Blogs mnartists.blog Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is an arts journalist and critic, strategic communicator and college professor. She practices what she teaches, including iPad app concepting, arts criticism and strategic communications for nonprofit organizations (at the U of M and St. Mary's University). She's also a sci-fi geek, and still loves books.

The Dark Power of a Crowd Dancing as One

What ends do the repetition, unison and gestures performed by the almost 200 dancers, vocalists and community members in Vanessa Voskuil’s new work, The Student, serve? There were gorgeous, often-disturbing stage pictures, to be sure, during Thursday night’s performance at O’Shaughnessy. Floor-bound dancers wriggled themselves right off the stage like lemmings tumbling over a cliff. […]

The Student was presented as part of the Women of Substance Series by The O'Shaughnessy and Vanessa Voskuil Performance.

The Student was presented as part of the Women of Substance Series by The O’Shaughnessy and Vanessa Voskuil Performance April 3 and 4, 2014.

What ends do the repetition, unison and gestures performed by the almost 200 dancers, vocalists and community members in Vanessa Voskuil’s new work, The Student, serve? There were gorgeous, often-disturbing stage pictures, to be sure, during Thursday night’s performance at O’Shaughnessy. Floor-bound dancers wriggled themselves right off the stage like lemmings tumbling over a cliff. Two men—one extruding himself through painful contortions, another all extension and flow—bookended the masses. The ensemble sat in neat rows, each performer making frantic scribbling gestures, then scattering as a woman dove through them with a noose around her neck.

A German dance artist, Rudolf Laban, created the notion of “movement choirs” in the early 1900s. Using amateur and professional dancers, he choreographed these large masses of people sometimes as a form of personal or spiritual expression—until his work was co-opted by the Third Reich. I mention this because, only then, does that noose, the shifting swarming tableaux of hangings, the marching and the firing squad (with repeated gestures, en masse, of marching, cocking and shooting a rifle, with accompanying sound effects by artist/producer Jesse Whitney of A. Wolf & Her Claws) begin to make some sort of sense.

Or maybe not.

According to the program notes, the piece is ostensibly about learning, about the repetition that makes learning possible. Instead, the work gives rise to questions about the purposes of rote repetition, in unison, in large groups. Those purposes, historically, are usually to value and reinforce conformity over individuality, toward a single unified purpose, to forge a groupthink of totalitarian or otherwise dystopian varieties. There’s no denying a great deal of power can be found in hundreds of people moving simultaneously, but a dark underside seems at work here as well.

At the same time, a lot of verbal cogitation—thinking out loud about how, what and why you’re thinking—occurs in the work. With tremendous stamina and exactitude Paul Herwig and Chris Conry performed rapid-fire, repeating inquiries on: seeing, knowing and not knowing; the occurrence of now in space and time; whether the piece is ending or continuing. The effect is like drowning in the details of someone else’s obsessive-compulsive disorder or psychosis.

Other components of the piece included various choirs (Perpich Center for Arts Education Choral Ensemble, Hamline University Women’s Chorale, St. Catherine’s University Women’s Choir), which beautifully performed Janika Vandervelde’s religious choral music (with accompanying sonic booms and earthquake-aftershock rumblings). The performers, seemingly age 6 to 60, wore shirts, pants, skirts and tights in various neutrals, while Voskuil wore white. Was she the student or the teacher?

Amid the disparate parts—which also included church bells, Voskuil on camera as part of the audience–there was order: the quiet walking of performers backward down the aisles to the stage, later filing back out and forming a circle; lines of performers sinuously gliding across the stage. As a ritual of sorts, in which a teacher guides her willing acolytes, the work could be experienced as a meditation or endurance trial, in which many unknowns are threaded through.

From Vice to Africa to Duluth, the Places of Photographer Brad Ogbonna

When Brad Ogbonna was a student at Roseville Area High School in a first-ring suburb of St. Paul, he wasn’t much interested in art or photography. “I played varsity basketball in high school,” he says. It’s when he jumped the state border to attend University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he earned his Bachelor of Science […]

All photos by Brad Ogbonna, from "Places" and the Studio Africa Project with Diesel+Edun. Courtesy of the artist.

All photos by Brad Ogbonna, from “Places” and the Studio Africa Project with Diesel+Edun. Courtesy of the artist.

When Brad Ogbonna was a student at Roseville Area High School in a first-ring suburb of St. Paul, he wasn’t much interested in art or photography. “I played varsity basketball in high school,” he says. It’s when he jumped the state border to attend University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in International/Global Studies, that he started “following the blogs that were popping up.”

“I didn’t want to be in Wisconsin,” he says. “I went on blogs to see what people my age were up to, where they were going, what stories their photos were telling. It was a way to escape Wisconsin.” While living in Minneapolis one summer, he read Susan Sontag’s On Photography, which inspired him to start taking snapshots of his friends with a simple point-and-shoot camera, pictures that he’d post on his website.

"Places" - Kenya

“Places” – Kenya

After an exchange year — spent partially in Europe, and then at Queens College in Flushing, NY, where had an internship at Spin — Ogbonna returned to River Falls to finish his degree. Then, he says, things started to pop. Through a friend, Diet Coke offered him a photography project, shooting New York Fashion Week in 2011. “It was a massive first job,” he says. “Seeing my photographs posted in Times Square, I decided to make photography my career.”

Today, Ogbonna’s client list includes Top Shop, DIESEL + EDUN, VICE, Myspace, Radio City Rockettes, Maison Kitsuné, Zaarly, Facebook, The Participation Agency, BULLETT Magazine, Carmichael Lynch, and OWA Market. Locally, he’s shot for the former METRO Magazine and City Pages.

"Places" - South Africa

“Places” – South Africa

“I’m always inspired by what’s going on in Minneapolis,” says Ogbonna, who now lives in New York City. “I try to make it back every couple of months, and I’m constantly paying attention to what’s going on there. I feel like I’m part of the community, although I make my money in New York.”

The project that connected him with his Nigerian roots and led him to work with DIESEL + EDUN, and then to create “Places,” was a book about his father, George Ogbonna Sr.  Brad Obgonna’s father grew up in the village of Nkwerre, in Nigeria. During high school, his father received a list of top US colleges from an uncle. Winona State University was on the list. He’d never heard of Winona, or Minnesota, but he decided to enroll. Soon after arriving in Winona, George’s wife, who was from the same village, followed. George eventually transferred to Augsburg College. He eventually became an administrator at the University of Minnesota. She became a nurse. Their son, Brad, grew up a thoroughly American kid, despite his strict Nigerian parents.

"Places" - Kenya

“Places” – Kenya

Shortly after Brad graduated from college and moved to New York, George told his son he had cancer. He passed quickly. According to village tradition, you are buried where you grew up. So, Brad accompanied his father’s body back to Nkwerre, hung out with his Nigerian relatives, and started taking pictures. He returned a year later, as is customary to conclude the mourning period for a father, and he took more pictures—in Nkwerre but also Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Abonnema.

The result became a book, Jisike, which Obgonna self-published and quickly sold out. Images from the book were also exhibited at Oberlin College last February. “I wanted to create a tribute to my father, but also create something tangible to show my family and others in the village,” he says. The photos were really about “people’s interactions with me,” he says. “In Nkwerre, everyone knew why I was there. My Dad was very popular in the village. And the photos show how the people I met were reacting to me.”

"Places" - South Africa

“Places” – South Africa

Seeing where his parents grew up, their middle and high schools, was “a humbling experience,” Ogbonna says. “The way the kids looked at me—I was the personification of the Nigerian dream. The prospects of people making it outside of Nigeria are limited. For them to see someone whose father came from the village and did well in the U.S., and that the son comes back and forth — people are very proud of that.”

The book prepared him for his next big project, shooting for DIESEL + EDUN’s “Studio Africa,” by “building my confidence in shooting people I didn’t know and getting a feel for places.” His assignment had three components. As others shot music videos of the three innovative musical talents—Spoek, Faarrow and Olugbenga—in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, Obgonna shot behind-the-scenes footage.

He also shot the clothing for ads and in-house marketing efforts. And he photographed the scenery “to capture the aesthetics of the places we traveled to.” As to why they chose Ogbonna, he says, “I think I probably gave them street cred, because I’m an American-Nigerian artist who doesn’t shoot poverty porn. I shoot pictures that are a true slice of life of what’s going on in Africa.”

His ongoing project, “Places,” is a collection of images he’s shot around the world, from Duluth to Africa. “People are starting to pay attention to Africa in a different way,” he says. “It’s not the little brother of the world that needs taking care of, but a place where a lot of cool things are happening, with a lot of potential.” Ogbonna’s images—direct, engaging and authentic—attest to that change, and to how a Minnesota-born photographer of Nigerian heritage sees the world today.

"Places" - Kenya

“Places” – Kenya

An Engaging, Irony-Free Foray into the Making of Performance

Laurie Van Wieren has done something wonderful and original with her newest curatorial project, Monday Live Arts: She’s made the making of performance fun, enlightening, and participatory for viewers. “It’s real,” she enthused after the show on August 5. “I tell them, ‘Keep it real.’ And the configuration [she gestures, marking out the short rows […]

Carl Atiya Swanson (Savage Umbrella) will perform a rock n' roll conversation, part of a larger work in progress, tentatively titled Akhenaten, NV. Collaborators: Carl Atiya Swanson, Mason Mahoney, Hannah Holman, Tree Blood (Colin Wilkinson & Simon Brooks). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Carl Atiya Swanson (Savage Umbrella) will host a rock n’ roll conversation at the Oct 7 Monday Live Arts, part of a larger work in progress, tentatively titled Akhenaten, NV. Collaborators/performers: Carl Atiya Swanson, Mason Mahoney, Hannah Holman, Tree Blood (Colin Wilkinson & Simon Brooks). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Laurie Van Wieren has done something wonderful and original with her newest curatorial project, Monday Live Arts: She’s made the making of performance fun, enlightening, and participatory for viewers. “It’s real,” she enthused after the show on August 5. “I tell them, ‘Keep it real.’ And the configuration [she gestures, marking out the short rows that form a box around the center of the studio where most of the action happens] encourages that, don’t you think?”

“Them” are the four performers or groups she selects for each show, presented on the first Monday of each month in the studio at the Ritz Theater. According to Van Wieren, the series includes “time-based visual and performing arts, events that include a human presence and that question traditional views of the arts using dance, music, performance art, vocals, text, installations, science experiments, and more.”

Megan Mayer's show, You're Soaking In It, premieres at Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater November 2, 9 and 16, 2013. Performers: Megan Mayer, Greg Waletski with additional sound design by Matthew Regan. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Megan Mayer will offer a dance work at the next Monday Live Arts event. Her show, You’re Soaking In It, premieres at Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater November 2, 9 and 16, 2013. Performers: Megan Mayer, Greg Waletski with additional sound design by Matthew Regan. Photo courtesy of the artist.

August’s show kicked off with a delightful venture into the structure and essential nature of the pelvis by BodyCartography Project. Olive Bieringa, a practitioner of Body-Mind Centering®, walked within the center of the space, pointing out the various components of the pelvis on an anatomy model and her own body, encouraging us to feel these bones, joints and movements on our own bodies too—to the ribald laughter of some, squeamish discomfort of others. As she did so, Otto Ramstad moved around the outside perimeter of and through the space. Amusement turned to wonder as Bieringa’s engaging explanations found purchase in Ramstad’s body, twisting, flinging, arching, undulating and turning behind and in front of us.

Yes, do try all of this at home.

Musician David Means will perform Griffin’s Ghost / Spiral Rose, one of the six Prague Spirals, a work dedicated to Johnny Rodriguez.

At the October Monday Live Arts show, musician David Means will perform Griffin’s Ghost / Spiral Rose, one of the six Prague Spirals, a work dedicated to Johnny Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Next up was composer Mike Hallenbeck, who played, on his laptop, a new composition of sounds he recorded throughout Ritz Theater: a refrigerator grumbling, lights humming — ambient all the way. Hallenbeck’s sound score was akin to trance music, and ushered me into a reverie about a project I’ve long considered undertaking. Lulled into something like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, my mind opened to ideas taking shape and gelling around the core of an idea with real possibilities. The feeling, when the lights went back up: inspired and refreshed.

Inspired is how the performers—volunteers from the audience—did their parts in Charles Campbell’s riveting bit of improvisational theater. Did they know what they were getting into, these volunteers: Matt Spector, Megan Meyer and Ben Kreilkamp? (Van Wieren says no.) As Campbell positioned them at, on or around a table, gave them instructions, and asked them to read off slips of paper, the lights went off and he snapped on a light he carried from one participant to the other, spotlighting the immediacy of their performances. The entire process—watching Campbell work, witnessing the results—offered fantastic insights into his aesthetic and approach to creating theater.

Leralee Whittle / F o r c e s has been presented across the US and in Spain. This year Displacement Activity premiered at T C / Montreal Choreographic Exchange. We Just Stopped Pretending, a video with international dancers will take Whittle to Europe this Fall where she'll also craft and perform We Are the Weather. Performers: Leralee Whittle and Paul Sprawl.

Another October performer, Leralee Whittle / F o r c e s, has been presented across the US and in Spain. We Just Stopped
Pretending, a video with international dancers will take Whittle to Europe this fall where she’ll also craft and
perform We Are the Weather. Performers: Leralee Whittle and Paul Sprawl.

Jes Nelson’s offering left some of us wide-eyed and slack-jawed—in a good way. A door opened and out tapped five little girls outfitted in tiny white competition-style dresses, lots of bling and tons of eye makeup. As they recited, from memory, instructions for a dance routine, their eyes self-consciously roamed from the floor, to people in the audience, and around the room. The piece, a brilliantly subversive work of performance art, left the audience chattering in dismay.

As she’s done with her long-running curatorial project, 9x22 at Bryant Lake Bowl, Van Wieren demonstrates—once again, with Nelson—that she certainly knows how to find and present emerging artists. She’s also, clearly, capable of cajoling established artists into revealing usually unavailable (or hidden) aspects of their work process to audiences. Most of all, though, Monday Live Arts is free of archness, irony and cynicism, and instead loaded with adventure and revelation. Get it on your calendar.

Related event information:

Upcoming Monday Live Arts events will take place October 7, November 4, December 2, January 6 at the Ritz Theater Dance Studio in Minneapolis. The October 7 show will feature theater work by Carl Atiya Swanson, dance by Megan Mayer, music by David Means, and dance/performance by Leralee Whittle. The event begins at 8:00 pm (doors at 7:30 pm
). Tickets $5-15; there’s beer and wine in the studio lounge. Cash only. Free parking.

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

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.)

Paintings Dense with Mystery and Material Passion Plus a New Minneapolis Gallery to Watch

Earlier this month, the law firm Friedman Iverson—which serves, in part, arts and entertainment professionals—moved to new digs above the Red Stag Supperclub. The firm’s grand opening included an exhibition of paintings by Minneapolis-artist Michael Thomsen, some of them brand new. Perhaps best known, and championed by a devoted following, for his large-scale, sculptural assemblages, […]

Michael Thomsen, Firegarden. Courtesy of the artist and Friedman Iverson.

Michael Thomsen, Firegarden. Courtesy of the artist and Friedman Iverson.

Earlier this month, the law firm Friedman Iverson—which serves, in part, arts and entertainment professionals—moved to new digs above the Red Stag Supperclub. The firm’s grand opening included an exhibition of paintings by Minneapolis-artist Michael Thomsen, some of them brand new. Perhaps best known, and championed by a devoted following, for his large-scale, sculptural assemblages, Thomsen focused on abstract paintings of tremendous depth, mystery, and complexity in construction for this show.

The result, Nebular Hypothesis, is an excursion into a fascinating mind that’s curious and willing to experiment, to an extent that often seems extreme. His is an aesthetic that engages—no, it grips, grabs—viewers into the work, layer by layer, with a materiality so rich with possibility the result is whole worlds, a vision of terrain that speaks both to the past and a worrisome future.

Here’s are some words typed into my phone at the opening:

Topographical
Iceland
Bubbles. Bursting, Craters…filled in
Dystopia
Sawdust, Caulk
Some forms pressed in, butterfly, seashell
Whispers narrative realism
Underneath
Mounds
Cracks
Debris
Latex, etc.
Pearlescent
Objects pottery marbles letters

We talked about his process for a few moments: How each work requires time, and more time, as paint is applied, scraped off, allowed to bake and burst or crack in the sun. How any material can be useful to insinuate or ascribe memory, build additional layers of medium, add textures that escalate the conundrum — what, where and how?

Thomsen’s paintings aren’t abstruse in their abstraction and materiality. Rather, looking at them feels a bit like a treasure hunt. You may find in them what you bring to them, of course, but you’ll also detect recognizable objects buried beneath the surface debris. And then there are those earlier works in which “whispers of narrative realism” do add complications. This is work to be seen, studied, and seen again.

Throughout the year, Friedman Iverson will present several exhibitions in its office gallery space. Curator Christopher James, with input on this show from Kate Iverson (a long-time advocate of Thomsen, from whom her firm, Permanent Art & Design Group, has commissioned work), has made an auspicious start with Nebular Hypothesis. This office art gallery is one to watch.

Michael Thomsen, Asimov. Courtesy of Friedman Iverson and the artist.

Michael Thomsen, Asimov. Courtesy of Friedman Iverson and the artist.

Related information:

Nebular Hypothesis, paintings by Michael Thomsen is on view through November 8 during business hours in the offices of Friedman Iverson, 509 First Avenue NE, #2, Minneapolis.

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

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.)

You Can Blame All These “Art of the Real” Shows on Duchamp

Blame it on Duchamp. If he hadn’t cracked open the art world—and aesthetic, critical and cultural notions about what art is—with his readymades (specifically, Fountain) we probably wouldn’t have had the Walker Art Center’s Lifelike, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness and, currently, the Weisman Art Museum’s Reviewing […]

Keith Haring, "Inflatable Baby," 1985, printed plastic. Gift of Carl and Patricia Sheppard. Photo courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Keith Haring, Inflatable Baby, 1985, printed plastic. Gift of Carl and Patricia Sheppard. Photo courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Blame it on Duchamp. If he hadn’t cracked open the art world—and aesthetic, critical and cultural notions about what art is—with his readymades (specifically, Fountain) we probably wouldn’t have had the Walker Art Center’s Lifelike, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness and, currently, the Weisman Art Museum’s Reviewing the Real.

The obsession with what constitutes “art” is ever shifting, with criteria and context often productively clashing (or intersecting) with what we know (or suppose) to be true here and now. The same holds for what we consider “real.” Put those two elusive concepts together as guest curator Christina Chang (curator of engagement at the Minnesota Museum of American Art) has, drawing exclusively from WAM’s collection, and the result is a rigorous, expansive, immersive exhibition — one that also reveals just how deep and broad WAM’s collection truly is.

Marilyn Levine, "School Bag," 1979, earthenware with slips, engobes, and glaze. The Reuben and Eva Brown Ceramics Fund and the Nancy and Warren MacKenzie Fund. Photo courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Marilyn Levine, School Bag, 1979, earthenware with slips, engobes, and glaze. The Reuben and Eva Brown Ceramics Fund and the Nancy and Warren MacKenzie Fund. Photo courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Chang assembled the works by 64 artists into a show consisting of six sections. In “Documentary,” there’s Duchamp with La Boîte-en-Valise (The Box in a Valise), a resume of sorts he assembled out of 68 reproductions of his works. Breathtakingly detailed, the box presents even Large Glass in evocative miniature. There’s a “real” valise in the section “The Thing Itself”: Marilyn Levine’s School Bag of crafted earthenware. And throughout “Pictures of Pictures,” “Traces,” “Uncut” and “Utopia/Dystopia” the work ranges from Richard Hamilton’s prescient screenprint of Mick Jagger and his art dealer shielding their faces to Mason Williams’ Actual Size Photograph of an Actual Bus stretching along the length of one wall; from Duane Hanson’s “hyperreal” sculpture of Mary Weisman (now across the gallery from her husband, who resides in the permanent collection) to Keith Haring’s Inflatable Baby.

More indelible, however, is Julio de Diego’s painting Meeting in the Unknown, in which a tribe situated in a murky, liminal reality — between earth and sky, heaven and hell — confronts intruders: they may be from outer space, or figures from the depths of some collective nightmare. Haunting in an altogether different manner is Simon Norfolk’s inkjet print of war-ravaged Afghanistan, Teahouse, in which the skeletal remains of a former place of refreshment and respite are juxtaposed with a man selling balloons—an item banned during Taliban rule. In his conceptual piece Kiss Off, Vito Acconci “preserves” the ephemeral nature of performance with a print work that documents a series of actions.

Dave Heath, "Untitled (Old Woman at Mirror)," 1965, gelatin silver print . Museum purchase. Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Dave Heath, Untitled (Old Woman at Mirror), 1965, gelatin silver print . Museum purchase. Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

What one finds of the real in any of these works can be at once obvious and extremely, elusively subjective. The back story a viewer brings to the act of seeing is colored by their knowledge of, experience with and immersion in art and other simulated worlds, screens and projections — including, well, most of 21st century online life. That the Twin Cities’ three major museums have recently mounted shows examining “the real” speaks to American culture’s psychological state: a zeitgeist of anxiety and excitement about what lies ahead. Or, as this description of Reviewing the Real in the WAM newsletter puts it, “The contemporary hunger for reality—or perhaps a grasp on reality—in the public sphere is a telling yet somewhat enigmatic sign of our times.”

Julio de Diego, "Meeting in the Unknown," 1944, oil on Masonite. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Malcolm McCannel. Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Julio de Diego, Meeting in the Unknown, 1944, oil on Masonite. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Malcolm McCannel. Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum.

Related information:

Reviewing the Real will be on view through September 8 at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis. Find more information online at http://wam.umn.edu.

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

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.)

The Stories Behind What’s Printed on the Fabric of Your Life

Anything that prompts me to see the everyday world in a new way, I love. Usually, photographs that capture the unexpected beauty in the mundane are an immediate draw: the fresh lime-green vine tendril twisting around a fence; a building abstraction in which line, plane and color are juxtaposed anew; piles of detritus that take […]

Print courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Print courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Anything that prompts me to see the everyday world in a new way, I love. Usually, photographs that capture the unexpected beauty in the mundane are an immediate draw: the fresh lime-green vine tendril twisting around a fence; a building abstraction in which line, plane and color are juxtaposed anew; piles of detritus that take on a pattern or jumbled color palette on closer inspection.

Lately, a textile exhibition at the Goldstein Museum of Design has opened my eyes: Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories. In this show, curated by Jean McElvain and Kathleen Campbell, fashion, storytelling and cloth meet to shed new light on what we wear and why. Most of us aren’t prone to donning pattern or prints, am I right? When in doubt, wear black. Or white. The Seekins method. The more adventurous do go in for stripes, plaids, paisleys—sometimes all at once. (Bravo!)

Those bold souls aside, I’ll bet most of our wardrobes are print and pattern deficient. Moreover, when we do find something we like, and will wear, or will put on the wall or on top of the bed, who knows who actually designed it? We’re all familiar with William Morris and Marimekko. But in most cases, the print designer, and the methods by which the print was produced, are left to obscurity.

Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories aims to enlighten. The exhibition is divided into sections that succinctly explain such techniques as block printing, etching, roller printing, screen printing and digital printing. Custom and hand-crafted work vs. industrial mass production is discussed. In the show, the use of printed textiles goes beyond couture and everyday dresses to include such archival items as commemorative tea towels (the Brits love this stuff), handkerchiefs portraying historical events, and a hilarious kitchen cloth printed with the nine-day diet (every day begins with grapefruit and black coffee).

Want to know when the plain white t-shirt gave way to printed slogans? What a repeat is? What the Works Progress Administration has to do with textile production? Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories will show you. Just as each length of printed fabric or “yardage” hanging on the wall has stories to tell about its design, production and use, so do these textiles inspire the viewer to notice pattern and prints—whether worn by passersby, or in rugs, upholstery, art or nature—with a fresh perspective.

Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories is on view at the Goldstein Museum of Design on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus through August 25. For more: http://goldstein.design.umn.edu/exhibitions/.

___________________________

Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

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.)

The Built/Natural Flux of the Urban/Environment Seen Through Stephanie Rogers’ Lens

During a recent event at The Third Place Gallery, photographer Stephanie L. Rogers was asked why she needed two hours to take a picture, shooting with film no less. “Because I spend two hours walking around trying to find something interesting,” she said with a laugh. What she found interesting and has displayed in the […]

Stephanie L. Rogers, Ragweed. From the Urban/Environment installation, part of Arts on Chicago. Courtesy of the artist.

Stephanie L. Rogers, Ragweed. From the Urban/Environment installation, part of Arts on Chicago. Courtesy of the artist.

During a recent event at The Third Place Gallery, photographer Stephanie L. Rogers was asked why she needed two hours to take a picture, shooting with film no less. “Because I spend two hours walking around trying to find something interesting,” she said with a laugh. What she found interesting and has displayed in the gallery, and put on poles or placards installed along Chicago Avenue and adjacent side streets between 32nd and 42nd, are photos of a duck eating a Cheeto in a parking lot, a vine twisted around a wire, a half-eaten melon propped up against a fence, a weed growing from a crack in the sidewalk.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers and Urban/Environment

Finished sign at 4052 Park Avenue installed in a front lawn as part of Stephanie L. Rogers’ Urban/Environment project. Installation photo by Ben Hovland.

Titled Urban/Environment, a project of Arts on Chicago, Rogers’ photography “explores urban ecology along Chicago Avenue, focusing on natural beauty in unexpected places, the fragility of life, and the tension between man-made structures and living organisms,” as the website explains. What she’s accomplished—as a young photographer whose aesthetic infuses her work with freshness, detail, wonder and a charming naivete—is inspiring viewers to pay close, or at least closer, attention to how nature asserts itself in some of the most inhospitable places of the city.

Zucchini with chicken wire. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Zucchini with chicken wire. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Rogers selected 37 photos (two additional images were taken by students at the Urban Arts Academy) for the project. The images are displayed on signs that can be found in storefront windows, on metal posts in private yards, or zip-tied to fences. On each sign, along with the image, is didactic information that contextualizes simply, and sometimes with humor, the effects of pictured juxtaposition of nature and the human-made. The duck image, for instance, offered Jacob Richards and Megan Buchanan, the bio-geographers who worked with Rogers on the text, the opportunity to explain how animals adapt to our trash and why that’s not a good thing.

Courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Duck sign courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

The descriptive text purposely mimics interpretive state park signage. And, like the placards along self-guided nature trails, Urban/Environment seeks to educate and enlighten—and from time to time, cajole. So, while the project entices even the jaded eye, photographic and otherwise, to pay renewed attention to the subtlest of the natural world’s forceful instincts—a sorrel plant whose blooms grows against a window to draw in the most plentiful light; tiny new buds growing through the leafy detritus of the past year—I’m reminded of books by Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble decrying the lack of nature, and natural play, in children’s lives.

Melon and Virginia Creeper. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Melon and Virginia Creeper. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Perhaps the greatest gift Urban/Environment gives to city dwellers, especially children and families living near and along Chicago Avenue, is the opportunity to walk through the neighborhood with fresh eyes, an open heart and a hungry intellect. Because the text is in English, Spanish and Somali, because the images often capture nature at the micro scale, and because together text and photo interpret the intersection of science, city and the natural world, the project has the potential to change young lives.

“[W]ildness—even in its simplest forms—can nourish a lasting attachment to the earth, and, in turn, nurture self-esteem,” writes Nabhan in The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places.

Or, as Walt Whitman wrote:

There was a child went forth every day.

And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Related information:

Urban/Environment maps for self-guided tours are at The Third Place Gallery. Rogers herself will also lead walking tours on June 30, July 13 and July 27.

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

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.)

A Look at the 2012/13 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship Exhibition: Jim Denomie, Chris Larson, Ruben Nusz and Natasha Pestich

What would you do with $25,000? That’s how much each recipient of the McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship gets—unrestricted. The goal of the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Visual Artists program, administered by Minneapolis College of Art Design, “is to identify talented Minnesota visual artists whose work is of exceptional artistic merit and who are at a […]

Ruben Nusz, Like an eye that sees, but cannot see itself, 2013, Image courtesy Weinstein Gallery

Ruben Nusz, Like an eye that sees, but cannot see itself, 2013, Image courtesy Weinstein Gallery

What would you do with $25,000? That’s how much each recipient of the McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship gets—unrestricted. The goal of the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Visual Artists program, administered by Minneapolis College of Art Design, “is to identify talented Minnesota visual artists whose work is of exceptional artistic merit and who are at a career stage that is beyond emerging.”

In addition to the cash award, the fellows have their work published. This year, McKnight funded a downloadable e-book and pdf of interviews with Brooklyn Rail’s Phong Bui. Location Books, a project of Scott Nedrelow and one of the current fellows, Ruben Nusz, is also publishing the 2012/13 Visual Artists fellows work later this year.

Chris Larson, Insecure Architecture, Mixed Media, 2013

Chris Larson, Insecure Architecture, Mixed Media, 2013

The most public and evaluative aspect of the fellowship is the group exhibition at the MCAD Gallery, which opened last Friday evening for this year’s group: Nusz, Natasha Pestich, Jim Denomie and Chris Larson. It’s an unspoken, or spoken in hushed tones, assumption that we attend this opening to see what they’ve been doing with their windfall.

Larson’s real display occurred the weekend before, during Northern Spark, when he now-infamously constructed, then set fire to, a replica of the St. Paul house architect Marcel Breuer designed for liturgical consultant Frank Kacmarcik. Breuer and Kacmarcik collaborated on the celebrated Abbey Church and concrete bell banner at St. John’s University. In the MCAD exhibition, like afterimages of the cardboard replica just prior to burning, are Larson’s black-and-white photos of its interior: shadowy, mysterious, almost visually impenetrable pictures of the unfurnished rooms’ stark angles and forbidding empty spaces.

Jim Denomie, The Creative Oven, 2013, Image courtesy of the artist.

Jim Denomie, The Creative Oven, 2013, Image courtesy of the artist and MCAD.

Pestich’s conceptual project—a fictional archive of a make-believe art-school incident—combined humor and institutional critique in a collection of images, posters (each one with clearly articulated and different style of graphic design) and artifacts. The narrative behind the conceit? A group of students had built themselves into their site-specific installation, with no opening for escape. Unlike Poe’s victim in The Cask of Amontillado, they were rescued—and a portion of the cement-block wall is exhibited as “proof” of their escapade.

With all of the exhibitions—past and present—investigating artists’ concepts and examinations of “the real” (i.e., Lifelike at Walker Art Center, More Real? at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Reviewing the Real at Weisman Art Museum) comparison is unavoidable. While Pestich exhibits one “chapter” of a larger project at MCAD, that slice doesn’t hint at the depth, relevance, imagination and interconnections present in a work like Zoe Beloff’s Dreamland: The Coney Island Psychoanalytic Society and Its Circle at the MIA.

Denomie surpasses his previous masterwork of social satire and cultural complexity, “Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill,” with his fantastical The Creative Oven. The enormous work—in scale, imagery and social relevance—contains a Who’s Who of art historical figures (from Botticelli’s Venus to Picasso and Dali to Minneapolis’ own Scott Seekins), pop culture references (Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman), and Native American iconography with a twist (a warrior on horseback atop a butte-like nipple, a reclining Adam-like antelope with an impressive six-pack receiving God’s finger a la Michelangelo).

Natasha Pestich, Installation view of Fulfillment is Such a White-Collar Thing, 2012, Image courtesy of the artist

Natasha Pestich, Installation view of Fulfillment is Such a White-Collar Thing, 2012, Image courtesy of the artist

His work is always fascinating, funny, revelatory, and politically relevant: The new NRA: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil is a triptych rendered in Denomie’s signature hallucinatory colors, and wild brisk and flat brushstrokes. But as a colleague pointed out, “You always know what you’re going to get with Jim.”

Nusz, on the other hand, is always immersed in a new intellectual undertaking. His “indirect abstractions,” a series of paintings called Like a sword that cuts, but cannot cut itself; like an eye that sees but cannot see itself, were the freshest, if most oblique, works in the show. Using photographic color correction cards to investigate intuition and algorithms, and figure/ground relationships, he positioned his canvases—which resembled a children’s color-block game on an iPad—on yellow, orange, red and kelly green painted walls.

And that, in part, is what $100,000 in fellowships produces this time around.

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Related exhibition details:

2012/13 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship exhibition is on view at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design gallery from June 14 through July 14. Featured artists: Ruben Nusz, Chris Larson, Natasha Pestich, Jim Denomie. (Illustrations above by Phong Bui, pictured L to R: Chris Larson, Jim Denomie, Natasha Pestich, Ruben Nusz)

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

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.)

Pop-can Tabs, Upcycled Textiles and the Future of “Sustainable Fashion”

Sustainability and fashion aren’t two words usually paired in the same sentence. The fashion industry is based on systemic obsolescence. And as the recent tragedy at a Bangladesh clothing-manufacturing facility cruelly demonstrated, fashion’s trickle-down effect—new season = new colors, styles, fits, fabrics, etc.—among mainstream retailers is to produce more for less, often at the cost […]

Redefining, Redesigning Fashion: Designs for Sustainability, installation view, courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Redefining, Redesigning Fashion: Designs for Sustainability, installation view courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Sustainability and fashion aren’t two words usually paired in the same sentence. The fashion industry is based on systemic obsolescence. And as the recent tragedy at a Bangladesh clothing-manufacturing facility cruelly demonstrated, fashion’s trickle-down effect—new season = new colors, styles, fits, fabrics, etc.—among mainstream retailers is to produce more for less, often at the cost of human life.

The rise of vintage and other resale clothing shops is a boon to the eco-friendly and price-conscious among us who still like to buy something “new” now and then. As for off-loading the unused, ill fitting or worn out items from our closets, numerous charities will take the stuff off your hands. So, other than purchasing used clothing and donating to Goodwill, what else comes to mind when sustainable becomes an adjective attached to fashion? Dresses made out of beverage-container labels, soda can pull-top tabs and other detritus? Gowns made of recycled or upcycled tablecloths? Tops and shorts from vintage fabric?

Anny Li-Fen Chang, Eco Pop Dress, collar detail. Photo courtesy of Goldstein Museum of Design.

Anny Li-Fen Chang, Eco Pop Dress, collar detail. Photo courtesy of Goldstein Museum of Design.

Examples of each, unsurprisingly, are part of the Goldstein Museum of Design’s current exhibition, Redefining, Redesigning Fashion: Designs for Sustainability on view until May 26 and available online here. By the way, the delightful, high-collared A-line pop-can tab dress, designed by Anny Li-Fen Chang, a faculty member at the University of North Texas, was inspired by Vasily Kandinsky’s 1926 painting Several Circles, and is comprised of 2,500 spray-painted tabs—and would be truly fun to wear.

So would Rosetta LaFleur’s (a faculty member at the University of Delaware) floor-length gown constructed, in part, from salvaged upholstery-fabric yarn woven into a halter top. In artistic beauty and inspired construction, M. Jo Kallal’s (also from U of DE) zero-fabric-waste suit is breathtaking. Hand-constructed with needle felting, the suit was patterned on a “Hokusai-like ‘wave’ similar to those depicted in Japanese waterfalls cut from folded paper,” she says.

Rosetta LaFleur, Amalgamated Anemones,  detail. Photo courtesy of Goldstein Museum of Design.

Rosetta LaFleur, Amalgamated Anemones, detail. Photo courtesy of Goldstein Museum of Design.

The exhibition, juried from 200 submissions, includes 46 pieces from 30 designers from the US, Australia, Europe and Asia. In the exhibition are works created through up-cycling, repurposing or the reclamation of clothing, materials or products. There are garments with multiple purposes or looks—dresses, for example, with skirts that can be raised (cocktail party) or lowered (evening gown). Other designers converted heirloom or memorable garments or household textiles into shorts, tops or accessories.

SherrySandenWill_4 SherrySandenWill_1_cropped

The late, great Alexander McQueen’s influence (dresses of shells, flowers) is clear in a knee-length dress by Sherry Sanden Will, a student at the University of Minnesota, festooned with ¼” thick slices of wood collected from dead branches. Martin Flores (a student at Michigan State University) may have been channeling a posher punk Mad Max in his zero-waste jacket. Another student from the U of M, Lauren Kacher, took medical scrubs in distinctly day-glow, sci-fi direction.

The exhibition also includes a lovely dress of traditional, biodegradable, organic Korean linen, and an up-cycled and over-dyed 1963 jacket from Bjorkman. The best quote, however, comes from Colleen Moretz (a faculty members at Immaculata University) about her multi-purpose wedding gown constructed from three damask tablecloths rummaged from friends’ closets: “The biggest challenge in using these repurposed table linens is working around the stains.” She found a way and the result is sumptuously old-world.

Redefining, Redesigning Fashion: Designs for Sustainability is up through May 26, 2013 at the Goldstein Museum of Design, University of Minnesota – St. Paul campus.

___________________________

Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

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.)

Designing the City of the Future

Three years ago, Architecture Minnesota magazine launched Videotect [architect + video], an annual video competition designed “to bring more voices and more creativity into public debates about key built-environment issues.” The first year’s topic, the Minneapolis skyway system, drew 25 entries, each 30 to 120 seconds long. A jury of architecture, advertising and arts notables […]

Institut du Monde Arabe. Photo: Pete Sieger, courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Institut du Monde Arabe. Photo: Pete Sieger, courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Three years ago, Architecture Minnesota magazine launched Videotect [architect + video], an annual video competition designed “to bring more voices and more creativity into public debates about key built-environment issues.” The first year’s topic, the Minneapolis skyway system, drew 25 entries, each 30 to 120 seconds long. A jury of architecture, advertising and arts notables selected, as the winning video, an animation inside a dead-end skybridge.

But viewers also loved a hilarious 3-D rap battle (which gave rise to the Videotect mantra “Don’t be a hamster, be be a man”) (which, despite the name, didn’t require special glasses to appreciate), and another great entry, a National Geographic-style archaeological excursion into the origins of the Minneapolis skyway system. Clearly, the creators of these videos had taken their work seriously. But they also were having a lot of fun—as did the standing-room-only audience in the Walker Art Center cinema.

The 2012 topic for Videotect was transportation, and the videos—more technically advanced than the year before—once again presented sometimes goofy, sometimes poignant, often hilarious points of view on various transportation choices, their environmental impacts, and how design should be more involved in creating sustainable transport. As juror David Frank said about the selection process, “Some of [the videos] were so funny that we were worried that would detract from the message. Some of them hit the message so hard we thought it was like clubbing you over the head with it. So we had to wrestle with the right balance of how the story was being told and what the story was.”

The Videotect 3 screening took place March 7 at the Walker: this year’s topic was “City of the Future.” The competition’s call for submissions asked, “Will the buildings of tomorrow be more healthful or responsive to you than the ones you occupy today? Will your city have more or less green space? And can your answers to these kinds of questions reveal the ways in which design enhances livability? Give viewers a glimpse of the future in a 30- to 120-second video. Entries will be judged on their ability to entertain viewers and get them thinking.”

The event included (as in other years) a screening of the eight submissions most viewed on the Videotect web page. From this pool of favorites, the audience selected a Viewers’ Choice Winner: a funny short by Four Humors Theater in which three men bravely donned spandex to convey the perils of the virtual office.

For  this year’s Honorable Mentions, however, the jury (R.T. Ryback, Renee Chang, Peter Remes and Zechariah Thormodsgaard) selected an audience favorite that Trekkies anywhere would appreciate, “Video Trek”; a beautiful documentary, “Working with Nature,” that included shots of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in the Sonoran desert and shots of city skyscrapers; and “Bobbie Jones,” a wonderful claymation adventure in which Bob returns to the sustainable lifestyle of Lower Canada from oil-saturated and gun-totting Texas, capital of Kingdom Come.

New this year: These videos, as well as the Grand Prize-winner, “Big Hair, Big Ideas,” will be screened at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival next month. For that reason alone, the jurors’ selection this year couldn’t be more perfect. A public-service announcement on climate change, with reference to a Bill Joy TED Talk, “Big Hair, Big Ideas” is threaded with whimsical humor and imagines a future filled with vertical farms and domesticated penguins, and food truck cuisine comprised of Asian carp sushi and millefoil seaweed salad.

Delightfully shot and animated, the winning video exquisitely balanced meaningful storytelling and resonant humor. Similarly, Videotect offers cultural creatives the opportunity to enlighten and entertain audiences with their perspectives on design and 21st century life—giving us the chance to laugh, reflect and reconsider our relationship with the built environment anew.

You can watch all the 2013 Videotect submissions online, on the competition’s web page.

___________________________

Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

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.)

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