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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

Trouble in Paradise: A Conversation with Painter Melissa Loop

Minnesota artist Melissa Loop draws attention to the complexities and double-standards inherent in fetishizing and idealizing exotic locales, exploring the consequences of tourism through the lush, layered surfaces of her paintings. In a recent conversation, we discussed the lineage of landscape painting, from Hudson River School to Peter Doig, painting and viewing art as work […]

Melissa Loop, I Turned Your Kingdom Out, acrylic and spray paint, 2013

Melissa Loop, I Turned Your Kingdom Out, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 2013

Minnesota artist Melissa Loop draws attention to the complexities and double-standards inherent in fetishizing and idealizing exotic locales, exploring the consequences of tourism through the lush, layered surfaces of her paintings. In a recent conversation, we discussed the lineage of landscape painting, from Hudson River School to Peter Doig, painting and viewing art as work and leisure, and the recent public drama that erupted around a slanted news article about her pursuit of travel as artistic research.

Jehra Patrick

On the surface, your paintings depict fluorescent and glowing equatorial landscapes. Talk about your process for finding, taking and selecting images.

Melissa Loop

My process has changed somewhat since I’ve started traveling to the places and making a whole series around one place. Before, I chose iconic photos that appeared over and over in Google images when I searched for a place. I would be specific for each thing I wanted in the painting, though — like “Hawaiian waterfall.” So I was always constructing made up landscapes that were collaged together from various photos.  I now actually go to the area I want to make work about, but what has stayed the same are the reasons that draw me to a site in the first place. It’s rather organic, in the sense that these are just landscapes that I get obsessed with, but they are also always places that are being massively affected by climate change, colonialism, tourism – they’re all in the process of being Westernized in some fashion through globalization. But they’re exotic in some way for me. When I visit a place, I am thinking about how to tell a story about the history, culture, climate, landscape, as well as the memory or dream of the place that lasts after you leave. I’m not just interested in iconic landmarks, but also the odd-shaped rocks, plants, moments that make up a place.

Melissa Loop, A Dream of a Made up Hawaiian Island, acrylic and spray paint, 2012

Melissa Loop, A Dream of a Made up Hawaiian Island, acrylic and spray paint, 2012

Jehra Patrick

To which places have you traveled? What is your criteria for selecting your destinations?

Melissa Loop

I’ve been to the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John, which was the start of my interest in the continuing colonial mindset you see behind resorts and international tourism. I’ve also been to Belize, the Mexican Yucatan near Tulum, Coba, and Chichen Itza. In less than a week, I will leave for the French Polynesia, where I will visit Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, and Nuku Hiva.

I’ve been picking places that are exotic to me, which have a rich archaeological ruins, are rapidly changing or will change drastically in my lifetime because of humans and that have a history of colonialism. I’ve learned a lot from some of my previous trips, about what works and what doesn’t. When I planned my Polynesian trip, I looked for places that were not resorts per se, or even normal hotels, but rather small places that are run by Polynesians.

Jehra Patrick

And these are not lavish places, like ‘Sandals,’ I presume…

Melissa Loop

A posh paradise is very nice for a vacation, but not conducive to locating the different sites where I draw, photograph and research every morning. Each day, I concentrate on a different location on the island to study; it is actually quite physically strenuous, requiring lots of hiking up mountains, through valleys and ungroomed terrain to get to the places that tourists really don’t reach very often. In this trip, I’m really excited about all of the archaeological ruins that I’m going to visit on the islands — particularly the most important Polynesian ruins, outside of Easter Island. I’m also meeting with a woman on Huahine who is in charge of an important cultural heritage site. On my last trip, I only had one day where I didn’t completely exhaust myself, and that’s only because I got really sick and couldn’t go anywhere.

Jehra Patrick

What has been your impression of these places you have visited? How do they hold up to both your notions of exploitation? Are they beautiful and exotic? How has actually seeing these sites in person changed your work?

Melissa Loop

When I went to Belize, I had this notion that I wanted to take pictures of the shacks – the “real place” – but I realized, after I got there, that such thinking is disrespectful of their culture. I saw how proud they are of the beauty of their country. So, the work became about, essentially, the idea of memory, misconceptions, exoticism and fantasy of the place after I returned home.  Belize doesn’t get much tourism; they caught my attention because their tiny country is the only one standing up to the cruse ship companies by putting strict rules on how many cruise tourists can enter their protected areas (if at all).  I ended up leaving there very hopeful and optimistic, because of how they take care of their land and try to grow tourism in a more sustainable way.

The place I visited in Mexico was an entirely different story. There resorts are allowed to be run like a compound that you never have to leave….unless you get bored of the beach, and then you’re shuttled to some manicured ruin. Tulum doesn’t have huge resorts, but all of the beaches are currently being transformed into this long strip of luxury eco-hotels, where they keep guards at the front of the road, like gatekeepers to the beach. It was also kind of unnerving when a guy trying to sell us a tour informed us that we could stand on the coral in the water. It really makes you wonder what’s going to be left in 50 years.

Jehra Patrick

I’d like to hear bit more about your composition and creative decision-making – your paintings, in their handling, feel like amplified or fantastic adaptations as opposed to a straight plein air study of these lands.

Melissa Loop

All of the actual paintings are made in my studio in Minneapolis; I consider what I make during the trip to be notations. I am interested in what happens between seeing and experiencing a place and the gap of memory, time, fantasy, dream, and outright lying. That’s why I like to reference grand landscape painters, like Fredric Erwin Church, because they would amp up the color, rearrange details, and try to make a place as desirable as possible. The neon and extreme saturation in my paintings come from the influence of CGI and Photoshop, and the way that everything [online] seems to want to be so loud in order to be seen and noticed. But I am also fighting with the surface by destroying and creating space through spilling paint, spray painting, dripping, and sanding so that the painting will flip back and forth between the deep painting space and a reminder that it’s all just surface and paint. For me, it is kind of a metaphor for my own struggles with my participation in global change, and the sense of helplessness that I (and I think a lot of people of our generation) feel.

Fredric Edwin Church, Cotopaxi, Oil on canvas, 1855

Fredric Erwin Church, Cotopaxi, Oil on canvas, 1855

Jehra Patrick

This exaggeration in the color choices gives your work look of “vacation-ness.” What are the complications of traveling for learning vs. traveling for leisure? Is leisure still a byproduct of your research?

Melissa Loop

I suppose it depends on a person’s definition of leisure. When I and the other Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative (MSAB) recipients were catching flak for visiting places that are usually thought of as leisure destinations, it became a joke between my husband and I that you should only receive funding if your trip will be dangerous, cold and not enjoyable. There tends to be more frustration for me when I travel for research, since my main goal then is to collect information; traveling in the manner I do is not set up for that. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to go about my research with a more scientific approach on future projects, but it’s difficult since I do need to see more than one location to do my work.  There’s also a lot of stress involved, because it is research — I’m working, even if it is amazing, fun work. This upcoming trip involves 13 flights (six flights just to get there and back, because it’s so far away), six islands and seven different lodgings. That sure isn’t what I would do to myself if I wanted to relax.

Jehra Patrick

What about the “vacation-ness” of viewing your work? Is viewing art ever about taking a moment of vacation? Isn’t museum-going a leisure activity?

Melissa Loop

For me, art is a form of escapism and I love being able to create a painting that I can “escape” into; there’s definitely this duality between what I’m doing in my studio, what we do in museums, and what we do when we travel.  Paradoxically, I think that making paintings that require me to travel so much has forced me to do the opposite of escape.

Melissa Loop, Fragment, acrylic and spray paint, 2013

Melissa Loop, Fragment, acrylic and spray paint, 2013

Jehra Patrick

In looking at your work, comparisons to Paul Gauguin and Peter Doig come to mind. Do you think they were ever criticized for the type of work they do? Also, do you think they’re saying something about the places they visit in their work, or do we love them for their palettes, their application of paint and composition. In other words, does the subject matter?

Melissa Loop

The interesting thing about Peter Doig is that most of his work deals with memories of his early childhood in Canada — it’s a kind of dream landscape. Also, he lives in Trinidad, so he’s not really a visitor. But he talks about the fact that he will always be the white guy. that he can never get away from the exoticism of a place that is so vastly different from the place he came from. I think the difference between Doig and Gauguin is that Doig isn’t trying to live out or sell some sort of hedonistic fantasy. A lot of historians criticize Gauguin, because most of what he wrote about his experiences were vastly exaggerated. He went specifically to seek out this “noble savage” sort of lifestyle; the thing is, the Polynesians had been converted to Christianity by that point, and he was highly disliked for taking on so many young lovers. Gauguin was really just perpetuating a fantasy of what he wished was there, but maybe never really was, in fact. I am interested in the notion of fantasy, but I think I am coming from a very self-critical point of view; I’m not really perpetuating a fantasy, but rather presenting the fantasy that we all have of such exotic places, acknowledging its impossibility. I think both artists tap into some inner desire we share [about "paradise"], and that its part of the appeal of the work. Besides, isn’t subject merely a vehicle for content, anyways?

Jehra Patrick

True! Within your work, that content addresses the misconceptions of place – e.g., a gorgeous island that is actually a site of exploitation. Interestingly enough, when your MSAB project received coverage, many misconceptions about artists’ funding were aired in the conversation surrounding it. What are misconceptions, for artists and these places? Aren’t both a bit romanticized? Are artists still exotic? Is there a misconstrued understanding of what it means to be an artist?

Melissa Loop, Untitled, acrylic and spray paint, 2013.

Melissa Loop

I think there is a lot of mystery, and sometimes angst, surrounding the idea of being an artist. There is this myth that we are lazy, or don’t pay taxes ourselves (apparently), and that we are bad at what we do if we have to rely on grants to help bring projects into fruition. The truth is that most successful artists have several sources of income to make their practice work, including sales, grants, and some sort of outside income, such as teaching, freelance work, or side-jobs. I feel people tend to think that we should live in poverty until the day comes when we are “discovered,” because we would just make art anyway — it’s part of that romantic Van Gogh idea.  A lot of people seemed very upset to see my blogs and figure out that not only was I not destitute, but  I also travel a lot. But I and every artist I know and respect in this community work very hard at not only making our work, but also promoting, writing and a long list of other non-creative admin-type tasks. This is a career as much as it’s a lifestyle.

Jehra Patrick

You were recently vilified by Watchdog.org’s “Minnesota Bureau,” as well as in the public commentary, for receiving a MSAB for travel purposes (among a hundred other artists of varying disciplines.) While this is a very slanted and misleading media piece, I think it’s worth making note of the interesting conversations that cascaded from this incident, including the role of the artist as both a worker and a culture-bringer, the role of grants in support of the arts and artists, and the place of government subsidy for arts and culture. These are all huge topics, I know, but I do want to provide the opportunity to initiate some of this continued conversation.

Melissa Loop

The man interviewing me asked the question: “Do you think this (traveling to French Polynesia) a good way to spend people’s tax dollars?” which I find purposely misleading, since these projects are funded by the MSAB, a small state organization that receives a small component of the Arts and Cultural Legacy Fund. The purpose of the money isn’t to send me on a trip, it is intended to make the work after, to foster gallery shows and artist talks, and to enrich Minnesota by bringing up conversations about how we can and do directly affect people and places halfway around the world through the choices we make, with how we perceive the world to be. As an artist, it is my role to spark new conversations, present new ideas, comment and make work about the times we live in. There should be a component of art that responds to these aspects of globalization. The fine arts are integral to the Minnesota creative community and artists do create create an economic return for the state.  Artists have been supported for hundreds of years through patrons, monarchies, and the church, so I’m not sure why there is this idea that a good artist never needs support to help bridge their practice.

Jehra Patrick 

What are your big takeaways from this? What are the conversations that you and fellow artists are having around the issues of artists’ means for finding monetary support and the granting system in Minnesota?

Melissa Loop

I think this conversation has highlighted the paradox of being an artist in the Midwest: here, you can be “successful” and yet never make enough money from your work to run a studio, or to make a decent living. That’s why many artists choose to go somewhere else. The grant system is a way to help us bridge some of that gap, so we can stay here and make work.

Jehra Patrick

What about the misconceptions surrounding the granting process? Do you have any suggestions for avenues of conversation where we can continue to communicate to the public accurate pictures about the roles of the artist in their communities and the ways artists find to support themselves?

Melissa Loop

The news story did accentuate some vast misconceptions about the [Artist Initiative] program; the author of the piece likened getting a grant to winning the lottery; people seemed to think awarding public money means that they should have some sort of ownership or control over how those funds are used, simply because they’re a member of the public. I actually don’t think that MSAB is opaque — anyone can go and see the panelists who are judging the grant proposals.  A real concern I had, reading the public comments, had to do with the broader feeling that they indicated a lack of value for artists and what they do; some of the commenters aren’t interested in learning about the process for applying for grants — they’re not really objecting to that so much as they don’t seem to think of artists as really “working.”

When I started a dialogue with the news reporter about the story, he just kept asking what my project had to do with the state; I realized that we were simply having two different conversations. What I do doesn’t directly produce a certain quantity of jobs or result in a monetary outcome or return on investment – that’s not the purpose of my project. This leads me to think that there is confusion about what the phrase “impact the state” means to the general public when we’re talking about the arts. Maybe it’s about changing the language. Maybe it’s about all of us artists being vocal about what we really do: educating our families, friends, co-workers. When this all came out, I realized that I, too, create that fantasy of an artist in my blogs. I never really considered myself a public person before this, and I think defending myself against things that are not even trying to be true or balanced only serves the fuel their criticisms. But I do feel a responsibility, now more than ever, to be as transparent as possible with this project and leverage it to have the most impact as possible.

Melissa Loop is a landscape painter who mines the long history of the genre and subverts it with her fantasy landscapes. Her hyper-colored canvases with their haphazard drips, neon spray paint, jumbled digitized shapes, and rainbow-infused skies literalize the artificiality of imagined paradises and bespeak her concern for ongoing globalization, colonization, and touristic expansion in exotic locations. In 2005 Loop received her BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

See more of the artist’s work at: melissaloop.com 

Learn more about the artist’s project at: myheartisanomad.blogspot.com

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

Painter, Painter, now on view at the Walker Art Center through October 27, 2013, includes a selection of living artists responding to the materiality and open-endedness of the medium of painting, as well as the fluidity of the role of artist as painter. Operating as painters creating new work in a time of unlimited ontologies, we […]

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Rarely Do We Stretch, Matthew Yaeger, 2013

Painter, Painter, now on view at the Walker Art Center through October 27, 2013, includes a selection of living artists responding to the materiality and open-endedness of the medium of painting, as well as the fluidity of the role of artist as painter. Operating as painters creating new work in a time of unlimited ontologies, we see these artists gathered in the exhibition for the thoughtful ways in which their practice holds strong footing in studio-based activities, demonstrates backwards-glancing at historical movements, and shows a continued interest in the material possibilities for painting, often incorporating the jargon of adjacent disciplines; all of whom produce objects with an proclivity for the genre of Abstraction. This exhibition presents an acute, though diverse, edit of broader tendencies that pivot and reshape frameworks for painting practice.

In her seminal 1979 essay, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” Rosalind Krauss posits that, “practice is not defined in relation to a given medium…but rather in relation to the logical operations on a set of cultural terms, for which any medium…might be used.” Krauss opened up the possibility for artists – in this case, painters – to perform operations, as practice, on the collectively held idea of what constitutes “painting.” The resulting broad guidelines about what the medium is and can be, coupled with what philosopher Arthur C. Danto described as “pluralism” (i.e. the idea that no kind of output is more ‘true,’ or advanced, than another) left the terminology of painting gaping and unwieldy decades ago. It is important to note this history, as it has given artists legroom to reply, and the opportunity to reply to one-another’s replies, for some time. It is also important to note that these conversations, while historical, have been advancing for years; a discussion of “painting” is not being re-opened in 2013 — dialogue within and about the medium was never closed. This past June, New York Times critic Roberta Smith reviewed string of five exhibitions opening in Chelsea, noting the dominance of artists “examining the ways painting can merge with sculpture or conceptual art and yield pictorial hybrids that may not even involve paint; others are more focused on the medium’s traditional forms.”

In other words, these tendencies for painters are synchronic, and are representative of interests occurring nationally, internationally and locally. Positioning Painter Painter in a contemporary art museum in the Midwest is as relevant to that ongoing conversation as it would be if the exhibition were showing in a gallery in New York, if not more so; situated here, the exhbition bears witness to and charts the prominence of these currents, the immediacy of these practices and the proximity of these activities: the exhibition is here and this work is also occurring here. The Midwest is part of this conversation.

As evidence, note the following artists, all of whom are working and living in the state of Minnesota and who offer thoughtful contributions to the growing dialogue on the expanded conditions of painting though material, surface and process. Aside from pictorial strategies or abstraction of subject, abstraction is also employed as descriptive device, stretching and abstracting the medium  itself – reducing, distilling and providing partial information about the practice of painting.

Installation view of Joe Smith’s Softside at David Petersen Gallery in Minneapolis, 2013. Courtesy of the artist’s website.

Joe Smith

Smith’s practice takes conceptual coordinates as departure points for the insoluble conundrum of painting itself, seeking the possibilities – formal, conceptual and material – that occur between those coordinates, not necessarily the shortest distance. In Softside, the artist’s most recent exhibition at David Petersen Gallery, Smith selects security blankets and self-help books as his cues, taking the territory between the two as his starting point. Wooden planks suck up coppered salt like a pacifying thumb, and blankets dangle, coated in paint and varnish, serving as guides for improvements to self, and painting. These materials, though symbolic for self-help, are also corrupted from the most rudimentary painting supplies: wooden stretchers and woven substrates.

Installation view of Paintings for Germans, Sculpture for Snobs, Rochester Art Center, 2008.

Installation view of Paintings for Germans, Sculpture for Snobs, Rochester Art Center, 2008.

Bruce Tapola

Tapola’s practice has long oscillated between painting and sculpture, abstraction and figuration, often resulting in hybrids of both. Humorous and wise, his work often jabs at art historical precedents, bargains with tropes, and juxtaposes idiosyncrasies of painting’s material qualities and capabilities. Balancing the acts of looking and toying, Tapola’s practice centers on the revealed intention behind the process of art-making and the expansive terrain between image and object. Destroying, repurposing and piling traditional supports, applying gorgeous paint handling to wonky refuse materials, nesting picture-hosting contraptions and color-coated detritus — all of it resides together in non-hierarchical installations: Tapola builds and dismantles the value system around painting’s objecthood.

Words woldrs woroid, Ute Bertog, 2011

Words woldrs woroid, Ute Bertog, 2011

Ute Bertog

Bertog’s practice leverages our trust in text as signifier; her work dissociates written language’s ability to communicate through abstract gestures, cursive mark-making, and word and character-shaped forms, as well as their obfuscation. She works in layers, painting over texts and letters, allowing the language of painting itself to be the communicator by leaning on its material qualities as a means of conveyance. Sometimes her surfaces take the form of the rectangular canvas, but other times the artist crops, cuts and reduces her canvas to silhouettes of utterances. Though language is central to her concepts and forms, Bertog’s work is equally interested in miscommunication – for Bertog, abstraction preoccupies, and her texts become secondary to painting’s materiality and the non-literal qualities of picture-making.

Young and Restless, Megan McCready, 2011.

Megan McCready

McCready arrives at wall-hanging objects via a background in sculpture, and her most recent body of work emerges from the exciting territory of three-dimensional strategies that conflate within the mien of painting. Her works are produced from swaths of cloth, leather, and vinyl, pulled and stapled over sculptural forms — some plinths, others more like the rectangular praxis of easel painting. Their lush material surfaces – from loose and folded to taught and pinched – reenact the motions of prepping a canvas, or suggest the pliability of a thick impasto. Her post-minimal objects, surfaces and unconventional mark-marking explore spatial concepts and the blur the mannerisms of both painting and sculpture.

Project Index #1: Wall Construction, Matthew Yaeger, 2012

Matthew Yaeger

Functioning as both objects and studio performances, Yaeger’s conglomerations of ascetic, unassuming materials depart from the picture-plane. Sculptural in form and experienced in situ, these arrangements suggest the painting process in its most fundamental, essential state. Some are wall-fixed and others floor-resting, the self-contained, pithy interactions among ordinary, Home Depot-variety materials address painting as an act of construction, as well as art object. Distilled elements from painting, including structural elements like stretchers, or the relationships between local and applied color, operate loosely in space – sometimes literally hanging – creating sculptural references to the geometries and gestures of abstract compositions usually found on canvas.

On Wryness and Precision: A Conversation with Artist Steven Lang

Minneapolis-based artist Steven Lang’s idiosyncratic and hard-to-pin-down artistic practice ranges from collage and photography to social media and performance. The artist is comfortable with his own quirks – like an inside joke he shares with himself – and slyly indulges his deadpan humor, multiple personae and obsessive perfectionism in each project. In this conversation with […]

Steven Lang, photo: Jesse Martin, 2012

Steven Lang, photo: Jesse Martin, 2012

Minneapolis-based artist Steven Lang’s idiosyncratic and hard-to-pin-down artistic practice ranges from collage and photography to social media and performance. The artist is comfortable with his own quirks – like an inside joke he shares with himself – and slyly indulges his deadpan humor, multiple personae and obsessive perfectionism in each project. In this conversation with the artist, Steven Lang lets us in on the joke and the content behind his array of projects.

Jehra Patrick

Steven, you self-identify as a perfectionist; as an artist, is perfection related to adhering to a certain level of skill or craftsmanship in your work, or is more about personal satisfaction?

Steven Lang

I am usually kidding when I self-identify as anything. But yes, I’ve struggled with perfectionism in my work. It helps and it hurts. A balance needs to be struck. If I can’t let things go, I try to stop and look at the work of other artists who know how shake themselves loose when needed. Artists who can get into a new groove and let it ride for a bit. (I’m thinking someone like Mike Kelley vs. someone like Richard Artswager.) Then I go back and see where perfectionism has helped me and where it has hurt me.

Jehra Patrick

Your predisposition and eye for details is clear from earlier collage projects, including optical compositions of pop culture references like Mickey Mouse and Paul Bunyan. Your meticulous approach to these subjects seems contrary to their iconic nature…. Tell me more about these subjects and your pursuit of challenging art forms like micro-collage.

Steven Lang

Well, I actually see icons as an ideal form, a perfect manifestation of type. So, when I approach them as subject matter, the details matter. Not that the figures can’t morph into something else, but something of that ideal has to remain. That’s where being meticulous seems to help. I can’t imagine a sloppy rendition of Mickey Mouse (who is actually a rat if you look closely).

Steven Lang, Double Aught, #1, M.A.G.S. series, digital photograph

Jehra Patrick

The M.A.G.S. series is a nice bridge between your collage work and photographic work, where you make use of a Richard Prince-esque approach to re-photography while including found objects in your compositions. Can you talk about this process?

Steven Lang

I wanted something to do when I was too tired to move, something I could literally set up on my nightstand. That’s where I did a lot of the M.A.G.S. series, all of which I did with my phone camera. Images of the body are compelling, and I like studying the minutiae of printing techniques of any kind. Photographing magazines really reveals the way they are printed (usually four-color halftone). You also pick up on things like fingerprints, gloss and reflection, staples, folds. I love the tactile quality of magazines often more than the content. In terms of found objects, it was something that came from my collage work — incorporating material and letting the layering of information lead to (hopefully) interesting connections.

Steven Lang,Teppanyaki Grill and Supreme Buffet (To Go), $4.99/lb,  pigmented inkjet, 2011

Steven Lang,Teppanyaki Grill and Supreme Buffet (To Go), $4.99/lb, pigmented inkjet, 2011

Jehra Patrick

Comedy also plays an important role in your practice. As with the exaggerated chest hair in the M.A.G.S. series, or the S.C.A.N.S. series, where we see you making art jokes – like a parody Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty – and, at other moments, contemplating the value of technology by dropping entire meals on a scanner bed. How direct is humor in your work? Is it a conceptual interest, or do you feel like comedy is embedded – is it for you, or your audience?

Steven Lang

Q: What did the Fluxus artist say to the critic who was late? A: It’s about time.

Jehra Patrick

Hah! Okay, that was a very appropriate answer.

In addition to humor, I can sense an interest in systems and human behavior in your work. We see this take an autobiographical turn when you include your own behavior in your work, like your affinity for Diet Coke in the C.S.A. project. Talk a bit about your comfort level with revealing personal obsession in My Lonely Condition.

Steven Lang

My Diet Coke addiction was a running joke on Facebook for a long time, and I really wanted to use it as a point of departure in a piece. I had initially thought of saving all the bottles, cans, boxes, and receipts (a la David Hamlow) but decided against that since I work from home and don’t have enough space. Instead, I took the show on the road, so to speak. My Lonely Condition is a fairly light-hearted look at addiction, which of course has a darker side too. In this case, it was also about creating a travel-based photography project in addition to delivering a tangible product for the C.S.A. program.

 

2. Royal Tesoro, Royalton, MN, My Lonely Condition, 2012

2. Royal Tesoro, Royalton, MN, My Lonely Condition, 2012

 

Jehra Patrick

Other times you distance yourself from your work and introduce alter egos and characters, like Sue Earl Lang and Set Van Glen. Do you consider performance through social media to be an extension of your artistic practice?

Steven Lang

Everyone’s online presence is an alter-ego of sorts. But I consider myself an internet-based artist (as opposed to a gallery artist, street artist, book artist, etc.), particularly when it comes to photography.

Jehra Patrick

Your most recent work has taken a shift to photography, in the traditional sense. You are working with multiple camera formats and processes, and it seems like this heavily process-oriented art form would be a good fit for your detail-minded nature. Process aside, talk about your interest in shooting: You are out often, shooting in your own neighborhood and traveling – what are your interests in subject and composition?

Steven Lang

I worked my way into photography in a completely backwards manner. I had ruined my back from so many years of detailed collage work, so I decided to get a camera thinking it would be easy on my body. With very limited experience, I started looking for photographers to emulate, and for ways of looking through a camera at the world. I became attached to the process, and it helped to round out my repertoire of image making. But it also gave me a respect for photography that I didn’t have before. It’s an entire world in itself. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, but because of the nature of the medium, there are bounds: it’s either a physical/mechanical image capture of some sort, or it isn’t. The capture was either happening at a certain time, or it wasn’t. I like that. And I like the triangulation of the photographer, the camera, and the image. The presence of a camera changes the relationship so significantly it’s hard to think outside that triangle the way you can with drawing or collage.

Best Steak House, St. Paul, 2012

Jehra Patrick

You recently participated in a residency at Elsewhere from which you created a photographic project. How did your experience there inform how you continue to shoot?

Steven Lang

My experience at Elsewhere gave me the time, space, and creative license to combine all of the ways I’d been working into a single project, which ultimately became a photo book called A is for Elsewhere. The book is a diary, a typeface, a photo series, and a story all at the same time. I think of storytelling as the primary purpose of art (in its non-ironic mode), so I was glad to be able to bring that into this project too. There are lots of stories at Elsewhere, and a few dozen of them, including my own, ended up in the book. I think if I do more photography and more books, my story will be in each of them in some way. So, as much as I love detail, I’m not a photographer who is necessarily looking to be objective.

 More on Steven Lang:

Steven Lang is currently featured in the Artists in Storefronts project at Frenz Brakes on 28th and Nicollet, has work featured in Someplace Else at Friedman Iverson, and Lang has work featured in the December 18, Family Issue, of MPLSzine. Steven Lang will be the first guest on Salon Saloon’s, “The 2012 Show”, the late show, on Friday, December 28 of this year.

For the banner art of each issue of our twice-monthly newsletter, mnartists.org features a different Minnesota artist who is then profiled here, on the blog. Our Zoom In profiles offer a friendly introduction to Minnesota’s diverse arts community, a peek into the rich variety of work, across disciplines, made by creative individuals living in every corner of the state, one artist at a time.

An Ineffable, Emotional Place: The Landscapes of Tara Costello

Tara Costello’s richly painted panels have a sensibility of recollection — a feeling that you, the viewer, may have seen them somewhere before. You probably have seen her work before if you live in the Twin Cities; a seasoned member of Minneapolis longest-running collective, Rosalux, Tara has exhibited there since 2003.  Or perhaps you’ve been […]

Tara Costello, Span, Venetian Plaster on panel, 2012

Tara Costello, Span, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Tara Costello’s richly painted panels have a sensibility of recollection — a feeling that you, the viewer, may have seen them somewhere before. You probably have seen her work before if you live in the Twin Cities; a seasoned member of Minneapolis longest-running collective, Rosalux, Tara has exhibited there since 2003.  Or perhaps you’ve been to the place her landscapes point to, a nondescript someplace that locates the viewer in a feeling rather than a specific destination. Or perhaps you are familiar with the legacy of abstraction; you may recognize materials and surfaces that look like art objects, with a kind of family resemblance. Tara Costello’s work is produced with and recalls in layers.

Through varying compositional strategies, Tara’s paintings vacillate between familiar and unfamiliar territories, and they invite her viewers to both enter, and then distance themselves from the latitudes she creates. While she uses a painter’s vocabulary, Tara’s facility with the medium comes from an atypical background, in commercial interiors and printmaking, giving her handling of the paint a distinct physicality and awareness for her materials.

Historically, painters parted with painting-as-illusion by exposing the medium’s viscous and drippy nature, or by revealing the tools and process of painting through loose brushwork and exposed canvas. Costello is not working in brushes and canvas. Instead, she applies pigment in Venetian plaster, an interior technique that combines plaster and marble-dust, allowing for rich variances in texture, surface and finish, through application and finishing treatments. Costello uses a trowel to apply the plaster atop wood paneling, working on both constructed and found substrates. She mashes on thick, sludgy layers, then levels them, at times planning for taped off areas of color, other times improvising, allowing pigments and materials to blend in broad swipes, catching on each other, piling and separating, creating grained surfaces like Richter’s squeegeed abstract canvases.

After applying the plaster and working her surfaces, Costello approaches them with a burnishing tool as an oil painter might varnish their surface with a glossy topcoat. The burnishing tool smooths the rough surfaces of the gritty marble dust and creates a glassy, mirrored surface. Through selective burnishing, Costello’s contrasting matte and opalescent surfaces achieve a mirage of depth that can only be detected through a personal encounter, varying from lush, velvety, or shimmering, to organic, raw, muddy, and silt-y.

Heavy Metal, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Heavy Metal, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Beyond its surface attributes, working in plaster gives Costello a level of comfort and incautiousness in approaching her paintings — sometimes working subtractively, tearing back into the plaster with a trowel, perhaps a violent action but also a mark that resonates with the artist’s background as a printmaker. She can also work over these surfaces, repairing any damage, dents, or cuts with a smooth reapplication of plaster, like one might repair a wall with more efficient materials. The metaphors of building, repairing and covering in her work style point to the emotional range of material itself.

Regarding composition, we see Costello audition styles of mid-century American abstraction, discovering these forms and resolving modes of production on her own. The artist works free of historical association in favor of using these methods as a platform for working through emotion and the physical nature of plaster.

In form, Costello’s earlier work emerges from the tradition of abstract expressionism rooted in landscape. She works spontaneously in her handling and with compositional flexibility, producing mutated horizons, detectable pools of bodies of water, splashes of natural and reflected light, all through non-local color. She describes her work as hinting at the feel of the place – an ‘ineffable,’ emotional place – which for Tara is largely autobiographical. Sometimes she geolocates us to the Ballyvaughn’s rolling green hills and shimmering limestone coasts or other times we are third party to a romantic break-up.

Her work evolves into cropped portions, zoomed-in spaces in the landscape. Trees become geometry; lakes become swaths of color; rectangles are characters for barns, trees, amidst color fields. This level of reduction of her subject is akin to the  push-pull of first generation abstract expressionist Hans Hoffman, or aerial landscapes of second generation Ab-Exer Richard Diebenkorn.

Curve, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Curve, Venetian plaster on panel, 2012

Tara’s most recent work takes a more non-objective, but stylized turn. Her rich velvety black panels recall Harvey Quaytman’s geometric arrangements or the intense black on black of Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings. Little color is introduced — perhaps white, or a single shade of green. For Costello, these panels are also emotional, but a means of issuing controlled emotion, providing her with order during personal disorder or emotional challenges. She approaches these panels with a design strategy, but leaves elements of surface and handling to chance and reaction as she continues to work through the piece.

More on Tara Costello

Tara Costello currently has work on view through SOOlocal, a pop-up boutique gallery on Nicollet Avenue and will have an exhibition with Val Jenkins this February at Rosalux Gallery.

 

For the banner art of each issue of our twice-monthly newsletter, mnartists.org features a different Minnesota artist who is then profiled here, on the blog. Our Zoom In profiles offer a friendly introduction to Minnesota’s diverse arts community, a peek into the rich variety of work, across disciplines, made by creative individuals living in every corner of the state, one artist at a time.

 

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.

Zoom In: Dancer/Choreographer and Photographer Megan Mayer

Our newsletter this week features the photograph above, which perfectly captures the colors and textures of Minnesota in fall, taken by Megan Mayer on a recent getaway Up North, to Gooseberry Falls State Park. Mayer is a choreographer, performing artist and photographer based in Minneapolis. She says she’s “drawn to the peripheries of performance… the […]

Megan Mayer, “Bath.” Photograph taken fall 2012 in Gooseberry Falls State Park in Northern Minnesota. Reproduced here courtesy of the artist.

Our newsletter this week features the photograph above, which perfectly captures the colors and textures of Minnesota in fall, taken by Megan Mayer on a recent getaway Up North, to Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Mayer is a choreographer, performing artist and photographer based in Minneapolis. She says she’s “drawn to the peripheries of performance… the moment when someone starts or stops performing and where that switch lives in the body.”  She describes her dance-making as a process inspired by the power of still images and cinematic scenes, saying that her photography is inextricably linked to her creative work in dance. She’s fantastic as an ensemble performer, adept at mining the chemistry of a cast and deploying their strengths and talents to great effect in her choreography. She says she “favors a detailed sensibility over virtuosity” and is primarily “interested in who is doing the moving, and how and why they in particular navigate tasks and interactions.”

“Soft Fences,” photo by Al Hall, courtesy of MANCC.

Mayer was a recent artist-in-residence at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) in Tallahassee, Florida, through a pilot partnership with The McKnight Foundation in collaboration with Springboard for the Arts. She is also a recipient of a 2010 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Choreographers, as well as a 2010 Jerome Foundation Travel Study Grant which she used to work with New York dance artist Douglas Dunn.

Megan Mayer in “Over Time,” a performance work for “Cubicle,” a web-based series by Skewed Visions. Photo by the artist.

Megan Mayer can regularly be seen on stage with Charles Campbell, Angharad Davies, Emily Johnson, Mad King Thomas, Kevin Obsatz, Karen Sherman, Laurie Van Wieren and Chris Yon. Her dances have been commissioned by The Southern Theater, The Walker Art Center and the Minnesota History Center, and she has a growing body of work of dances made for film. She holds a B.A. in Dance from the University of Minnesota.

Relevant performances and related links:

Soft Fences, a new work currently in process, was presented, in part, at the Minnesota Contemporary Presenters’ Platform in September. Soft Fences explores the euphoria and terror of space travel as a metaphor for personal change, investigating imagery of isolation and the disquieting emotional experience of being stuck in transition between gravity and momentum. The project has been created with a production team consisting of Charles Campbell, Angharad Davies, Elliott Durko Lynch, Kevin Obsatz, Stephanie Stoumbelis and Greg Waletski; the work was developed during her MANCC residency.

Coming up: a remount of 2010′s You might be expecting me, a solo she choreographed for Nic Lincoln is slated for May 2013 at the Tek Box at Cowles Center for Performing Arts. Mayer is also working on a new duet by Angharad Davies which will be performed at her show in June 2013 at the Red Eye.

Find out more about past, present and future projects on her website: http://meganmayer.com/

Zoom In: Conceptual Artist Harriet Bart

Atop this week’s issue of the mnartists.org newsletter is a detail from Minneapolis-based conceptual artist Harriet Bart’s 2011 installation, Autiobiography. You can currently see a selection of Bart’s work – on loss, war and rituals of memory – in person in Between Echo and Silence. It’s the first major exhibition in Macalester College’s new Law […]

Harriet Bart, “Autobiography” (detail), test tubes, corks, beeswax, aluminum, transmuted miscellany, logue. 2011. (Photo: Rik Sferra, courtesy of the artist.)

Atop this week’s issue of the mnartists.org newsletter is a detail from Minneapolis-based conceptual artist Harriet Bart’s 2011 installation, Autiobiography. You can currently see a selection of Bart’s work – on loss, war and rituals of memory – in person in Between Echo and Silence. It’s the first major exhibition in Macalester College’s new Law Warschaw Gallery, housed in the commons of the college’s recently renovated Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center. (Incidentally, I reviewed this show for Knight Arts earlier in the week; you can read my take on Between Echo and Silence here.)

Harriet Bart is a guest lecturer, curator, and founding member of the Traffic Zone Center for Visual Arts in Minneapolis. Her work has been shown extensively throughout the United States and Germany, and she has completed more than a dozen public art commissions in the United States, Japan, and Israel.  She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Bush Foundation, McKnight Foundation, MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, NEA Arts Midwest, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. In 2012 she received a project research grant from Forecast Public Art and the McKnight Foundation. Since 2000, Bart has also published seven fine-press books and won two Minnesota Book Awards. Her work is included in many museum, university, and private collections, including: Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Weisman Art Museum, Jewish Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, and Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry. She is represented by Driscoll Babcock, New York.

Harriet Bart, “Enduring Afghanistan,” dog tags, ball chain, chain link, vintage ledger with fine press ledger pages, Koran stand, steel table. 2008-ongoing. (Photo: Rik Sferra, courtesy of the artist.)

About her work, the artist writes:

For more than thirty years, I have had a deep and abiding interest in the personal and cultural expression of memory.  It is at the core of my work. Using bronze and stone, wood and paper, books and words, everyday and found objects, I seek to signify a site, mark an event, and otherwise draw attention to imprints of the past as they live in the present.

Each of my extensive bodies of work begins with fascination (with a subject or an object), and moves forward with intensely focused research that leads to the creation of a body of work.

It is my intent to create evocative content through the narrative power of objects, the theater of installation, and the intimacy of the artists’ book.

As a cultural storyteller, I have created a number of installations, mixed media objects, and books that explore the personal and cultural expression of memory.

Harriet Bart, “Drawn in Smoke” (detail), 160 drawings of smoke and ink on paper, commemorating each of those killed 1911 NYC Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. (Photo: Rik Sferra, courtesy of the artist)

Related links and information:
Between Echo and Silence by Harriet Bart will be on view through November 4 in the Law Warschaw Gallery at Macalester College, Fine Arts Commons 105, 1600 Grand Ave., St. Paul. The closing reception will include “Soundings for Harriet Bart,” a poetry reading by Nor Hall and Rain Taxi Review of Books editor, Eric Lorberer, at 4 p.m. in the gallery on November 4. For additional information, gallery hours, and directions visit www.macalester.edu/gallery.

You can see more of Harriet Bart’s work online on her website, www.harrietbart.com, and, of course, at mnartists.org/harriet_bart. You can hear an audio interview with the artist online, recorded for KFAI’s “10,000 Fresh Voices” program by Britt Aamodt. Twin Cities Public Television’s Minnesota Original aired a profile of Bart as well, which you can watch online here.