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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

Found Objects and the Nature of Things

In 2007, the inaugural year of the Form + Content co-op gallery, members Jay Isenberg and Lynda Monick-Isenberg designed Dialogue on the Wall, an exhibition seeking to recreate the environment at the border between Israel and Palestine. They built a 10-foot-high concrete wall to split the room, with chain-link ceilings and video-installations and performance art on either side. This gallery is […]

Karen Wirth, Found. Photo courtesy of the artist and Form + Content Gallery.

Karen Wirth, Found. Photo courtesy of the artist and Form + Content Gallery.

In 2007, the inaugural year of the Form + Content co-op gallery, members Jay Isenberg and Lynda Monick-Isenberg designed Dialogue on the Wall, an exhibition seeking to recreate the environment at the border between Israel and Palestine. They built a 10-foot-high concrete wall to split the room, with chain-link ceilings and video-installations and performance art on either side.

This gallery is a chameleon, ready to shift to the will of each of the 13 member artists’ distinct vision. Jil Evans merges abstract expressionism with references to the baroque styles of Dutch vanitas paintings. Kenneth Steinbach scrimshaws maps on ivory piano keys, and Howard Oransky makes sculptures of stone and glass with monoprints on transparent fabric. In 2009, Jay Isenberg led an exhibition tackling the housing crisis with contributions by architects, capitalists, landscape painters, photographers, scientists and educators.

LMI_LamentatinsII-01 LMI_LamentationsII-02 LMI_LametationsII-04

For the current exhibition, Found Objects, Monick-Isenberg has invited Garth Rockcastle and Karen Wirth into the mix for a cohesive presentation of artworks that live at the intersection of culture and nature. Weaving industrial material into the fabric of organic forms, Rockcastle snuggles bundles of wire and steel wool into a bird’s nest. Alongside a lizard sculpted from soda can shrapnel, he places a kitschy wooden snake beneath a real snake’s shed skin. Rockcastle’s work recalls the romanticism of early 20th-century conservation efforts against industrial interventions into the organic cycles of the natural world.

Karen Wirth literally constructs language with obscure objects. She spells “The Measure of Time” with the repurposed curves and angles of scales, rulers, and protractors. An arrangement of strange, sometimes unidentifiable tools becomes “Thingamajig/bob;” sticks, antlers, and knives articulate “The Nature of Things.” There’s peace in the symmetry of form and content in Wirth’s art.

Monick-Isenberg’s Lamentations series (see above) heightens the exhibition’s sense of reverent wonder. She makes paper a mirror to nature by drawing beautiful life-scaled copies of forlorn flora and fauna: a dead crow and a downed woodpecker, frayed rope and fractured teeth, the leaf of an Indonesian fig tree and a solemn, unopened egg. Two of her drawings include a narrow rectangle of torn fabric, a traditional Jewish marker of the bereaved; Monick-Isenberg, a convert to the faith, has named her series in memory of the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem.

Garth Rockcastle, Hybrid Nest. Installation view, photo courtesy of the author.

Garth Rockcastle, Hybrid Nest, (installation view), photo courtesy of the author.

Taken together, Rockcastle, Wirth, and Monick-Isenberg have designed a space for welcoming, coherent conversation about the construction of culture at the expense of nature. Found Objects resonates as both funerary and celebratory. This is art presented as a gift, as a token of why we should care.

Related exhibition details:

Found Objects is on view at Form + Content gallery through August 3. For more information, gallery hours, and additional details about the contributing artists: http://www.formandcontent.org/index.htm

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Nathan Young graduated from Macalester College and will attend the University of Chicago  to study the intersections of art and economics. He owns one work of art. Find him on Twitter: @nrp_y

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.)

The Stories Behind What’s Printed on the Fabric of Your Life

Anything that prompts me to see the everyday world in a new way, I love. Usually, photographs that capture the unexpected beauty in the mundane are an immediate draw: the fresh lime-green vine tendril twisting around a fence; a building abstraction in which line, plane and color are juxtaposed anew; piles of detritus that take […]

Print courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Print courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Anything that prompts me to see the everyday world in a new way, I love. Usually, photographs that capture the unexpected beauty in the mundane are an immediate draw: the fresh lime-green vine tendril twisting around a fence; a building abstraction in which line, plane and color are juxtaposed anew; piles of detritus that take on a pattern or jumbled color palette on closer inspection.

Lately, a textile exhibition at the Goldstein Museum of Design has opened my eyes: Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories. In this show, curated by Jean McElvain and Kathleen Campbell, fashion, storytelling and cloth meet to shed new light on what we wear and why. Most of us aren’t prone to donning pattern or prints, am I right? When in doubt, wear black. Or white. The Seekins method. The more adventurous do go in for stripes, plaids, paisleys—sometimes all at once. (Bravo!)

Those bold souls aside, I’ll bet most of our wardrobes are print and pattern deficient. Moreover, when we do find something we like, and will wear, or will put on the wall or on top of the bed, who knows who actually designed it? We’re all familiar with William Morris and Marimekko. But in most cases, the print designer, and the methods by which the print was produced, are left to obscurity.

Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories aims to enlighten. The exhibition is divided into sections that succinctly explain such techniques as block printing, etching, roller printing, screen printing and digital printing. Custom and hand-crafted work vs. industrial mass production is discussed. In the show, the use of printed textiles goes beyond couture and everyday dresses to include such archival items as commemorative tea towels (the Brits love this stuff), handkerchiefs portraying historical events, and a hilarious kitchen cloth printed with the nine-day diet (every day begins with grapefruit and black coffee).

Want to know when the plain white t-shirt gave way to printed slogans? What a repeat is? What the Works Progress Administration has to do with textile production? Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories will show you. Just as each length of printed fabric or “yardage” hanging on the wall has stories to tell about its design, production and use, so do these textiles inspire the viewer to notice pattern and prints—whether worn by passersby, or in rugs, upholstery, art or nature—with a fresh perspective.

Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories is on view at the Goldstein Museum of Design on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus through August 25. For more: http://goldstein.design.umn.edu/exhibitions/.

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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.)

Njideka Akunyili and Her Elegant Scrapbook

Njideka Akunyili’s five mixed media works in I Still Face You at Franklin Art Works are elusive and elegant; the sort of work that asks time and attention from the viewer. By filling up her spaces with xerox transfers and painted portraits of herself, her family, and friends, Akunyili has created an intimate and artful […]

Njideka Akunyili’s five mixed media works in I Still Face You at Franklin Art Works are elusive and elegant; the sort of work that asks time and attention from the viewer. By filling up her spaces with xerox transfers and painted portraits of herself, her family, and friends, Akunyili has created an intimate and artful scrapbook. Many of the large works are casually presented to the viewer fixed with binder clips. Each image is layered with media: collaged photographs from her personal collection, images from magazines, transparent or thick paint, repetitive patterns of clothing and architecture, and charcoal.

Njideka Akunyili, I Refuse to be Invisible. 2010. Ink, charcoal, acrylic and xerox transfers on paper. From the website of Njideka Akunyili.

Njideka Akunyili, I Refuse to be Invisible. 2010. Ink, charcoal, acrylic and xerox transfers on paper. Courtesy of the  artist’s website.

I Refuse to be Invisible (2010) contains a xeroxed source photograph of the same painting, a little piece of the puzzle.  The larger picture, seen from a few paces back, depicts a couple dancing in a crowd. The woman’s skin is naturalistically rendered in oil paint, but her dancing partner’s is made of collaged images — the effect is ghostly. Small, xeroxed images fill the space of his person with hints of color and pattern, only to deny the viewer any details of his features and expression. The show may be called I Still Face You, but her figures are in fact subtly rendered or even facing away. We catch fragments of their lives, many fragments, but analyzed close-up, the images are overwhelming in number and increasingly abstract. Akunyili’s work reads like a palimpsest – a layering of various texts and signifiers of race, anatomy, and love– of her life with two colorful cultures.

Njideka Akunyili, Detail of I Refuse to be Invisible. 2010. Ink, charcoal, acrylic and xerox transfers on paper. From the website of Njideka Akunyili.

Njideka Akunyili, detail of I Refuse to be Invisible. 2010. Ink, charcoal, acrylic and xerox transfers on paper. Courtesy of the artist’s website.

Originally from Nigeria and now based in the United States, Akunyili reflects her bi-national identity and interest in heritage, memory, as well as the differences in ritual and culture between them, through these images-out-of-images. The work is dense and delicate. An online archive of her works does not do justice to the nuance evident seeing them in person. Like painterly strokes, her mixed media layerings are hard to decipher from a short distance. The viewer must take several steps away from the texture and generous swaths of paint in order to distinguish the figures engaging in intimate moments. The resulting images appear patterned with dots, plaid, squares, and circles.

Njideka Akunyili. Her Widening Gyre, 2011. Charcoal, acrylic, collage and xerox transfers on paper. From the website of Akunyili.

Njideka Akunyili. Her Widening Gyre, 2011. Charcoal, acrylic, collage and xerox transfers on paper. Courtesy of the artist’s website.

Describing the African-American collagist, Romare Bearden’s work, Akunyili offers, “they verge on visual cacophony but ultimately come together in harmony.” Akunyili’s work could be described in the same way; it takes time for the eye to decipher all of the elements, signifiers, and patterns of each work. Perhaps it is not completely necessary to do so, but the effort is rewarded with richness, and an incredibly personal tale of immigration, love, and everyday interaction.

Related exhibition information:

Njideka Akunyili: I Still Face You is on view at Franklin Art Works in Minneapolis from May 11 through July 27. For gallery hours and details about the show: http://www.franklinartworks.org/

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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.)

The Built/Natural Flux of the Urban/Environment Seen Through Stephanie Rogers’ Lens

During a recent event at The Third Place Gallery, photographer Stephanie L. Rogers was asked why she needed two hours to take a picture, shooting with film no less. “Because I spend two hours walking around trying to find something interesting,” she said with a laugh. What she found interesting and has displayed in the […]

Stephanie L. Rogers, Ragweed. From the Urban/Environment installation, part of Arts on Chicago. Courtesy of the artist.

Stephanie L. Rogers, Ragweed. From the Urban/Environment installation, part of Arts on Chicago. Courtesy of the artist.

During a recent event at The Third Place Gallery, photographer Stephanie L. Rogers was asked why she needed two hours to take a picture, shooting with film no less. “Because I spend two hours walking around trying to find something interesting,” she said with a laugh. What she found interesting and has displayed in the gallery, and put on poles or placards installed along Chicago Avenue and adjacent side streets between 32nd and 42nd, are photos of a duck eating a Cheeto in a parking lot, a vine twisted around a wire, a half-eaten melon propped up against a fence, a weed growing from a crack in the sidewalk.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers and Urban/Environment

Finished sign at 4052 Park Avenue installed in a front lawn as part of Stephanie L. Rogers’ Urban/Environment project. Installation photo by Ben Hovland.

Titled Urban/Environment, a project of Arts on Chicago, Rogers’ photography “explores urban ecology along Chicago Avenue, focusing on natural beauty in unexpected places, the fragility of life, and the tension between man-made structures and living organisms,” as the website explains. What she’s accomplished—as a young photographer whose aesthetic infuses her work with freshness, detail, wonder and a charming naivete—is inspiring viewers to pay close, or at least closer, attention to how nature asserts itself in some of the most inhospitable places of the city.

Zucchini with chicken wire. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Zucchini with chicken wire. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Rogers selected 37 photos (two additional images were taken by students at the Urban Arts Academy) for the project. The images are displayed on signs that can be found in storefront windows, on metal posts in private yards, or zip-tied to fences. On each sign, along with the image, is didactic information that contextualizes simply, and sometimes with humor, the effects of pictured juxtaposition of nature and the human-made. The duck image, for instance, offered Jacob Richards and Megan Buchanan, the bio-geographers who worked with Rogers on the text, the opportunity to explain how animals adapt to our trash and why that’s not a good thing.

Courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Duck sign courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

The descriptive text purposely mimics interpretive state park signage. And, like the placards along self-guided nature trails, Urban/Environment seeks to educate and enlighten—and from time to time, cajole. So, while the project entices even the jaded eye, photographic and otherwise, to pay renewed attention to the subtlest of the natural world’s forceful instincts—a sorrel plant whose blooms grows against a window to draw in the most plentiful light; tiny new buds growing through the leafy detritus of the past year—I’m reminded of books by Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble decrying the lack of nature, and natural play, in children’s lives.

Melon and Virginia Creeper. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Melon and Virginia Creeper. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rogers.

Perhaps the greatest gift Urban/Environment gives to city dwellers, especially children and families living near and along Chicago Avenue, is the opportunity to walk through the neighborhood with fresh eyes, an open heart and a hungry intellect. Because the text is in English, Spanish and Somali, because the images often capture nature at the micro scale, and because together text and photo interpret the intersection of science, city and the natural world, the project has the potential to change young lives.

“[W]ildness—even in its simplest forms—can nourish a lasting attachment to the earth, and, in turn, nurture self-esteem,” writes Nabhan in The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places.

Or, as Walt Whitman wrote:

There was a child went forth every day.

And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Related information:

Urban/Environment maps for self-guided tours are at The Third Place Gallery. Rogers herself will also lead walking tours on June 30, July 13 and July 27.

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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.)

Rock the Garden 2013: Two Minnesota Greats at their Best

Your average outdoor music festivals has little appeal for those of us who attend live music events on a regular basis. A ton of people cram together in a confined space for an extended period of time, and a lot of the time they’re doing so for reasons which have nothing to do with hearing […]

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Rock The Garden crowd. Photo courtesy of David Jarnstrom

Your average outdoor music festivals has little appeal for those of us who attend live music events on a regular basis. A ton of people cram together in a confined space for an extended period of time, and a lot of the time they’re doing so for reasons which have nothing to do with hearing the music. Sure, some have turned out to see bands they know and love, but plenty of others see a music fest as an excuse to party in public and channel that archetypal festival punk — yeah, that guy – we’ve all seen in countless incarnations online.

I’ve been to scores of concerts over the last 18 years, and at this point I know what to expect when I go to an outdoor festival — very little.

I say this to explain why, even though Rock The Garden is now in its 11th iteration, this past Saturday was my first venture to the popular annual collaboration between the Walker Art Center and Minnesota Public Radio’s “new music” station, The Current. In addition to my aforementioned reasons for skipping outdoor festivals, the artists playing Rock The Garden in the last few years either didn’t appeal to me and/or regularly play other venues that offer better atmosphere in which to actually hear them. But hey — I’m getting deep into the second half of my 30s. The line-up was pretty good this time around, and I figured: If I’m ever going to check out this other great Minnesota get-together, this year’s as good a time as any.

The gates opened at 3, but between a forecast calling for heavy rain and first billing for Dan Deacon, I was in no rush to get there. I’ve seen Deacon a few times and while I can appreciate his ability to engage the audience, I find his music incredibly forgettable. It sounds like glitchy pop/dance music for people who don’t really like electronic music. That said, Deacon’s ability to move an audience really came in handy, as inclement weather soon forced the audience indoors. He put on a huge dance party in the Walker’s underground parking garage and by all accounts played a really memorable set.

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Low Drone. Photo courtesy of David Jarnstrom

When Duluth’s Low was announced on the bill for Rock the Garden, to be honest, I was worried the venue would turn out to be all wrong for them. Ten albums and 20 years into their careers, Low is an institution. (Seriously, if you live in Minnesota and haven’t seen or heard them yet, what the hell are you doing?) This band has crafted a library of subtly beautiful pop songs; you listen, and the music leaves you feeling hopeless and triumphant in equal measure. But the music requires careful attention as it builds to those transcendent moments. Two of the best shows I’ve seen in my life were Low performances at Orchestra Hall, in part because the space provided a perfect canvas for Low’s spacious pop creations. Similarly subdued concert spaces have also served them well. You need a stretch of calm for your ear to hear the moment when Alan Sparkhawk drowns out the room with his hypnotic guitar playing and Parker joins him, subtly drumming, then coming in with that angelic voice in perfect unison, their sounds swelling together.

Just give these a listen: “Witches,” “When I Go Deaf,” “Dragonfly,” “Silver Rider,” “Amethyst,” “Shame,” “Sunflowers,” “Two-Step,” “Lion-Lamb,” “Time is the Diamond“…You get the point. It’s worth paying a little attention to catch the subtleties of what they do best. And what they do best is, I think, pretty awesome: This is a band that deserves to be in the same category as the Beach Boys, My Bloody Valentine and Neil Young. Reservations aside, Low’s recent output tends more toward straight-ahead shoegazer pop, and I figured that would be a better fit than their usual stuff for the rock festival atmosphere.

The thing is: What they provided on Saturday was something completely different. After the rain passed, as the festival crowd came back outside to set their blankets down on the Walker’s soaking open field, Low pummeled them with an extended 27-minute drone version of their song “Do You Know How To Waltz?

The guy in front of me stood with his hand up and thumb facing down as Low crafted a hypnotically beautiful piece that matched the changing weather patterns . One crowd member went as far to create a twitter account, @FU_Low, unsurprisingly and primarily to say:

Fuck you @lowtheband such assholes u made me make an account to give you a big fuck you!!!!!

Low’s Alan Sparhawk ended the set with three barely-audible words: “Drone, not drones.” The band even retweeted the disgruntled comment quoted above. In an event sponsored by one of the premier modern art museums in the world, Low took the opportunity to challenge their audience and to engage them in a much needed public discourse about music and the state of the world, even if they didn’t intend quite that. Sparhawk was quoted in an interview with the Star-Tribune as saying that they just “decided to try to do something beautiful.”

You know what? They absolutely did. As I sit here writing, one night later, I can’t wait to see Low play again after that. I want to support artists brave enough to buck expectations, who play music with something to bold to say. The world is full of watered-down bands who say far too little of consequence when given such a platform.

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Bob Mould and Jon Wurster: Two rock geniuses. Photo courtesy of David Jarnstrom

Like Low, you should also know Bob Mould if you’re a consumer of quality music. The Minnesota-bred Mould has created ungodly loud, catchy guitar-driven pop/rock under his own name and with the bands Hüsker Dü and Sugar for over 30 years now, and he shows no signs of stopping. Incidentally, his performance at First Avenue this past September featured a perfect mix of career highlights and was one of my all-time favorite shows of 2012. In fact, it was his presence on the billing, the chance to hear him again with his current support, that clinched my decision to finally buy that ticket to Rock the Garden this year.

And Mould didn’t disappoint. He started out with Side A of the Sugar’s unstoppable Copper Blue album, then moved at a breakneck pace through his new solo material. After that, he blazing on to play sunny-day appropriate Husker Du jams “Celebrated Summer” and “Charted Trips,” finishing the whole set off with his infectious alternative hit “If I Can’t Change Your Mind.” Mould paused just long enough between songs to introduce Narducy and Wurster, his incredible rhythm section, and to comment on the newly passed gay marriage law. About that, he declared simply that gay marriage “is good for the economy” and then went right back to work making my ears bleed, moving around the stage like a man half his age.

Going in to Rock the Garden this year, I went with the idea that I wouldn’t stay any longer than necessary: I’d go, check out the scene and then get out while the gettin’ was good. So, I took in the sights, had some ice cream and spent a fair amount of time avoiding the many picnic blankets that covered the Open Field. But about two or three songs into the Silversun Pickups’ set, I headed for the gates. Their warmed over Smashing Pumpkins-meets-’90s Brit pop does nothing for me, and I wasn’t particularly keen to see Metric after the bits and pieces of their playing I’d heard prior to the festival.

I didn’t like everything on stage, but I left with a positive feeling about my Rock the Garden experience, nonetheless. I mean, the main attraction of an event like this is the chance  to enjoy a grab bag of live music performances outdoors with a group of “like-minded” individuals. Sadly, this year, some of my fellow festival-goers didn’t look at it that way. A number of them went online to snark in various comments sections to broadcast their displeasure, admonishing both Low and the Current for failing to deliver the expected product. They wrote: “This was not music or art.”

So, let me offer this final word: I hope the Walker and the Current continue to embrace what Low brought to this festival. I hope they ignore those with such very narrow notions of what constitutes “real” music and art. Institutions like these, that pride themselves on being at the forefront of both music and art, shouldn’t be intimidated by a little blowback. There are scores of crowdpleasing festivals which are cancelled all the time. I don’t expect to like every band at a festival or every piece of art in a museum — no one should. The things outside our comfort zone create a space for conversation and dialogue. And you can’t deny: there’s been a lot of dialogue since the festival. In the span of 48 hours post-Rock the Garden I’ve participated in and read numerous conversations about Low’s set. I wish more art got us talking like this afterward. And I hope future Rock the Garden iterations again engage in both crowdpleasing moments and serious discourse. Why shouldn’t we want both?

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Tom Loftus is founder and owner of the Modern Radio record label, a creative/music event planner, social media consultant, DJ, mini-golf enthusiast and a college career adviser. He has been deeply involved in the Twin Cities music community since the mid-1990s and has attended over 2000 shows across the world in basements, bars, ballrooms and beyond. While not immersed in the world of music, he loves word games, traveling, and his two cats adopted from Pizza Farm.

A Look at the 2012/13 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship Exhibition: Jim Denomie, Chris Larson, Ruben Nusz and Natasha Pestich

What would you do with $25,000? That’s how much each recipient of the McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship gets—unrestricted. The goal of the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Visual Artists program, administered by Minneapolis College of Art Design, “is to identify talented Minnesota visual artists whose work is of exceptional artistic merit and who are at a […]

Ruben Nusz, Like an eye that sees, but cannot see itself, 2013, Image courtesy Weinstein Gallery

Ruben Nusz, Like an eye that sees, but cannot see itself, 2013, Image courtesy Weinstein Gallery

What would you do with $25,000? That’s how much each recipient of the McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship gets—unrestricted. The goal of the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Visual Artists program, administered by Minneapolis College of Art Design, “is to identify talented Minnesota visual artists whose work is of exceptional artistic merit and who are at a career stage that is beyond emerging.”

In addition to the cash award, the fellows have their work published. This year, McKnight funded a downloadable e-book and pdf of interviews with Brooklyn Rail’s Phong Bui. Location Books, a project of Scott Nedrelow and one of the current fellows, Ruben Nusz, is also publishing the 2012/13 Visual Artists fellows work later this year.

Chris Larson, Insecure Architecture, Mixed Media, 2013

Chris Larson, Insecure Architecture, Mixed Media, 2013

The most public and evaluative aspect of the fellowship is the group exhibition at the MCAD Gallery, which opened last Friday evening for this year’s group: Nusz, Natasha Pestich, Jim Denomie and Chris Larson. It’s an unspoken, or spoken in hushed tones, assumption that we attend this opening to see what they’ve been doing with their windfall.

Larson’s real display occurred the weekend before, during Northern Spark, when he now-infamously constructed, then set fire to, a replica of the St. Paul house architect Marcel Breuer designed for liturgical consultant Frank Kacmarcik. Breuer and Kacmarcik collaborated on the celebrated Abbey Church and concrete bell banner at St. John’s University. In the MCAD exhibition, like afterimages of the cardboard replica just prior to burning, are Larson’s black-and-white photos of its interior: shadowy, mysterious, almost visually impenetrable pictures of the unfurnished rooms’ stark angles and forbidding empty spaces.

Jim Denomie, The Creative Oven, 2013, Image courtesy of the artist.

Jim Denomie, The Creative Oven, 2013, Image courtesy of the artist and MCAD.

Pestich’s conceptual project—a fictional archive of a make-believe art-school incident—combined humor and institutional critique in a collection of images, posters (each one with clearly articulated and different style of graphic design) and artifacts. The narrative behind the conceit? A group of students had built themselves into their site-specific installation, with no opening for escape. Unlike Poe’s victim in The Cask of Amontillado, they were rescued—and a portion of the cement-block wall is exhibited as “proof” of their escapade.

With all of the exhibitions—past and present—investigating artists’ concepts and examinations of “the real” (i.e., Lifelike at Walker Art Center, More Real? at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Reviewing the Real at Weisman Art Museum) comparison is unavoidable. While Pestich exhibits one “chapter” of a larger project at MCAD, that slice doesn’t hint at the depth, relevance, imagination and interconnections present in a work like Zoe Beloff’s Dreamland: The Coney Island Psychoanalytic Society and Its Circle at the MIA.

Denomie surpasses his previous masterwork of social satire and cultural complexity, “Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill,” with his fantastical The Creative Oven. The enormous work—in scale, imagery and social relevance—contains a Who’s Who of art historical figures (from Botticelli’s Venus to Picasso and Dali to Minneapolis’ own Scott Seekins), pop culture references (Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman), and Native American iconography with a twist (a warrior on horseback atop a butte-like nipple, a reclining Adam-like antelope with an impressive six-pack receiving God’s finger a la Michelangelo).

Natasha Pestich, Installation view of Fulfillment is Such a White-Collar Thing, 2012, Image courtesy of the artist

Natasha Pestich, Installation view of Fulfillment is Such a White-Collar Thing, 2012, Image courtesy of the artist

His work is always fascinating, funny, revelatory, and politically relevant: The new NRA: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil is a triptych rendered in Denomie’s signature hallucinatory colors, and wild brisk and flat brushstrokes. But as a colleague pointed out, “You always know what you’re going to get with Jim.”

Nusz, on the other hand, is always immersed in a new intellectual undertaking. His “indirect abstractions,” a series of paintings called Like a sword that cuts, but cannot cut itself; like an eye that sees but cannot see itself, were the freshest, if most oblique, works in the show. Using photographic color correction cards to investigate intuition and algorithms, and figure/ground relationships, he positioned his canvases—which resembled a children’s color-block game on an iPad—on yellow, orange, red and kelly green painted walls.

And that, in part, is what $100,000 in fellowships produces this time around.

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Related exhibition details:

2012/13 McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship exhibition is on view at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design gallery from June 14 through July 14. Featured artists: Ruben Nusz, Chris Larson, Natasha Pestich, Jim Denomie. (Illustrations above by Phong Bui, pictured L to R: Chris Larson, Jim Denomie, Natasha Pestich, Ruben Nusz)

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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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engage or Boycott?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then why aren’t we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, What Do You Think?

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

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

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