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6 Things to See and Do at Northern Spark

As in previous years, Northern Spark 2014 promises to bring together an enticing mix of well-known out-of-town artists, local favorites, and emerging artists. Wondering what to do and see? Every festival veteran has his or her own system. Do you get there right at the start? Take a disco nap first and show up at […]

Janaki Ranpura, Egg & Sperm Ride :: Hide & Seek, Northern Spark 2011. Photo: Patrick Kelley.

Janaki Ranpura, Egg & Sperm Ride :: Hide & Seek, Northern Spark 2011. Photo: Patrick Kelley.

As in previous years, Northern Spark 2014 promises to bring together an enticing mix of well-known out-of-town artists, local favorites, and emerging artists. Wondering what to do and see? Every festival veteran has his or her own system. Do you get there right at the start? Take a disco nap first and show up at 3 a.m. for the last stretch? There’s definitely something to be said for planning your night to a T, so you can be sure you won’t miss the pieces that you’re excited about. But there’s real value in just winging it, too. Wander aimlessly around the night’s offerings, and you’ll make discoveries and encounter work you might not have sought out otherwise. Even though I’ve already earmarked a few projects in the line-up I’m eager to see this year, I’d be willing to bet I’ll have new favorites by the night’s end. That said, if you’re looking for a place to begin, here’s what’s on my shortlist of things to see:

Sean Connaughty, Ark of the Anthropocene

Sean Connaughty, Ark of the Anthropocene

Sean Connaughty: Ark of the Anthropocene

Part science fiction, part biblical metaphor, part time capsule for future generations, Sean Connaughty’s Ark of the Anthropocene creates a handy getaway egg, just in case there’s a 500-year flood. Inspired by the Golghar in India that was built after the famine of 1770, Connaughty’s Ark encapsulates a whole ecosystem within its concrete structure, as if preserving life for future generations. Take a peek inside and you’ll see the grapevines and willow saplings, sustained by photosynthesis created with artificial light and glass lenses. As in his previous works, Connaughty has created art that is living and breathing, celebrating life’s cycles as he also manipulates them into sculptural forms. Find it at the Weisman.

Roman Verostko, The Magic Hand of Chance

Roman Verostko, The Magic Hand of Chance

Roman Verostko: The Magic Hand of Chance

Projected onto the outside wall at MCAD, Professor Emeritus Roman Verotsko’s Three Story Drawing Machine, was a huge hit at Northern Spark 2011. This year, the algorithmic artist presents The Magic Hand of Chance, a work he pioneered using BASIC with a first generation IBM PC in 1982. With only 200 pixels of horizontal resolution and three colors per frame, the automated drawing uses computer sequences as improvisation, creating retro-looking images with improvised and striking forms. Find it at MCAD.

Ananya Dance Theatre. Photo: V. Paul Virtucio

Ananya Dance Theatre. Photo: V. Paul Virtucio

Ananya Dance Theatre: Blue Dream Journeys

Last year for Northern Spark, Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT) presented one of the best pieces of the festival: an epic ode to water along the Mississippi river, collaborating with American Indian community members and elders in a powerful piece that stressed our connection to the water through celebration and ritual. This year, the company is back with Blue Dream Journeys, which will occur every hour on the hour from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Along with guest artists and musicians, ADT invites audiences to join in dancing their dreams, moving from the David M. Lilly Plaza outside Northrop Auditorium to an area beneath Jack Becker’s cloudscape installation in the Hubbard Broadcasting Rehearsal Studio.

Asia Ward, Electric Hopscotch

Asia Ward, Electric Hopscotch

Asia Ward: Electric Hopscotch

Artist Asia Ward re-invents the timeless game using electronic memory sensors and LED lights. Here’s how it works: one person hops on the sensors with a specific pattern, which the LED lights repeat with blinking lights. Then the next person has to repeat the pattern. The lights blink red if you make a mistake and you have to give up a turn. As new players join, the jump pads can be reset to add variety throughout the night.  This is definitely one to visit if you have kids in tow, or for the competitive among us. Who will be the Northern Spark Electric Hopscotch champion? Test your skills at the Convention Center Plaza.

Karl Unnasch, Glassicles

Karl Unnasch, Glassicles

Karl Unnasch: Glassicles

Turning recyclables into art, Karl Unnasch presents Glassicles, three light installations at the Weisman, Loring Corners and the “Parklot”, Made Here’s pop-up park in the Orpheum parking lot.  Made from repurposed bottles and drinking devices mounted on a steel framework, these chandelier- like installations add a touch of off-beat grandeur to the festivities.

tephen Vitiello Finding Pictures in Search of Sounds, 2008. Photo courtesy the artist.

Stephen Vitiello, Finding Pictures in Search of Sounds, 2008. Photo courtesy the artist.

Stephen Vitiello and Michael J. Schumacher: The Audible Edge 

Amidst the frenzy of activity that is Northern Spark – with all the walking, gazing, interactive activities, food trucks, and more – it’s nice to plan a few breaks where you can just sit and relax. Stephen Vitiello and Michael J. Schumacher’s The Audible Edge is a perfect respite, offering cushy seating and cool sound installations created by a bunch of different artists. In Hidden Noise, produced by Independent Curators International (ICI) Exhibitions in a Box series, Stephen Vitiello curates projects by a number of nationally known artists, as well as his own work. Among the designers are Andrea Parkins (who BodyCartagraphy Project fans may remember for her groundbreaking sound design in Symptom in 2010), Taylor Deupree, Jennie C. Jones, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Peters, Steve Roden and Michael J. Schumacher, who was a visiting artist this spring at the U of M’s School of Architecture. Also included in The Audible Edge will be student work from Schumacher’s workshop, plus artworks lent to the exhibition by local museums. At the Katherine E. Nash Gallery.

Whatever your plans for the festival, make sure you bring a water bottle and a little money - while the art is free, you’ll want to have enough cash in your pocket to make a few food truck stops along your journey. Besides that, keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to play like a kid – some of the best times you’ll have at Northern Spark happen when you engage with the interactive elements.

Related links and information:

Northern Spark 2014, themed “Projecting the City,” will feature 76 artists’ projects scattered in and around nine venues throughout Minneapolis. This year’s nuit blanche runs from dusk on Saturday, June 14 (9:01 p.m.) until dawn, Sunday, June 15. Schedule your night and find complete details on the Northern Spark website.

Cheatsheet to Northrop’s “Solid but Safe” 2014-2015 Season

Now that Northrop is ensconced in its shiny new home and is no longer just a dance series and house-for-hire (the jazz season is no more and the newly renovated building is also home to several university programs as a center for interdisciplinary study and collaboration), they recently announced the next performance season. Since joining […]

Martha Graham Dance Company, Errand Into the Maze. Photo: John Deane

Martha Graham Dance Company, Errand Into the Maze. Photo: John Deane

Now that Northrop is ensconced in its shiny new home and is no longer just a dance series and house-for-hire (the jazz season is no more and the newly renovated building is also home to several university programs as a center for interdisciplinary study and collaboration), they recently announced the next performance season. Since joining Northrop in August 2012, Christine Tschida, Northrop’s director, has been working in part with selections confirmed by her predecessor, Ben Johnson. He always scheduled at least one or two internationally renowned dance companies with highly intellectual content, innovative choreography and flawless presentation that, whether you’d seen them before or not, were palpably anticipated by audiences.

The 2014/15 season, “curated by Northrop Presents” as the website states, has a strong international lineup, some with marked cross-cultural influences. There’s a lot of ballet—to appeal to the core subscriber audience—a Canadian jazz-fusion company, and two heritage American modern dance companies. The verdict? Solid and safe.

Photo: Michel Cavalca

Centre Chorégraphique National de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne/Compagnie Käfig. Photo: Michel Cavalca

The international companies include Centre Chorégraphique National de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne/Compagnie Käfig. Created by Mourad Merzouki in 1996 in Créteil, France, the troupe is trained in a choreographic style that blends Merzouki’s training in circus skills, martial arts and hip hop (which is huge in France) with such street dance forms as capoeira. The all-male company, which includes Brazilian dancers with roots in the favelas, also looks to incorporate a strong visual element. The works on the program are Correria, Portuguese for “running,” and Agwa (“water”). Expect high-intensity physicality.

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker/Rosas. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos

Also crossing the seas from Brussels, for a program co-presented by the Walker Art Center, is the dance-theater company Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas presenting the work that made De Keersmaeker infamous 30 years ago, Rosas Danst Rosas. The piece, with its much-imitated minimalist choreography, has become so much a part of popular culture even Beyonce was inspired by its costumes, set and movement; you can see the influence in her video for “Countdown.” Submit your own version here.

Eifman Ballet, Rodin. Photo: Nikolay Krusser

Eifman Ballet, Rodin. Photo: Nikolay Krusser

The highly theatrical Eifman Ballet, based in St. Petersburg, is known for its dramatic storytelling and has performed Red Giselle, Russian Hamlet, Anna Karenina and Eugene Onegin on Northrop seasons previously. More recently choreographer and artist director Boris Eifman has gotten his head out of the books and looked toward art for inspiration. The Guardian called his new work, Rodin, inspired by the life of the French sculptor, “visceral and extreme” for movement that tends to “bend and contort [the] dancers like choreographic Plasticine.” Rodin’s love affair with Camille Claudel is at the center of the ballet; so is his work as the piece includes Rodin in his studio “wrenching and pummelling a heap of nearly naked dancers into sculptural forms.” That’ll be something to see.

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. Photo: Gregory Batardon

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. Photo: Gregory Batardon

Hong Kong Ballet, on its first visit here, performs a Turandot by Australian choreographer Natalie Weir. Perhaps better known as an opera, this ballet version is indeed accompanied by Puccini’s original music. Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, often referred to as the “feel-good company,” makes its Minneapolis debut with three works that showcase the troupe’s fusion of dance styles and choreographic variety, including the duet Closer by Benjamin Millepied. The classicism continues with Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which showcases Balanchine repertoire. Dance Theatre of Harlem also returns with a ballet program. And then there’s the return of two modern-dance warhorses.

Paul Taylor Dance Company. Photo: Paul B. Goode

Paul Taylor Dance Company. Photo: Paul B. Goode

Paul Taylor Dance Company “sings the body electric” with Beloved Renegade, inspired by the life of Walt Whitman and set against Francis Poulenc’s “Gloria.” The New York Times called the work “one of the great achievements of Mr. Taylor’s long career and one of the most eloquently textured feats of his singular imagination.” That’s saying something, considering the other work on the program, Piazzola Caldera (which will include live music) is also considered a classic Taylor work for exploring the public and private domains (see Taylor’s autobiography) of the tango with “sensual, electric couplings.” A must-see.

In his early days as a dancer, Taylor was part of the Martha Graham Dance Company, making the two companies’ presence in the season an intriguing coupling. Northrop has scheduled two evenings of Graham’s works, which may sound like a dance-history lesson in the works. But viewing Graham is never old hat: Her work continues to be shocking, awe-inspiring and revealing as it was when first performed. Her 1935 social-protest work Panorama will include 24 University of Minnesota dance students. Classics works of mythological intensity, including Lamentation Variations, Maple Leaf Rag and Errand into the Maze will also be performed.

McKnight Dance Fellows. Photo: Tim Rummelhoff

McKnight Dance Fellows. Photo: Tim Rummelhoff

The season also goes local with an evening of six world-premieres by the winners of 2012 and 2013 McKnight Dancer Fellowships, performing works made for them by a choreographer of their choice:  Taryn Griggs, Stephen Schroeder, Ashwini Ramaswamy, Kari Mosel, Tamara Ober and Greg Waletski.

The Walker Art Center’s lineup for the 2014-2015 season is more super-charged and risky, especially with the return of Faustin Linyekula, Ralph Lemon, Tere O’Connor, and a Steve Paxton fest. Relative to that, Northrop has put together a conservative lineup befitting its new home, but it’s a season with plenty of opportunities for interdisciplinary interaction.

Camille LeFevre is a long-time dance writer in the Twin Cities and the editor of The Line, an online publication about the creative economy of the Twin Cities..

TU at 10

Wow: All this for a local dance company. As we gazed, wide-eyed and stunned, at the nearly full house for TU Dance’s 10th anniversary concert in the Ordway Center last Saturday night, I asked my companions: Why, really, do you think TU Dance is so popular? Accessibility, openness, technique, humanity, authenticity were among the reasons. […]

Alanna Morris-Van Tassel in Hikari. Photo: Brandon Stengel

Alanna Morris-Van Tassel in Hikari. Photo: Brandon Stengel

Wow: All this for a local dance company. As we gazed, wide-eyed and stunned, at the nearly full house for TU Dance’s 10th anniversary concert in the Ordway Center last Saturday night, I asked my companions: Why, really, do you think TU Dance is so popular?

Accessibility, openness, technique, humanity, authenticity were among the reasons. The Knight Foundation has noticed, to the tune of $500,000, “to support the diversification of the dance community in St. Paul by expanding TU Dance’s capacity to cultivate donors and increase programming.”

We also agreed: It really does start at the top. Co-founders and co-artistic directors Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands are beloved for legitimate reasons, among them the above-mentioned list of descriptors. After this weekend’s anniversary concert, a performance unlike any the company has previously put forth (and that alone says a lot of this tremendously accomplished group), let’s add one more. TU Dance is also aspirational, a rare quality; what’s more, the company is realizing its aspirations.

Meaning: the summer dance project Sands and Pierce-Sands started in 2003-2004 at the University of Minnesota—Space-TU-Embrace—has in one fast-paced decade grown to include a thriving dance school in St. Paul next to the Central Corridor’s soon-to-open Green Line light rail, in addition to a company that can fill nearly 1,900 seats with appreciative fans of smart, approachable dance. Simply put, those accomplishments are thrilling.

In a nod to their origin story, Pierce-Sands and Sands (former dancers with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) opened the 10th anniversary show with the balletic “Twin Cities” duet from Alvin Ailey’s 1970 work The River. Performed by Sands and guest artist Laurel Keen, the piece overflowed with grace and was greeted, at its conclusion, with a roar from the audience.

The program also included the ever-popular Lady. Choreographed by Sands, the work was performed with impeccable technique and narrative nuance. With its delightful storytelling, rich depths of rhythm, (once again) tremendous sense of authenticity, and a Toni-Uri duet that plumbed the nuances of a relationship with real feeling, the work felt as fresh and relevant as it did during its 2003 debut.

One, which Sands originally created for Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company in honor of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell, was a tantalizing mystery. (Lacks was an African-American tobacco farmer whose cancerous cells were taken without her permission in 1951 and used for such groundbreaking medical advancements as the polio vaccine and in-vitro fertilization.) Wearing gray dresses reminiscent of Martha Graham’s shrouds, the eight women dancers pulsated with robotic movements, opened their hips against the floor in Graham-like poses and, while painfully stooped over, extended quaking arms and tremulous hands. They could have been clones, or hard-working cells clustering and separating, or supplicants gesturing and genuflecting to the powers that be, until basking in a shower of silver confetti.

With the world premiere of Sands’ new work, Hikari, the company and its choreographer entered new artistic territory. Commissioned by the Ordway, the bold, breathtaking work was inspired by Hawaiian wood-block artist Hiroki Morinoue, whom Sands visited as he was creating the choreography.

The set consists of 14 of Morinoue’s gorgeous, floor-to-flyspace, semi-sheer, black-and-white fabric panels. Together, they establish an environment of biomorphic forms, grids and patterns that could be a forest, a solar system, or a painter’s canvas on which the company plays out the choreography’s abstract narrative. Wearing snappy white jackets and pants, and black socks, the dancers careen about the stage as if insects, or dabs and slashes of paint, or regiments of corporate drones. Alanna Morris-Van Tassel is the most fantastical of these creatures, writhing and beckoning from behind the scrims. At times, the dancers shed their jackets, now clad in crop tops or t-shirts that free their torsos and limbs. Enacting an embedded drama only they’re privy to and fascinating to observe, the performers of TU Dance animate Sands’ vision in a work that would be at home on any major stage in the world. Hikari catapults the choreographer and the company into a brave new world of dance and art making at once aspirational and achieved.

Camille LeFevre is a dance critic, arts journalist, and the editor of The Line, an online publication about the creative economy of the Twin Cities. 

The Dark Power of a Crowd Dancing as One

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe not.

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

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

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

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

Field Notes: Scott Nedrelow’s Afterlight

Consider: Scott Nedrelow – Afterlight Location: David Petersen Gallery, Minneapolis. Items: Six paintings, on Epson “premium luster” photo paper, measuring 60” wide x 90” high, or 92” when inside their beveled, white, glassless frames. This is good, as the paintings are given room to breathe and are not constrained by unnecessary boundary. Paintings are broken […]

Scott Nedrelow, Untitled. Installation photos courtesy of David Petersen Gallery.

Scott Nedrelow, Untitled. Installation photos courtesy of David Petersen Gallery.

Consider: Scott Nedrelow – Afterlight

Location: David Petersen Gallery, Minneapolis.

Items: Six paintings, on Epson “premium luster” photo paper, measuring 60” wide x 90” high, or 92” when inside their beveled, white, glassless frames. This is good, as the paintings are given room to breathe and are not constrained by unnecessary boundary. Paintings are broken into groups of three, two and one.

Scott Nedrelow, Afterlight. Installation view courtesy of the gallery.

Scott Nedrelow, Afterlight. Installation view courtesy of the gallery.

Items: Two videos play on HD screens placed side by side and leaned vertically against a wall in a dark, curtained backroom of the gallery. Each video records a Florida beach near Nedrelow’s parents’ home and is focused on the horizon line. One screen begins in darkness, the other in light, and as the horizon moves in each, the process inverts during the 45-minute piece.

Observations: Observable investigations in Nedrelow’s presented works seem to fall into two categories: LIGHT: post-photographic process, printing, day and night, “after” dark (which is actually during dark). These investigations connect neatly into questions of TIME: the rotation of the earth, physics in relation to process of orienting oneself, the act of seeing, any action which requires the slowing of time.

Scott Nedrelow, Untitled. Installation view courtesy of the gallery.

Scott Nedrelow, Untitled. Installation view courtesy of the gallery.

Notes: Regarding the paintings, from series titled Untitled (Afterlight)During a studio visit with the artist, Nedrelow shows me how these paintings are made, and the process used to achieve the subtle coloring. Paint is applied using an airbrush to manually spray CMYK (Cyan – Magenta – Yellow – blacK) colors used by desktop printers. The large-format photographic paper is rolled into itself from both sides, fastened into a tighter version of the capital of an Ionic column, and stood on its end. In regards to a distinctive sort of “medium is the message” process, in regards to the airbrushing of the surface, Nedrelow says, “It is important that the paper itself is being the leader of the image…”

The application of these inks becomes a physical manifestation of the shape of the paper turned in on itself, with two broader bars of color located outside the untouched center, echoed by smaller lines of the same color closer to the border. Subtle mixing is achieved when pure color is laid on top of pure color, in a pattern similar to chiasmus (diagram), where an arrangement of colors are related to one another in an ‘X’ fashion. Nedrelow explains this system, “It gives me something similar to a structure…to give the whole body of work, even if not hung together, they have a pair, and a direct relationship to process.”

Thoughts:

  • Work is best viewed from a distance, in this case, against furthest respective wall in gallery. Ink is almost imperceptible when viewed up close, as are differentiations in color from top to bottom.
  • Photographic process -> dependent on light <- vision dependent on light. The changing perspective from both near and far becomes an investigation into of the act of seeing.
  • Press release mentions that the title of the exhibition “…alludes to shadows and the idea of an afterimage. An afterimage is the compensation of the eye’s retina after the original visual stimulus.” Italics in the above quote are mine, by way of noting the unique phenomenal experience of vision, the way the human eye copes with and physically processes information, to such a degree that an image remains seen even after it is removed from sight.

Additional thoughts:

After the separation of the image from the eye, what remains? And where?

On how separating the self brings the artist closer to the core: Nedrelow, while firmly in control of both concept and production of his works, often separates himself from establishing narrative focus. Specific representational elements resulting from the work he also usually leaves to the determination of some outside agency. “I don’t have to be compositionally responsible for the content, it is related to the material”, explained Nedrelow, “When folded, the paper almost becomes a stencil on itself”.

On time as vehicle: Nedrelow’s video piece, Earthrise/Earthset, also investigates the movement of light and the idea of stepping back to see a greater whole. The piece is not a time-lapse, but rather a documentation of a specific experience of time, capturing both the setting and rising sun. The poetry lies in the use of the camera, which was attached to an astrological mount which slowly moves. Though this camera basically appears motionless, the mount’s shifting gears allow the recording of the slow, imperceptible movements of the earth’s rotation.  When asked if the focus is the light itself, or rather the time needed to comprehend light, Nedrelow responds, “It’s both I think— but as a way of telling a story in art, light that accumulates or changes imperceptibly is best.”

Scott Nedrelow, Untitled. Installation view courtesy of the gallery.

Scott Nedrelow, Untitled. Installation view courtesy of the gallery.

Et cetera:  Two notes, written during a studio visit with the artist. The first, which I later discovered to be from Buckminster Fuller, is used in the texts associated with Afterlight:

The most important thing to teach your children is that the sun does not rise and set. It is the Earth that revolves around the sun. Then teach them the concepts of North, South, East and West, and that they relate to where they happen to be on the planet’s surface at that time. Everything else will follow.

The second note is unattributed, either my own observation or a quote from the artist: “There is a physical correlation between how you relate to the world, and physics explains this”. Once understood, it is either easier, or more difficult, to face the forces of the universe.

Related exhibition information:

Scott Nedrelow – Afterlight is on view now through April 5, 2014, at David Petersen Gallery. The gallery, located at 2018 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11-6, or by appointment.

Road Songs: Dannebrog, Nebraska

Past fields, strip malls, and rotting pumpkins, we fought white-knuckled against the wind to arrive in Dannebrog, Nebraska on a Thursday. Founded in the nineteenth century by Danish farmers who lovingly named the village after the Danish flag, this is a place with personal resonance. Some of those frontier Nebraska Danes were my great-great grandparents, […]

A photograph of Dannebrog's orchestra leader

A photograph of Dannebrog’s orchestra leader from K’s Korner in Dannebrog, Nebraska.

Past fields, strip malls, and rotting pumpkins, we fought white-knuckled against the wind to arrive in Dannebrog, Nebraska on a Thursday. Founded in the nineteenth century by Danish farmers who lovingly named the village after the Danish flag, this is a place with personal resonance. Some of those frontier Nebraska Danes were my great-great grandparents, the Ericksens. My great-grandmother departed from her village with a carpetbag to become a maid in San Francisco. Just as Marie Ericksen left the familiar, Danish-speaking, environs of the Midwest for the big city as a teenager, I left California at age 17 for Minnesota.

I’ve long felt I should visit, but I never really thought that I’d actually make it here to Nebraska.

Photo of the Danish flag, in Langeland, by higgledy-piggledy. Courtesy of flickr.

Photo of the Danish flag, in Langeland, by higgledy-piggledy on Flickr.

Built by homesteaders willing to brave the elements and the dangers of quiet isolation, Dannebrog has held steady at a population of about 300 folks since 1871. Fewer and fewer people are around to throw the annual Danish summer parade, Grundlovsfest; everyone has to work these days, most in larger, nearby cities.

The winds were howling through town when we arrived, rolling empty garbage bins across the streets. K’s Korner downtown, a purple and blue establishment, drew first our eyes and then our feet. The space is filled with early photographs of the Danish Brotherhood and Sisterhood, unfortunate creek floods, farmers putting together homes and raising enormous families, piles of snow, and lonely prairies.

The author in the town center of Dannebrog, holding kolaches from the Danish Baker's.

The author in the town center of Dannebrog, holding kolaches from The Danish Baker. Photo by James Jannicelli.

We were told by K’s shopkeep and namesake that she gets a couple of people like us every year, intrigued by a whisper of a Danish settlement in the middle of the country, eager to look up long-lost ancestors from the old country. She brought out two binders of newspaper clippings and photographs from times past. After perusing these remnants, learning of local lunatics and antiquated laws, we were then pointed towards The Danish Baker at the end of the street and encouraged to have him sing us a song.

When asked, the bakery proprietor was indeed willing to serenade us – he played two original tunes on a guitar he keeps near at hand, stowed behind the counter. The first was a confessional song, tender and written for his wife of 36 years. When he finished, we thanked him and introduced ourselves as fellow musicians, a traveling band of sorts, and ended up reciprocating his hospitality by playing him some songs of our own. We had three captive audience members, bakery regulars who’d come for the unlimited coffees while eagerly awaiting Thursday’s pizza night. They requested some Everly Brothers, but we settled on Peter, Paul and Mary. Our host told us about a time the Danish Baker sold 206 pies in one night on a Thursday evening several summers ago —  enough to feed the whole town and then some.

Hat from the Danish Baker of Dannebrog, Nebraska.

Hat from the Danish Baker of Dannebrog, Nebraska. Photo by author.

Small town pride is thriving in this Danish town. “I’m too old for those big cities,” one man told me. The baker relayed to us the story of a Harry Chapin song: a musically inclined launderer sings beautifully in his shop every day­, then leaves for the big city to sing on the stage, only to have his dream ruined. He returns to his shop never to sing again. It sounds to us like a cautionary tale about cashing in on one’s dreams only to reap sadness, the profound risk of reaching for the moon only to fall among the stars.

We left Dannebrog against the wind and with no time to visit the town’s cemetery, likely filled with long-forgotten family.

Dannebrog Street

Dannebrog Street. Photo by author.

Driving back to the freeway, we passed through Cairo, Nebraska (pronounced Care-o), one small town over from Dannebrog. We found out later, this is where my boyfriend’s Greek grandfather grew up farming sugar beets. We heard that, every summer, as a young man he attended the Danish parade in Dannebrog.

I’m not sure what it means, but that feels like some sort of full circle.

California native Chloe Nelson is an art historian and musician moonlighting as a curator of Americana. She’ll be sending in photo-essays from time to time for a Road Songs series on the mnartists blog as she drives across the country, harmonizing and honky-tonking in country outfit Tanbark. She tweets @chloefnelson.

Known Unknowns and Steffani Jemison’s Stroke

Let’s consider both ends in the spectrum of possible exhibition designs. One day, you walk into a gallery and the wall texts include quotations from the artist, the curator, as well as scholars and poets responding to the work. These texts offer details and explain the nuances of the art in anticipation of any question […]

Steffani Jemison, Stroke. Slide courtesy of the Bindery Projects

Steffani Jemison, Stroke. Slide courtesy of the Bindery Projects

Let’s consider both ends in the spectrum of possible exhibition designs. One day, you walk into a gallery and the wall texts include quotations from the artist, the curator, as well as scholars and poets responding to the work. These texts offer details and explain the nuances of the art in anticipation of any question that might arise. On another afternoon, you walk into a different gallery where you notice no texts or accompanying information for the work on view. Even the artist is unnamed; the gallery and the exhibition are both called Untitled. The entire experience is undefined and open to interpretation.

Engaging with each of these extremes, Steffani Jemison’s current exhibition, Stroke, at The Bindery Projects in St. Paul teeters back and forth between the devoid and the didactic. Recently split into two rooms, the Bindery Projects now offers artists the opportunity to exhibit separate, complementary experiences. On one side of Stroke are ten sheets of acetate hung at various heights, some of them spilling onto the floor. Starting with two linear, coarse brushstrokes on acetate, Jemison imprints the strokes onto paper, scans the image to manipulate the original marks, and then prints the new paired composition onto fresh acetate. The placement of the sheets feels hurried, the marks random — but of course they are not. This is a thoughtful presentation of disjunction and cohesion: the coupled marks mutate from one to another with uniform novelty, while the sheets themselves bind the walls to the ground.

Jemison exhibits her work’s process, not its foundation. Indeed, Stroke interrogates the very meaning of ‘foundation.’ Rather than giving precedence to the origin, Jemison uses her sources, here brushstrokes on acetate, as tools for their own manipulation. Gallery co-founder Nate Young regards these sheets as Jemison’s “formal investigations of a mark. She locates, and moves past.”

Installation view of Stroke at the Bindery Projects. Photo: Nathaniel Young

Installation view of Stroke at the Bindery Projects. Photo: Nate Young, courtesy of the gallery

For the other gallery room Jemison has installed a set of projectors that alternately display a series of hand-made 35mm slides on which she has printed marks similar to those in the other room, as well as segments of sentences pulled from unattributed works of street fiction. To alleviate the typically severe transitions between images projected in sequence, Jemison has included a third machine, a “dissolve unit” that blends the slides with moments of darkness. As a result, the time between slides, in effect, becomes another image to take in, drawing us both to the adjacent pieces and to the sequence as a whole. Jemison accentuates this equity of attention by deliberately omitting specific references to her source-material. The darkness between the slides reminds me of what I’m not allowed to know.

Installation view. Photo: Nathaniel Young

Installation view. Photo: Nate Young, courtesy of the Bindery Projects

Jemison has a second show, currently on view at Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), which is both a complement and a foil to her work at the Bindery Projects. Her roving library at JXTA, Alpha’s Bet Is Not Over Yet, embraces and makes transparent its own history through a rigorously annotated collection of periodicals emerging from the Black diaspora prior to 1950.

In combination, both exhibitions force us, as viewers, to examine the impulse to ascribe value based on such contextual information, and to consider with fresh eyes its (ir)relevance to the process of understanding a work of art.

In a recent interview for this article, Jemison explained that she uses “minimal materials to make the questions more explicit.” In fact, she has little interest in answers, instead using her body of work to question “how we characterize the artist’s production of knowledge.”

In Stroke, like a magician refusing to reveal her secrets Jemison has made her unique knowledge of the works’ origin stories at once central and irrelevant by announcing its inaccessibility to the viewer. With the slide-presentation, for example, Jemison does not claim the words as her own, but she has taken them. She knows the titles of the books, their authors and surrounding stories; the work becomes her vessel for privileged, unmoored information. We are not allowed to know where Stroke came from, or where it’s going, but we always know exactly where it is.

Exhibition information:

Stroke is on view at the Bindery Projects until this Friday, January 31. For gallery hours and details about the show, please visit their website.

Alpha’s Bet Is Not Over Yet also closes this Friday. Visit’s JXTA’s website for information about their new studios and educational programming.

Nathan Young – no relation to the Bindery Projects’ cofounder Nate Young –  is currently working on his M.A. at the University of Chicago, exploring the significance of Nástio Mosquito’s recent video-installations, which you can see at the Walker Art Center’s exhibition 9 Artists, open through Valentine’s Day.

Cornfield Cathedral: Seeing Karl Unnasch’s Grand Masticator

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

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

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

Guest post by artist Aaron Dysart:

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

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

Detail - Batman takes a knee.

Detail – Batman takes a knee.

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

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

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

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

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

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About the author

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

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

A Fresh Way to #Picturedance

I enjoy weird shit.  I’m declaring that right up front, because that’s how I pick what dance I want to see. Another admission: I didn’t follow the directions while watching V. Paul Vitrucio‘s #picturedance at Patrick’s Cabaret in early October.  One more: I also know V. Paul as a photographer, and I’ve been on the […]

#picturedance photos by V. Paul Virtucio

#picturedance photos by V. Paul Virtucio

I enjoy weird shit.  I’m declaring that right up front, because that’s how I pick what dance I want to see. Another admission: I didn’t follow the directions while watching V. Paul Vitrucio‘s #picturedance at Patrick’s Cabaret in early October.  One more: I also know V. Paul as a photographer, and I’ve been on the stage when he’s been behind the viewfinder, documenting the show.

I liked the concept of this dance work: a photographer choreographs to a video score and we are invited to take pictures and post them using the hashtag #picturedance. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t do it right. I decided to Vine, and that was my first mistake.  I should have been watching the dance through my phone’s camera frame, waiting for the moments I would try to capture, or otherwise viewing what was literally in front of me through the filter of the camera. Because with #picturedance, that’s the whole point: V. Paul designed a way to change the way I’m looking at dance and photography, two things I take for granted because I grew up as a dancer with a Dad who makes photographs.

So, I messed up by doing Vines instead of stills. And I messed up by watching with my eyes and not my camera.  In fact, I didn’t really get it until after I left and saw some of the other images that were posted.  But actually there weren’t many, and they were posted by V. Paul himself, so I’m not sure if the experiment worked how he intended. I did see many people whip out their devices in the first part of the piece and take some flicks.  There were even some flash photos being taken!  But for some reason this didn’t translate into posts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr. In the end, I didn’t even post my Vines, because I didn’t like them.  I wonder if other people did not post their pictures of the show because they felt the same? Like their images weren’t good enough, weren’t up to the standard of a real ‘dance photo’ — the same way people say they don’t know anything about dance, so they won’t tell you what they think of a show.

Luckily, I’ve never held myself to that standard.

And, as we’ve established, I like it weird. So, with regard to the dancing itself, I had no problem with the random images in the projections and the random movements of the dancers.   I had no problem with the randomness of the images and movement, but they also didn’t engage me and draw me in.  At one point, there was a projected video of a  rooster — a crowd favorite — but it made me feel weird (and not in a good way) as he stared down at the women laying on their backs, legs prone, bare legs in white leotards and short skirts. (Um, wut?) On the other hand, I was feeling the images of a moving flashlight spot/sun from another universe, as well as the way the piece ended with projections of a sunset from our solar system.

And V.Paul Virtucio, how you gonna choreograph? I watched the behind-the-scenes video on YouTube, but I want to know more about what that process was like.  With all respect to the dancers, I wonder about the movement choices: too much pointed toes-and-symmetry leaves me feeling unhinged, and women flinging their torsos so their hair flies around makes me feel like looking around at other things.  This is where I wish Patrick’s Cabaret had a large back wall that could have been filled with the projected images.  As I watched the show, I had a sense that I was supposed to be able to take in both the movement and the projections at once, without dividing my time and focus between the two.

I’m going to say it: the costuming choices just made me angry. I’m going to say something very “Ananya Chatterjea” here: The choice to have these young white women dressed in babydoll dresses with white leotards that expose their fresh, white booty cheeks as they cartwheel and leap, perform deep lunges, or kick up their legs while laying on the floor is problematic, to say the least. It feels very “Blurred Lines”-ish, very Miley-at-an-awards show — and ain’t nobody got time for that.

When I think about #picturedance as a concept, I like it.  It’s something truly different, and it calls upon the audience to engage in a specific, and new way with dance work.  I loved the soundscape of the physical camera clicks and whirrs made by V. Paul and another dance photographer. It was a pleasure to look around at how other audience members were engaging with the art.  If only I had followed the directions: “Bring your cameras or smartphones. He’s inviting you to watch dance the way he watches dance: through the selective perspective of a viewfinder.”

It’s an interesting idea, and V. Paul added another visual layer by having the dance scored by projected images rather than music.  Now that its all over I am wishing that I would have been in the front row instead of the last, my phone out the whole time and making interesting image sandwiches as directed.

An aside: For more guaranteed weird shit, I’m going to be checking out Monday Live Arts in the Ritz studio every first Monday of the month. Each month, four different artists with innovative and exploratory approaches to contemporary performance join forces in the Ritz studio. Find the details about the new monthly series here, http://www.ritz-theater.org/studio-series/.

Kenna-Camara Cottman is a dancer, educator, and cultural artist.  She directs Voice of Culture Drum and Dance, and is a member of Oyin Dance Collective.  Among many other things, Kenna dances for Pramila Vasudevan/Anicca Arts, teaches at the TU Dance Center, curates non-traditional performances and creates her own contemporary work.  Kenna is the mother of Yonci (14) and Ebrima (6) and is supported in all things by her parents, Bill and Beverly Cottman.

The White Page: A New Minneapolis Space

Several checkered boxes for Chris & Rob’s pizza and Pabst Blue Ribbon greet me at the door. I’m at The White Page, and the iconic PBR brand has been transformed into shoes in the window display. That’s right ­– shoes made out of beer boxes.  Does this give the viewer permission to visually stomp on the brand, the […]

Edward Ping installation shot. Photograph by author.

Edward Ping installation shot. Photo by the author.

Several checkered boxes for Chris & Rob’s pizza and Pabst Blue Ribbon greet me at the door. I’m at The White Page, and the iconic PBR brand has been transformed into shoes in the window display. That’s right ­– shoes made out of beer boxes.  Does this give the viewer permission to visually stomp on the brand, the can, and the hipster implications, the frustrations of making art/craft that might go with them? Each pair of “shoes” is priced to sell.

Edward Ping, a creative duo based in Detroit, are the artists who instigated this storefront-cum-gallery display. They were invited by The White Page to be artists-in-residence for the month of September. The title of their show, Garage Sale, aptly describes both the new gallery space and (for better or worse) the economic climate in the artists’ Michigan hometown. After all, garage sales are what neighbors do to help each other out in times of flux or particular hardship. And that sense of friendship and camaraderie is a thread that is plainly acknowledged and fostered throughout the new South Minneapolis art space.

Inside of the White Page gallery, subtle boundaries are established and broken. What is the line between studio, residency, and exhibition space? Between craft, useful innovations, and artwork? The White Page was begun by four artists who met at Alfred University and decided to call Minneapolis home. “There are pots hanging in the bathroom!” exclaims Alexis L. Stiteler, a ceramic artist and one of the gallery’s founders.  This bathroom in the basement turns out to be part of the downstairs workshop, a shared resource for visiting artists and founding members of the collective.

Photo by author.

Artist residency space. Photo by the  author.

The White Page is meant to be a celebratory space for collaboration and play. When I visited, a violinist was playing on the sidewalk, a toy snake was hanging from the wall. The place was filled with young artists and college friends, fellow zine-makers, beer drinkers. The White Page is as accessible as its name, a space both open-ended and up for interpretation, and one that’s hospitable to new ideas.

All of Edward Ping’s crafts on exhibit were also available for sale, and marketed online and in-person as such. Every item in the gallery had a delicate price tag, handwritten with an amount and a small dollar sign. On view: earthenware, pom poms, and childlike attire; a PVC purse just right for a Spice Girl and filled with newspaper clippings, and a lamp made of wood. One wall is filled with zines: C.L.A.P., WOPOZI. Clearly the artists of the White Page have worked together to merge their worlds – Detroit, Minneapolis, and their broader college networks – rather than create one distinct artist statement.  According to the website, Edward Ping seeks to “neither hide nor embrace … inexperience and doing so allows an honesty to material to shine through.”

Madeleine Weiand's Landing. Installation photo by author.

Madeleine Weiand, Landing, 2013. Alley between E 41st St & E 42nd St and Bloomington Ave & 15th Ave S.  Installation photo by author.

Madeleine Wieand’s photographs were installed in the White Page gallery through October. This second show in the space, Have a Nice Day, was more minimally orchestrated than the first. For her show, Weiand walked around the gallery’s surrounding South Minneapolis neighborhood and documented welcoming, slightly anthropomorphic, and odd households. Each work is held behind glass with four pins.  Subtle smiles, eagle murals, signs, and paint serve as armor for these nearly-suburban homes. The exhibit calls her series of photographs a “quiet narrative,” an ambulatory daydream that transforms the everyday into a nuanced and seemingly uninhabited vista.

The White Page similarly transforms itself for these short residencies by emerging artists. The narrative of this new Minneapolis gallery is still quiet, still developing, but each month holds the promise of fresh potential.

Chloe Nelson is the program assistant for mnartists.org.

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

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