Friday, June 28, 2013

The Art of Junk (or Junk Art) (or Jart)

Today me and some of my artistic comrades ventured over the border into the most wonderful state out of the entire 50, Wisconsin (a whole 3 miles away). My conviction of Wisconsin's greatness was further solidified because of the difference in shops in the downtown area of Taylors Falls, MN and St. Croix Falls. Taylors Falls has the mandatory small-town cutesy bead shops and a pretty rad yarn shop. It also has a mini-golf place called Adventure Falls, so obviously as small towns go it's probably one of the best. But what Taylors Falls does NOT have is THIS:

THIS is the greatest junk shop of all time. Not only did this place have some high-quality junk, but they had some high-quality junk art. By junk art I mean mysterious folk art/outsider-art objects, concocted out of junk, that are so peculiar that one can only begin to speculate about their origin. Why are they here? Why did these people feel so insistent on creating them? How did they end up in a junk shop? oOoOoOoOoO...We will probably never know... The first piece of art I saw was in the bathroom because of course my bladder insists that I always pee when my life is at the height of adventure. So while I was peeing in urgency I got to stare at this, and it sort of stared at me back: 

Bathroom Fishie by Mystery Artist #1

(I'm going to make up a title for each piece). It's not the most mysterious of the treasures hidden in Junkland, but it is pretty adorable nonetheless. Moving on I saw more and more fascinating gems such as:

pEYEnapples by Mystery Artist #2

This title is dedicated to Alli Cochrane.

What You Gonna Do With All that Skunk? by Mystery Artist #3

Sticking with the Wisconsin vibe, this definitely reminds me of the Milwaukee Art Museum's Folk Collection.

The Doll that Lives in Your Attic and Scares you When You're Five by Mystery Artist #4

This will definitely keep me up tonight.

Duck and Eggs on Egg by Mystery Artist #5

Someone really didn't like chickens.

First in Flight by Mystery Artist #6

No papercuts!

Welcome to the Planet by Mystery Artist #7

Yep, that's a fetus.

You've Got Scales by Mystery Artist #8

Nothing measures up to this! Lolz

CAT SCRATCHING POST!!! by Mystery Artist #10

If only my cats were still alive.

SquAir Guitar by Mystery Artist #11

This place was also a legit music shop with non-junk instruments!

Turtle-Barrow by Mystery Artist #12

Just plain cute.

So basically this was the greatest place on earth and you all need to go. Main drag, St. Croix Falls, WISCO. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ain't That Something Real

Unfortunately I've been tired and haven't seen any more art this week. No, I should rephrase that. I haven't been to any galleries this week, but I have seen art. Franconia put on two workshops for kids over the weekend. One was making sculpture with recycled book materials and the other one was a wood workshop (all the big tools were handled by the adults, don't worry).

While watching children concoct surprisingly complex objects such as book monsters, a wooden dog named "Princess Fluffy," and a home for a hypothetical cat, I got to thinking about many other things other than what I was supposed to be thinking about, which was kids making sculpture.

At the end of my last term at Lawrence I had a professor tell me I wasn't really an artist because I didn't feel like working on art at the end of the year. I suppose I was sort of irritated at the time, but didn't realize exactly what the accusation meant until later.

If I compare myself to the people I know that are artists, I guess I'm not really an artist at all. I don't work on art all day long, or for months at a time (with the exception of my senior project), I don't sketch out plans of artwork before I make it, and I don't spend tons of money on materials (I bought a vase that I plan to cover today for $1.25).

If I was truly an artist I would be planning to spend my time after graduation working on art. I'd be moving somewhere and renting an apartment and a studio, and making art day and night until I die. I might spend some of the money that I have creating pop-up galleries, or save it for grad school.

Forgive me if I don't want that life.
Give me a break if I can't find inspiration from the insides of studio walls.
Don't judge if I am more comfortable without the debt of grad school.
And seriously, leave me alone because I don't want to spend all of my money on art.

What I think is more necessary at this point is to travel. I am looking for an honest art, a pure art, a completely no-bullshit kind of art. I want to see more art like the wooden Princess Fluffy and the book monsters. I want to see art that wasn't made in a studio. I want to see art that no one cares about. I want to see art that's about something I don't know about. I want to see art that isn't made for a resume. I want to see art that's hidden on the top of a mountain. I want to see art that's covered in algae at the bottom of the ocean. Realizing I'm sounding like Oldenberg, I'll stop. But I want to see art so that I can figure out whether or not you can be an artist without making art day and night. To find out if there is a spectrum. If you can be something other than an artist and still be an artist.

I've decided that if I'm going to travel (and I am), I am going to search for art in every nook and cranny that I can possibly afford to crawl into. There is a world full of art and it's not just sitting around lazily  collecting dust. It is alive and it is dust-free, and it is being made in places that we don't expect. Yes, I want to see art. All of it. Not just some of it.

And then, maybe, (just maybe) I can tell you if I'm really an artist or not. And you can't tell me anything.

Also, if you're interested, here's my first blog post for the Franconia blog.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Can't Make it to Scandinavia? Minneapolis Could Be Your Solution

This week, I needed to see something new. I had heard about the American Swedish Institute briefly, over dinner, and decided to investigate. The person who recommended it said it was spectacular, so it was first on my list of things to check out in Minneapolis. I've been to the Walker a thousand times and I love Scandinavians. So there.

I arrived at the museum a bit early so I decided to check out the museum store first. The cashier was a rather attractive Swedish man (bonus!), and the shop itself was stocked with delightful items such as this mouse pad:

Translation: Holy Meatballs!! (Translated by a trustworthy Swede). And of course a bunch of contemporary faux-Swedish odds and ends that were extremely overpriced.

The admission to the museum itself, however, was quite reasonable. With my student ID (ha) it was only $4 to get into the exhibit, which was, as promised, spectacular. "Pull, Twist and Blow: Transforming the Kingdom of Crystal," exhibited contemporary glass work from eleven practicing traditional glass makers from Sweden. The first installation, Homeland by Ingalena Klenell, which was pointed out to me by the beautiful Swedish docent at the door was an ethereal glass forest that contrasted the balmy midwestern weather outside, but made me feel warm in the air conditioning nonetheless.

Homeland, Ingalena Klenell

There were also hanging glass panels with forest scenes printed onto the glass.

This particular installation reminded me a lot of an exhibit I saw in Iceland because of its clear interest in/ respect for nature. This is a common characteristic of Scandinavian countries (Reykjavik is said to be the greenest city on the planet), and it very well should be; Scandinavian countries are stupidly beautiful!

Homeland was installed in a typical white cube, but the rest of the exhibit expanded out into the Turnblad Mansion, a French-inspired but Swedish-built mansion in the city. Here are some of my favorite pieces from the show:

Hide, Matilda Kastel

A clever play on words by a non-native English speaker.

A Bottle for a Tear Helena Kagebrand

I cried, just a little.

(I forgot to write down the name aauugghh!!), Ludvig Lofgren

This exhibit just opened on Saturday and will be up until November, so I probably won't get to see any more exhibitions at the museum (although I'm told they put up Christmas decorations from the five Scandinavian countries in December, so maybe I'll have to stick around the Twin Cities), but I definitely got a healthy dose of Scandinavia today. If you need one too, there is absolutely no reason why you should not go and visit the American Swedish Institute. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Falling Asleep and Waking Up With Artists On All Sides of You

It's sort of like a headache. But it's also sort of like the cure to a headache.

It's exhausting, that's for sure. In my life I have had the privilege to be surrounded by creative people (Lawrence, etc). But when everyone around you has a B.F.A. or some other fine arts major, you sort of feel like you've been slapped in the face with the consolidated interior of millions of energetic brain cells. Hence the headache/ non headache feeling.

I came to Franconia thinking I would take a break from art, because I felt burnt out at the end of the year, and because creativity usually comes in cycles anyways (well, for me). I also thought I would throw myself entirely into community arts engagement projects. However, I have only been here for four days and I have already had a complete change of heart. Or maybe it's just that the creative atmosphere at Franconia is a virus. Or maybe it's because I am also surrounded by lush, green countryside and fresh air.

I have most certainly been enjoying my time here. But the constant struggle for type-A personality types is feeling like you're doing something wrong if you're enjoying yourself. Not that I think any of the work I do here will be non-enjoyable, but I just wonder if I am doing enough, or if this internship in general is going to be enough. (Although even as I'm writing this I am hearing that tiny voice in my ear: it is what you make of it). I know that there is always an adjustment period, and I haven't even been here a week. But I am not a patient person. I want instant satisfaction, and knowing that isn't going to happen is annoying. I have also been frustrated at the amount of chores/ busy work I have been doing. However, I know that "arts administration" is really a vast territory with no specific definition, and if you know how to mow a lawn you are basically as qualified to be in the field as if you know how to curate an exhibition (okay, that's a slight exaggeration but you know what I mean).

Another thing about working and living here that I didn't expect is feeling like I am not being regarded as an "artist" because I did not come here specifically to make art. I kind of feel like I am catering to a celebrity clientele (Hey guys, I do have a degree in art, you know!) Yet another clause to take into consideration on this dangerously unregulated quest to find out what I would like to do with my life.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hovering On the Border

I guess you could say today was the first day of the rest of my life. But you wouldn't say that though, because that would be cheesy. No- what today was (is) the first day of my new awesome internship! I'm still trying to get over how rad this place is, and how lucky I am to be here.

I drove 6+ hours through the beautiful and highly superior/ incredibly scenic upper-northwestern Wisconsin/Minnesota area (split into 2 days), past rolling cornfields, unexpected cliffs, countless rivers and lakes (without getting lost and with no speeding tickets; a huge accomplishment for me), and finally happened upon Franconia Sculpture Park. I say happened upon, but of course I had detailed instructions on how to reach the park. I envy the people who actually do "happen upon" it. As your car pulls off of the scenic Highway 8, you might have to do a double-take on your righthand side. Peaking out from behind the long grass and bushes are mysterious objects, some of them resembling animals, some of them resembling buildings, and some of them resembling nothing at all. They litter the lawn in all shapes and sizes, and you are not sure if you have encountered a strange zoo or an alien dumping ground. And then you see the sign: Franconia Sculpture Park. You'd be crazy not to pull in. Drive into the parking lot and you see this:

You might not see any people, but the Information Booth does the job. Well, sort of. Even after reading through the pamphlets you might still feel a bit mystified as to how you came across this strange art utopia perched on the edge of a river.

Taylors Falls, MN

Nuff said. As far as I'm concerned, this place is the best of both worlds. My resistance to living and working in a city paid off. Instead of dealing with the hustle and bustle, I get to live two miles away from the St. Croix River. I get the energy of the city (see Franconia's calendar of events here) with the culture and peacefulness of the country. I get to learn a ton about community engagement, grants for non-profit organizations, living and working with artists, and "chatting up" donors, as was described to me earlier today. Also, I get to live in a communal setting and learn how to cook, a skill I probably should have acquired years ago. I guess you could say I will become well-rounded in a highly specific and esoteric way.

Truthfully, I am so, so, so lucky to have this internship. My recent college graduation has left me distracted, depressed, dazed, and sort of heartbroken. I loved school, and I loved learning about and writing about art. I loved my professors, and I loved the intellectual setting of Lawrence. I loved the people I was surrounded by, and I loved the disjointed and random things that they taught me about life. I have very little interest in processing the way I feel about graduating, and am eager to stay busy and get started on the next phase. I know as long as I surround myself with art at all times I will probably be okay. Luckily enough I am staring out my window at a 10-foot tall sculpture made out of recycled radios.

Ta ta.

Monday, June 3, 2013

This Is The Last Time I Will Write a Post About A School Project. Unless I Go To Grad School But Who Knows if Blogger Will Even Be Cool by Then

For the final project of my Lawrence career, I really didn't have very many ideas. Life got in the way, and for the first time in a long time I preferred living life to sitting in a dark computer lab making my own grim commentary about life. I don't regret it, though. I wanted to make the most of my last days at Lawrence. Because the closer you get to leaving Lawrence, the more you realize how much you are going to miss it.

So in order to find some inspiration for this last project I went to the place where 95% of my wardrobe has come from since I started going to Lawrence: the Fox Valley Thrift Shoppe (affectionately called "The Shoppe"- pronounced "shoppy"). I couldn't tell you how many hours I have spent sifting through the layers of clothing at this place (more love hours than can ever be repaid, perhaps).

The Fox Valley Thrift Shoppe, in all of its glory

I wasn't really sure what the video was going to be about, but in the end I realized it is about the reality of the glamorization of the thrift shopping experience such as in the song "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The song is great, and super catchy, and I have definitely rocked out to it a number of times, but it completely misses the point that some people shop at thrift shops because they have to, not because it's cool to. Once I made the video I realized it's also about objectification of the body, and how performers such as D'Angelo objectify themselves for the sake of pop music, and realizing that we live in an absurd world where clothes from a thrift shop and beautiful black men can both turn into fetish objects in pop culture.

The great thing about this connection is that there is always pop music playing in The Shoppe, and I used the music that was playing while I was trying on clothes as the music in the video (which worked surprisingly well with the plot of the video). I had planned to do more with the sound, but my external hard drive broke, and I had to take it in to get it fixed, and although Geek Squad was able to recover the files, for some reason Final Cut was not able to register the files on the new hard drive. I didn't want to recreate the video entirely because I felt like it would have been way too forced the second time. I'm a proponent of the results of organic thought rather than forced re-creation. So it is what it is.

I guess if Baudrillard were to view this video he would say that it is about the reality of the value of the things that you put onto your body. It's about the reality of the person you see walking across campus with a cool shirt on, and not realizing that the shirt isn't new. It's about the reality of ownership. It's about the hypperrealism of donating and resale. It's about taking Mike Kelley's thrift shop art to a different level. It's about the simulation of diogetic sound into a real live soundtrack. It's about the reality of the glamour of pop stars.

But for me the video will be a reminder of my last term at Lawrence, and the reality that it all had to end eventually. Here it is:

Thrift Shoppe, 2013