Blogs mnartists.blog Susannah Schouweiler

Susannah Schouweiler serves as editor for all the original arts writing published by mnartists.org at the Walker Art Center. She has written on the arts for a number of regional and national outlets as well, including MinnPost.com, City Pages, Minneapolis Observer, Rain Taxi Review of Books, The Rake, Public Art Review, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's Knight Arts blog. Before her work with mnartists.org, Susannah served as Editor-in-Chief for Ruminator magazine (a.k.a. Hungry Mind Review, Ruminator Review), a nationally distributed art and literature magazine. She lives in St. Paul with her husband and kids.

mnartists’ Most-Read Blog Posts of 2013 (Spoiler Alert: Cats are Hard to Beat)

This year, here on the blog we beefed up our local arts coverage, but we also worked  to widen the scope of our stories at the same time and include sharp writing on timely national and international cultural conversations as well. To that end, there are a number of new columns around here, lots of linky […]

This year, here on the blog we beefed up our local arts coverage, but we also worked  to widen the scope of our stories at the same time and include sharp writing on timely national and international cultural conversations as well. To that end, there are a number of new columns around here, lots of linky mini-essays and discipline-mixing topical series penned by writers and artists from here and around the country — on art and science, music, dance, books, film, visual art, pop culture memes and fashion. All that, and we’ve got a clever comic strip, too.

I’m gratified to see that our most-read blog posts of 2013 mirror those evolutions and cross-pollinations: your clicks offer welcome evidence that there really is an audience eager for substantive regional arts writing.

So, before we dive into 2014, a list of our most-read blog posts from the year just gone by:

People of the Internet Still Really Like Cats: No question, our coverage of #catvidfest and its related hoo-ha was tops with readers in 2013, dominating our tally of most-read blog posts yet again. Thousands around the world responded, both to nominate and to watch contenders for this year’s Golden Kitty Award. We offered “15 Reasons to Attend a Cat Video Festival” and “10 Questions for #catvidfest Host Julie Klausner“, and readers pounced on the posts  like catnip; they also clicked through in droves to help Koo Koo Kanga Roo select the album art for their cats-themed record.

From Todd Balthazor's strip, "Pollock Theory"

From “Pollock Theory” by Todd Balthazor

Todd Balthazor’s comic for mnartists, It Is What It Is!, really hit its stride this year. His behind-the-scenes-at-the-museum strip has not only hit a sweet spot for our readers, it has earned him national notice as well. He was profiled in both the New York Times and the December 2013 issue of ARTnews magazine for his mnartists blog comic — we couldn’t be prouder.

Katharina Fritsch, Gehirn (Brain). Plaster, paint. 1987/1989

Katharina Fritsch, Gehirn (Brain). Plaster, paint. 1987/1989

Art and Science: Maggie Ryan Sandford’s art and science posts have been as winsome and engaging as they are erudite, and so it does our hearts good to see readers find her. Two of her posts were among our most-read stories:

“Art and the Right Brain Fallacy”

“The Fibonacci Sequence: Life Imitates Math Imitates Art”

Words woldrs woroid, Ute Bertog, 2011.

Ute Bertog, Words woldrs woroid, 2011.

Painters on Painting: Jehra Patrick’s posts on local artists picked up lots of clicks last year, particularly her coverage of painters.

“10 Artists to Watch in 2013”

“5 Artists Expanding the (Painting) Field, from the Midwest”

“Trouble in Paradise: A Conversation with Painter Melissa Loop”

“On ‘Painting in the Present Tense’”: Speaking of painting, artist and professor David Lefkowitz’s post for mnartists’ blog, in response to a particularly lively artist talk for the Walker exhibition, Painter Painter, also made our most-read list.

Mini-Golf, ArtPrize and Eyeo:

“ArtPrize Pitch Night Cheat Sheet” : On the mnartists/Walker collaboration with Grand Rapids’ annual art competition and cultural spectacle, and a local “pitch night” for a contest to encourage more Minnesota artists to participate in ArtPrize.

“Introducing the Artists and Teams of Mini Golf 2013”: Another mnartists/Walker collaboration, Artist-Designed Mini Golf, continued apace with summertime duffers in the Sculpture Garden and blog readers alike.

“5 Takeaways from Eyeo 2013”: Jehra Patrick’s rundown on new media arts and culture trends from last year’s Eyeo new media arts festival.

More from our most-read blog posts of 2013:

The Joffrey Ballet’s recent Rite of Spring: No Riots but Some Head-Scratching“: Camille LeFevre’s review of Northrop Dance’s presentation of the famed Chicago company’s performance of the historic work

Daft Punk: Need More RAM!” Tom Loftus’ charming post in anticipation of the robot duo’s buzzed-about LP from last year, Random Access Memories, and what would prove to be 2013’s official song of the summer, that album’s hit single, “Get Lucky”.

Crispin Glover’s Latest Flick: Are You Really Sure It Is Fine?” At an early June event in Duluth, Kat Mandeville walked out of a screening of Crispin Glover’s latest film, It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! Outraged as much by the fact of the film’s screening as she was its provocative content, she wrote a letter in response and sent it around to me at mnartists.org. I reprinted her missive, and wrote a bit about the film, her letter, and the critical conversations prompted by both.

From Vice to Africa to Duluth, the Places of Photographer Brad Ogbonna“: A profile of a young St. Paul-to-New York City transplant rediscovering his Nigerian roots in a new project he’s working on with DIESEL + EDUN 

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

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.

pic.3 pic.4

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.

pic.5

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.

pic.6

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.

pic.7

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.)

15 Reasons to Attend an Internet Cat Video Festival

It’s back. A second edition of the tremendously popular Internet Cat Video Festival premieres Wednesday evening, August 28 at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand. This has become so much more than an excuse to see cat videos projected in public. Here are 15 reasons to attend the Great Minnesota Cat-Together and its assorted shindigs. 15.  Cats. You […]

The world's first #CatVidFest at the Walker Art Center drew more than 10,000 people in 2012.

The world’s first #CatVidFest at the Walker Art Center drew more than 10,000 people in 2012. The second annual festival will be Wednesday, August 28 at 7 pm in the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Grandstand.

It’s back. A second edition of the tremendously popular Internet Cat Video Festival premieres Wednesday evening, August 28 at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand. This has become so much more than an excuse to see cat videos projected in public. Here are 15 reasons to attend the Great Minnesota Cat-Together and its assorted shindigs.

15.  Cats. You have them, you love them, you snap photos of them as they fall adorably off things. Come, be among your people. Join in one the largest gatherings of feline fans in the world.  This humble event has grown to be recognized around the globe, and we have a brand new reel of fresh videos to share with you.

14. Spectacle. Not so much into cats? Come for the primo people-watching. Visitors to last year’s festival were calling it “the new Burning Man” for good reason. You’ll also be treated to live performances by Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade and the indefatigably upbeat Koo Koo Kanga Roo.

13. Swag. Pick up a sweet Golden Kitty commemorative poster or #CatVidFest tour t-shirt, or choose from an assortment of other limited-edition festival tchotchkes, and show off your keen eye for culture.

12. Kitty Cosplay. Dress up as your favorite real-world feline or Internet cat-lebrity and win prizes, plus a chance at seeing your whiskered self on Animal Planet’s website. Animal Planet will have photographers roving the audience during the event, looking for the best cat costumes.

Photo from the 2012 Internet Cat Video Festival, courtesy of the Walker Art Center

Photo from the 2012 Internet Cat Video Festival, courtesy of the Walker Art Center

11. DIY/DIT activities and opportunities to get schooled in the fine art of cat care. In the spirit of Open Field, the summer-long Walker Art Center project that spawned the Internet Cat Video Festival, there will be a number of interactive artist projects throughout the event, including live painting by local artist Rudy Fig, letterpress printing by Lunalux, and an interactive cat video project with San Francisco–based artist Maria Mortati. The festival will also include representatives from the local Animal Humane Society and Caring for Cats and other animal resource nonprofits to help educate attendees on a variety of cat-related issues.

10. Funny or Die favorite Julie Klausner will be there. The prolific New York–based comedy writer, performer and podcaster extraordinaire will co-host this year’s festival.

Comedian and writer Julie Klausner, creator and host of the podcast, How Was Your Week, will co-host #CatVidFest 2013.

Comedian and writer Julie Klausner, creator and host of the podcast, How Was Your Week, will co-host #CatVidFest 2013.

9. Pro-tips from An Engineer’s Guide to Cats creators Paul Klusman and TJ Wingard.

8. See international cat video stars who call Minnesota home. Pudge the Cat and Kittens Inspired by Kittens star Maddie Kelly will be in the house.

7.  Keyboards and Flying Pop Tarts.  With over 130 million combined YouTube views, Charlie Schmidt’s iconic Keyboard Cat and Chris Torres’ looping animation Nyan Cat took the cat video from viral ephemera to full-blown pop cultural phenomenon. Meet the original cat video stars who started it all.

6. We have a Butter Cat. In celebration of the Great Minnesota Get-Together and its traditions, #CatVidFest sponsor Animal Planet has commissioned the same butter sculptor who annually carves the likeness of the Princess Kay of the Milky Way to apply her talents to the cat theme. The complete sculpture will be revealed at the festival shortly before the screening of the reel. Here’s a time-lapse of its creation.

5. Lil BUB. BUB’s owner, Mike Bridavsky, will be at the festival this year. He’s turned his viral cat video experience into a new book: Lil BUB’s Lil Book: The Extraordinary Life of the Most Amazing Cat on the Planet, which will be released September 3.

The BUB himself. Courtesy of Mike Bridavsky.

The BUB himself. Courtesy of Mike Bridavsky.

4.  And the 2013 Golden Kitty goes to… Who will walk away with the #CatVidFest hardware? Last year, Will Braden’s now iconic Henri Le Chat Noir #2 took the coveted Golden Kitty as the People’s Choice Best of Festival. Click here to view the nominated videos for 2013. Award winners will be announced at the conclusion of the festival.

3. Grumpy Cat. The perpetually dour feline will be on hand to hate on everything deep-fried and on a stick, and to complain about the weather.

2. See tomorrow’s viral sensation today. We’re debuting several new videos, including a brand new clip by last year’s Golden Kitty Award-winner, Henri Le Chat Noir creator Will Braden.  (Spoiler alert: Henri has an encounter with the cat sitter. Angst ensues.)

1. It’s not about watching cat videos, it’s about watching cat videos together. One of the main reasons why this event has been such a success with audiences around the world is that it taps into a universal desire to gather together for the sake of sharing a sincere and joyful experience. You’re going to feel good about the world when you walk out of the Grandstand Wednesday night – we promise.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE:  If you don’t get your fill of cat happiness at the festival, we have more planned for the day following, including a book signingpublic lecture on the experience of going viral, and a #CatVidFest after-party at the (appropriately named) Kitty Cat Club. So, if you don’t get the perfect Facebook pic with our favorite cat celebrity, you’ll have a better chance to catch them at these more intimate events.

Related event information:

Internet Cat Video Festival 2013 will take place August 28, 7 pm in the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Grandstand. Tickets are $10.

10 Questions for #catvidfest 2013 Co-Host Julie Klausner

JULIE KLAUSNER: Cat fancier, writer and creator of the hugely popular podcast, How Was Your Week Location: New York City Dayjob: Writer Online: http://julieklausner.com Twitter: @julieklausner Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your story? I live in New York City, and I make a living as a writer of all sorts of things, but mostly television […]

Creator and host of the podcast, How Was Your Week.

Klausner is creator and host of the podcast, How Was Your WeekShe is also cohost of this year’s Internet Cat Video Festival in the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand on Wednesday, August 28.

JULIE KLAUSNER: Cat fancier, writer and creator of the hugely popular podcast, How Was Your Week
Location: New York City
Dayjob: Writer
Online: http://julieklausner.com
Twitter: @julieklausner

Tell us a bit about yourself. What’s your story?

I live in New York City, and I make a living as a writer of all sorts of things, but mostly television and occasionally books and articles. I love cats dearly. And dogs. I love animals, in general, and always have. They make me feel a very deep joy that isn’t a super-frequent occurrence in my life. I can laugh from my gut at an animal video when I feel unreachable otherwise.

How many cats do you own and what are their names?

I have one tuxedo cat, and his name is Jimmy Jazz. Before Jimmy, I lived with my beloved Smiley Muffin for 12 years. She was my heart. I miss her very dearly.

Anyone who listens to your podcast knows you’re a cat lover. Even your website’s filled with cats. What’s your personal history with felines? 

I’ve always loved cats, but I didn’t grow up with them because my mom and brother claim to be allergic. But the very same month I moved into my own place after college, I got a cat. And she was the source of endless fascination and entertainment — just watching her, enjoying her personality and proclivities. Dare I say, she was my muse.

Cats are beyond “cute” to me. They have a pompousness, a high-status inflection of “I’m better than you,” that truly makes me laugh. Because, in reality, they’re pretty dumb – they have half the frontal lobe intelligence of dogs, but they act like they’re smarter than humans. They get away with murder because they’re soft, essentially. Their faces are naturally set in this disapproving expression, and then they’ll do something ridiculous — like fall off a chair or collect pieces of garbage to hide behind your couch. The disparity between their intelligence and their affectation is just so deeply funny to me – so much unfounded confidence. They are also wonderful pets that you never have to take outside in order to facilitate their going to the bathroom, and that’s ideal for writers and lazy people who aren’t crazy about leaving the apartment when it’s raining. And there’s nothing quite like a purring cat curled up to you. It really does melt your heart like a hot knife through butter.

How did you first hear about the Internet Cat Video Festival

I can’t remember exactly when I heard about it, but it started popping up on my social media feeds, and I remember reading about it and thinking “I have to be a part of this.”

Both cat videos and the online brand you have established have proved to be far from fleeting phenomena.  What’s the future for this type of cultural production? 

It sounds cynical to say “more of the same,” but I mean it in the best possible way. Cats doing stuff will never not be fascinating to people who live with pet cats and who love cats (and there are a lot of us) – the more ordinary the scenario, the better. We like to see cats acting dumb and we always will. It’s hilarious and it’s adorable, and I’m not completely sure why. I guess there are people who collect photos of babies being silly; maybe it’s similar, only cats never grow up into adult humans.

This is a question we get all of the time, so we’re going to spin it back to you.  Are cat videos art?

I think it depends on the cat video and the context. Whenever you show something in a museum, the meaning changes. But I don’t think intention matters when it comes to art. Whether you clicked “record” on your phone to amuse your boyfriend, or you set the stage to make a masterpiece, the good stuff rises to the top like cream.

Mmm, cream.

You’ve produced a brand new video with Funny or Die that will premiere at this year’s festival: What can you tell us about it?

Well, I’m not a standup, so I always feel like I have to over-compensate whenever I go into live performances or hosting gigs — like I have to prepare a Powerpoint presentation, or a song and dance number to provide a good justification for why the hell I got the job.

So, I had this idea for a video [about the life of a cat video creator] and collaborated with Funny or Die, as well as with my pals Alex Scordelis and Jake Fogelnest, to make it. I got to work with a professional cat actor and his handler, and that was truly fascinating. Because pro cats are still cats. They won’t listen to you, even if they’re trained. They’re less skittish around people, I guess. But at one point, he was supposed to walk alongside me on a leash, and he was having NONE of that. It was completely cool, though – I picked him up and we had a lovely moment. But, yes. The moral of the story is: Cats are cats.

What are you working on now, cat-related or otherwise?

I’m writing for season three of [Funny or Die TV series] Billy on the Street and working on a couple of TV projects I hope to sell, plus a play I wrote and am rewriting. I do my podcast, How Was Your Week, every Friday [you can subscribe on iTunes!].

I’m also preparing for the next How Was Your Week Live at The Bell House, October 30, and another run of my cabaret show at Joe’s Pub the week before Thanksgiving.

What are your favorite cat videos?

I really loved Ze Frank’s Sad Cat Diaries, everything Henri has ever done, and Maru’s opus.

Any parting thoughts on the Internet Cat Video Festival and other such offline celebrations of cat video culture?

I’m all for it. It’s so fun and funny and positive. Anything that brings people together over cat videos – I’m in favor.

Related event information:

Internet Cat Video Festival 2013 will take place August 28, 7 p.m. in the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Grandstand. Tickets are $10. Find details: http://www.walkerart.org/calendar/2013/internet-cat-video-festival-2

Crispin Glover’s Latest Flick: Are You Really Sure It Is Fine?

At an early June event in Duluth, Kat Mandeville walked out of a screening of Crispin Glover’s latest film, It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! Outraged as much by the fact of the film’s screening as she was its provocative content, she wrote a letter in response and sent it around to me at mnartists.org, the […]

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Still from It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE!, 2007. Directed by Crispin Glover, written by and starring Steven C. Stewart. Courtesy of www.crispinglover.com

At an early June event in Duluth, Kat Mandeville walked out of a screening of Crispin Glover’s latest film, It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! Outraged as much by the fact of the film’s screening as she was its provocative content, she wrote a letter in response and sent it around to me at mnartists.org, the daily newspaper, a Duluth-area arts website.

The movie was part of a headline event at the Duluth/Superior Film Festival, an exercise in masturbatory weirdness that included “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slideshow,” featuring a one-hour dramatic narration-plus-slideshow projection conducted by the man himself, showcasing eight different re-purposed books he’s painstakingly annotated and illustrated with various flights of grotesque fantasy. By all accounts, Glover waxed on (cryptically, often incomprehensibly) for a while about the project and projected some pictures. Then they screened his new movie, a semi-autobiographical flick written by and starring Steven C. Stewart (a screenwriter who has severe cerebral palsy), directed by Glover in 2007. (This is the second in Glover’s “It” trilogy, which began with the twisted and surreal 2005 film, What Is It?)

It is Fine… is billed as a “psycho-sexual tale about a man with severe cerebral palsy and a fetish for girls with long hair. Part horror film, part exploitation picture, and part documentary of a man who cannot express his sexuality in the way he desires (due to his physical condition), this fantastical and often humorous tale is told completely from Stewart’s actual point of view – that of someone who has lived for years watching people do things he will never be able to do.” The character at the film’s center may be seriously disabled, but he’s by no means incapacitated. Indeed, he is a ladykiller in every sense of the word: the film follows episodes of his seduction and subsequent savaging of the various (silver screen–ready) women he encounters.

Violation, subjugation, torture – the film revels in sexual violence, degradation, and pain. Its subject matter is gleefully indecent, expressly made to transgress the bounds of appropriateness, intended as an assault on both viewers’ sensibilities and the Hollywood establishment. In interviews about his films, Glover presents himself as a fearless truth-teller, showing us what the corporate studio process wouldn’t dare. He says he’s putting taboo content front and center, thereby forcing us to contend with the full measure of our shared ugliness and hypocrisy; that he’s just showing us real human experience, unvarnished by wishful thinking or pretty dissembling, as seen through the lens of those typically invisible to popular culture (e.g. people with developmental and physical disabilities). The screenwriter/lead actor died shortly after making the film, but Glover’s quoted as saying he was similarly motivated, that Stewart “wanted to show that handicapped people are human, sexual and can be horrible.”

“Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slideshow” is currently touring the country. In addition to the Duluth film festival, this month Glover stopped in Minneapolis’ Heights Theatre; he’s soon making stops in Museum of Arts and Design and IFC in New York City; Littleton, Colorado; Kansas, City, Missouri.

Engage or Boycott?

Back to our letter-writer: So, Kat Mandeville, not quite sure what she was in for, turned out to see Glover’s event in Duluth’s Zinema. She gleaned from the prefatory remarks what was in store and walked out before the screening began. In emails we’ve exchanged since then, Mandeville has indicated she felt she’d be colluding in the exploitation, part of the problem, if she’d stayed to attend the movie and talk-back that followed — even if she watched in protest and spoke up to challenge the film and audience afterward. Finding entertainment in work that exalts “rape culture” in this way, she says, including public screenings in institutionally upright venues and treating those works as merely provocative, amounts to a kind of “cannibalism.” We’re feeding off pain and hate and violence perpetrated against our sisters, wives, daughters and mothers, she argues. The problem’s a pervasive one, harmful even when it’s dressed up as “art” and presented as a provocative amusement – and when we stay to watch, we’re not just voyeurs on real pain, we’re dishonest about our part in perpetuating it.

Her published response to the Duluth iteration of “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slideshow” and screening, in full:

In the wake of the screening of Crispin Glover’s film, It is Fine! Everything is Fine, as part of the Duluth/Superior Film Festival last weekend — a film that romanticizes a man’s explicit sexual fantasies of the rape and torture of women — I have questions for progressive Duluthians who were there and for our community as a whole.

Does one man’s pain with cerebral palsy and his being trapped in the prison of his own body eclipse the pain of female identity trapped in the misogynist-sadist fantasy of a romanticized snuff film? Is this an implicit argument the film is making? In the end, isn’t the handicapped man’s subjective experience of sexuality not so different from the increasing demand for glamorized rape and torture of women shown in social media: that of women as soulless mannequins used for sexual exploitation and the destruction of women for pleasure?

Men who were in the audience: how often can you watch rape and torture of women before it alters the way you think about women? The way you look at them? The way you fantasize about them? The way you touch them?

Women in the audience: who among you has experienced sexualized hate crimes or know a woman who has? And did you think of yourself and of these women during the film?

Fathers of daughters in the audience: how do you justify to your daughter supporting a film that fantasizes the same kind of rape and exploitation she has a one-in-three chance of experiencing herself?

And why was none of this discussed at the talk-back after the film? Yes, Glover only screens the film where he can answer questions in person, but how effective is that if the audience is too star-struck and approval-seeking to ask controversial questions?

If Malcolm X or Dr. Martin Luther King were female, what would they think of Glover’s film and the progressive members of Duluth who lined up to support it? Or of the connection between films like Glover’s and the Steubenville high school rape case, in which boys dragged around an intoxicated, unconscious peer, stripped her and sexually assaulted her for the viewing pleasure of social media? Is our nation so desensitized to rape and torture that half of us are unclear how we should react? Would Malcolm X and Dr. King see Duluth celebrating a film like Glover’s as a community engaged in cannibalism? Would they be outraged?

Then why aren’t we?

In the talk-back, Glover remarked that films using propaganda upset him. Why was it not pointed out that 70 minutes of torture and rape romanticized in his film was, indeed, propaganda? Was it so obvious it could be dismissed with the commonly used sentiment of, “Yes, exploiting women is wrong; now move over a little, you’re blocking my view of it”? Or was it because propaganda works and our esteem for women has sunk so low that when it’s depicted on the big screen we don’t see women oppressed by hatred; we see a singular man oppressed by pain?

Do we realize how similar this is to the unconscious hate-propaganda used throughout history to perpetuate hatred of Jews, blacks, and homosexuals? That oppression and exploitation of women is among the most epic struggles, and that progress is sabotaged when a community that should know better takes part in the entertainment of rape and torture? Do we realize how normalized rape and torture has become that we can watch 70 minutes of it being romanticized without impulse to object or critique?

And where was I, you ask? Upon hearing the film’s description, I walked out before it started. Later I listened to an account of the talk-back. And as it turns out, one doesn’t have to wallow through an entire film to discern what it’s about and critique what it’s doing. Looking over the audience as we took our seats in the theater before Glover’s film, I had a feeling of dread I would be the only one to speak-up about the dehumanizing of women, and if I left, I knew no one would start that dialogue. To be sitting in a theater of artists and musicians (among others) who consider themselves elevated; feminist; radical; speakers of the oppressed, and realize none of them are going to challenge the pseudo-celebrity was a sick feeling indeed. To find out later I was entirely right, was even worse.

But despite leaving, I’m still guilty, like those who attended and didn’t speak up. I’m guilty of tolerating what shouldn’t be tolerated. I should’ve said something in the theater before I left, something like, “What are we celebrating by watching a film like this? What does this mean about the culture we’re willing to become?” Instead I simply left. And for that I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed of Duluth and the naïveté that filled the Zinema seats last Saturday night. And I’m ashamed of the hypocrisy that applauded afterward.

What will it take for the average person (let alone the well-educated person) to realize it isn’t enough to like women or to love them? We must fight against the hatred directly, or change will not be possible. And to do this, we all must learn to recognize our culture’s unconscious hatred of women. Glover’s film was an opportunity to do so — an opportunity that was squandered.

My commentary and your responses can give us another chance to have the conversation. Duluth, how do you answer?

Kat Mandeville of Duluth graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with an undergraduate degree in theater. She has worked in television and film in Los Angeles, where she witnessed the exploitation of women firsthand. In the summers she studies philosophy and psychoanalysis at the European Graduate School in Switzerland.

This commentary was first published in the Opinion section of the Duluth News Tribune, 6/8/13 and reprinted on Perfect Duluth Day, 6/9/13. It is reproduced here with permission. Incidentally, there is a lively ongoing conversation in the comments section of PDD — worth a read if you’re interested.

It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE!, 74 minutes run time, 35mm color, 2007.

It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE!, 74 minutes run time, 35mm color, 2007.

So, What Do You Think?

When does work cross the line from provocation to obscenity? What’s your reaction to this and other “offensive” art, and organizations which house and promote it? If work offends you, what’s the best course of action: engagement or boycott? If you’d choose the former, what sort of community conversation can/should come out of displays of work that consciously offends the audience? At what point does titillation become outright exploitation? Is it okay to find such entertaining? What about other “offensive” art: Mapplethorpe, Piss Christ, John Ahearn’s South Bronx sculptures, misogynistic hip hop? At what point does outrage-in-action have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and meaningful public discourse about thorny issues and controversial themes?

Have any of you seen Glover’s films? What did you think of them – and the response of the audience around you?

UPDATED 5/20/13: ArtPrize Pitch Night Cheatsheet

Minnesota artists: What would you do with $5,000, 400,000 people and an entire bridge to work with? This year, the Walker Art Center is teaming up with ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan to sweeten the pot for Minnesota artists interested in participating in the prestigious annual international art competition. If you think you might have some […]

ArtPrize 2012 - photo courtesy of Brian Kelly Photography and the Walker Art Center

ArtPrize 2012 – photo courtesy of Brian Kelly Photography and the Walker Art Center

Minnesota artists: What would you do with $5,000, 400,000 people and an entire bridge to work with? This year, the Walker Art Center is teaming up with ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan to sweeten the pot for Minnesota artists interested in participating in the prestigious annual international art competition. If you think you might have some compelling public art ideas to propose, get a leg up by attending tomorrow night’s ArtPrize info session in the Walker Art Center Lecture Room. In addition to some of the local panelists involved in the Minnesota contingent of this year’s competition, ArtPrize’s Director of Exhibitions, Kevin Buist, will be on hand to offer some background on ArtPrize and to answer questions from artists interested in getting involved.

What is ArtPrize and how does the competition work?

Every fall, two thousand artists from around the world come to Grand Rapids, Michigan to compete for half a million dollars in prizes – real money is at stake here. Participating artists’ installations fill the city — from museums and galleries to restaurants, banks, and city parks. During the two-and-a-half week ArtPrize exhibition, which annually draws some 400,000 visitors, members of the public will vote to determine which artist will win the big $200,000 prize. A panel of world-renowned jurors will also select a $100,000 Juried Grand Prize winner, as well as five $20,000 winners in various categories.

And this year, during the month of May, Minnesota artists are especially invited to create proposals for an installation on Grand Rapids’ Gillett Bridge, a highly trafficked pedestrian bridge in the center of the ArtPrize exhibition. After the month-long open submissions period has closed, at a “Pitch Night” event held at the Walker on May 30, five selected finalists will give a five-minute presentation using five slides a piece to make the case for their project proposals. A panel of five local artists and curators, along with members of the audience, will be able to ask questions of the artists following their presentations. At the end of the night, the five panelists will select a Minnesota artist from among the finalists who presented their pitches. That artist will receive a $5,000 grant to realize their proposal on the Gillett Bridge; the resulting work will also be in the running for awards given during the international ArtPrize 2013 competition and exhibition in September.

ArtPrize 2013, Grand Rapids, MI is an international art competition and exhibition that runs from September 18 through October 6 and awards more than $500,000 in prizes to artists selected through both public and juried vote.

ArtPrize 2013, Grand Rapids, MI is an international art competition and exhibition that runs from September 18 through October 6 and awards more than $500,000 in prizes to artists selected through both public and juried vote.

Dates and deadlines:

ArtPrize info session: Tuesday, April 30 at 7 pm in the Lecture Room (off the Bazinet Lobby) at the Walker Art Center

Open submissions period for the Walker/ArtPrize installation on Gillett Bridge: May 1 to May 22.

Any artist living in Minnesota who is 18 years of age or older is eligible to enter. Find the full call for artists on mnartists.org.

“Pitch Night: Take it to the Bridge” - Five finalists will each have five minutes to make a pitch before our local panel of experts and a live audience. One will be selected at the end of the evening to receive a $5000 prize with which to realize their proposal for public art project on Gillett Bridge during this year’s ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The 2013 “Pitch Night” panelists:

Chris Larson, a Minnesota-based multimedia artist and educator whose work has been shown all over the world

Ben Heywood, Executive Director of the Soap Factory

Sarah Peters, a Twin Cities-based artist, writer and arts programmer who currently works as the Director of Public Engagement for Northern Lights.mn (the collaborative arts agency behind the Northern Spark Festival)

Scott Stulen, mnartists.org Project Director

Sarah Schultz, Director of Education and Curator of Public Practice at the Walker Art Center.

Gillett Bridge in Grand Rapids, MI - in the heart of this year's ArtPrize exhibition and site of a specially selected installation by a Minnesota artist this year.

Gillett Bridge in Grand Rapids, MI is a venue at the heart of this year’s ArtPrize exhibition and set aside as a site for an installation by a Minnesota artist who will be awarded $5000 to realize a proposal selected through a competitive process on “Pitch Night,” May 30 at the Walker Art Center.

Tips from ArtPrize Director of Exhibitions, Kevin Buist:

What kind of work is most likely to get the ArtPrize panelists’ attention for this special installation on the bridge? 

The panel [evaluating submissions from Minnesota artists for this installation] will be looking for a proposal for one installation on the Gillett Bridge that is both compelling and feasible.

Some questions to consider: How will the artist(s) make use of this unique space? Thousands of people cross the bridge during the event, how will crowds affect the work? Is $5,000 enough to ship and install the work? If not, what’s the plan to cover additional costs?

When and for how long will the work be installed? How many works will be chosen in total for this Walker/ArtPrize partnership?

One proposal will be chosen on “Pitch Night” for the entire bridge. An exact installation date is not set, but it will likely be one to two weeks before ArtPrize begins on September 18. The work will need to be taken town within a week after the end of ArtPrize on October 6.

Why is ArtPrize partnering with the Walker this year? Why involve Minnesota artists in this Michigan-based competition? 

“Pitch Night” is a brand new initiative for 2013. It’s a way for artists from other cities to get funding to realize ambitious projects within ArtPrize. The partnership with Walker is the first iteration of this new initiative, but we hope to expand the program to include similar partnerships with other museums in other cities.

Minnesota artists should enter ArtPrize because it’s an international art competition. It takes place in Grand Rapids, but it’s fast becoming a global showcase for emerging artists. Last year ArtPrize featured artists from 39 states and 46 countries.

What’s in it for the artists who compete? Who have been some of the previous years’ winners (are there any names we’d recognize)?

Obviously, there’s a lot of money on the line — $560,000 split between 16 awards, ten determined by public vote and six of which are juried. Winning is great, but when we talk to artists, we find that the size and level of engagement of the ArtPrize audience is an even bigger reward. Over 400,000 people visited over two-and-a-half weeks last year, and the population of Grand Rapids is only 200,000. We also find that projects can be launched quickly and without the typical level of red tape that slows down a lot of public art initiatives. ArtPrize has been embraced by the community in a unique way, and the city looks forward to an infusion of fresh ideas from all over the world. It’s an environment for artists to experiment with temporary projects that benefit from a large, engaged audience.

A list of last year’s winners can be found here: http://www.artprize.org/visit/winners

ADDENDUM 5/20/13: More from Kevin Buist about the history and philosophy behind ArtPrize and this year’s partnership with the Walker

This fall, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan will be overrun by artists. For the fifth year, my colleagues and I will stage ArtPrize, the world’s largest art competition.

More than 1,500 artists exhibiting their works at nearly 150 venues, all competing for $560,000 in awards which are distributed by public vote and professional jury. More than 400,000 visitors came to the 2012 exhibition, and even more are expected in 2013.

New for the 2013 event, ArtPrize has partnered with the Walker Art Center for a regional grant program. One artist from Minnesota will have a unique opportunity to receive a grant to help them realize an ambitious project for ArtPrize. We’re calling it “Pitch Night: Take it to the Bridge.” On May 30 at 7:00 pm in the Walker Cinema, five Minnesota artists will give each give a five minute presentation to the audience and a panel of five judges, explaining why their project should be given a $5,000 grant to create their project at ArtPrize 2013.

Why Minnesota? Why the Walker?

ArtPrize has long admired the Walker Art Center’s programming, specifically Open Field. The more we researched what they were doing and how they were thinking about the program and its relationship to the museum, the affinity between the two initiatives became clear. This quote from the introduction of Open Field: Conversations on the Commons, by Sarah Schultz and Sarah Peters, sums up the shared sensibility nicely: “Open Field is about building a more responsive and responsible museum that sets out to produce something of collective value with the public, rather than for them.”

We started ArtPrize in 2009 as a radically open experiment in how to create a city-wide contemporary art exhibition. ArtPrize doesn’t curate the show, and we don’t select the winners. In lieu of central programming, we’ve built ArtPrize.org to act almost like a dating website for artists and potential venues. Additionally, we gave the attendees, rather than the organizers, the power to decide who wins. The first year, there were ten prizes, all decided entirely by public vote, with $250,000 as the top prize. Starting the second year, we began to add juried awards into the mix.

Just last year, ArtPrize launched a $100,000 Juried Grand Prize, and five $20,000 juried prizes in various categories. These are awarded alongside $360,000 for the public vote top ten, including $200,000 for the top vote-getter.

We decided to design the event this way for several reasons:

  • Engagement with the arts is vital to creating meaningful interactions within communities. The trouble is that the arts are often overlooked by large swaths of the population. We make art impossible to ignore to give artists more ways to interrupt everyday life.
  • The competition needed to be fun, because we believe that people learn more and are more receptive to new ideas when they play.
  •  We believe that debate is good. Rather than program an exhibition in private and deliver it to the public, we’ve chosen to invite the public to be intimately involved in the production and assessment of the show. The results are delightfully messy. People all over town feverishly debate what’s good and what isn’t, or what should be considered art. The debates, and the tensions they reveal, are good outcomes.

This design has turned Grand Rapids into a community that values art and respects the opinions of all people, with the public and arts professionals coming together in an epic conversation.

–ArtPrize Director of Exhibitions, Kevin Buist

mnartists.org’s Most Popular Articles of 2012: Bar art, RACA, Sports and Ballet

At mnartists.org, we published more than 125 articles last year – original essays, reviews, profiles and interviews – about and by local artists, covering the issues, personalities and trends relevant here and elsewhere in theater, visual arts, music, dance, architecture, fashion and more. Below, you’ll find a rundown of the original arts writing with the […]

At mnartists.org, we published more than 125 articles last year – original essays, reviews, profiles and interviews – about and by local artists, covering the issues, personalities and trends relevant here and elsewhere in theater, visual arts, music, dance, architecture, fashion and more.

Below, you’ll find a rundown of the original arts writing with the most readers in 2012.

The much wondered-over John Bowman painting, "Crossings", in situ at the 331 in MplsPhoto by Kurt Froehlich, courtesy of the author

The much wondered-over John Bowman painting, “Crossings”, in situ at the 331 in Mpls. Photo by Kurt Froehlich, courtesy of the author

The most beloved art in the Twin Cities?: Andy Sturdevant unearthed a love story of sorts – about a Minneapolis bar, its many regulars, and a certain moody landscape painting with mystery and loads of apocryphal tales, which he argues may just be the most beloved artwork in the city.

Gregory Euclide (Le Sueur, MN), "caution gathered paths around your bending"Image courtesy of the artist, RACA, and the Arts Center of St. Peter

Gregory Euclide (Le Sueur, MN), “caution gathered paths around your bending”. Image courtesy of the artist, RACA, and the Arts Center of St. Peter

Rural art gets its due Twin Cities-to-Mankato transplant Stephanie Wilbur Ash got ahead of the buzz on Rural America Contemporary Art (aka RACA) with this late 2011 profile on the artists behind the inception of the group aiming to “make nowhere into somewhere”.

Michael Borremans, "The Devil's Dress," oil on panel, 2011.Courtesy of David Zwirner.

Michael Borremans, “The Devil’s Dress,” oil on panel, 2011. Courtesy of David Zwirner.

A painter on painting: Artist Ruben Nusz gave a close reading of the haunting paintings by Belgian painter Michaël Borremans, on view in early 2012 at David Zwirner in New York.

Annie Leibovitz, "Kirby Puckett," 1988Photo courtesy of the MIA

Annie Leibovitz, “Kirby Puckett,” 1988. Photo courtesy of the MIA

Inverting the male gaze: Last spring, Sheila Regan looked at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ multimedia exhibition, The Sports Show, as a lens through which to assess our changing norms and mores about race and gender.

"Back Lash", silver gelatin print, photograph by Polly NormanSee more on the artist's website: www.pollynormanart.com

“Back Lash”, silver gelatin print, photograph by Polly Norman

Inside the dance: Poet and dancer Lightsey Darst gave a candid personal essay on her years in ballet class — the devotion and the ordeal of daily practice, and the human moments of pain, pettiness, and triumph.

Other well-read articles on mnartists.org this year, including a few deep catalog surprises:

 “Seeing Target Field,” on the art and architecture of Target Field, by Michael Fallon

 “First Crayons,” musings on the pleasures and perils of trying to raise a creative kid, by food and wine writer Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

 “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” a look at co-working spaces in the Twin Cities by Alison Morse

 “Dolly Parton Dreams, Reconsidered,”  or, “My Dream of Moving to the Country to Write a Book and the Pygmy Goats and Insouciance I Didn’t Get”, a personal essay by  Sari Gordon

 “Becoming an Artist All Over Again,” Ann Klefstad’s profile of Duluth-based artist Marian Lansky, a graphic designer who reinvented herself mid-career to create Shy Nimitta.

“McQueen’s Delicious Delirium,” Camille LeFevre’s 2011 dispatch from New York, on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition of the fashion, performance art, and fetish objects of Alexander McQueen

The Year in MN Art: mnartists.org Staffers Weigh in on the Highlights of 2012

At this, the annual juncture of new and old, our small-but-mighty crew at mnartists.org is taking stock of the year just passed and peering ahead with our wishes for 2013.  All this week, look for idiosyncratic, entirely subjective and by-no-means-exhaustive lists from each of us, with our favorite moments from 2012 – things we saw […]

At this, the annual juncture of new and old, our small-but-mighty crew at mnartists.org is taking stock of the year just passed and peering ahead with our wishes for 2013.  All this week, look for idiosyncratic, entirely subjective and by-no-means-exhaustive lists from each of us, with our favorite moments from 2012 – things we saw and loved, and that gave us heart for what’s in store for the year to come.

Without further ado, here’s what most delighted me in 2012:

John Hodgman, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett at the Varsity: Late last March, in honor of the publication of That Is All, the final installment in Hodgman’s fabulously absurd Complete World Knowledge trilogy, the “deranged millionaire” and humorist, joined by MST3K veterans Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, regaled an enthusiastically nerdy crowd at Minneapolis’ Varsity Theater with off-the-cuff stories and made-up facts, covering everything from George R. R. Martin, hobos and Ragnarok to behind-the-scenes dish from Hodgman’s small-screen career as a “Famous Minor Television Personality.”

Little Brown Mushroom’s House of Coates: Writer Brad Zellar and photographer Alec Soth teamed up for a series of well-received road-trip story-and-picture dispatches last year, but my favorite of these is the first, House of Coates, a beautiful limited-edition book published by Little Brown Mushroom, inspired by the “edges of everything” exploits of one Lester B. Morrison: rangy philosopher, drifter, and quintessential loner.

Photograph from "House of Coates" published in a limited edition series by Little Brown Mushroom in 2012.

Photograph from “House of Coates” published in a limited edition series by Little Brown Mushroom in 2012.

Artists took the reins of opportunity, making this a remarkable year for independent art start-ups. Some standouts: Nate Young and Caroline Kent’s studio-turned-gallery space, The Bindery Projects; Art-Of-This founder David Petersen’s new commercial gallery space in Minneapolis; and Rural America Contemporary Art (RACA, for short), brainchild of Mankato-based painter Brian Frink, which grew from a popular Facebook group to a web hub and biannual online magazine for serious-minded artists off the usually urban art grid.

The City of Saint Paul expanded its team of City Artists in Residence to three: the city’s original such artist, Marcus Young, was recently joined by Amanda Lovelee and Sarah West. The team of artists-in-residence is embedded “upstream”, immersed in the development and execution of a variety of city projects, working side by side with administrators, urban planners and public works staff to integrate the arts into everyday civic life and planning.

Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, conceived by City Artist in Residence. Photo courtesy of Public Art St. Paul.

Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk, conceived by City Artist in Residence. Photo courtesy of Public Art St. Paul.

The flourishing of Lowertown: St. Paul stalwarts like Zeitgeist’s Studio Z, the Artists’ Quarter, Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar have long brought a variety of new music and jazz to the area; Big Table Studio and Amsterdam Bar and Hall pair nicely to anchor the neighborhood’s burgeoning design and indie music scenes; Minnesota Museum of American Art announced a new brick-and-mortar Project Space in the old Pioneer Press building; Bedlam Theatre just opened a St. Paul outpost, promising a welcome counterpoint to the area’s large-venue performance offerings. With light rail soon to come, there’s so much promise on the horizon for the arts and artists in this up-and-coming St. Paul neighborhood.

MMAA Exec. Dir. Kristen Makholm in front of the museum's new Project Space. Photo by Paul Shambroom.

MMAA Exec. Dir. Kristen Makholm in front of the museum’s new Project Space. Photo by Paul Shambroom.

Blank Slate Theatre’s Spring Awakening: In what was a very good year for theater, small companies in particular, Twin Cities audiences had a number of opportunities to see this Tony Award-winning musical – Theatre Latte Da’s staging, in particular, was polished and deeply entertaining and is deservedly appearing on a number of “best of the year” lists around town. But, for me, a quieter iteration gets the nod: I was just gobsmacked by Blank Slate Theatre’s gutsy all-youth production, held in the basement of St. Paul’s First Baptist Church: emotionally fearless, intimate and beautifully executed by the cast, the show was pitch perfect in its fidelity to the shaggy ardors of real-life adolescence.

Labor-of-love lit mags made a splash: We’ve been hearing about the decline of print for years now, but that hasn’t stopped intrepid newcomers, like the folks behind Thirty Two, Revolver and Paper Darts, from continuing to dive into publishing headfirst, taking a shot at shaking up the old business model with some new flair. All have a smart online presence and lean overhead, consistently trenchant and engaging editorial content and painstaking attention to artful design, fueled issue after issue by sheer audacity, grit and hustle.

Thirty-Two_Issue-2stroke-248x330oblivions

Dioramas: Air Sweet Air’s Just Like Honey show, an irresistible and varied exhibition of artist-made dioramas, was such a surprise: the creations on view had all the nostalgic allure of childhood games of make-believe, but animated by undercurrents of subtle, grown-up insight and witty commentary about the contemporary flux of human-made sprawl and manufactured landscapes in context of the natural environments in and around them.

Alyssa Baguss, “Home on the Range,” UTO (Unidentified Technological Device), mixed media, 2012. Photo by Cheryl Wilgren Clyne, courtesy of Air Sweet Air

Alyssa Baguss, “Home on the Range,” UTO (Unidentified Technological Device), mixed media, 2012. Photo by Cheryl Wilgren Clyne, courtesy of Air Sweet Air

Spoken word and slam poetry went viral. There were some terrific poetry collections released this year – Heid Erdrich’s Cell Traffic; Odessa by Patricia Kirkpatrick; Sun Yung Shin’s Rough, and Savage; and Pitch by Todd Boss immediately come to mind. But the most memorable poems I encountered this year, I first ran into online, shared among friends and colleagues via Twitter and Facebook. (You can listen to three of my favorites below.)

 

And the big news in our house: Baby takes her first steps and the Tooth Fairy pays our first-grader a visit.

The Boy loses his first tooth

The Boy loses his first tooth. Photo courtesy of the author.

And for 2013: I think we’re all waiting with bated breath for the brand spanking new mnartists.org website, and so eager to show you all the bells and whistles we have in the works.

Tucker Hollingsworth’s Camera Noise: A Primer by Stephen Tapscott

What exactly are the Camera Noise pieces? A series of large photo-prints by the Tuckaghrie (”Tucker”) Hollingsworth, based on the phenomenon of “camera noise”—or rather, on the unique occurrence-patterns of visual noise on a number of separate (and probably unrepeatable) occasions. The results are playful photos of “invisible” realities, which resemble interwoven textiles. What is […]

Tucker Hollingsworth, “Noise Print #58″. Flush on Aluminum. Images to 70 x 57 inches. 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

What exactly are the Camera Noise pieces?

A series of large photo-prints by the Tuckaghrie (”Tucker”) Hollingsworth, based on the phenomenon of “camera noise”—or rather, on the unique occurrence-patterns of visual noise on a number of separate (and probably unrepeatable) occasions. The results are playful photos of “invisible” realities, which resemble interwoven textiles.

What is “camera noise” anyway?

Part of the process of looking through the camera, a pattern of information that doesn’t quite fit the pattern we think we want to see. When we tell the camera to be our “eye,” it takes in lots of information, most of which fits our expectations, some of which doesn’t.  “Noise” is data, information, that’s part of the perceptual misapprehension, or imagination, or overcompensation, that happens in or through the camera—usually through its lens or through its sensor(s).  In practical terms: we tend to “see” evidence of camera noise, in amateur photos, in those weird pixels of color that seem out of place, unique, or patterned in some new strange way—a fog, a plaid, a texture, a grid—that probably isn’t part of the realistic object we thought we’d shot. They’re accurate to the camera’s perception but a little surreal to ours—or sub-real, to be precise.

Tucker Hollingsworth, “Noise Print #78″. Flush on Aluminum. Images to 70 x 57 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

How did the “noise” get there?  Is it even really “there”?   

It’s a residual (or preliminary) part of the process of the camera’s process of  looking-transmuting-and-storing — a process that leaves (nearly undetectable) traces. Some of that patterning is subtly “out there” in the world, in surprising little

pools of light under a shady tree, for instance.  Other patterns left on the image come from the    way the camera perceives light, transforms it into electrical pulses, and stores it. Digital photography, in general, is a process of turning light into electrical signals and thence into digital code: the camera lens captures packets of light, the camera sensor sorts it by light waves, and the waves are turned into electrical impulses which are stored in a mathematical binary code. Later, another machine reads the digital language back: for each signal it generates back a blip of color on a screen or in a print. Assemble enough blips in recognizable patterns, and you have an image.

The interesting part is when pixels resist the system, or intrude just by being. Anomalies sneak in along the way. Too much information may enter; actual flashes of brightness might occur in the light outside the camera, so that the “noise” is anomalous but accurate. Maybe there’s grit on the lens; too much heat makes the sensor register more blue blips; the camera sensor could be weak, or maybe showing signs of age; or the camera may have –and impose– its own peculiarities. Other conditions can cause noise, as well.

And?

And so all this information enters the record somehow, both there and not there, a part of the process of perception but a part we often try to ignore, to wipe away. It is part of mediated seeing, but it’s literally an under-level–a substrate—which we try to repress. When we take a “realist” picture, we often use a program to overlay this “noise,” to overwrite it or otherwise pretend it’s not there. (But it is, Blanche, it is.) Hollingsworth’s images are bold for looking at those patterns of what we, in the main, have agreed to try not to see.

Tucker Hollingsworth, “Noise Print #42″. Flush on Aluminum. Images to 70 x 57 inches. 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Do all cameras make this “noise”? Is it  a universal pattern of randomness?

All digital cameras do, from big professional models to cameras on cell-phones.

Is the randomness of camera noise a pattern?

It is if it is repeatable.

Say what?

Well, in his images Hollingsworth sometimes “frames” a unique section of random spotting and repeats the patch of random distribution, allowing the colors to change and the “new” distribution—which is now a visual pattern because it is repeated—to be rendered visible. It’s a pattern insofar as it’s repeated (this is art, not chaos repeating itself), but it’s still random at a local level of production. AND it has the repeatability of form, the result of aesthetic choice. It’s true that the camera might have repeated the pattern, but that possibility is statistically rare. The spots of noise are dependent on certain conditions; those states are unlikely to repeat again, in ordinary time and space.

Are they dots like Damien Hirst’s spots?

No.

Dots like Lichtenstein’s Pop-Art spots?

Maybe, but they’re formed from a different source, print vs. digital modes. Lichtenstein’s dots were based on graphic-art textual media; they’re about sharp edges and ironic versions of iconic forms. Pop Art spots were painted versions of the Ben-Day spots of the graphic printing-process (think of comic books): uniform in size, crisply delineated, primary colors, representational. Hollingsworth’s spots have more to do with the textile effect of the digital mode, how we weave the world together by our senses and our technology. Hollingsworth’s dotted plaids are more subtly colored than those Ben-Day dots, recalling electric impulses instead of graphic ink-spots, more flowing and interrelational, and not figurative.

Think of how your eye follows the patterns in a Pollock “drip” painting; those motions resemble how the eye reads these Hollingsworth images: there are arcs and rhythms and patterns of random splooges and splashes by which you can see how the painter’s arm moved in the process of dripping the paint. You can track that pattern of motion—but if you tried to repeat exactly the same movements with exactly the same paint, chances are you’d make different drips — same pattern, random distribution.  Pollock packs on paint, Hollingsworth pixels. As in Pollock, the pattern lives in its cloud of instances: Again, what’s at stake in the Hollingsworth model is the digital interwoven interrelations of the mind and the world and the technologies we use to comprehend and order it.

Tucker Hollingsworth, “Noise Print #48″. Flush on Aluminum. Images to 70 x 57 inches. 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Is “noise” all an interesting mistake? Is this chaos-art?

The “noise” in Hollingsworth images is neither true nor false, neither “there” nor “not there,” neither an error nor a choice, fluke nor necessary—or rather, it’s both sides of all those dualities. Hollingsworth’s images are both/and constructions that elegantly bridge some of those dualistic gaps that art-speak sometimes constructs: they are both formal and random, both nonconcrete and hauntedly figurative, both abstract (in their geometries) and representational (they present something that is actually “there”), both high-art and popular, conceptual and realist, wicked smart and sensual. Because the images are what the camera sees without telling us it is interposing the grids, these forms are both true and false at the same time — like photographs of Schrödinger’s cat.

Oh-oh. Cat pictures?

No: in fact they’re large, painting-style grids of color dots and plaids, oddly futuristic– like overhearing a new mode of music: like an elegant and whimsical trance music. An oddly sensual combination, they make the eye feel these intensely pleasurable sensations even while you’re thinking “what is this pattern of things we see without seeing we see them?” A happy dotted or plaid formalism that’s thoughtful and kind of ecstatic at the same time. Their effect is mixed, in the same moment a kind of hushed holiness and a kind of gently rippling sexiness.

It all sound kind of cerebral.

Huge, semi-musical swaths of ravishingly-colored funky plaids with occasional dots, making plausible aesthetic claims to be true and not-true at the same time. What’s not to like?

***

Related links and information:

 ”What Do you See When You Turn Out the Lights?”- Read Stephen Tapscott’s related essay on Hollingsworth’s series of Camera Noise photo-prints on mnartists.org

Tucker Hollingsworth: Inside the Camera/Noise is on view through November 30 at Chowgirls Parlor 1224 2nd St. NE, Minneapolis, MN, 55413. The exhibition is open by appointment (651-955-6031); there is a reception Thursday, November 15 from 6 to 10 pm.

Find more information about the artist on his website: www.tuckerhollingsworth.com.

About the author: Stephen Tapscott is s a professor in the humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teaching, poetry, aesthetics and photography. He is author of eight collections of poems and essays and has a new book coming out soon, about the photographer Eadweard Muybridge and his trial for murder. He is also a translator from Spanish and Polish, most popularly of Pablo Neruda’s Cien sonetos de amor [One Hundred Love Sonnets]. He splits his time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and St-Denis, France.
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