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On “Painting in the Present Tense”

Minnesota-based artist David Lefkowitz shares his thoughts following the opening-day panel discussion for Painter Painter. The panel discussion that initiated the festivities surrounding the Walker Art Center’s new exhibition of recent abstract painting, Painter Painter, was lively and entertaining. It was great to reconnect, visit, and argue with so many artists from the Twin Cities who […]

Minnesota-based artist David Lefkowitz shares his thoughts following the opening-day panel discussion for Painter Painter.

The panel discussion that initiated the festivities surrounding the Walker Art Center’s new exhibition of recent abstract painting, Painter Painter, was lively and entertaining. It was great to reconnect, visit, and argue with so many artists from the Twin Cities who showed up for the occasion, but my takeaway experience of the content of the talk was ultimately frustration, as the critics barely mentioned the work in the exhibition, and that set a tone for discussion that I found puzzling. Their comments certainly sparked an opportunity for reflection, and for that I’m grateful, but for a variety of logistical reasons, I didn’t get the chance to continue the conversation as much as I’d have liked, so I’ll make a stab at doing so here.

Painters_Painting

Digital still from Painters Painting, 1972

Questions I Wish I’d Asked but Was Unable to Formulate at the Time

1. Why did panelists Michelle Grabner, Jan Verwoert, and Bruce Hainley frame the discourse about painting today around the long discredited–though admittedly persistent–master-narrative of  High Modernism? They mostly seemed to presuppose artists today are still reacting to the heroic-male-autonomous-formalist-genius-seeking-art’s-essence paradigm.

Even Michelle Grabner, who admitted (bemoaned?) that her students today are aggressively unresponsive to Painters Painting, the 1972 documentary featuring prominent AbEx and Pop artists, still featured a sped-up version of the film to set the initial context, so the proceedings began with images of Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, and Frank Stella.

I share a sense of discouragement in the lack of interest I often see in my own students in any engagement with these narratives or even a mild curiosity about the urgency with which those painters grappled with the process and history of capital-p Painting.

2. Has painting, in particular abstract painting, really floundered in a cultural, or stylistic, stasis for the past 40 or 50 years? I’m not so sure. How do artists like Elizabeth Murray, David Reed, Terry Winters, Polly Apfelbaum, Ross Bleckner, Philip Taaffe, Ingrid Calame, Amy Sillman, and countless others who have explored those boundaries fit in the history?

3. Whatever happened to context?  In the panel discussion, there was little or no acknowledgement of the physical and spatial power of the white cube and/or the institutional authority of the Walker, or similarly pedigreed institutions, in conferring the status of “painting” and “art” on whatever is thoughtfully arranged under its umbrella.

Pollock_Murray

Jackson Pollock in his studio. Photo credit: Martha Holmes, Life. Elizabeth Murray in her studio. Photo credit: Art21, PBS.

Follow-up Questions and Observations

1. An artist whose work is in the show needled the panelists not to be so evasive and to have an opinion about the work in the show. Jan Verwoert’s answer was partly legit–i.e., that he needed more time to absorb, digest the work–but also partly defensive and patronizing, as when he suggested that she shouldn’t “expect the critic to be the father-figure meting out tough love for bad behavior.” I felt the questioner was more seeking some insight into these critics’ individual criteria for evaluation in this context, rather than seeking definitive blanket approval or disapproval.

2. A young audience member asked something to the effect of, “If anything can be painting, doesn’t discussion that even hints at evaluation become meaningless?”

It’s a valid question, but hardly a new one. Rosalind Krauss asked it in relation to sculpture in Sculpture in the Expanded Field in 1979, and Arthur Danto posed that question more broadly, also nearly 30 years ago, in characterizing art after Warhol’s Brillo Box as “art after art” (or at least art after a particular narrative about art’s quest to discover its own raison d’être). Given that, how do we contextualize changes in the form that have taken place since then? How does the work in this show carve out new territory in painting? Is it even possible to do so? Or, is this the wrong question? Is it really a question for the curators? That would have been interesting to hear about.

boodyleif

Digital still from Soda, Boody & Le1f, 2012

And closely related: When is the definition of an activity, medium, genre–say, painting–a helpful parameter to describe the boundaries for a shared, common experience, and when is it a shackle constraining the freedom of an artist to explore, to challenge assumptions about the meaning of a thing? It’s one thing for an artist to declare a found urinal a sculpture, forcing a reconsideration of what Art is; its another for a critic to refer to a music video as painting. (Bruce Hainley started his presentation by showing Boody & Le1f’s hilariously meta-raunchy Soda that was not, to my knowledge, presented as such.) As loath as I am to agree with Clement Greenberg’s rigid adherence to the “essential” characteristics of a medium, the decision to put the work under the rubric of “painting” raises the question: What is gained or illuminated by such a broad assertion of inclusiveness?

Introducing the Artists and Teams of Mini Golf 2013

mnartists.org and the Walker Art Center are pleased to present our third year of Walker on the Green: Artist-Designed Mini Golf, opening this May 23 and running through labor day. To celebrate our public launch, mnartists.org is excited to introduce the 13 artists and collaborative teams that will be producing 15 holes, composing two 7-hole […]

mnartists.org and the Walker Art Center are pleased to present our third year of Walker on the Green: Artist-Designed Mini Golf, opening this May 23 and running through labor day. To celebrate our public launch, mnartists.org is excited to introduce the 13 artists and collaborative teams that will be producing 15 holes, composing two 7-hole courses with a shared 8th hole. Situated in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, this year’s call for artists encouraged garden-themed holes to celebrate the MGS’s 25th Anniversary. The course was selected by a team of Walker Art Center curators and staff, and presents a well-rounded roster of artists, architects, craftsmen, and designers, as well as a diversity in hole concepts, strategies for game-play, and new spins on traditional obstacles, skills and elements of chance.

LOCUS Architecture - Gopher Hole

Gopher Hole, Locus Architecture 

Locus Architecture, of Minneapolis, crafts meaningful architecture for clients who care about their spaces and what they represent. They are true to their passions – modern architecture, sustainable design, community participation, innovative construction, detailed craftsmanship, and beautiful space. Gopher Hole challenges golfers to combine chance, putting skill, and physical analysis. The hole combines a converging chute, an elevated centripetal cone, gopher tunnels, and an obstacle-laden putting green. Can you predict where your ball will pop up?

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Roaming Hole Gardens, Makesh!t

Dubbed a weekly artistic free-for-all in St. Paul,” MAKESH!T is a free-form collective founded in 2010 with a mission of exploring the social and process-based aspects of art and collaborative making. Recent projects include rubylith screenprinting, slide and film manipulation, collage, letterpress, linocut, improvisational music, concrete casting, rubber stamp-making, outdoor projections and public drawing. The collective’s output reflects the wide-ranging interests and backgrounds of its members — Lucas Alm, Justin Heideman, Aaron Marx, Jake Nassif, Craig Phillips, Paul Schmelzer and Witt Siasoco — who are architects, collectors, writers, designers and media enthusiasts.

Deceptively simple in design and appearance, Roaming Hole Gardens transforms the familiar mini golf experience with a crucial twist: the hole roams. By moving topiary plugs from one hole to another, players change the object of the round for everyone, thereby altering the competitive and strategic landscape. The course’s artificial trees, shrubs and flowers are not merely aesthetic adornments, but mobile equipment. To play, you need to learn only one new rule: On your turn, hit your ball OR move the hole.

Leftkowitz_mohring_18_holes_in_one                                               

18 Holes in One, David Lefkowitz and Stephen Mohring

David Lefkowitz and Stephen Mohring are artists and Professors in the Art Department of Carleton College. Lefkowitz’s work in painting, installation, and mixed media addresses the blurry boundary between the human-built environment and the natural world, and his paintings of trompe l’oeil wall fixtures appeared in Lifelike at the Walker Art Center. Mohring’s sculpture combines traditional woodworking elements and digital technology. He also works as the resident set designer for Ten Thousand Things a Twin Cities based company that brings lively, intelligent theater to people with little access to the wealth of the arts.

18 Holes in One is a physical manifestation of an overlay of all 18 legendary greens as Augusta National Golf Course, home of the Master’s Tournament. The resulting composite will thrill and challenge both the novice and seasoned mini-golfer alike with eighteen potential targets on an undulating surface.

Carpenter_Donovan_foosball

Garden Gnome Foosball, Nicola Carpenter, Bryan Carpenter and Susanne Dehnhard Carpenter 

In 1998 Nicola, Bryan and Susanne had their first collaboration, a Peacock inspired Go-kart for the Father’s Day Art Soap Box Derby sponsored by the Soap Factory. Bryan brought his architectural background, Susanne her enthusiasm, and Nicola the whimsy of a seven year old. This family collaboration presents a mash-up of mini golf and foosball: the course first makes a half circle turn, banking noisily off of submerged wheelbarrows onto a playing field upon which the player and/or friends of the player may help the ball to its goal with assists from garden gnome strikers.

 zen garden hole

Zen Rock (The) Garden, Sarah Balk McGrill and Wesley Thayne Petersen

Sarah Balk McGrill is a photographer and owner, curator, consultant, and designer at McGrill Art Associates, an Art Consultation Group, where she produces creative environments for commercial and healthcare organizations through visual arts and exhibition programs. Wesley Thayne Petersen is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Sustainable Design at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and owns a small construction company in Minneapolis, and values sharing the importance of sustainability as a core concept for living and building.

Zen Gardens are intended to imitate the intimate essence of nature, rather then reproduce nature’s appearance, as well as inspire meditation about the true meaning of life. Zen Rock (The) Garden brings this concept to mini golf, adding an element of playfulness and a focus on sustainable design.

 Concept Illustration

Garden Maze, David Hultman and David Wulfman

Dave Hultman started his own design, machining, and fabricating business after working 28 years for the University of Minnesota where he designed and built research equipment. His current scope of work includes medical devices and scientific research equipment, furniture and building renovation. David Wulfman is a principal research and development engineer at Boston Scientific where he designs new products, processes, and material systems for medical devices. David was founder and principal at Facture Design, St. Louis, holds over 10 patents, including a track lighting system, a mechanical system for hard disk drives, as well as therapeutic medical devises, and is currently a PhD candidate. Hultman and Wulfman’s hole consists of a two dimensional, bi-directional pivoting frame, on the surface of which is embellished with a patterned garden maze motif, comparable to a tilting labyrinth game, in this case, the golf ball is used in lieu of a marble.

 

Rock! Garden, Aaron Dysart

In Dysart’s studio practice, the sculptor often parodies natural formations like tree branches or rocks, recreating and amending them with synthetic materials, such as wood glue – as well as the connotations of the alien material – often reimagining them as hybrids, functional objects and prosthetics. As a natural extension of his studio work (yeah, pun intended), Dysart will fashion his mini golf hole from musical fiberglass boulders, each coated in a glittering finish, appropriated from electric guitars and drum kits. We think these Dysart’s mini concert hole will be a rockin’, sparkely counterpart to Jim Hodges’ boulders and the infamous outdoor concert located on the adjacent hill.

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Can You Handle This?, Tom Loftus and Robin Schwartzman

Robin Schwartzman (aka the Pink Putter) is an installation artist, a CNC Router technician and an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Minnesota. Tom Loftus (aka Mr. Tee) runs Modern Radio Record Label, works as a Career Services advisor at McNally Smith College of Music and is an organizer of creative endeavors. Tom and Robin share their love of mini-golf through A Couple of Putts, a blog that follows their adventures as they play and review courses around the country.

Loftus and Schwartzman create a giant watering can, incorporating kitsch and a combination of skill and chance. Can You Handle This? instructs players to loop through the watering can’s handle, through the can, out the spout and onto the lower putting green among glimmering ‘water’ and giant flowers.

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Swarm, 
Alyssa Baguss and Alison Hiltner

In their individual artistic practices, Alyssa Baguss and Alison Hiltner are drawn to chronicling the histories of technological artifacts and how these objects can inform us of what is yet to come. Baguss’ work has been exhibited in the Twin Cities and regionally, most recently as a part of the Admire exhibition at Form+Content Gallery and Open Door 8 at Rosalux Gallery. Hiltner’s credits include solo exhibitions at Spike Gallery in New York, the Museum of Surgical Sciences in Chicago, a residency at Sculpture Space, two Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grants and she was named one of the 2011/12 Jerome Foundation Fellows.

Swarm explores a failed agrarian culture, the landscape now arid and repurposed by new inhabitants whose only visual imprint is their architecture. Players are challenged to work their way through the landscape as an ominous hum echoes through the chambers of the structure, leaving players uneasy of what resides within. Through craterous insect nests into watershed carved alluvial flats the players will traverse this par 4 environment of the future’s past.

Carpenter_Donovan_Be_A_Sculpture

Be A Sculpture!, Nicola Carpenter, Bryan Carpenter, Susanne Dehnhard Carpenter and Sean Donovan

Artist Nicola Carpenter works in different mediums including video, digital photography, sculpture, and textiles, exploring themes of memory. Sean Donovan is a multimedia artist working with new media technologies, sound, and is interested the relations made by collaborative participation. Nicola’s parents Bryan and Susanne are delighted to join in collaborative production. Be A Sculpture! invites fellow putters to engage with mini-golf using their bodies to obstruct game-play: you become the obstacles for your friends! Taking cues from sculptures found in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, participants are invited to place their feet upon footprints on the green in this part-performance, part-sculptural, interactive hole.

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Earth Avenues, Stormi Balise and Kyle Potter

Artist and painter Stormi Kai Balise and conceptual artist Kyle Potter have an outstanding collaborative practice through working on Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement.  In Earth Avenues,

players walk up a constructed hill to tee off into a flower bed, then watch their ball tumble through an unpredictable subterranean world laid out by ants before rolling out onto the green.

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Holey Lighted, Jeffrey Pauling and Tyler Whitehead

Jeffrey Pauling and Tyler Whitehead began working with each other while attending Clemson University for their Masters of Architecture degree in 2009.  Both have a developed a passion for design and fabrication specifically dealing with the intersection of technology and craft.  Jeff and Tyler are both currently designers at Cuningham Group Architecture in Minneapolis.

Holey Lighted calls into question the nature of nature. By using digital fabrication techniques and non-organic material, the hole attempts to recreate the sensation of a shaded canopy in summer, while the player navigates multiple folded steel planes. The constructive forces of nature help inform the overall form, structure and experience.

Unnasch_Bagatelle

Le Bagatelle de Bagatelle, Karl Unnasch

Karl Unnasch creates hobbyist artworks from his rural outpost in Pilot Mound, Minnesota. He is known for his Guild-of-One mobile workbench where the public is encouraged to drop off acculturated ephemerae for the artist to re-contextualize and/or re-engineer. Le Bagatelle de Bagatelle, designed as a game board known as a bagatelle, is played as a tribute to the pivotal history (circa 1770’s) where French parlor games of skill developed into gambling games of chance in an era of opulence and excess. The playing field consists of a small-scale version of the Chateau de Bagatelle and its accompanying gardens.

2 Holes, titles TBA, University of Minnesota Students

These holes will be designed by students from the University of Minnesota’s Arts 3390 course, Sculpture Methods and Practice: Site, Environment, and Community Engagement, taught by Chris Larson.

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

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.

Reviewing the Reviewer: The Conclusion of our Conversation Between Artist Paula Mann and Critic Lightsey Darst

Editor’s note: In February 2012, mnartists.org’s dance critic, Lightsey Darst, reviewed Far Afield, a then-new dance performance by Penelope Freeh and Paula Mann with Steve Paul and Time Track Productions staged in late January at Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis. A short time after the review was published, Paula Mann wrote to Lightsey in response; […]

Steve Paul, Cyclotron from The Train Wreck is Proceeding Nicely. Pictured: Paula Mann. Photo by William Cameron, courtesy of Time Track Productions.

Editor’s note: In February 2012, mnartists.org’s dance critic, Lightsey Darst, reviewed Far Afield, a then-new dance performance by Penelope Freeh and Paula Mann with Steve Paul and Time Track Productions staged in late January at Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis.

A short time after the review was published, Paula Mann wrote to Lightsey in response; Lightsey wrote her back, and asked if she’d like to embark on an experiment, a conversation about the work, between the reviewer and reviewed, undertaken for publication here. And so began a fascinating, weeks-long exchange between the two — on art and dance and the balancing act of bringing critical judgment to bear on both; on audience perception and creative intentions, and the mettle-testing value of flopping in public. We’re publishing their back-and-forth in two installments.

You can read the first half of the conversation here.

Find the second half of their exchange below.

Related links and information: Lightsey Darst’s column on local dance last week reflected on a new collaborative, multimedia dance work by Time Track Productions, Here and After, featuring choreography by Paula Mann and media imagery by Steve Paul, with original music by Michelle Kinney (Jelloslave). The work was performed at TEK BOX  in Minneapolis September 27 through 30, 2012. You can read the review of this new work, Here and After, on mnartists.org now.

*****

From: Paula Mann
To: Lightsey Darst
Subject: Where’s a forum for artists to talk about what they’re attempting to create?

Hi Lightsey,

First of all, just want to say that I think this conversation is immensely valuable to me as an individual artist and hopefully to others in the community. In fact, it has taken me a while to respond because there is just so much I want to say. There really isn’t a forum for artists to state what they were attempting to create. After working with young artists for over 20 years, I’m going to venture the following generalization: Most dance artists are extreme perfectionists. And, of course, we are all trained that way, and there are real-world reasons for this; the same thing applies to creation of a work. Initially, I live in the world of ideas while creating; it’s an exciting place where anything is possible and perfect. Then, you actually have to make the work, with whatever limitations are present — be they money, time, or energy. I’ve never had a piece turn out exactly the same way as I imagined it (‘O, The Humanity’ was supposed to have 20 extra people in it, etc.), and because I value the imagination as a real source for my work, there is always an uncomfortable gap between what I wished to create and what was actually created. I would like to get better at this (big sigh).

Now, on to the question of reviewing dance for public education and/or consumption: I hate to admit that I was around back then, but in the 1980s and 90s we all read reviews, and they seemed to have an impact on our careers. A good review could mean more audience, money at the box office, getting noticed by a presenter and, it could add to your artistic persona. At least, that was the game we all seemed to be playing. One person’s opinion (educated or not) had some power then.

Who reads reviews now? I can’t be sure. I know I do. It’s difficult to get my students at the university to read reviews, unless it’s required in the syllabus. Is there just too much information to consume and not enough file space left in our brains?  And getting back to your question about the real effects of technology, I’m going to step out on a proverbial limb here and say we (as humans) might have just reached a state of total brain-fry. Or maybe we will soon. Jump cut to me as a teacher, trying to help people create choreography, which requires some inward reflection. To heighten creativity, research has shown that we need to cultivate a more diffused consciousness at times, contrary to the minuscule focus necessary to watch and respond to and on our techno-devices. Simply put, we need to let our minds wander more, silence.

But the question of the purpose of reviewing and recording an event persists. How much weight does an opinion in print have? I know artists who never read reviews. More power to them, but I can’t seem to manage that, and…. I’m curious. Now, with the potential for many more voices to enter the conversation through online blogs or tweeting out short statements, I think it’s a good time to reevaluate the [critical] process.

So, a review could be a starting point for a discussion (among many diverse voices) — about the work itself and about making the work and the overall effect and place dance/movement/performance has in our society. If an audience knows more about the artist and the process used to create a work, how will it affect the audience’s experience?

A small anecdote: In 2005, Steve and I made a piece called The Train Wreck Is Proceeding Nicely — a mess of a piece to be sure, but it was so much fun to try. I think I was at my most creative, really taking risks by doing things I did not know how to do well — and I take full responsibility for that. I did try to edit the work when I realized how much information I was trying to impart, but I ran out of time and, quite frankly, perspective. Camille [LeFevre] (writing then for the Minneapolis Star-Tribuneabsolutely hated it, as it did not live up our last piece; I think your review of that show, Lightsey, was mixed (which is always OK). And after watching it, Philip Bither [performing arts curator for Walker Art Center] has not come to see any of my work since.

Ah, the harsh realities of our world. You might say, “So what, you kept working?” — and so I did, but am I working a little bit safer and thinking about audience reaction more [after that experience]? I learned a valuable personal lesson then, and I won’t go into detail, but I’ll say this: If you’ve never had a public flop, you really ought to try it — it tests your mettle.

1) About movement: I’ve looked at the role of movement vocabulary from a multitude of perspectives, and I’ve experimented a lot, too. I was trained in choreography at NYU by modernists and post–modernists. There, I saw these methodologies intertwine. Movement was developed to deliver the emotional content of the piece and sometimes the movement was just there, its reason for being not always apparent. I’ve always been able to create movement through how I move. In 2000, I stripped out all extraneous movement except what was driven and devised by character. But lately I’ve been revisiting the question of movement: What is it for? How does it function in a piece? Certainly, there’s a specific movement vocabulary — but it’s also about structure, ideas, and the movement all woven together into a whole. Your question remains: How can I, as choreographer, help the audience perceive, know, and understand what is important about that vocabulary?

2) Even though I love technology, or the images that it produces, there is always a non-technology impetus [for my work]. That said — yeah, I admit to sometimes being overwhelmed by the collaboration [between media and disciplines]; and in O, the Humanity, Robert and I were working a long time before media entered the picture. In fact, we didn’t add the media [to the work] until much later. And by saying that you weren’t sure “if I knew it or the piece knew it,” I think that might translate into: I could use more clarity; that is, to be very sure of what I was saying or say it better.

3) Yes and no. And I have no idea if the sci-fi wanderings of my imagination (or Hollywood screen writers) will really come to pass. I do wonder where we are headed as I walk down the street, and everyone I pass seems preoccupied with some device. I guess, I’d rather be occupied by the musings of my own mind, but there it is: What a difference a generation can make. Even if I’m smart enough to control the craziness of my own technology, I can’t separate myself from the rest of the world, or observations of how we, as a people, might be changing. And besides, I’m curious to see how it all turns out. About not buying the premise of the work: Well, that is the most difficult of all concerns, because the premise is my life, and the reason for that is probably my own choreographic blind spot. Now, if I could only figure out what that reason is…?

4) I probably reacted too strongly to the word “bourgeois,” which means, as I understand it, to be part of the elite. I’m a white, middle-aged, low-income artist who often wonders why she didn’t make smarter financial choices when she was younger. I consider myself a part of the 99%, and I’d like to see real change happen, socially and economically. But everything seems driven by commodity now, even art. How are we being controlled by what we think we should buy, or the art we think we should make? A student recently asked me to play ‘Words with Friends’ with him. I had to ask, “What kind of device do I need? An iPhone? Sorry, I have only a regular cell phone. iPhones are too expensive and seem like a waste of time.: Student looks at me and blinks, not knowing how to answer. For sure, I’m an alien creature (a.k.a. old).

I did kind of sense you were talking about the characters as being bourgeois, but since we use media as a way to deliver images, primarily, we are making a statement about technology simply by using it. And to use it, to be driven crazy by it, you have to be able to buy it.

Let’s keep talking,

Paula

*****

From: Lightsey Darst
To: Paula Mann
RE: A new paradigm for reviewing?

Hi, Paula!

I pulled this line out of your letter, because I find it really compelling: “There really isn’t a forum for artists to state what they were attempting to create.”

Someone’s bound to object that the program notes are exactly that forum, but we know it isn’t true. What you’re doing in this exchange, how you’re thinking about what you put into the work and how it turned out, we don’t get to see that at all. But why not? It’s fascinating and it’s instructive. Even being “on the inside” I’m not always sure how things work, what’s pivotal for an artist’s career and how that affects the artist’s development, etc. How could we know more about this?

Your email hints at a way: We can alter the reviewing paradigm to include just this sort of exchange we’re embarked on as a regular part of the discussion around dance… except, that it’s possible no one will read it. Because, as you point out, who reads reviews now? Well, I’m not sure. I can say that when I post my articles on Facebook (more technology, I know how you love that), the articles that get the most response are invariably the personal ones — articles that go in-depth with my or someone else’s experience, that pursue the intimate side of art.

Articles, in short, like this one …

And, to make a possibly over-neat bridge (I think I’ve revealed my weakness for the smooth transition) to the topic of technology, perhaps the saving grace of all this technology might be its capacity for intimacy. Here are all these new spaces, and, yes, they tend to drive us into shallow and commodified communications; but they also allow us (if we’re persistent and clever) a lot of freedom. Hmmm: How does that relate to what you’re saying about using the technology to critique it?

A deeper idea’s coming out for me as I reread your emails: Criticism can be helpful. You’re clearly constantly looking for ways to improve your work, and it sounds as if you’d like to use public and critical perception and feedback for that purpose. It sounds obvious, but I hardly hear anybody say anything like that. Choreographers and artists don’t seem to want to admit that they could use help, and reviewers (this one included) would rather not assume such a presumptuous role. And it seems to me that we usually treat a performance as a thing in itself — accomplished, complete — rather than as part of an artist’s ongoing development.

I’m wondering how this feels from your side: Is there a prohibition on commenting on your own work this way, in public, on revealing your side of it?

Yours in dance,

Lightsey

*****

From: Paula Mann
To: Lightsey Darst
Subject: Power to the people

Hi Lightsey,

Our final exchange and I still have so much to say (and not much time)!

Here goes: I think it’s interesting that most people don’t have the opportunity to understand the process of making art, an insider’s view, so to speak. What actually happens when creating something from nothing? I’ve been fascinated by this process, in myself and others, for some time. (I’m researching where ideas come from: intersections of brain science and creativity.)

In my mind, generally speaking, a piece has unending potential to evolve. One could work on a piece throughout a lifetime and never finish, the work being a constant reflection of your consciousness at that time. (I think there was a movie with Phillip Seymour Hoffman that took on this topic.) This wouldn’t work, for practical reasons, but sometimes I like to fantasize about what kind of art would be created if the limitations of money and time were out of the picture. But limitations can sometimes produce a heightened awareness and great results: You know you’re working against time, and you absolutely have to make something happen. I’ve spent many years awake in the middle of the night, thinking through my rehearsal for the next day.

I’m glad you feel that making this (process-oriented) information available to the public would be helpful. I don’t think this kind of response can completely covered by a talk-back with the audience or in program notes, but maybe in another format…Likewise, I think it is important for artists to get a glimpse of their work through another’s eyes. And, yes, I would like my work to get better, but one has to ask: Better for whom? For what audience? I know the marketplace, and thinking about that doesn’t make me feel more creative. I think we all want people to like our work; if you truthfully don’t care, I would like to award you with some kind of Detached Creator award. So, I care, but as I get older, I do care less. I fully understand that all opinions (no matter how educated) are subjective; each person registers experiences differently, through their own unique perspective.

Finally, as to effect of technology in our personal lives… this is way too complicated for me to take up in the space I have left here. But I agree with you about the potential change in intimacy level allowed through social media. I’m truly excited that people (assuming they have access) around the world can voice their support and cumulative political power to change our world (to start a revolution, for instance).

Growing up near Detroit in the 1960s, I heard this phrase constantly: Power to the people. Sounds a bit outdated, but I think it’s happening now.  People are taking their power back. The awareness of the creative spark that exists in each of us is fundamental to understanding this innate power.

Thanks for a great exchange — I hope we can do something like this again in the future!

Paula

*****

Below are some scenes from the 2005 performance noted above, The Train Wreck is Proceeding Nicely:

Loose Change – “It Is What It Is!” comic by Todd Balthazor

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

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

Balthazor also works as a guard at the Walker Art Center, and draws on his experiences behind the scenes at the museum in his weekly comic strip for mnartists.org, It Is What It Is.  (Click the image above to enlarge it.)

Field Trip! A Celebration of Art and Nature Returns

Is it really September? The State Fair has come and gone, #catvidefests were watched and LOLed at, I hung out with salamanders and hawks, drew Death Metal logos, and rolled six-sided die with costumed children and colleagues, handed out crates of art to delighted collectors, got web-wise, and still have no idea who are on […]

Is it really September? The State Fair has come and gone, #catvidefests were watched and LOLed at, I hung out with salamanders and hawks, drew Death Metal logos, and rolled six-sided die with costumed children and colleagues, handed out crates of art to delighted collectors, got web-wise, and still have no idea who are on the Twins… basically most of the summer has been a blur!

While it went by fast, I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate the end of summer and welcome fall colors and ambitions then with a day trip to Silverwood Park.  Join mnartists.org and Silverwood Park with a day of nature and art with the return of Field Trip! Hosted at Silverwood Park situated in St. Anthony, MN,  – just north of Minneapolis, and so close you can’t-believe-you-haven’t-been-there-before! – this years fall fest includes a line up of all-day, outdoor fun for artists and families.

Mark your calendar’s for Saturday, September 22, and come try your hand at fort building, collaborative art projects and other creative play. Don’t forget to hang around for the live music and nature-inspired poetry readings. Stay for a while or spend the entire day playing at the park. Pack a picnic, relax on a blanket and celebrate our local artistic community in this awesome natural setting.

Nature and Nurture, Noon – 8:00 p.m.
Silverwood Gallery

In conjunction with Field Trip, Silverwood Park and mnartists.org invited local artists and their children to participate in a gallery show in a celebration of art and family through collaborative art making. The show is on view September 13 – September 30 in the Silverwood Park Gallery.

Silverwood Beach (image courtesy Silverwood Park)

Sarah Peters and the Sea Clamp , 1 – 3 p.m.
Silverwood Beach
Row around Silverwood Lake in a hand-made Portuguese-style dinghyand pick up a ‘zine with instructions on how to build your own boat.

Canoeing on Silver Lake, noon – 4:00 p.m.
Silverwood Beach
Enjoy a FREE paddle on Silver Lake!  Head to the beach for a leisurely float, beautiful scenery and even a water bound sculpture or two.

Fort Building, Noon – 5:00 p.m.
Dyers Garden
Channel your inner child and create forts among Silverwood’s trees using natural elements.  No secret passwords needed to participate, just a little creativity.

To Dye For: Revived, Noon – 5:00 p.m.
Dyers Garden
Delve into the nature of plant pigments and hammer out hues with plant samples from Silverwood Park!  Personalize a piece of fabric from our sculptural installation and incorporate it into a fort or performance of your own.

(image courtesy of Silverwood)

Treasure Map, Noon – 5:00 p.m.
Begin at Veranda
Families!  Grab a Silverwood treasure map and hit the trails for an artful adventure your young ones are sure to enjoy.

Letterbox Hunt, Noon – 5:00 p.m.
Begin at Veranda
Test your treasure-seeking ability by following descriptive clues toward a hidden letterbox. Once you find the box, stamp your paper with the hand-carved stamp and return to the Visitor Center to receive a prize!

Art and Nature Hike, 1:00 & 3:00 p.m.
Meet at the entrance to the Visitor Center
Discover more about the artists who have contributed their creativity to the trails. You might even meet a real artist or two!

I Spy Silverwood, Noon – 5:00 p.m.
Veranda
Do you see what I see?  Peer through the golden picture plane to solve the riddles and spy with your eye all of the amazing things happening at Field Trip today.

Art on Foot: Sculpture and Poetry, Noon – 8:00 p.m.
Park Trails
Take map and go on a self-guided tour of the many artworks and audio poetry installed throughout the park created by Minnesota artists and poets. Find sculptures by Aaron Dysart, Alonso Sierralta, Richard Bonk, Sean Connaughty, Alexa Horochowski, Al Wadzinski, John Fleischer, Andrew MacGuffie, and Mark O’Brien. Listen to the new Poetry Trail including Ed Bok Lee, Guante, Joyce Sutphen, May Lee Yang, Clarence White, and Maggie Ryan Sandford

Yours Truly, Minnesota, Noon – 5:00 p.m.
Veranda
Come rediscover the post office and the physical act of letter writing with Jenni Undis from local letterpress studio Lunalux.  Create one-of-a-kind correspondence to share your Minnesota Nice with a stranger from another state via the USPS.  Special letter making and decorating supplies will be on hand for postal personalization.

The Conversationalist, Taylor Baldry, 12:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Veranda
In the age of Facebook, smartphones and Twitter, face-to-face conversation is becoming a dying art. The Conversationalist invites guests to sit down and select a from a topics menu (or suggest their own) and have a conversation without the aid of social media or technology. Be reminded of what it was like to have a face-to-face conversation in the Digital Age. Topic du jour: Time Travel

Lawn Games, Noon – 6:30 p.m.
Great Lawn
Grab friends (or friendly strangers) and start a game of bocce ball, lawn Jenga, or tug of war.  Play with a giant parachute, gigantic bubbles and even give hula hoops a shot.

Traveling Art Emporium, Noon – 5:00 p.m.
Great Lawn
Stop by Rage to Order’s mini art carnival for free art activities and live demonstrations by professional St. Paul artists! Activities include projects you can take home and community sculptures made out of natural and recycled materials!

Clay Olympics, Noon – 5:00 p.m.
Great Lawn
Not nearly as serious as the summer games in London, a friendly competition of clay games awaits you at Silverwood Park. Individual and team events. Open to all ages and abilities. Get ready to play with mud (i.e., clay)!

ON STAGE
(music and poetry readings)

3:30 & 5:00 Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade

6:00 Widow Jones

7:00 Dear Data

Poetry Readings in between musical performances by Maggie Ryan Sandford and Clarence White

 

‘The Price of Everything’ – a guest post by Frank Bures

Editor’s note: Frank Bures penned a provocative first-person essay for the newly launched Thirty Two magazine, “The Fall of the Creative Class,” which has sparked much conversation, here and across the country, in recent weeks. Here, Bures offers a guest post for mnartists.org, on the long-term perils of monetizing the arts, weighing the shift in […]

Editor’s note: Frank Bures penned a provocative first-person essay for the newly launched Thirty Two magazine, “The Fall of the Creative Class,” which has sparked much conversation, here and across the country, in recent weeks. Here, Bures offers a guest post for mnartists.org, on the long-term perils of monetizing the arts, weighing the shift in recent years toward market-based cultural initiatives, which reframe artists and their work in terms of economic stimulus.

A few weeks ago, I published a story in the new Twin Cities culture and current affairs magazine, Thirty Two, called “The Fall of the Creative Class,” about the giant holes, as I saw them, in Richard Florida’s theory of economic growth.

Within a few weeks, the piece had nearly 50,000 page views: It burned through the social networks and got picked up by everyone from the Daily Beast to Real Clear Politics to Salon. (Florida has since reacted; and my response is here.)  But as the piece found more readers, one comment I began to hear again and again was that the story was a little “depressing.”

At first, this reaction caught me off guard, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But after some reflection, I think I understand better. I suspect it has to do with a shift in our attitude toward art and its place in our lives over the last decade or so — namely, the idea that if something is worth doing, it should also make money. Intrinsic value – in virtually every sphere– has given way to the metrics of financial return. Or as political philosopher (and Minneapolis native) Michael Sandel notes in his new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society.”

Obviously, I’m all for making a living, but this shift is something about which I’ve felt a growing unease, and it is part of the problem I have with Florida’s Creative Class theory. The fact that Florida launched his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class into this new market society was one of the primary reasons his theory that a vibrant cultural scene was the key to economic growth became so popular.  We were all happy to be told that the things we loved also happened to be profitable.

This is the assumption that underlies a current movement based on Florida’s theory, known as “creative placemaking,” which holds that public art and creatively “activated” spaces can help jumpstart a local economy.  Perhaps they can, perhaps they can’t.  Either way, I sense a trap. I’m afraid there’s a category mistake here: The arts were never intended to be good business, as any artist who goes into it can tell you.

Nonetheless, the belief that one worthwhile thing (art) leads inevitably to another (money) has given birth to projects like the Knight Creative Communities Initiative (KCCI), for which Florida’s Creative Class Group was paid $585,000 to help turn three cities (Duluth, Tallahassee, and Charlotte) into “creative magnets.”  This goal was to be accomplished by way of a two-day seminar, at which 30 or so volunteer “catalysts” from each city were to form “action teams,” that would complete a set of unfunded projects: “ArtWorks” in Duluth, a film festival in Tallahassee, and a “creativity festival” in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as other Florida favorites like bike paths, recycling programs, and co-working centers. The final report showed less than resounding success:  Local organizers and “catalysts” complained about having to pay for Creative Class Group consultants’ limousines and about their lack of local knowledge and the poor quality of their data, remarking that the consultants were “more interested in the gospel of Richard Florida,”  than the “unique issues and needs” of the cities.

Most importantly, though, these projects resulted in little or no economic impact in the designated “creative magnet” communities.  In the end, the report concluded that “KCCI was built on an innovative theory of economic development. However, it lacked a clear set of connections between its specific projects and the broader changes it sought to achieve. In addition, the initiative did not articulate its rationale about the ways in which change could or would occur. In other words, KCCI knew what its destination was but did not have a roadmap for getting there.”

Frank Bures (photo courtesy of the author)

How does art become money?  How do vibrant creative spaces become vibrant economic ones?  The Creative Class Group doesn’t seem to know.  I don’t know.  No one knows, yet everyone seems to assume that one must lead to the other. Thomas Frank, writing in the Baffler, calls this mindset a “vibrancy Ponzi scheme” which has set off a “vibrancy arms race,” pitting cities like Akron and Indianapolis against each other.  “Vibrancy theory reveres the artist, but it also insults those who would take artistic production seriously,” he writes, adding that, “vibrancy theory treats the artist as a sort of glorified social worker, whose role is to please children and stimulate businessmen and somehow support the community.”

But more to the point, Frank contrasts the public art projects of ’30s, like the Federal Writers Project, with the Floridian mindset of today:  “[N]o one expected those artists to pull us out of the Depression by some occult process of entrepreneurship-kindling. Instead, government supported them mainly because they were unemployed. In other words, government then did precisely the opposite of what government does today: In the thirties, we protected artists from the market while today we expose them to it, imagining them as the stokers on the hurtling job-creation locomotive.”

My fear is this:  Once people realize that art may not be stoking a secret gravy train, they will simply want to get off it. If creative placemaking schemes don’t pan out, the false hope they engendered might do more damage to arts funding in the long run, because they will have shifted the focus away from our most compelling reason for support of the arts. We should fund art because it makes the space around us the kind of place we want to live.

Let me be clear: I am 100% in favor of public art and making creative places, like the cultural corridor planned for Hennepin Avenue, or the $750,000 Irrigate Arts plan to do the same in the heart of St. Paul. But doing those things as some sort of investment strategy may ultimately backfire. It’s just not why humans have ever made art, and it shouldn’t be why we make it now. I’ll breathe more easily when we can return to the idea that such things need to be created, simply because they should be brought into the world. I will be glad when we can stop cheapening art by expecting to monetize its practice. And I will be happier when we can go back to loving (and funding) art because it adds value to our lives, not just our livelihoods.

______________________________________________________

About the author: Frank Bures is a writer whose stories have appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, Outside, Bicycling, Wired and have been included in the Best American Travel Writing 2004 and Best American Travel Writing 2009.  He is a contributing editor at World Hum and Poets & Writers, speaks a few languages and has spent time in a few countries. He currently lives in Minneapolis.

______________________________________________________

Read Frank Bures’ story for Thirty Two magazine: “The Fall of the Creative Class”

Read Richard Florida’s response to the piece on his blog, The Atlantic Cities: “What Critics Get Wrong About the Creative Class and Economic Development”

And finally, Bures’ rejoinder: “Still Falling: On Chickens and Eggs, Cause and Effect and the Real Problem with the Creative Class”

MAKING IT: A Studio Visit with CSA Artist Krista Kelley Walsh

I joined artist Krista Kelley Walsh in her St. Paul studio last week, a gorgeous renovated garage with skylights, windows and transparent garage doors. Though a former ceramicists studio, it truly seemed like a place conducive to creating just about anything, making it the perfect for it’s new owner, Krista, an artist that leverages a […]

Krista's studio, photo by Jehra Patrick

I joined artist Krista Kelley Walsh in her St. Paul studio last week, a gorgeous renovated garage with skylights, windows and transparent garage doors. Though a former ceramicists studio, it truly seemed like a place conducive to creating just about anything, making it the perfect for it’s new owner, Krista, an artist that leverages a wide range of disciplines.

I had the good fortune of having Krista as an instructor and have long known of her presence in the Minnesota art community, so it was a pleasure to sit down with her one-on-one and hear more about her diverse range of artistic platforms and the threads that run throughout her practice.

We began by discussing Krista’s project for the CSA program, which emerged out of a series of drawings created on lottery tickets. This conceptually stratified series is an indictor of the sense of humor in Krista’s work.

'When My Ship Comes In,' image courtesy of the artist

Frustrated by uncertainty in retirement planning and funding opportunities for artists, Krista jests that financial assistance for artists is so irregular that she may as well be playing the Minnesota lottery to secure her future. Many artists have likely felt similar; we’re lucky to have so many grant opportunities in Minnesota, but know that each grant cycle brings a new set of variables and recipients. Each year we clench our applications like tickets in our hands and wait for our notification letters like some folks hold their breath for nightly drawings. Krista takes this act of gambling a step further and sees the lottery tickets as a material for art-making. For the past five years she has purchased a Powerball tickets, her largest return only being a $7 win.  While she’s only been able to claim about $25 in total wins, Krista is no long shot. She reverses the authority of the MN Lottery in by using the rectangular heat-sensitive paper as a drawing substrate, which allows her to turn her losses into tax-ductable artist’s materials. Win, win!  Krista adds icing on her conceptual layer-cake by depicting symbols and personifications of luck as the subject of her drawings.

Installtion view of 'Things Unseen,' photo courtesy of the artist

It’s this ability to find humor, obsession, and potentiality in ordinary materials and encounters that runs throughout Krista’s studio and interdisciplinary work. In Things Unseen, a recent installation at the Phipps Center for the Arts, she amplifies the seemingly ordinary phenomenon of a prism cast by a glass of water. Captivated and delighted by this small wonder, Krista lines the river-facing windows of the Phipps gallery with glass vases creating lenses for light that distort the Phipp’s scenic surroundings and turn the gallery into a meditative space of bouncing light, shadows and rainbows.

Krista understands the happiness that simple gestures provide. Tax deductible retirement plan aside, the artist is sincerely aware of her lot.  She demonstrates her gratefulness in the performative piece, Gratitude Guerilla Action, in which she collaborated with artists and the public creating a walking ‘Thank You’ by silently handing out thousands of white balloons throughout the city of St. Paul, during the height of 2008’s recession. In this piece her presence and performance draw out the aptitude of the simplicity of the object.

Installation view of 'Odyssea,' image courtesy of the artist

She continues to engage material’s ability to be an agent for ideas, in multi-disciplinary pieces created around fictional characters. Krista speaks of one project emerging from the simple and delightful gesture of lining shoes with a global map. From this gesture a story and character are born: Odyssea, the agoraphobic fictional counterpoint to Odysseus – a fairytale character that the artist dreams up, plays in person and pairs with an exhibition of personal effects. A fable so detailed that an exhibition-goer pleads to take Krista with her on her next trip. Krista becomes a collaborator, corroborating with her objects’ fictions.

Krista's collaborations with her former self, photo Jehra Patrick

Perhaps most delightful and humorous of all, is Krista’s relationship with her current collaborator: her former self.  Returning to object-based studio work, Krista had in interest to re-investigate all of the materials she had collected over the years with the intention of making new work from her archives. Of note, she began to revisit paintings and unfinished surfaces from over 12 years ago and described her experience reworking these pieces like meeting and having a conversation with her younger self, an endearing philosophy which brings to mind 20th century dialogues on staggered and convergent time.  She approaches these works with fresh and also familiar eyes, indebting the demands of her performance work for her newfound ability to take compositional risks that her younger self may not have had the guts to do. As she revisits these pieces, collages and motifs fade out and reappear and reveal themes of humor, potentiality, new characters and delightful stories.

We hope shareholders will be delighted by Krista’s contribution to the 2012 CSA: Community Supported Art program, for which she editioned 50 prints of her Lucky Lindy drawing. In the spirit of chance, one lucky shareholder will receive the original drawing!

We welcome you to join Krista and fellow CSA artists to celebrate at the next Pick Up party on July 18!

Pick up party date: Wednesday, July 18

Time: 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Location: Silverwood Park
2500 County Rd. E
St. Anthony, MN 55421

Artists:
Visual artist Alyssa Baguss (http://www.mnartists.org/artistHome.do?rid=136021)
Visual artist Krista Kelley Walsh (http://www.kristawalsh.com)
Photographer Andy Mattern (http://www.andymattern.com/)

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Help us learn more about how users use the site as we plan for the rebuild of mnartists.org!

mnartists.org is currently in the process of planning a complete rebuild of the website! Our goal is to make the site easier to use and navigate, as well as provide artists with the tools they need to promote their work and to facilitate conversation about and among local arts and artists. Help us learn more about how you use the calendar feature on mnartists.org by filling out this short survey, so that we can plan to make the calendar a better tool.

All other questions and suggestions regarding the rebuild can be addressed to info@mnartists.org.

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