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mnartists’ Most Popular Articles of 2013: Surly Brewing, Lady Choirs, Summer Camp, CVA’s Closing and Cindy Sherman

Below, you’ll find mnartists.org’s 20 most-read articles of 2013 — just a sampling of more than 125 original, longform essays, interviews, profiles and reviews we published in the homepage arts magazine last year. Compiling this list, I’m struck by the rapid growth of readership for the site’s journalism in recent months. Our most-read pieces routinely […]

Below, you’ll find mnartists.org’s 20 most-read articles of 2013 — just a sampling of more than 125 original, longform essays, interviews, profiles and reviews we published in the homepage arts magazine last year. Compiling this list, I’m struck by the rapid growth of readership for the site’s journalism in recent months. Our most-read pieces routinely garner thousands of page-views these days — and those are numbers that, for us, were exceptional just a few years ago. That’s thanks to our stable of talented arts journalists and critics, of course, not to mention Minnesota’s wealth notable creative work for them to write on. But it’s also thanks to you, mnartists’ engaged community of artists and arts audiences who take the time, not only to read local arts journalism, but to contribute to the conversations therein, commenting on and sharing those articles with friends via platforms like Facebook and Twitter thereby extending their reach well beyond our state’s borders. And that doesn’t just broaden the audience for mnartists’ published writing, it also raises the visibility of the art and artists whose work is covered.  So, thanks for reading — and stay tuned, would you? There’s so much more good stuff to come in 2014.

surly hgs

Surly Brewery design rendering: Garden view to the brew hall. Rendering courtesy of HGA Architects and Engineers

Surly puts architecture to work building its brand: Camille LeFevre’s report on HGA Architects’ design plans (and resulting critical blowback) for Surly Brewing’s new destination brewery in Minneapolis was our most-read essay of 2013. In her piece, she makes the case that the plan’s detractors got it all wrong: the bunker-like, Brutalist design is the perfect fulfillment of Surly’s image and brand.

cabin time

Photo: Carson Davis Brown

A history of Cabin Time: Kevin Buist profiled the tight-knit group of Midwestern artists behind the now-internationally-known project, Cabin Time. It began with some Michigan creatives, snowed in together on a vacation getaway Up North.  They made the best of their situation – building campfires, taking hikes, sharing meals and making art with the materials at hand. They also documented everything — and a scrappy, nomadic, thoroughly 21st-century artist residency was born.

CVA

College of Visual Arts in St. Paul announced it would close in June 2013. Photo courtesy of CVA

Behind the scenes of the closing of the College of Visual Arts:  Camille LeFevre dug behind the official talking points about the school’s closing, speaking to CVA’s interim president, faculty and alumni about the college’s money troubles, sinking enrollment, and community concerns about management, plus grassroots efforts to save CVA.

Samantha French

Samantha French, Emerge (clear waters), 48″ x 60″, oil on canvas, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Samantha French, escape artist: Jay Orff considers MN-to-NYC artist Samantha French’s bright, Impressionistic paintings of a summer idyll. He asks: When so much contemporary art seeks to shock and surprise, to push boundaries, is such an unabashedly pleasant, familiar style of work still relevant to the conversation?

summer camp.

Camper Jeff Barnett-Winsby. Photo: Julian Bleecker, courtesy of Walker Art Center.

The secret grace of summer camp: Thanks to Alec Soth and the Little Brown Mushroom team, a group of international artists and writers find themselves at “summer camp for socially awkward storytellers,” immersed in finding the stories hiding in plain sight within the marvelous mundanities of the Midwest – and Ira Brooker covered the story for mnartists.

cindy sherman

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #56, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 6 3/8 x 9 7/16″ (16.2 x 24 cm). The Museum of Modern Art © 2011 Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman and the art of making faces: Lightsey Darst reviewed January’s Cindy Sherman show at the Walker and calls it one of the most important bodies of feminist art today — but not for any of the reasons cited on the wall in didactics accompanying the artist’s retrospective.

Prairie Fire Lady Choir. Photo: Erin Smith

Prairie Fire Lady Choir. Photo: Erin Smith

The rise of women’s choirs: Deborah Carver profiled the burgeoning Twin Cities women’s choral scene: Prairie Fire Lady Choir, Twin Cities Women’s Choir and Nona Marie’s Anonymous Choir.

nice fish

Nice Fish and an interview in two acts: Connie Wanek spoke with poet Louis Jenkins and Tony Award-winner Mark Rylance last fall, about their collaboration on the play, Nice Fish, and its evolutions from page to stage, as they began preparations for the Guthrie’s world premiere of the production last spring. (And here’s part two of her profile, on the process of casting for the show.)

Sarah Black’s and Jillian Soto, Three Times Around the Long Way (installation view). Photo: Seth Dahlseid

Sarah Black’s and Jillian Soto, Three Times Around the Long Way (installation view). Photo: Seth Dahlseid

Art that dared you to participate: Nathan Young reviewed the sculpture exhibition, Resonating Bodies, at the Soap Factory this July. Specifically, his essay raises the question: If there are no labels on the wall, no readily available didactics, how does a viewer navigate oblique, conceptual art to figure out what they’re seeing? Are such roadmaps to engaging art obsolete?

Ballet of the Dolls perform The Red Shoes in a raw Ritz Theater

Ballet of the Dolls perform The Red Shoes in a raw Ritz Theater

The disappearance of dance curators: Both Cowles and the Southern have now forsaken curated performance seasons for rentals and bottom line-friendly shows. Walker’s dance-focused curator was recently laid off. In this essay, dance critic Lightsey Darst asks, “Are dance curators a luxury we can’t afford? Does it matter?”

More of our most-read articles and essays from 2013, including a few surprises from the archive:

“The Art Stands Alone”: Sheila Regan reviews the third Minnesota biennial at the Soap Factory — , , , curated by Art of This cofounders David Petersen and John Marks

Confessions of a Craft Show Organizer“: Crafty Planet proprietor and No Coast Craft-O-Rama cofounder, Trish Hoskins’ 2008 piece offering tips for selling your work on the craft show circuit

Lumber and Lutheran Grit“: Andy Sturdevant’s mnartists 2008 profile of artist Chris Larson saw a dramatic surge in readers upon the release of his new essay collection published this fall by Coffee House Press, Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow

The Play and Power of Women in Hip Hop“: Lightsey Darst’s 2009 essay on Intermedia Arts’ annual month-long celebration of women in hip-hop, B-Girl Be

To Dream of a New Kind of Making“: Ann Klefstad’s review of Duluth Art Institute’s Confluence/Confluencia show, a collaborative exhibition last March by Cecilia Ramon and Carla Stetson

Why Venus DeMars’ Art Matters More Than Her Audit“: Ira Brooker’s essay on what happens when an artist becomes a cause célèbre

A Conversation on Painting“: Painters Joe Smith and Ruben Nusz sat down for a far-ranging conversation about self-help and primal gestures, blankets and childhood, and how to capture the unfixed, unnamed moment before language

Artists Should Be Disappointing Sometimes“: Lightsey Darst on the Low controversy at last summer’s Rock the Garden, risk-taking dance, and the inestimable value of leaving room for artistic blunders

Why Does Minnesota Still Go Crazy for Prince?”: Ira Brooker’s dispatch from this fall’s 2 a.m. concert at Paisley Park

Painting a Place Between Invention and Memory“: Ann Klefstad on Duluth-based artist Scott Murphy

The Year in Minnesota Art: Assorted “Bests” in Music, Film and Spectacle

Best Intimate Venue Califone frontman Tim Rutili arrived in the Twin Cities last May via a quietly publicized Living Room Concert tour. The chosen “living room” was a place of business on Lake Street, moonlighting as a music venue. Haunting, minimal and impeccably delivered, Rutili’s repetitive and rustic guitar-based works were well-suited to the casual […]

Station to Station at St. Paul's Union Depot.

Station to Station at St. Paul’s Union Depot. Photo courtesy of Station to Station’s website.

Best Intimate Venue

Califone frontman Tim Rutili arrived in the Twin Cities last May via a quietly publicized Living Room Concert tour. The chosen “living room” was a place of business on Lake Street, moonlighting as a music venue. Haunting, minimal and impeccably delivered, Rutili’s repetitive and rustic guitar-based works were well-suited to the casual venue. Alternative spaces and crowd-funded performance have been on everyone’s lips. Nonetheless, there is something wonderful about a musician who shies away from grandiose tours and definable genres to create something uniquely pleasing for his devoted following.

Best Charm

The New Yorker recently called Jonathan Richman an “old-fashioned troubadour,” and it’s also an apt description of his charming, world-weary yet carefree appearance at the Cedar Cultural Center in November. Richman’s eclectic and forthright oeuvre feels refreshing to ears accustomed to, but perhaps bored by, highly produced and postmodern pop tunes. Richman sang of how much he loathed cell phones, joyfully danced around stage, and was accompanied by his long-time collaborator, Tommy Larkins, who was decked out for the occasion in a sequined blazer.

Best Jaunt

This summer, a trip to New York’s Governor’s Island Art Fair proved a surprising and multifarious art experience. My fellow revelers picked a house; we walked in past groaning performance artists on the porch, only to be confronted with a naked man gyrating to trance music inside. (It was a performance apparently meant to evoke cult and ritual behavior.) On the island, former military barracks were thus transformed into experimental and wildly-curated art spaces, featuring work that truly ran the gamut — from naked performance pieces to delicate works on paper.

Author's photograph of the Governor's Island Art Fair

Author’s photograph of the Governor’s Island Art Fair.

Best Big Bang

Station to Station roared into St. Paul this September and made people talk about concepts we usually face only in museums: issues to do with art and context, how setting affects interaction with the work on view. The expanding definition of a traveling show, a “pop-up,” raised questions of heritage (why do we still so admire and engage with trains and the myth of American exploration?), sharing (what is shared experience? Is it a hashtag?), and artist intent (why are these artists here?). Patti Smith was the reigning queen of the evening, using her transient platform to urge people to stay ever-engaged and politically aware.

Station to Station at St. Paul’s Union Depot.

Station to Station at St. Paul’s Union Depot. From the website of Station to Station.

Best Swan Song

Franklin Art Works’ last exhibition at their Franklin Avenue address last summer came in the form of a highly personal painting show, Njideka Akunyili’s I Still Face You. Dense, layered and engrossing, Akunyili’s work deals with African heritage, diaspora and alienation. Each work contains layer upon layer of collage, paint and pattern. These colorful works make the viewer feel privy to something inside the artist’s world, all the while keeping plenty of secrets hidden behind the ciphers of Akunyili’s collection of found images.

Njideka Akunyili. Her Widening Gyre, 2011. Charcoal, acrylic, collage and xerox transfers on paper. From the website of Akunyili.

Njideka Akunyili. Her Widening Gyre, 2011. Charcoal, acrylic, collage and xerox transfers on paper. From the website of Akunyili.

Best Small Film

Remarkably fresh and clever, Pierre Étaix’s recently restored Yoyo (1965) defied the expectations one has of a near-silent film. The film conveys a simultaneous longing for artistic authenticity and financial success that still feels timely — it’s a push-and-pull that is ever-relevant for those working in creative fields. The melancholy, loss and self-discovery in Yoyo are classic themes, and the intimate  Trylon Microcinema, where the film was shown this August, was nicely filled with the odd soundtrack of noises and delightful sound effects.

Chloe Nelson is the program assistant for mnartists.org.

Shortlisted: BEYONCÉ, the Yule Log and Minute-Brew Coffee

The impetus behind Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album, nostalgia for the way music used to be made and heard, is something that has been on the tongues of music aficionados for some time now. In a video posted on her Facebook page, she explains: “I feel like people experience music differently… I miss that immersive experience. Now, people […]

whirlingdervish

The impetus behind Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album, nostalgia for the way music used to be made and heard, is something that has been on the tongues of music aficionados for some time now. In a video posted on her Facebook page, she explains:

“I feel like people experience music differently… I miss that immersive experience. Now, people only listen to a few seconds of a song on their iPods. They don’t really invest in a whole album. It’s all about the single, and the hype.”

And so, Beyoncé initially released her new album online, only available for purchase as a full 14-song, 17-video package. Announced and released simultaneously, as word spread on Friday, December 12, BEYONCÉ  triggered a pop culture news/media event of a sort only made possible by compounding fame and savvy viral marketing. Like the “high holidays of mass communication” of days gone by, “audiences recognized it as an invitation–even a command–to stop their daily routines and join in a holiday experience.” For Beyoncé and her eight million-plus fans, Christmas came early, abetted by smartphones in cubicles across America. She sold a record-setting 828,773 albums in just three days, a long weekend of Beyoncé-saturated new media. As Maura Johnston points out in Vice:

“…she essentially charged admission for the conversation. People talked about the record and discovered it simultaneously, making the discussion more electrified than, say, the chatter that ensued over the months-long span between the announcement and release of Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP…”

The artist’s lack of promotion was a calculated risk, as was the iTunes-only delivery method of the new work. Imagine if she had produced the same visual album – a clever concept in itself — but allowed for the standard hype and first-week physical copies. Perhaps BEYONCÉ would have surpassed the previous first-week sales record, set by *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached, which sold 2.4 million copies in March of 2000, a time when “physical music” was the default.

It’s worth noting that we now have something called physical music — as in, Walmart is “happy to be able to carry her album and support all physical music.” Here Walmart plainly aims to scoop up some cred with their support of things; this statement was issued in response to Target’s announcement that they will not be selling BEYONCÉ in their stores, citing as the main reason that her digital pre-release “impacts demand and sales projections.”

“Celebrity is scaling the concept in a way that’s not possible for others,” said Washington Posts Dominic Basulto of her new album. Let’s be clear: the concept is proving lucrative for her, and it’s unusually clever, yes – but it’s not new. A visual album? That’s been done­ — in 2005, by an indie rock band, The Sun (and signed to Warner Bros. at the time, mind you).* Their enhanced DVD album, Blame It On The Youth, had about nine years on this technological tide before Beyoncé rode in on it with such fanfare.

Here’s a peek at some of the frustrations The Sun’s 2005 iteration of the visual album concept was met with:

Pitchfork:

“I’m not just reviewing a batch of songs here, I’m reviewing a DVD that a good section of the buying public can’t even listen to without watching TV for an hour.”

The A.V. Club:

“The problem is that not everyone wants to watch 45 minutes of video just to hear some songs, and even though Blame It On The Youth is supposed to be fully downloadable into MP3 players, there’s still a disconnect in the consumption process.”

Whatever The Sun’s missteps — not least being signed to a major label whose execs shit their pants over YouTube – the criticisms above, published less than 10 years ago, show just how quickly technology has hijacked the way people experience music. What The Sun did for art school kicks and adventures in multimedia, Beyoncé is now deploying (very successfully) as a gimmick to get people to fully immerse themselves in the whole of her album. As if that can’t happen through your ear-holes alone, you know, by listening to the music.

She says:

“I remember seeing (it) on TV with my family. It was an event. We all sat around the TV. And I’m now looking back I was so lucky that I was born around that time. I miss that immersive experience….”

Okay, so Beyoncé was talking about Thriller herebut in the spirit of the Christmas season, let’s see what happens if we swap Thriller with “The Yule Log.” Nostalgia for the immersive experience otherwise known as real life was, in fact, central to the comedic conceit of The Yule Log when it debuted on public access television in 1966: an artifact of the new ubiquity of television, an emblem of the original crisis of mass media consumption.

Screenshot of the original "Yule Log" from 1966.

Screenshot of the original “Yule Log” from 1966.

Look at us now: We love panda cams, Norway’s Slow TV is coming stateside, and innumerable live streams are always feeding, even when nobody is around to view them. And that sheer saturation of media manifests as something like an uncanny throwback. “The Yule Log” is available, even on my crappy cable plan, in SD, HD, and 3-D.

About a month ago, the nation collectively focused their attention to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. CBS did so, in part, by streaming the network’s original four-day coverage of the historic event on its website. During an episode of As The World Turns, the second-longest-running television drama of all time, CBS first broke the news in 1963, interrupting a conversation between “Bob” and “Lisa” about Thanksgiving dinner­ — a dispute likely still unsettled when ATWT ended 54 years later (soap opera jab!). Networks were not equipped for quick video changeovers. At first, it was just the audio:

“CBS NEWS BULLETIN” appears on screen

(paper shuffling)

 Here is a bulletin from CBS news. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.

(paper shuffling)

More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously. President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called, ‘oh no’, the motorcade sped on. United Press says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS news, President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS news for further details.

The “continuous coverage” which streamed on CBSnews.com last month — dubbed “As It Happened”, and which you can buy for $35.99 on Amazon.com – would begin moments later, with the President confirmed dead. Until then, with nothing more for CBS to report, whoever was home at 1 pm on Friday, November 22, 1963 (watching the one and only program on television at that time of day) was abruptly thrown back into the simulacrum of the soap — it’s a juxtaposition that must have been as jarring as it was unprecedented.

In the absence of news, a swinging clock pendulum reappeared on screen. Midway through a commercial for Nescafe Minute-Brew coffee, a voiceover delivers the line: “Anybody can make a coffee more instant, but Nescafe makes it more coffee.”

Here’s to making things more coffee.

*This doesn’t matter, but for the sake of full disclosure: The Sun are from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and I appear in one of the videos. Further unnecessary clarification: the video I’m in is not the one with people masturbating.

Haptic Habit: The Art and Science of Hands

Before I took my first drawing class, I thought I was pretty good. I could even draw hands pretty well. And as every artist knows, they’re the most difficult of our lovely human parts to render. Even the good ones had to work for thousands of hours before their drawings of hands went from crumpled ginger […]

Robert Gober, Untitled, etching on paper, 1999. Courtesy of the Walker Art Center.

Robert Gober, untitled, etching on paper, 1999. Courtesy of the Walker Art Center.

Before I took my first drawing class, I thought I was pretty good. I could even draw hands pretty well. And as every artist knows, they’re the most difficult of our lovely human parts to render. Even the good ones had to work for thousands of hours before their drawings of hands went from crumpled ginger roots and flaccid udders to anything resembling the graceful instruments of dexterity that separate us from (most) other animals.

As weeks passed in class, I realized I had been looking at my hands all wrong. I’d been cheating, taking a shortcut:  I was outlining the hand when I should have been looking at the sum of shapes comprising the whole. That‘s how an artist thinks. Lo and behold, as soon as I started seeing the world around me in its constituent bits, my hands got better. More realistic. And this is why it’s so easy to get hands all wrong:  The very moving parts and counterintuitive facets that make them so hard to replicate on paper are exactly what make them so useful, so expressive.

Hands serve as the seat of the only one of our five senses we can actually see at work. Hands are, literally, an extension of ourselves.

Unknown artist, Australian rock art (Hand stencils and flying foxes), 7000 - 2000 B.C.E.

Unknown artist, Australian rock art (Hand stencils and flying foxes), 7000 – 2000 B.C.E.

Not only do our hands help us express the things we have learned, says linguistic anthropologist and learning expert Shirley Brice Heath, these appendages actually help us learn things in the first place. Research has shown that when humans learn language, we aren’t just learning what to call the things around us, we’re actually learning how to comprehend  our environment. In a similar way, when we use our hands to interact with the world, they build for us a sort of tactile vocabulary, a different way of apprehending the world around us that’s three-dimensional, spatial, structural.

“Our fMRI technologies enable us to learn what happens to our internal visual images when we grip, hold, or touch what we see,” says Heath. “We know that the haptic or hand-guided feedback that children gain when they grip the crayon, pencil, or charcoal enhances the act of mentally visualizing, of envisioning what lies behind or within the surface elements of what they view with their eyes.” Heath calls this “hand work,” and points out that it  not only proves useful for art, but is also of benefit to work in science (just one of the many ways in which art informs science and can strengthen scientific thinking, she says).

Let’s take the benefit of “hand work” a step further:  When you have a tactile experience of the world and then challenge yourself to represent that three-dimensional experience through the power of your hands, the cycle of learning is complete. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again:  Art-making is, like science, an attempt to understand, interpret, and explain the world.

Does that sound a little touchy-feely? Exactly.

Christian Marclay, From Hand to Ear, cast beeswax, 1994. Courtesy of the Walker Art Center.

Christian Marclay, From Hand to Ear, cast beeswax, 1994. Courtesy of the Walker Art Center.

Postscript: If our hands serve as an extension of our-selves, and tools are an extension of our hands, it kind of makes sense that we see tool-making in apes. That said, they have hands, but apes have yet to draw a convincing one.

Post-postscript: Tool-making has also appeared in “smart” animals like corvids (crows and ravens) and dolphins. But those animals use their tools as extensions of their beaks, which they use like hands. Same idea, minus the thumbs?

Making an Entrance: It Is What It Is!

Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, […]

Making-an-enterance

Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, including: illustrations in the Altered Esthetics Gallery (Minneapolis), the Walker Art Center blog, and multiple Red Leaf Press publications (St. Paul); visual narratives at the Adugyama Art Exhibition (Ghana, Africa) and the Save the Children Nepal Project (Nepal, India); and murals at an orphanage in Jaurez, Mexico.  Samples of his work can be found at toddbalthazor.com and toddbalthazor.blogspot.com.

Balthazor also works as a guard at the Walker Art Center, and draws on his experiences behind the scenes at the museum in his biweekly comic strip for mnartists.org, It Is What It Is!

Shortlisted: Unopened Snaps, Photos Too Hard to Keep

“I may know better a photograph I remember than a photograph I am looking at, as if direct vision oriented its language wrongly, engaging it in an effort of description which will always miss the point of its effect, the punctum.” Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida Aside from its use as a sexting medium, what is […]

Almeida-Júnior-Saudade-(Longing)

Jose Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, Saudade, 1899, oil on canvas (detail). Photo: Ferraz de Almeida Júnior [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I may know better a photograph I remember than a photograph I am looking at, as if direct vision oriented its language wrongly, engaging it in an effort of description which will always miss the point of its effect, the punctum.”

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Aside from its use as a sexting medium, what is Snapchat? More precisely, what is a snap?  A self-deleting multimedia missive sent using mobile technology: it’s a standard spy trope without the smoke, sparks, and (dire) content; visual communication inspired by Perez Hilton; one-to-ten seconds of a photo, or video – MS Paint captions optional – and then it’s gone.

But there’s more.

Tech pundits entered into a frenzy after Snapchat reportedly turned down a $3 billion, all-cash acquisition offer from Facebook; most were unsure why a social messaging application based on media impermanence could be thought to be worth more. Instagram, ever-popular across age groups, sold for $1 billion in April of 2012; the majority of Snapchat’s users are 13-23 years old. Assuming an older demographic would never embrace such an anti-archive,  the question of the moment was: Will a youth user group hold steady for the app, thereby justifying the Facebook snub? Commentators answered: “no.”

But perhaps Snapchat’s decision to forgo the buyout didn’t solely rest on the loyalty of teenagers. A mobile editor at ReadWrite sees the app fitting in perfectly with the current Web era: It’s mobile, it’s visual, and it comes with the implication of privacy­. Granted, with the right tools it’s always possible to retrieve data, but a social network noted for its discretion is unprecedented. Bearing a warrant, the NSA only has access to “unopened snaps,” messages stored in a server­ – Snapchat’s own dead letter office­ – as long as their recipients opt to ignore them. And even those messages have an expiration date: apparently, an unopened snap disappears after 30 days. And no public or private timeline of opened snaps exists — this is a large part of the app’s charm. There are good reasons to think a shift beyond the teen demographic is in play.

Almeida-Júnior-Saudade-(Longing)

Jose Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, Saudade, 1899, oil on canvas (detail).
Photo: Ferraz de Almeida Júnior [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

More and more, the digital realm is the default for communication; the digital is also our de facto collective archive. There’s a wealth of history just in the residual traces such communications leave behind: the metadata of our emails and web surfing, on reverse-chronological timelines like you find on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. These platforms are, by design, archival and yet we, the users, rarely access them as such. With a ceaseless barrage of incoming information, the stuff of even our recent past isn’t so quick to entice. Instagram photos are rarely revisited; we hardly engage with them when they’re newly posted. Rather, how we make use of the media of social networking amounts to something much more like interpassivity. We take pleasure just knowing that such archival platforms are there, keeping record for us.[/caption]But Snapchat doesn’t allow for passive engagement. To view a snap, the recipient must press and hold their screen for that 1 to 10 seconds. This guaranteed share of attention is priceless given the increasingly pervasive distraction of the digital lifestyle – what writer and software expert Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention”. Snaps are targeted and personal; recipients are deliberately chosen (88% are sent to one person). As such, snaps are a throwback, a return to the qualities of communication inherent to speech. Snaps are a moment truly shared, in (simulated) real time.

And why not? It’s not like anyone is going to go back and look at it again. Digital images have yet to be valued like their tangible precursors IRL. Temporary social media seems to posit the idea that creation of a more meaningful digital communication requires embracing that ephemerality, making the proliferation of here-today-gone-tomorrow missives even more disposable.

Since 2010, Chicago artist Jason Lazarus has maintained an archive of images deemed “too hard to keep” by their owners. The project initiated with traditional photography in mind. He’s  interested in the kind of picture that brings pain when you come across it while cleaning out a sock drawer, or on moving day, but which resists an easy toss to the trash can; it’s the kind of photograph imbued with a resilient, if uncomfortable, nostalgia too potent to discard like you do the empty detritus of your life. It bears saudade, as the feeling is close to being named, in Portuguese:

“A somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. It is related to thinking back on situations of privation due to the absence of someone or something, to move away from a place or thing, or to the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived.”

Getting rid of such an image requires a deliberate and ceremonial act, like burning. And that is where Jason Lazarus steps in. Too Hard To Keep (2010-present) is currently on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, as part of Jason Lazarus: Live Archive, the first West Coast museum exhibition for the artist. As the exhibition text states, “This concept is remarkably similar to the Jewish tradition requiring damaged scrolls, books, and other texts that bear the sacred name of God to be placed in an in-between space, called a genizah (Hebrew for ‘storage’ or ‘hiding’).” The in-between-space Lazarus maintains consists of snapshots. Whether seemingly innocent, ambiguous, or obviously tragic, these photos carry the same mysterious charge as a Polaroid found on the street — except here, the significance of the unknown is guaranteed, rather than merely guessed-at.

As of October 9, 2012, he’s accepting cell phone photo submissions for the project, banking on the sender’s promise that their personal copy of the image will be deleted. That’s too bad. When Too Hard To Keep  began in 2010, at the precipice of smartphone ubiquity, it was precisely that distinction between the physical and digital photograph that made Lazarus’ concept so compelling. I submit that a photograph that is too hard to keep does not yet exist in a digital capacity. Maybe it’s just that not enough time has passed to bestow on these images such depth of feeling; maybe it comes down to the fact that a digital photo can be deleted in a hasty half-second. Maybe my rejection of the idea boils down to the idea that there are just too many of them for any one pixellated image to carry such significance. Maybe the truth is digital images just can’t be held, can’t be kept.

The Columnest: The Romance of Riding a Raveling Edge

At a party in Durham, I get into a conversation that goes nowhere. That is, it goes on, but it violates the cardinal rules of party conversation: it is not about sex, and it does not show any signs of becoming about sex, either. I slide over to another conversation, which is about something a […]

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

At a party in Durham, I get into a conversation that goes nowhere. That is, it goes on, but it violates the cardinal rules of party conversation: it is not about sex, and it does not show any signs of becoming about sex, either. I slide over to another conversation, which is about something a little less stiff, and then it is about bike cops. “I find bike cops endearing,” I declare.

“Which do you prefer,” someone asks, “bike cops or horse cops?”

Difficult question! The women ponder their relative merits, and then someone—it’s probably me—notes that there is “something kinky” about horse cops. The next conversation over stops. “Thank goodness!” exclaims the hostess, emptying the last of what must be a jeroboam (“surprisingly good, considering it only cost twelve dollars!”) into her cup. “It was nothing but boys talking about bike accidents before.”

I’ve met most of these people just once, at another party in the same “set”; their names, jobs, provenance are a soup in my mind. “You’re from Florida,” I say to one woman, waving my Solo cup of prosecco at her, “maybe Tampa, Orlando?”

She gives me a fish-eyed stare. “I’m from Pennsylvania, actually,” she says, as if she is rebuffing the fortune-teller at the fair, “which is about as far away as you can get.” I would have thought that was Alaska, but maybe she means temperamentally far away, which could be true: she looks very sensible, and Florida is where crazy people come from. When that got to be true, I’m not sure; I don’t think it was the case when I was growing up there. But between the 2000 election and the sinkholes and Swamplandia! and Florida Man on Twitter, my home state has become firmly established as a crazy place. Sure, I have stories, but who didn’t go to an off-brand Montessori with a circus net in the backyard? An off-brand Montessori that is now, I might add, an abandoned motel.

The Pennsylvanian and I mutually split, turning away from each other like double doors opening, and I shortly find myself in a line-up of three rather tipsy redheads, all leaning in to hear a fourth redhead, deadly sober, describe the circumstances of her long-distance relationship. They are allowed to see and sleep with other people, as long as they don’t fall in love. “Excuse me,” someone bursts in (is it me?), “but that’s—” Whoever it is puts her hand over her mouth.

“No, say it,” says the sober girl. “It’s bullshit.”

“It’s bullshit,” we agree.

“I’m doing the same thing,” one of the tipsy redheads proclaims. I’m starting to wonder whether any of us really have red hair. Maybe the sober girl; her skin has that ginger tinge. It turns out this other girl’s relationship is almost opposite: she and her erstwhile boyfriend are not in love and not planning to be together in the future, but they still sleep together. What the relationships have in common is sex without attachment, which I for one could never do. Those silly things—a curl of hair, the dimple of a back-muscle—how do you immunize yourself against them? How can you be a lover without loving?

Besides, everyone wants to be swept away, I think, even sensible Pennsylvanians. Everyone wants to fall in love, everyone wants to believe.

I FLY TO MINNEAPOLIS FOR THANKSGIVING. Outside it’s bitter: the air is white, the wind is mean, the landscape is pared down to its winter palette of browns, and the lakes, freshly skinned with ice, look like still photos of themselves. But inside, Minneapolis glows. In La Belle Vie, all chandeliers, banked candles, and cocktails like precious jewels—a red wine like a ruby, a gold-tinted martini—my love and Linda and I carry on a happy chatter. It’s the sort of conversation you remember almost nothing of later: stories, compliments, effusions of enthusiasm. We talk about—this I do remember—the postmodern leap, the moment when you accept that art does not need to make sense, does not need to be beautiful in any familiar way. Making this leap is like losing your religion, or like falling in love, in that there’s no guarantee it will happen to you, and you can’t really make it happen, but when it does, nothing is the same again.

We are all laughing as we talk, marveling at our good luck. But from the outside, from the other country, postmodern work looks dour and unfriendly; I remember that. The disconcerting freefall—art can be, I can be, the world can be entirely other, deeply unsettled—I remember touching the edge of that, like a child tasting wine, or a swimmer putting a toe in an undercurrent.

There are, of course, other stories haunting this romanticism of mine. In Sri Lanka, my friend asked our driver how he happened to become a vegetarian. He told us the story. He and his brother and his brother’s wife were all at home; his wife was up the hill, at the temple. Then the tsunami came. In a moment the home vanished in the wave. He and his brother clung to a storm wall and somehow survived; the brother’s wife was swept out to sea and never seen again. His own wife, up the hill at the temple, was fine. So he converted, became a vegetarian, became a driver. Everything they had was gone, and he had to start over.

Now, whose story am I telling, and how does it relate to the undertow? Two stories are simple enough. My friend and I, strangers in this beautiful island, dazed and foolish, but protected by our American passports and credit cards (and by Sri Lankan friends), could afford to let this new world wash over us. And the sister-in-law: I imagine her relation to that wave was simple enough. But I wonder about the driver—Ranil is his name: chastened but alive, eyes opened to his survival, how did he think of it all? I remember that he drank the strong highland tea so fast his mouth steamed when he spoke.

Back to Durham. One of the two tall buildings downtown, the SunTrust building, is in the midst of renovation; it’s becoming some kind of high-class art hotel. They’ve been taking the letters off the top, and they’ve stopped, the last couple of weeks, at RUST. It’s probably intentional: Durham is an odd place, and Durhamites can afford to laugh at their city’s dirty, rusty image now that Durham is in the midst of a boom.

Drinking my coffee, looking out at the sign from a renovated garage that is now a very hip little coffee shop, I have a sense of riding a raveling edge. A thousand miles away, my love’s getting on a plane to come back to me; I am diving into revisions of poems, peeling away my lines to feel the dark matter between.

Lightsey Darst writes, dances, writes about dance and other arts, and teaches. Her books are Find the Girl and the new collection, DANCE (both Coffee House Press). Her poetic work appears in Typo, Spork, and Diagram. Her criticism is online at mnartists.org, The Huffington Post, and Bookslut.

2013-2014 McKnight Photography Fellows: Now Available on iBooks

For the past 30 years, the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Photographers program has supported the work of mid-career Minnesota artists, both to recognize their accomplishments and to assist ongoing work. The fellowship provides four annual awards which include a $25,000 stipend, visits with nationally and internationally recognized curators and critics, and the production of a […]

For the past 30 years, the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Photographers program has supported the work of mid-career Minnesota artists, both to recognize their accomplishments and to assist ongoing work. The fellowship provides four annual awards which include a $25,000 stipend, visits with nationally and internationally recognized curators and critics, and the production of a monograph artist book or catalog. mnartists.org has hosted and managed the fellowship for the past five years, working with a total of 20 mid-career photographers.

The 2012-2013 McKnight Artist Fellows include an accomplished group of contemporary photographers selected by jurors Kevin Moore, an independent scholar and curator; Lisa Sutcliffe, a former Assistant Curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and current Curator of Photography at the Milwaukee Art Museum; and San Francisco artist, Todd Hido. The fellows worked closely with the McKnight Photography Fellowship staff and Minneapolis publisher Location Books to produce four distinct monographs. The completed books are published in a limited edition of 100 copies, and they represent the distinct bodies of work made by each fellow. Each book includes an introductory essay on the artist’s work written by independent curator Charlotte Cotton. Below is a preview of the newly published catalogs: see a sampling of each fellow’s images, read excerpts from the essays. We encourage you to download a copy of each through iTunes if you’d like to read more.

Frozen by Jenn Ackerman

Jenn Ackerman, Crib Ruins. Lake Superior, Feb. 2013

Jenn Ackerman

Ackerman’s work has been recognized by the Inge Morath Award, Review Santa Fe/CENTER, Magnum Expression Award, the Honickman First Book Prize, Communication Arts Photography Annual and others. One of her projects, Trapped, was named Non-Traditional Photojournalism Publishing Project of the Year, and the project’s short film won an Emmy. Ackerman studied photography at the Danish School of Journalism, and received a master’s degree in visual communications from Ohio University. During the fellowship year Ackerman continued working on her project, Frozen, shooting with a 4×5 camera in the rural areas of Northern Minnesota.

From the introductory essay by Charlotte Cotton for the book, Frozen: 

Jenn Ackerman moved to Minnesota three years ago, and it is perhaps not surprising that her first mature body of work created here would engage with one of the defining characteristics of this state.  In her series, Frozen, Ackerman responds to the unique visual drama of winter weather.  She gathers a series of scenes and encounters in northern Minnesota, seen through the eyes of a newly arrived photographer, each conveying a graphic sense of the infinite terrain that the ice and snow create in the winter months.  There are solitary structures and vehicles that she finds in remote places — almost comical and anthropomorphic, resilient and even optimistic in their ability to endure these harsh winters, disconnected from regular fall or spring time use.

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Teri Fullerton, from the series The Return, ongoing

Teri Fullerton

Fullerton is a 2010-11 Jerome Emerging Artist Fellow whose work has been included in 22 solo and group exhibitions in Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Santa Fe, the Twin Cities and Paris. Fullerton grew up in Lake Tahoe, California, completed a Master’s in Education (1996) in Portland, Oregon, and a Master’s in Fine Art (2008) from Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Fullerton traveled to both Molokai and Hawaii during her fellowship year, where she created photographic and video portraits of veterans for her project, The Return. 

From the introduction to Before Eros/After War:

Fullerton often takes an observation and something that is, for her, an emotional point of pressure, and thinks through how a photographic strategy can reveal the contradictions and hidden narratives of contemporary life.   There are a number of facets to Teri Fullerton’s photographic practice, which all centre upon the human condition of loneliness and the quest for a feeling of homecoming.  This is absolutely explicit in Fullerton’s ongoing series of photographs, which portray American military veterans.

But Fullerton also introduces her own interventions into this mediated system of desire, creating an artful gallery of ‘fantasy boyfriends’, reworking the iconography of heterosexual male desirability that the Internet now provides, reminding us of the deep-seated desires that we project so naturally upon online photographic imagery.

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Jason Pearson

Pearson has exhibited his photography and drawing both nationally and internationally and is the recipient of the Jerome Foundation Travel and Research Grant (2011), Djerassi Resident Artists Program Residency (2008), The Cooper Union School of Art Residency (2007) and the Anderson Ranch Arts Center Residency Program (2007–08). His work is in a number of private collections as well as the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL. Pearson was born and raised in Minnesota. He holds a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (2002) and an MFA from Syracuse University (2007), both in photography. During his fellowship, Pearson traveled to Playa del Carmen where he staged photographs that function in tandem with a cache of images co-created with his twin brother for his project, No Kissing.

Cotton, on No Kissing:

Jason Pearson, in collaboration with his brother, has been creating a cache of photographic imagery. They construct a visual language of shared memories, notes, and proclamations that collectively provide an idiosyncratic glimpse into their histories and experiences.  Their photographs act as a set of codes and signifiers of imagined events, games and desires.  Jason Pearson has an eye for the visually strange and contradictory, and this is the overarching characteristic of all of the photographs shown here.

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Katherine Turczan, Reubens and Watermelon, Ukraine, 2012

Katherine Turczan

Turczan’s work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. She was a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and 2010 Fulbright Fellow and has travelled extensively in Eastern Europe, making photographs which reflect the changes in the former Soviet Union. For her fellowship year, Turczan returned to Dneprodzerzhinsk, where she photographed the impact of social upheaval on the lives of young women in her project, Breshnev’s Daughters.

From Cotton’s essay on Breshnev’s Daughters:

Katherine Turczan uses a slow camera, the 8” x 10” large-format camera, positioned on a tripod, and that determines the gentle scrutiny that she gives her subjects.  Working in the women’s domestic spaces, with their distinct patterned carpets, wallpapers, paintings, and elegant displays of flowers, Turczan provides a sense of safety and respect in these photographic encounters with her use of black-and-white photography.  The delicacy in the play of light, of finely detailed fabrics, the women’s hair and skin are all palpably present in these monochrome scenes.

Complete catalogs, with full essays by Charlotte Cotton on these fellows’ projects, are available for download on iTunes.

Cornfield Cathedral: Seeing Karl Unnasch’s Grand Masticator

Guest post by artist Aaron Dysart: Karl Unnasch’s The Ruminant (The Grand Masticator) towered like an odd cathedral in the cornfield — it’s fitting that a pilgrimage was required to view the work.  Reversing the historical course of a serf’s travel to the city for the sake of a sacred spectacle, this required a journey, […]

The Ruminant (The Grand Masticator) on site in a cornfield near Reedsburg, Wisconsin, October 12, 2013. All photos by Aaron Dysart.

Karl Unnasch’s The Ruminant (The Grand Masticator) on site in a cornfield near Reedsburg, Wisconsin, October 12, 2013. All photos by Aaron Dysart

Guest post by artist Aaron Dysart:

Karl Unnasch’s The Ruminant (The Grand Masticator) towered like an odd cathedral in the cornfield — it’s fitting that a pilgrimage was required to view the work.  Reversing the historical course of a serf’s travel to the city for the sake of a sacred spectacle, this required a journey, leaving the urban behind for the rural, for renewal. The Ruminant was made for the Farm D-tour — on view as part of The Wormfarm Institute’s Fermentation Fest in Reedsburg, Wisconsin from October 4 to 13. Unnasch’s monumental piece mashes up the histories of stained glass, comic books and farm machinery to create a funny, expansive re-telling of the harvest narrative.

Stained glass calls to mind houses of worship, often depicting saints and martyrs alongside the instruments of their torture and execution.  Without sacrificing a reverence for that material, The Ruminant swaps in comic book references, both familiar and obscure, for those heroes of Christianity.  Batman takes a knee while tending to a cabbage patch under a victory garden sign; another panel features little known comic hero Tony Chu, an FDA agent who empathically understands the whole life of things he eats.  In turning saints to superheroes, Unnasch shows us the echoes connecting them, recalling Joseph Campbell’s hero with a thousand faces.

Detail - Batman takes a knee.

Detail – Batman takes a knee.

Smaller stained panels are placed on the head of the combine, the section of machine that reaps the corn and funnels ears into the machine.  These panels each contain a central image of a hand tool, a nod to what the modern combine has replaced. Indeed, harvest time is inextricable from death, whether plant or animal: one organism survives by killing, and eating, another.  Unnasch’s hand-tools aren’t just nostalgic images, they bring a measure of honesty to his representation of  the reaping. The sharp angles of the panels, not to mention the sharp blades of the tools, highlight a sinister undercurrent to the machine’s operations referencing the savage foundation of our seasonal bounty.

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There are such subtle story-lines throughout the piece.  On the right side of the cab are a series of images: the first panel features a small image of a termite; the middle panel depicts a child eating crayons, and the last (at the front of the cab) shows a mustached man eating an ear of corn.  Decoded: the termite “harvests” as it eats its surroundings; a small child mouths things as a way to understand and explore; and, after tens of thousands of years, humans finally figured out how to effectively combine the two impulses in the act of tending crops.  Read from left to right the series gets further and further from direct interaction with one’s surroundings.   More intriguing, when read from right to left the viewer gets more and more uncomfortable as it transitions from a normal meal, to a parent’s concern of germs, ending in the disgust that insects bring.

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On the body of the harvester, there are images of vegetables with witty sayings and puns.  The background of these panels, with their flowing arcs of color, add a sense of motion to the static machine and the little vignettes serve to propel the viewer around the work, but these one-off panels never quite rise above kitsch. They certainly don’t operate at the same level as the artist’s more complex layered sequences of narrative panels at the sides and front.

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Nit-picking aside, the gleeful mixing of material and cultural references in Unnasch’s The Ruminant (The Grand Masticator) adds up to something gloriously unexpected — work that at once respects and stretches its appropriated references and their attendant histories.

The spectacle of the piece — and the pilgrimage necessary to see it — was disarming and effective.  As viewers drove up, they had to stop and disembark from their cars, they had to leave the asphalt of the city behind and step onto the field to see the work.

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About the author

Aaron Dysart is a sculptor who seeks to understand his place as an animal in the natural system. He currently lives and works in Northeast Minneapolis and is an adjunct professor at Anoka Ramsey Community College.

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to editor(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)

Imprints: It Is What It Is!

Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, […]

mental-imprintsTodd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, including: illustrations in the Altered Esthetics Gallery (Minneapolis), the Walker Art Center blog, and multiple Red Leaf Press publications (St. Paul); visual narratives at the Adugyama Art Exhibition (Ghana, Africa) and the Save the Children Nepal Project (Nepal, India); and murals at an orphanage in Jaurez, Mexico.  Samples of his work can be found at toddbalthazor.com and toddbalthazor.blogspot.com.

Balthazor also works as a guard at the Walker Art Center, and draws on his experiences behind the scenes at the museum in his biweekly comic strip for mnartists.org, It Is What It Is!.

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