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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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, do try all of this at home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related event information:

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

___________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related information:

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

___________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related information:

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

___________________________

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

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

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