Weekend of festivals: Northern Spark, Stone Arch and Rock the Garden

Summer in the Twin Cities is crazy. So much fun, so little time. This weekend was like that on steroids. I managed to get to three festivals – to greater and lesser degrees.

Northern Spark is the all night arts festival in Minneapolis. Except this year it was only from 9 pm to 2 am but it went on for two nights. I brought Aine and a friend – then we met up with a friend of mine there. The festival was set up in three parts of downtown Minneapolis: the public library, near the stadium and on Nicollet Ave. Different artists set up stations – most are interactive. And you can meander from one to the next.

Some of our favorite exhibits include the Meme Weaver – a giant interactive machine programmed by Arduino to weave poetry. Then Keith Braveheart worked with the local Native art community to creatively recreate Buffalo Nation – an historical picture of buffalo skulls killed by settlers in an attempt to eradicate Native people. There we created buffalo skulls that they assembled.

We love the library. The trans dance was kind of awesome – people just dancing in a circle. There was a singalong – although much higher brow than I could do. Aine got a chance to ride a virtual reality bike. And we just got to be downtown last at night with hundreds of other people.

I got to take a tour through the Stone Arch Bridge Festival the next morning on a walk. It was so muggy, so hot and it rained for the whole 8 miles! Stone Arch include dozens – if not a hundred artists booths. A highlight was the robot art. And the free sample of brats at the Weber grill booth. And the area around the Stone Arch Bridge is gorgeous.

Finally – thanks to the generosity of a friend – I got to go to Rock the Garden. It’s a full day of music at the Walker Art Center. Three of my favorites were there – Father John Misty, Chastity Brown and Nikki Lane and I got to hear a lot of new music. It was steamy hot but there was a breeze.

Chastity Brown told a sad story about playing in Eau Claire earlier this year. She was in front of the venue when a white supremacist accosted her – yelling and getting in her face. No one around her helped – until a band member happened to walk outside. It has led to many discussion of “what would you do?” I hope it made everyone in the crowd ask – so that we’re all prepared if something like that happens near us.

Happy May Day with the Annual Heart of the Beast Parade

Today was one of the best days for May Day I can remember – shocking given my lake expert informed me that ice out happened on Minnesota yesterday! There are three parts to our May Day event: the Parade, the Tree of Life Ceremony, and a Festival in Powderhorn Park. We caught the tail end of the parade, part of the ceremony and the festival.

The theme this year is – What You Feed Grows – it’s all about love. There were the usual actors for the ceremony – the red boats that cross the river, the gods and goddesses with some new ones including my new favorite pink birds. It’s amazing to see the work that folks do in creating their costumes.

May Day is an ancient holiday – going back to 29 BC and possibly before. It was originally a festival of flowers, which makes sense given the spring timing. In more modern time the May Day was associated with the May Pole or even with the religious ceremonies crowning Mary, the mother of Jesus. I can remember collecting lilacs and doing a march for Mary at some of my schools as a kid. In the last 19th century, the Socialists decided to make May Day International  Workers’ Day. So there’s also a historical tie to Socialism.

The Powderhorn Park version of the holiday is heavy on celebrating spring, socialism and opportunities for inclusive approaches to life and politics. The parade includes floats and puppets that carry the theme – as well as a host of supportive/supported groups. The Women’s March marched. And many candidates march. The festival includes music, food, and booths from various organizations. The ceremony happens on the shore of the lake, featuring characters from the parade, and culminates with the giant sun coming by boat to the shore.

Art in Bloom – family tradition with an added dip into China’s Last Dynasty

Art in Bloom is my very favorite annual event at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. They partner with local florists and artists to create bouquets that complement or contrast or make you think deeper about a piece from the regular collection. This year I went twice once my with my mom and once with Aine.

Because it was a gorgeous weekend following a cruel and late winter snowstorm, the place was packed. But it was fun both times. A bonus from the MiA – on special days, such as Art in Bloom, you can get into the special shows, such as China’s Last Dynasty, for free. So some of the pictures actually come from that exhibit. (That exhibit is awesome, if you haven’t seen it yet!)

Allen Ruppersberg at the Walker: dark but funny and very book forward

The art of Allen Ruppersberg is an arty librarian’s dream – art and books, books and art. The collection includes books and words as regalia and as something to be organized. He pulls the dark but funny out of mundane of life and words.

One of the bigger pieces was Al’s Café. Ruppersberg created a cafe and invited guests to come in like a restaurant debut. The trick was that the café didn’t serve food. But it did serve up plates with odd pairings of objects. It reminded me of the dinner party game where you invite guests to order their own meal – including silverware, cups, food – but all in a language that hopefully no one speaks. I like the idea. The exhibit was interesting in the same way a Richard Scarry or Eye Spy book is. So much to see. (And I had to sing Alice’s Restaurant the whole time we were in the room. Mandatory.)

The theme of big picture, lots of details, carried through many of the works. There was the wall of posters. Upon first look they all just look like carnival posters but once you look at each poster you’ll see that some are carnival-type posts but maybe have semi-phonetic  messages. There’s also a wall of book titles, authors and quotes. The one that caught my eye? “Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.” It’s a quote from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

There’s a darker section, Still Life that includes morose stories of murders on the walls surrounding a smattering of severed concrete heads. The work is from 1982 but the heads look like cartoon heads from heads in 40s. There’s blood dripping from the posters and Still Life written in blood. It’s creepy but cartoonish.

A special treat for me was the simple drawings of a home library with different instructions for organizing the books. My favorite? “Honey, I rearranged the collection according to two categories: Nice and not nice.” It’s very close to how I organize people.

A special treat for Aine was finding an article about and picture of her favorite Chuck Close in a room full of pictures of Ruppersberg objects.

Art is My Weapon at Homewood Studios: the brutality of fragility of gun violence

I didn’t go to the opening of Art is My Weapon (Part 2) last night with the intention of writing about it but I saw two works that struck me so much I just have to talk about them. The show is a collective of artists creating pieces on gun violence.  There were works made out of guns, artistic representations of guns, a welcome to America sign created from shot gun shells and statistics on gun violence. Something for everyone.

I was drawn to Tha Boys by Rikki V. Heck and then I had the good fortune to meet the artist. I was drawn to the work because it reminded me of a mural I saw in Belfast 10 years ago. (I will include a super shaky video I took below.) It was of a masked gunman; as you walked by the work, the gun followed you. Now that I see the video again I see the similarities in the work but realize that I remembered the mural differently; I remembered more of what Rikki had in her work.

There is a brutal vulnerability to her work. The terror and tears in the eye. The swirl of smoking gun. The real gold chain (not painted) around the neck. It’s someone dressing up for a part that they may not want. Rikki said she did the piece for her brothers. They are young black men who may also be put into a position to play a part that they do not want to play. But as she says, what do you do when you can’t get a job because of the way you look – yet you still want to eat? People get pushed into roles.

It’s a wake up call to those of us who push people into those roles. There is something scary in the human condition where we lose sight of the role that the “dominant culture” plays in forcing a role onto others and the ramifications of those actions. I wish this picture could be placed as prominently as the Belfast mural to remind us all of the roles we play and how those roles are chosen.

Just around the corner from her work was Untitled (An Elegy to Sandy Hook) by John Ilg. There are 26 delicate white butterflies representing the 20 students and 6 teachers that were killed in the Elementary School in Connecticut. They are so beautiful, so fragile, so ethereal. There’s always something wrong about beautiful butterflies suspended and dead. It makes me uneasy because they should be fluttering – much like the 26 people in Sandy Hook should be doing what they did before the shooting.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet this artist but Rikki was able to answer a few questions for me. Apparently, the artist ordered them online. “Like some people order guns online?” I asked. That was apparently part of the point. And she told me that Ilg learned that you can’t order a gun replica in Minnesota but you can order a real gun. (I did a little searching to verify this info – seems like replicas are OK with they are antique but modern replicas are not OK.)

The work as it stands is beautiful; the story behind it makes it even more meaningful.

These were two pieces that struck me last night. There’s a gallery full of others that might easily strike me another night and the show is open.

Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty – dark to light

The Minneapolis Institute of Art never ceases to delight me. The Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty was a treat to see, touch and smell. Well, I’m hoping it was meant to be touched; I can definitely tell you I touched it!

The exhibit is 10 rooms containing items from the museum’s collection. It’s an entirely new look at everything old and familiar – or at least familiar to regular visitors. They collaborated with Robert Wilson, international theater and opera director, designer and artist. He set up the rooms in quickly, compelling ways.

The first room is a dark meditation – literally. It’s a ticketed and timed event and so as a cohort a number of us set out into the room for 5 minutes. There are some funny dropping, crashing sound effects – but otherwise it’s dark. Dark like wondering where the rest of the people are. It sets a somber tone – which is immediately broken in the next room focused on prosperity. It’s a collection of items on shelves accompanied by items on the wall paper – some of the same items but not all. (I had some time to double check.) There was an outdoorsy smell and soundtrack that reminded me of Bozo the Clown. It was like party whistles.

The next room contains a series of ceremonial robes – all gorgeous. Again with a soundtrack that synced with lights that left ominous shadows from the robes and a smell of lemongrass that matched the straw on the walls. The next room is dark, bluish with one little bronze man. Strike that, one tiny man in a museum display pedestal. It was very calming. The next room is reminiscent of a Chinese antechamber. There was bed and items that you might find in a bedroom or antechamber. But most striking was the tin foil (OK maybe Mylar) crinkled all over the walls. As a kid I used to make doll houses in shoe boxes, including adding wallpaper to the walls – usually from toilet paper. This was like that – only well done and much cooler.

Branching off that room was a devil-dragon room. Amazing and red with a soundtrack of screams and moans. The dragon’s tail wound around the room. And there were two rooms on either site. One was cool and steel. Steel walls and floors like the inside of a commercial cooler and filled with five Buddhist statutes. They looked like there were floating and running in air. On the other side was three Daoist paintings.

The penultimate room was full of jade and lacquer and an intricate silk tapestry. There was a scene documented the lives of the monks who had reached Nirvana. The colors of the tapestry were woven into the cloth. The jade sculptures were scenes – like from a mountain side and the wallpaper in the room mirrored the mountains except they were urban, not pastoral, in nature. There were like castles from afar but up close more like urban decay.The final room is a blast of bright light.

It was a whole experience.

Opening of The Human Anomaly by John Schuerman

I did the quickest gallery tour ever through John Schuerman’s The Human Anomaly because I really wanted to see it and I was squeezed between work and kids. I had spent the day discussing community need and use of technology on the Iron Range and had kids waiting at home. It was a really odd juxtaposition to the art, which highlights the human role in nature and human’s ability to control one’s environment.

The art is exquisite colored pencil drawings. Each piece includes a singular or maybe just a few objects with precision and white space of a medical text book. The work is realistic and clearly natural yet removed from nature because the object is set outside its usual surroundings.

Tree Ring is the work that struck me the most. It is a bracelet of tree bark; the rings have been removed from the center. It looks as if you could feel the texture of the bark and there’s an orange ring painted on the outside. It’s easily recognizable but displaced. There’s an eerie quality too as the orange ring denotes an untimely death of the tree. Or at least an untimely demise or destruction. There’s a sadness in the work presented in the context of the show that I would have missed if seen on its own. It’s nature made human.

In contrast, hair circle is a piece that seems to make human become nature or art. It’s a picture of a swirling circle of hair. If I hadn’t read the name I might assume it was a delicate crocheted doily or dense, penciled Spirograph. I don’t know if I’m draw to it because of the art or the nature of it or because it reminds me of my three daughters.

The Human Anomaly will be at the Gordon Parks Gallery January 29- February 22, 2018.

Sheep shagging and more at family day at The Walker

Shhh. Don’t tell anyone but I accidentally took Aine to see sheep porn at the Walker. It was awesome!

It’s First Saturday. (Free in and lots of kid-centric activities.) Some months it’s a melancholy reminder that Aine isn’t a kid – she’s a teen. (The big girls quit going years ago; they have been teens for longer.) This month it was a celebration that Aine is a teen. It is a gorgeous day so most activities were happening in the still-pretty-new sculpture garden – including Les Moutons (the sheep) from CORPUS, a Toronto-based troupe. The premise is four actors dressed as sheep, a shepherd and (spoiler alert!) a brief cameo from a wolf!

It’s a day in the life of sheep. They are corralled into a fenced area. There’s a ram that gets kicked out for being … um … too amorous. The sheep are shorn and fed. They are milked and one pees. (Yup – super interesting costuming going on here!) The ram breaks away from his “naughty corner” and has his way with a ewe. The wolf comes. The sheep escape. The shepherd leads them out. That is the story. It was probably 40 minutes long. It’s pretty interactive. Kids get to feed the sheep lettuce and one brave kid drank the newly extracted sheep’s milk.

My favorite and often overheard comment from the kids in the crowd – Look mom it’s a cow. Not sure if we need to work on French or science in the schools. The faces of the sheep-actors were amazing. They were blank and distant. They all did body-breathing like sheep do. (I’m pretty knowledgeable about sheep after a trip to the State Fair last week!) And then there’s the whole part about sheep doing what comes naturally. Every sophomoric adult (and semi-adult) in the crowd was shocked and laughing. It was done in good taste – but it was done! It was like an old school Rocky and Bullwinkle moment where (city) kids wouldn’t have a clue about the Easter egg hidden for the teens and older. We loved it!

Greenway Glow – arty things happening on the urban bike trail

I admit, I only cruise the Midtown Greenway when something fun is going on – but I’m not a biker and I don’t live in Minneapolis. So I’m glad that I get a chance to check it out every now and again. Last night we popped in for the Greenway Glow.

It’s a festival from 7 pm to midnight on the Greenway, which is a rehabbed train track intended for bikers and walkers. (I’m going to say mostly bikers.) There were 20 or so stops I made it to a few:

Big Bubble

You walk through. Someone said it was like being born again. Maybe but a lot dustier with way more static cling!

What Makes a Heart Grow

Poetry on the outside – Life Jeanie’s bottle on the inside!!

Flamenco Dancing

Hot Metal Pour

Seemed very cool and kind of dangerous

Reactionary Cubes

Rainbow Generator

Ghost Pictures

I’ll have to add that picture later – it was an opportunity for us to create slow motion light-up photographs, which was pretty cool.

As intended I left feeling like I should make more of an effort to walk or run the Greenway. I’m just a little suspect of the walking friendliness of a trail that really is unabashedly bikers first.

Sculpture Garden Opens, Northern Spark lights up the night

June 10 is a day that will live on in Twin Cities art infamy. We flexed our art muscles, mopped up our sweaty brow and saw how art and politics mix – sometimes unintentionally.

The day started with the grand re-opening of the Walker Sculpture Garden. The garden kept some of the old (Spoon and Cherry) and brought in some new (Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock). I love her Blue Rooster and I’d love it twice as much if it were twice as big. (It’s 25 feet tall.)

Fritsch’s work is interesting – deep colors, everyday items. The Walker is showing her work inside right now too in a show called Multiples. It includes a creepy work of matte black rats in a circle with their tails tied in a monkey knot. The Rooster is a nod to feminism but also a playful addition to the garden.

The gardens are much more open. Like a good friend getting a haircut, it’s hard to pinpoint all of the differences but a lot of trees are gone or severely trimmed. The greenhouse (former home of the Frank Gehry Fish) has lost its walls. It’s more of a patio now.

The walkway up the side of the Gallery has some real potential. The sprinklers might be the best part of a visit – when it’s 95 degrees. Right now there’s a lot of no-go space as the flora fills in. The garden feels less like a secret now – but more like a part of the city.

What was missing was any trace of The Scaffold, the gallows turn jungle gym that bore an unfortunate resemblance to the gallows of the 1862 Dakota execution. The structure was completed a month ago and torn down a week ago after mediation between the Walker and Dakota community. New sod lives where the structure was.

If the Dakota community asked that the work be entirely erased, I respect that. If the plan is to replace that piece with something that celebrates the Dakota or other culture, I applaud it. The visual silence wasn’t deafening – but it was heard.

Just hours after the garden party Northern Spark started – a night of art. This year the art took place up and down the Green Line (train from St Paul to Minneapolis). One of my favorite nights of the year.

We started in Minneapolis at the opening ceremony. In the shadow of the US Bank stadium, we arted it up in the park. One of our favorites – the Night Library was there but sadly a 2-hour wait. But we caught a little bit of the cardboard drive-in, saw wonderful birdhouse art and learned that if we don’t’ clean up our act chocolate could be extinct by 2030!!

We also saw an IRL string-art infographic. You chose a color of string based on your age and wove that string through the art based on your survey responses. Love the idea of using interactive art like that to show results.

Next stop – Cedar Riverside. We saw some markets, a Ramadan meal but mostly people bustling about. I love that art brought people to a community that might be new to them. I think that’s the best part of Northern Spark – bringing people to communities. Cedar Riverside can be a little rough – but people live there. Families live there. They take walks. They play soccer. They speak 100 languages (collectively – not just one smarty). A lot of Somalis live in the area now. It’s been a home to new Americans since the 40s – it will be interesting to see who is living there in 10 years – and selfishly what culinary traditions they will bring!

We hit the Weisman next. Perhaps my favorite exhibit of the night was the Un:heard Resonance. It was real time creation of music and video based on interaction with nature. Somehow touch turns to electronic music. Very cool.

Little Africa was next – just off Snelling. There was a super cool VR thing you could try on the train. We were disappointed that we weren’t able to download that in time to use it. I wonder if it works after the event. We also saw a sad movie on what happens to the computers you throw out. People in poverty tearing apart computers for whatever copper or metal could be sold. Tearing apart include the toxic burning away of plastic. It hurt my lungs to watch it on screen! (Gotta plug my buddies at PCs for People if you need to donate your old computers!!)

Then we ran into a hiccup. We were going to take the train to the next stop but there was a 28 minute wait. I love the train. I loved the idea of taking the train stop to stop BUT at 2 am – a 28 minutes wait can be a buzz kill. It would have been nice to have more trains throughout the night. And speaking of trains – I enjoyed seeing the trains but just like it was interesting to get people to Cedar Riverside at night – being on the train reminded me of our neighbors who ride the train at night for shelter. (My friend Monica has been cataloging that journey.)

Finally we landed in Lowertown – by car. We caught the tail end of a Native storyteller and saw some spectacular nature superimposed on buildings and painted on the street.

I say finally but we have some hopes of visiting the Mekong Night Market tonight. Always another summer favorite that was combined with Northern Spark this year.

We took some breaks to meet new people and see old friends, which means we didn’t see everything but we saw a lot. I love the idea of art between the Cities. I love the idea of getting people out and about to see the different corners of the Cities. While I’m a supporter of raising awareness of climate change. I sort of miss the days when the focus on Northern Spark was art and community. I understand the teachable moment – but art and community seem like pretty good lessons too!!