Sign Spinners at The Walker

One of the best things about the Twin Cities is the huge number of fantastic things that happen nearly every night! Thursday I enjoyed bike night at the MIA and then Thursday at The Walker. Spoiled!

At The Walker I was introduced to Sign Spinners. They are street level advertisers/performers that spin or dance with marketing signs. Apparently I’m driving down the wrong streets because I had never seen them. So it was super fun to see them at The Walker with the gorgeous background!

And just FYI – apparently sign spinners can earn $15-20/hour or more!

Body Cartography Part 3: Action Movie – one-on-one dance performance

Me before the performance – couldn’t take one during!

I have a crush on an art exhibit – Body Cartography at the Weisman Art Museum. I went to the artists’ talk (with Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad) , the terrifying, yet awesome, felt room and earlier this week I went to action movie. It was a personal dance performance. A perfect third date.

I signed up in advance and was handed off to a dancer/artist. He walked me around the galleries, often with my eyes closed. He would tell me when to open and close my eyes and led me through the gallery by holding my hand, or gently nudging my back. At times he’s leave me alone, run to a location nearby and tell me to open my eyes and I’d watch and the art, from a distance.

I was a little nervous at the prospect but it wasn’t scary at all. Turns out it’s comforting to give over and let someone else lead you around.

I know the Weisman pretty well. And I had learned about empathetic kinesthesia in the artists’ talk so I had an idea of what to expect. My dancer (Justin) was very kind and explained the process to me and he looked like Kraig Johnson (Run Westy Run) back in the day. So what’s not to like there.

It is interesting to have permission to stare at someone at close range. As I remember it, we moved side-by-side at first so by the time I really was in a position to stare there was a comfort level and because it was a performance it felt rude not to watch.

I started off trying to anticipate movement but that dissipated pretty quickly. Soon after, there was a pull at times, especially when Justin was close and the movement was easy, to want to mirror the same action. But my Midwestern shyness prevented any of that. But there was a pull.

It’s awesome and strange to have a short, immersive encounter with one person.

BodyCartography felt room at the Weisman: terrifying, fascinating, philosophical

Sometimes art is a lot of what you bring to it. If your head is in a dark place, you see things differently. But I don’t think it makes it any less legitimate – just more cathartic than you might otherwise find.

Felt room is an immersive performance piece by BodyCartography at the Weisman. (I wrote about the artists’ talk earlier.) It is performed in a sealed room. You sit, stand, lounge where you want; the dancers work around and with you. The performance is three hours long but there’s an open door policy.

I was a little late so I set off alone, down a hall, then choose a door (the other might be locked or go to a closet, I don’t know) that opened into a mini, light-blocking antechamber and pulled back the weighted curtain. Into the darkness.

I could see another patron inches from me. I felt others were around. You could hear shuffling and movement. There was white noise – but the space was pitch black. My eyes never acclimated to it.  It was dark for about 20 minutes. I found it terrifying; so much so I thought about leaving. I stood frozen, afraid to bump into another patron. I wished my eyes to see because I was afraid of dancers milling about. I thought I saw them and I thought there were all much bigger than me. Mostly men. (In truth – five apparent dancers, none much larger than me and seemingly women.)

I felt like people were walking by and nearly touching me (and everyone) but not quite – like nearly poking at your nose or bristling your arm. It occurred to me that it was entirely my imagination but it is what my senses told me. Again terrifying.

Then there were glimmers of light and then a soft red light – bright enough to see but shadowy. I realized we were in a big room. Lots of performers sitting throughout the room. (Although truthfully I spent the whole performance wondering if the only performers were the apparent dancers – or if in moments of darkness some of the patrons were in on the act.)  Back in the red light, a mob of rags and sheaths of cloth start moving in the corner. Dancers under the heap move like one, giant organism. Sometimes the movement was angry and menacing. At other times it moved with less emotion. Eventually the organism oozed into the patrons’ space – at least a few and it was interesting to watch that interaction.

Mostly I was thankful that I could see. Thankful that I wasn’t scared.

The performance had segments based on action of the dancers. Stage of darkness. Stage of organism. Stage of whirling dervishes. Stage of mime. Stage of reunification but not as the same organism of something higher order but still of one free will. (I’m carefully not saying one mind.)  Between the segments often the darkness fell again. I never got to like the pitch black but I did become more comfortable with it.

If I had been 20 minutes later I would have missed the darkness. My feeling for the show would be entirely different. Less intense, easier but less meaningful.

BodyCartography – step one: the artist talk

I’m excited about a show and experiment at the Weisman – BodyCartography. The friendly guerrilla group has taken over (parts of) the Weisman Art Gallery for a few weeks. I am looking forward to  interactions with them. I was going to wait and write about my experience after the fact but I’ve decide to write as I enjoy.

I started with the artists’ talk. A chance to meet the founders of the BodyCartography Project Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad. (Actually I had met Olive before helping her on a website – but briefly.) The husband and wife team have worked together for at least 20 years. We showed up for the event and were led to a large room with lots of space to sit on the floor. So that made me nervous and glad that I was with a friend.

But the talk was super interesting on the history of BodyCartography. They have done large (and small) scale site specific performances. Think flash mob before the days of flash mob. So they might walk/saunter/dance down main streets of San Francisco. I remember them performing outside the Instinct Gallery in downtown Minneapolis a few years ago. Aine and I were fascinated. The dance was more like movement than say the tango and it seemed to involve purposeful – yet sometimes pained – connections with the setting, including the people nearby.

I learned that’s about empathetic kinesthesia, which seems to be encouraging people to react to your movement. Or at least that’s the case if the performance is a one-on-one deal. (Which I am seeing soon. And yes I’m a little terrified.) I imagine when you’re both dancers that you try to feed of each other – to riff like improvisational jazz but in your bodies.

It was interesting to hear about how movement, surrounding and video was used to create art and performance pieces. I love the different perspective of art when focused on movement above vision. As Olive pointed out in the talk – vision is the last sense we master as babies. And yet is seems the sense we rely on most as we carry out our day.

They also bring in a lot of science. We could see the makings of an embryology project in development. There are also works with connections to environment – which makes sense given how we move around the environment.

So now I’m prepared for my next encounter on Sunday, the felt room…

felt room is an immersive performance installation designed to conjure imagination, speculation, and perception, engaging viewers in a practice of vibrant potentiality. In the darkness of felt room viewers are offered an escape from a world of constant illumination.

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.