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!!

What do you tell a kid about gallows in the sculpture garden?

Aine and I took a trip to the Walker today to get a sneak preview of the new sculpture garden to be unveiled in a week. We have been trying to get sneak peeks for weeks – months really. We have been so excited and anxiously awaiting the new garden. Sadly that’s wasn’t the main reason we went today. We went to see the Scaffold – the work by Sam Durant that was intended to be a commentary on capital punishment but turned out to be a commentary on cultural insensitivity.

The work comprises elements of seven different hangings in US history; most notable for Minnesotans, it includes “elements” of the execution of 38 Dakota men following the US-Dakota war in 1862. The largest one-day execution in American history. (Elements is really a Minnesota understatement – from a distance is looks like the pictures of the scaffold used. A few weeks ago, while scoping out a sneak preview from the bridge by the garden, a friend called it for what it was immediately.)

I won’t go into the details of the war – but there are many questions about the hangings. Native Americans arrested at the end of the war were tried without representation and without knowing the process or procedure of military tribunals. Originally 303 prisoners were convicted of murder and rape and sentenced to death. President Lincoln stepped in to review the cases individually and lowered that number to 38 based on which convictions appeared to be for war crimes versus attacks on civilians. He did so knowing there was great controversy. Minnesota Bishop Henry Whipple asked for leniency. Minnesota Senator Morton Wilkinson warned that many were opposed to leniency.

The men were hanged. They were buried in a mass grave by the riverbank. Rumor has it someone removed skin from some of the men and sold it in Mankato. As if that weren’t bad enough, the grave was robbed and bodies were used for research by local doctors – including William Mayo. (He apparently kept the skeleton in his home. Those remains and other have since been returned to the Dakota Tribe.)

It’s an ugly part of American and Minnesotan history. These men have earned the right to rest in peace and their families need no public reminders of the horrendous acts. We should never forget the atrocity but how we remember is very important. As the protests said – it’s not Durant’s story. It’s not the Walker’s story. It’s certainly not my story.

So it was with some trepidation that Aine and I went – especially since Aine didn’t know the story and I didn’t know all of the details. We showed up and saw the protests signs and the list of 38 names. We heard the drums and got closer to see the drum circle.

Aine had so many questions – mostly why? Why did they want to put gallows in the same garden as Spoon and Cherry and the new Blue Rooster? Why did they think children should play on something so dangerous? (She worried about kids falling; I worried about kids getting desensitized to the structure and the idea of its use.) Why didn’t anyone think about how hurtful it would be the families and tribal communities of the men hanged? Why didn’t they get the Native community involved?

It was hard not to ask all of these questions and not remember the recent Take Over of Twin Cities art by Guerrilla Girls – a reminder to include women and other voices. Or the recent work of Jim Bear Jacobs and others to get legislators to rethink art and imagery of Native Americans at the Capitol. When and how can we learn to consider the importance of our words, actions and art on striving to be our best selves by including everyone?

The Walker is clearly asking some of these questions themselves. They have postponed the opening of the sculpture garden for a week. The Walker worked with the Dakota community to come up with a plan. A native company will remove the structure Friday afternoon. It will be burned ceremoniously by the tribe near Fort Snelling area. The Walker with commission a work by Native artist.

I love the Walker. I believe everyone makes mistakes, it’s just a matter of how you recover from them. I’m hoping to see recovery used as a tool to help shine light on all of Minnesota’s stories – in the first person.

Guillermo del Toro at the MiA – creepy but cool

While I’m catching up with the blog, I’m going to catch up. We are lucky enough to have Guillermo del Toro at the Mia (Minneapolis Institute of Arts). Wow! I’ve seen it twice. Del Toro is a Mexican filmmaker – who makes super scary, uber creepy movies such as Hell Boy and Pan’s Labyrinth.

The exhibit included work from his movies, recreation of rooms (or parts of rooms) from his home, which he calls Bleak House, a collection of comic books and art (such as Francis Bacon) that is similar and/or influenced his work. The rooms were very well organized focused on topics such as a room on childhood fears and the super natural and beasts of all shapes and sizes. And there were videos of his various movies, most of which I couldn’t watch – too scary!

A key for anyone who is thinking about going to the show – and lives on a budget – you can see the exhibit for free if you become a member of Mia (membership is free) and then get tickets on a special My Mia day. It looks like April 9 and May 14 are the last days.

Minnesota State Capitol Art – what do we want to represent us?

Today I had the opportunity to see a presentation from Jim Bear Jacobs on the painful historical art in the Minnesota State Capitol – specifically how it depicts Native Americans and celebrates a manifest destiny that sought to “civilize” and already civilized culture. It was eye opening.

After the talk, we went on a brief tour of the Capitol to view some of the works he discussed and an exhibit hidden away on the third floor that he didn’t discuss. I wanted to share two pictures from the tour.

The first picture is from the Rotunda ceiling – the main entrance and focal point of the Capitol. Mr. Jacobs explained the depiction of manifest destiny, of the white male figure driving savagery from the land. He is led by angels – implying that he is being led by God to take the land from the current inhabitants. He is driving away a bear, a cowering mountain lion, a naked woman with the head of a fox and a brown-skinned man.

Not all of the details are prominent from the main floor but this photo was taken (using my phone) from an upper floor and the details are clear from that perspective. It gives a message that is horrifying. Perhaps you can make the case that it’s important to remember our past – but not in the main entrance, a place that should invite and welcome all citizens. This picture is not welcoming, rather it creates – through art – an imbalance based on color, ethnicity and I’d add gender.

The second image (Discoverers and the Civilizers led to the Source of the Mississippi) overlooks the Minnesota Senate Chambers. This is more brutal than the previous. This time white men and women (again led by angels) bring their church to “civilize” the inhabitants. And if that isn’t persuasive, they also have snarling dogs. The Native Americans in the pictures are seriously under-dressed for Northern Minnesota where they’d freeze in the winter and be eaten alive mosquitoes in the summer and the attire is not based on traditional Ojibwe attire. (Background on the picture leans to an Ojibwe connection.) Again – horrifying!

Art should celebrate Minnesota and Minnesotans. This art doesn’t. If you think it doesn’t make a difference, listen to Representative Peggy Flanagan talk about her experience viewing the art. Walk around the Capitol and view the pictures of people of all colors (if you can find people of all colors), look at women, look at the events that are celebrated. We can do better.

In a gallery on the third floor, we found an exhibit of photography of Mike Hazard – an artist whose work I know. These are pictures of faces of people we see in Minnesota today – doing every day Minnesota activities. We need to make room to celebrate these faces and others. Also featuring art of contemporary Minnesota artists might build an audience and develop economic opportunities for contemporary artists. If I learned nothing from last year’s Guerrilla Girls Takeover of Minnesota’s art scene, it’s that we can build an opportunity for art and change with thoughtful approach to how art is used.

I remember visiting the Belfast City Hall three years ago where they were in the process of re-selecting art and artifacts that would represent art and artifacts that respectfully celebrate a painful past. Maybe art can bring Minnesotans together in the same way.

Another Voice: finding comfort in the political illustrations of the recent past at MCAD

I find comfort in history – in knowing that people are strong that we have endured. As a society we take steps forward, we get pushed back, we gain strength to move forward again. As individuals we don’t always agree on which steps are forward and what’s a push back. Certainly we don’t move forward at the same pace but we endure.

Right now I’m feeling a lot of push back. So I was excited to check out ANOTHER VOICE: Political Illustration of the Late Twentieth Century at MCAD (Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It is an exhibition of more than 100 artworks by many of the nation’s leading editorial illustrators. Between 1981 and 1999 the illustrations occupied the pages of The Progressive, a magazine committed to fostering advocacy and direct action in the cause of democracy, peace, social justice, and environmental awareness.

I was expecting political cartoons. I found that and more. The works had the acuity and subtle satire of the political cartoon and the gut-punch, heart-string-pull of art of full color, full size art. I had questions: Was this when “America was great”? How did we get into and out of that time? I was hoping for answers. I didn’t get them but I got a lot of reminders and fodder for research.

I went with my favorite 12 year old, which meant I spent a lot of time explaining Reagonomics and she spent some time reminding me of the details of the Louisiana Purchase. (Thank you seventh grade American history!)  It was disheartening to see unresolved issues (protection and ownership of Native American land), issues where progress has been minimal (affirmative action) and most crushing to see issues that had been resolved yet I fear will be reopened (some churches’ stance on women).

I was heartened to see the step forward through art and even more so art distributed through journalism. Unfortunately, a big push back now is the stifling of journalism. Maybe this time around art will be the distribution channel. Jack Kerouac wrote, “Don’t use phone. People are never ready to answer it. Use poetry.” Use poetry and use art. This exhibit embodies that advice.

I wanted to comment specifically on Aine’s favorite work below. Her immediate response/explanation – so the man is being killed by his own words? Hmmm? Hmmm!


The show is open until March 5, 2017. There will be a curator’s talk on February 6 (1:00 pm)

Bleed&Burn: Burning flags while we can at the Soap Factory

“Tyranny is good for art, bad for artists,” I heard Grant Hart say at the closing of the Land Speed Record show at The Walker.  The next four years should be good for art and creation has already started. Last night the Soap Factory opened Bleed&Burn, Catalytic Flag Making.

They had 13 artists create 12 flags that will be on display until January 21. After that each artist will burn their flag at a location of the artist’s choosing. The idea is fantastic and will be the subject of an upcoming book.

Each flag, as you might imagine, was different. One had two heads, one with eyes and one with a mouth. Both open. Another read “Apathetic TORPOR” against the backdrop of mountains and a huge buck. Several looked like they would burn well. The meaning for some might become clearer in the burning process.

For the opening night there was also a performance element. Poet Paul Dickinson brought his St Paul sensibilities and humor across the River. His poetry always has a there-but-for-the-grace element that played well in the room and includes keen observations on capriciousness of life.

Writer Jordan Thomas read about being black. He chronicled the death of a nephew, the untimely and irrational death of so many black men and ensuing the fear of not coming home – if not his own fear, his partner’s fear for him.

Performer Gay Henry did a lip synch to a montage of scenes about the internal and external conflict inherent in being different. It was fascinating to watch him capture the tone and emotion of each voice in rapid succession.

Next week we will see the change of guard in the US Administration. Again, a good time for art. I am hoping to attend Another Voice: Political Illustration of the Late Twentieth Century at MCAD, an exhibition of more than 100 artworks by many of the nation’s leading editorial illustrators. A reminder that we’ve been through change before and perhaps an opportunity to learn about art and politics from our past. (The show runs from January 17 to March 5.)

Death Scene: Amazing cardboard recreation of a hospital show TV set

I enjoy a lot of shows at the Soap Factory but I really keep going back with the hope of seeing something I’ll love as much as I loved Andy Ducett’s Why We Do This show in 2012. On September 17 it happened! I loved Preston Drum’s Death Scene. (Fun to see that the show was coordinated by Ducett.) It’s a cardboard recreation of a television set for a hospital show. OK, it’s not built only with cardboard but it looks like it is!

There’s a hospital room complete with hospital bed, TV on the wall, window and medical supplies. Surrounding the room are television filming equipment, a mounted camera, audio controls, lights and a craft service table. It is exactly what you might make with a bunch of old refrigerator boxes if you were creative and had skills. The overall feel is something between caricature and surreal like a soap opera.

It looks specifically like a room at the Mayo Clinic. Although the artist said he’d never been to the Mayo. I guess it looks like all hospital rooms but the specificity born of university make the reminder all the better. And like Dulcett’s work, there’s just something about it that shoot you right into being a kid.  It’s the painstaking detail. It’s the fact that you can sit right on the chair or the bed. It’s the fact that you could stage a show there if you could talk your friends into it. It seems as if Drum was able to do that and the video shows on the TV hanging from the wall.

I tried to take my favorite 12 year old to the show last weekend and the gallery was closed – perhaps prepping for the Haunted Basement. I may have to try again as according to the website the show is open until the end of the month.

Soap Factory 3 x 5 Artists in Residency – art in tents

I always enjoy the Soap Factory. This summer they have featured a number of local artists with multi-artists shows, unveiling new artists last each month. Actually each show involves artist coordinators who choose emerging artists to show.

The most prominent part of the most recent show is the series of nine tents. Each adopted/adapted by an artist. While each tent is the same size, same shape, same color from the outside – in inside each is unique. One was like a camping scene, except that the contents (empty boxes, shoes, mattress, stuff) was all painted white. One faced two bull-horn speakers at each other alternating static and connected via cords and metal-spelled words. One included a strange adult film – with two people in a bed. Only you notice immediately that the two people were not filmed together. It’s really two women superimposed together in a bed. And then it’s not really clear if it’s two women or the same woman filmed twice.

I like the concept of surprises packaged the same but very different inside. As a whole they covered themes. Some art in tents was more intense than other.

The other prominent work was from Lela Pierce. It takes up the back end of Gallery 3. Starting with a structure that looks like a hut created from tree roots, moving to a spider web or bicycle spoke of red yarn splayed out and leading to shadow figured in gauzy material hanging from the ceiling. The string seemingly going to a bullet hole or would of the figure  with raised arms.

You can walk through the exhibit. It’s like a maze with very sheer gauze walls. It’s beautiful. It’s ethereal. It’s touching and sad.

I’ll have to go back to focus on the other art another time. It’s one of the things I like best about the Soap Factory. Each show deserves – maybe requires – multiple visits.