, John, and Jerry were masterful composers as they instantaneously interpreted the texts into sound, choosing a punk flavor for one or a folky melody for another. Enjoy the resulting tracks—proof that our creativity cannot be suppressed by a long Minnesota winter.
(Note: all songs were sung and performed by Lexa, John, and Jerry with help from some of the songwriters. Track 14, “Ukulele” was sung and strummed entirely by the songwriters, Anna Marie Vu and Dave Kaminski.)
Jerry Brownrigg on drums, John Munson on vocals and guitar
Track 2: Cold Outside
A group of students from Duluth surrounding Chris Larson’s cabin