Category Archives: Blog

A Written Record of A Human Record

Seeing A Human Record, for me, was like drinking good whiskey. Nostalgia and just the right amount of philosophical possibility served up in a mattress-wrapped glass. I couldn’t forget the installation because it felt like I had stepped into someone else’s memories for a minute, just to find hints of my own.

To the artist, Ashton Bird, A Human Record  was kind of like an abandoned house. And after spending time with the painted mattresses and wallpaper peeling away from the structure in layers, one viewer told the installation’s curator, Sarah Odens, that it felt like “Post Apocalyptic Princess and the Pea”.

At the forefront of the installation Ashton crafted mattress-sized structures out of lumber and stacked them vertically, separated by the top layer of a mattress. He called it the filing cabinet, where “anonymous histories…[are] on file”.

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Just past that, a sort of walkway lined in salvaged pallets led to an open white space, ceilinged with reclaimed lumber.

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Rounding the corner again led to a space with painted mattresses lining its sides.

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Mattresses and Paint

Let me tell you about those mattresses.

Pre-install, they looked like a stack of twenty in a mattress recycle store in Sioux Falls. The employees had collected them for Ashton and intoned a pseudo-apology by saying, “we tried to pick the clean ones for you”. Thing is, used mattresses have a certain…scent about them, because a chunk of a lifespan has been spent on them. Both artist and gallery didn’t want the scent of a used mattress wafting through the space, so Ashton gave them a thorough, sanitizing wash and then the health inspector looked them over.

Why mattresses? Let’s back up and I’ll tell you the story.

Once upon a time Ashton was working in the Habsburg Exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where he stared at a few tapestries on a daily basis. Those tapestries indicate a family’s lineage, and that sparked a thought: “Hey, I wonder if I could make an anonymous lineage of people’s history?”

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This is Ashton.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Minneapolis, a woman decided, for unknown reasons, to relocate her mattress. By the time she’d lugged it out of her apartment, Ashton was at the Vietnamese restaurant right next to her apartment complex and he caught a glimpse of her. He said that both the woman and the mattress she was carrying looked a little tired and worn. Kinda like a pet can start to look like its owner.

He was a senior at Minnesota State University at the time, where he started out as a ceramicist. His professors pushed him to integrate outside media with clay until “eventually clay became just a material…like a painter. A painter can paint with anything. So…I can make art with anything, and then just making a composition with that, so it’s still interesting to look at, but combines things in kind of unexpected ways.”

Like combining salvaged lumber with recycled mattresses? Yes, of course.

The Little Gallery

Kara Dirkson is the director of the Visual Arts Center at the Washington Pavilion, and she’s just as cool as her title. She says one of the benefits of the Corner Gallery is the lack of windows and its darker wall color. See, the gallery used to be a study room. But a name change and a wall demolition later and the Pavilion had gained an intimate studio right off of the Everist Gallery.

Ashton wanted to utilize the intimacy of the space by making the focal point “just me putting my energy on the mattresses,” so he painted them. “But then it turned too carnival, and then it looked like insanity…I didn’t want that. So I went through and whitewashed it to kinda tone it down,” which ultimately made room for a “kind of spiritual [feel]”.

Spiritual or commemorative, Kara pointed out that mattresses themselves record a large part of our personal histories. “All those aspects of our bodies that get absorbed into these odd things…[Ashton’s] kind of exposing them and putting them in our face.” So it makes sense that a number of conversations Ashton’s had with people at the exhibit revolve around “this reminds me of…” type of comments.

And that art has gotten people talking. Sarah says that’s quite the feat. “Because starting a conversation with art is hard, and I’m sure that that’s something you hope for…the magic of contemporary art that hasn’t been put into a historical canon is that there’s still a lot to debate and talk about it.” And Kara says those conversations are what the Pavilion hopes for with the exhibits they house in the Corner Gallery.

Now That it’s Over

When A Human Record came down, Ashton rolled it up and took it back to Tallahassee with him where his next work of art is grad school. He says he’s gravitating towards creating work with a “dreamy, dreamscape feeling” now.

I hope you got a chance to see it friends, and if you didn’t I hope Dan Thorson’s pictures in this post help dry your tears. And don’t forget to check back in a couple weeks, because I’ll be venturing back to the Pavilion to wander its galleries and tell you about their new exhibits.

Until next time.

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Resolutions: A How-To

Moment of truth: how long did it take you to eat most (if not all) of Grandma’s Christmas cookies? Were you still riding that sugar high when you wrote your list of New Years resolutions?

Let’s talk about those. As we step into this new year, I’d like to offer a few suggestions on keeping your resolutions. And you don’t have to take just my word for it. I asked a few people to weigh in on the whole resolution thing:

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Photo Credit: 605 Magazine

Ashley Rieck (owner of Hatch 605 and manager of Unglued Market in Downtown Sioux Falls) and Jordan Mitzel (personal trainer for Circuit Fitness).

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Photo Credit: studiofotografie for the Hood Magazine.

Here’s eight pieces of hard-won advice from the three of us.

1. Be ballsy (and map it out)

“You have to be crazy enough to believe that you will succeed. Because then you will succeed.” And Ashley’s right. If you don’t actually believe your goals are going to happen then you’re probably 89% more likely to fail (I made that percentage up, but you get the point).

But you’re also way more likely to fail if you don’t plot out how you’re going to get from where you are now to where you want to be in the future. So be honest with yourself and map out some very practical steps towards your goals. And then get to work.

2. Know thyself

The “work” part of working towards your project goals becomes easier if you can hone in on when and how you work the best.

So get to know yourself.

Ashley advises that you pay attention to when and how you work your best (she suggests keeping a work journal). Maybe at 2pm you really can’t afford to do any more work. Or maybe it’s a ton easier for you to work really early in the morning. Pay attention and adapt your approach along the way if you have to.

3. Talk about it

When it’s time for the rubber to the road, Jordan says it’s a good idea to “tell as many people as you can.” Why? Because the more you talk about it the greater the risk of looking like an idiot if you don’t follow through. Nobody wants that.

And don’t forget what Jordan calls the “‘in-your-face’ factor”: when you succeed at that goal nobody thought you were going to follow through on, you get to run around with your fists in the air like Rocky.

4. Don’t go it alone

Finding a tribe is extremely beneficial, especially if you’re trying something brand-spanking-new. You’ve gotta have a cheerleader or two. Go find someone who’s doing the kind of work you want to and learn from them. Or join a class to gain some new skills. Leave being a lone wolf to Clint Eastwood.

5. Lighten up…

Hey, you’re human. There will be at least one day where you’re not pushing towards your goal with all you’ve got. And guess what? That’s ok. Start again tomorrow.

6….but don’t slack off

Because your goals aren’t going to magically happen. Jordan’s quick to say that reaching for any goal means making sacrifices. He puts it this way: “How badly do you want to change?” You’ll have some rearranging to do to get from where you are to where you want to be.

So how badly do you want to reach your goals?

Because in the moment where you have to choose between a Netflix binge or dragging your butt into your studio or the gym or your desk chair, you’ve gotta decide what matters the most to you.

Is your goal worth enough to you to make those in-the-moment sacrifices?

(In this part I hinted at what goes into forming new habits. Since I don’t have time to go into too much depth about that in this post, check out what this Lifehacker post has to say.)

7. Chin up, buttercup (failure is good for you)

“You have to fail a lot,” Ashley says, even “epically fail sometimes.” Because failing can show you the difference between the right way and the wrong way to do what you’re trying to do. And sometimes you just have to start over again.

And I promise you, that’s ok. See what you can learn about yourself, your process, and your craft from that failure. And then get back to work.

8. Never give up

Sticking to your resolutions won’t be easy, but you’ve got all of 2016 ahead of you. So get to work and make yourself proud this year!

Big thanks to Ashley and Jordan for weighing in on this one.

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Mollie Potter: Art Educator

I have not stepped foot in the halls of a high school during school hours in over 10 years. Initially, everything seemed pretty true to form, aside from everyone having his/her own laptop and a smart phone. Lunch hour was still the same balance of chaos and control, even more so were the halls in between class periods – like a Jackson Pollock of noises, bodies and puberty.

The minute you walk into Mollie Potter’s classroom, there is a very contrasting tranquility. Whether it is the neatly lined rows of empty tables ready like blank canvases, the organized walls of previous art assignments or the instrumental yoga music, you immediately feel a particular kind of focus. This is a place to create, and I want to stay. Forever.

Continue reading Mollie Potter: Art Educator

The Pavilion at this Moment in December

Hey friends, and happy South Dakota winter! It can get mighty cold here on the prairie, can’t it?

If you wanna warm up your insides, I recommend checking out the art that the Washington Pavilion has on display at the moment. (A little while ago I did a post about what was up then, so I’ll spend more time on the new stuff. That article is here).

Ok, so let me give you the tour. I’ll start with the main floor, which the Pavilion calls the Second Floor on its Visual Arts Center handout, and I’ll also divide it up by gallery.

Cool. Let’s get started.

Continue reading The Pavilion at this Moment in December

How to Sell Your Work: More on Contracts and Closing Thoughts

Over the last few weeks we’ve talked about rejection, communication, and the importance of contracts. By now you might be exhausted. I assure you we’re nearly done. Before I set you free to go sell your work we need to cover what goes into your contracts.

Continue reading How to Sell Your Work: More on Contracts and Closing Thoughts

Lindsay Twa: An Educator Interview

Twa HeadshotMeet Lindsay Twa, an Associate Professor of Art and Director of the Eide/Dalrymple Gallery at Augustana University.  She holds a B.A. in studio art and music from Concordia College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Her research focuses on African-American art and the Black Diaspora, Haiti, and the economic structures of the art world. She has curated nearly 70 exhibitions and her recent book, Visualizing Haiti in U.S. Culture, was published with Ashgate in spring 2014. After a long hiatus, she is back in the studio again and enjoying, as she puts it, the struggles of being a beginner printmaker.

In front of the Taj Mahal.
In front of the Taj Mahal.

Twa is married to Dr. Mark Larson, an Associate Professor of Biology at Augustana College, where he teaches Pharmacology and Biochemistry.  The two love to travel.  Before arriving at Augustana, Mark was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham in the UK.  Being there for three years allowed them to travel throughout Europe, Turkey, Egypt and Israel frequently.

In 2001, after reading Katie Alvord’s book, Divorce Your Car, the Twa family began a “car light” experiment—driving a car once a week or less.  From 2003 until 2010, they went “car free.”  While they returned to owning a car once their son was three months old, they continue to try and be as “car light” as possible by remaining a single-car family.

Twa describes herself as a serious, but amateur, distance athlete. On top of finishing 8 marathons, including the Snowdonia Mountain Marathon in Wales, she has completed two triathlons, and biked across the state of Iowa as a part of RAGBRAI. In 2007, she was an inaugural member of the Central Plains Cycling team and completed races around the Upper Midwest.

“I was the #3 woman in SD that year, though that tells you how few women were racing at the time!” said Twa.

While she finds herself in a range of roles, Twa says her newest and most favorite role of all is being a mother. She and her husband have two boys, Alexander (5) and Isaac (3).

“The days are full, but life has never been so colorful and wondrous,” she said.

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How to Sell Your Work: Client Dealings and Contracts

Last week we talked about rejection. But let’s step back into the light and assume you’ve nailed it. That potential client is ready to be a client. Can I say, “booyah?” No. Stop celebrating for a moment. This is the most dangerous point of working with a client, in my opinion. Before you can move forward, you must a establish a contract with the client. Here’s a secret: all four of us have made the mistake of not using a contract before. “Contract” can be a spooky word. It’s binding. But it’s protection for both you and the client. So take some time to put together a comprehensive contract that conveys all the agreements that were made in negotiating the project.

Once you’ve both signed and agreed to the contract you can get to work. Sometimes re-negotiations happen. But that’s an article for another time. Just remember, moving from potential client to official client can happen in mere minutes and you need to stay on your game, and conduct yourself professionally.

You can see more of Bentley's work here. Pictured above is his piece, "Mad Catter".
You can see more of Bentley’s work here. Pictured above is his piece, “Mad Catter”.

If you’re thinking you’re ready to start selling your work then you are a professional. Something Travis and I concluded was, “you may not have mastered your field yet, but if you’re selling, you are a professional. Never be afraid to acknowledge that about yourself.” Conducting yourself professionally will ensure better work and happier clients. There are bad clients, rejections, and dry spells, but you should always strive to be a good service/product provider. In doing so, you’ll see fewer things fall apart, with more things coming together.

Travis Bentley
Travis Bentley

Pro Tip: I can’t stress the importance of contracts enough. It’s a professional relationship you’re building and you want to protect that as much as possible. If you want to see an example of negotiating a contract, watch this Strip Search Episode. (May not be suitable for all audiences)

Get yourself comfortable with communicating with your audience.

I’ll get more into what needs to be in your contracts next week, in our final article, “Contracts and Closing Words”.

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How to Sell Your Work: First Things First

Art is about the passion. But it’s undeniable that the more we earn from it, the more we can focus on building it not only as a craft, but as a business. There are so many of us ramping up our artwork, we’re starting to reach out to turn it into commissions and other paid work.

Most potential clients work with me on comics or illustration projects, but recently I was approached about an animation project. My excitement over jumping into something I haven’t done in a while set me up for a sloppy client interaction. I was hungry for work and didn’t prepare myself for the best interaction. This mentality isn’t uncommon.

Continue reading How to Sell Your Work: First Things First

Art Show Etiquette

When attending an art show, there’s a slight chance that you’ll walk through the door and be a little lost. There’s a lot of excitement, conversation, and usually loads of free beer. Mix that all together and it can get rather confusing. Do I try to compliment the artist and their work? Do I fix my gaze on the art and block out the rest?

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The Pavilion At the Moment

Hey there, I’m Kaitlynn. This is my first post for JAM and, well, I’m pretty excited about it so let’s get started, shall we?

The Washington Pavilion does something pretty cool every Tuesday; they let you wander around in the Visual Arts Center free of charge! Same rules apply on Saturdays from 10 to noon and 5-8pm on First Fridays. Continue reading The Pavilion At the Moment