“Two for Fargo, please.” With tickets safely in my breast pocket, I leave the DTSF office and the Shriver Building to greet the morning’s piercing sky. Smiling, I think about my hopes for tonight: The Museum of Visual Materials for Tara Barney’s interactive art project, the Pavilion for art receptions, and the State Theatre’s showing of Fargo. Fargo. How appropriate; I realize I’m not at all dressed for this cold, so I stuff my hands in my pockets and run the block to the car. Glad I don’t live in Fargo…
I greatly admire those who love fall. I try really hard to get into the spirit of the season. There are certainly things I can appreciate: the yummy coffee drinks and hot cocoa, the pretty colors of the leaves, and after a difficult few months, a welcomed sense of change. But in all honesty, the shortening days and dropping temperatures get to me. And on a chilly, dark October First Friday, I didn’t venture outside of the Washington Pavilion. Even so, the Pavilion was bursting with life, and lots of new and intriguing exhibits to be explored!
Shearing the Shepherd by Walter Portz
This exhibit was really hard for me to write about. Why? Because it was so intense, deeply intimate, and above all, raw. Part of me even questioned if I should be writing about it at all. Of course, one could argue that all art is deeply intimate. Art is self-expression in the truest sense, so what makes this exhibit any different? Shearing the Shepherd is a vulnerable and truthful portrayal of a man’s grief for the loss of his father. The artist uses audio-visual media to bring his experiences of grief to life in a way that is crude and authentic. Standing and viewing this exhibit, I felt like I was crashing a private wake. As someone who lost a parent at a young age, and recently lost a close grandparent, this art felt deeply familiar to me. This exhibit will be different for everyone who views it because everyone has had different experiences with grief. For me, I was deeply uncomfortable. I felt it in my bones, and I cried. And above all, it was a healing experience for me, to see something that I could relate to so genuinely. No matter how grief has or hasn’t touched your life, I think everyone can get something from visiting this deep, and important exhibit.
Deep Sea Imaginarium by Steve Bormes
Stepping into the Deep Sea Imaginarium by Steve Bormes is like entering a cross between an alien universe, and a child’s fantasy world. Bormes spent two years sculpting 101 alienesque fish from old objects and lights. Light plays an integral part in this exhibit. Multicolored lights set the scene in this underwater world, and the fish themselves glow from within: reds, greens, blues and purples. Of his work, Bormes says, “I combine light with objects born of mid-century engineering to create pieces that celebrate the inventions of the past, and transcend a static presentation of antiques and found objects.” He goes on to add, “Every decision I make as an artist is dictated by light.” Bormes is not simply an artist, though, but a story-teller. For each fish he sculpted, he also created humorously fitting common and scientific names for the “species,” as well as whimsical poems that reveal something about what each species is like. Deep Sea Imaginarium is where art meets the fantastical, the whimsical, the downright weird. It’s marvelous.
Unity, A Balancing Act by Terry Mulkey
Terry Mulkey creates art that is both easy to look at, and rich in meaning. He works layer by layer using abstract forms and simple, limited color to achieve a sense of balance. “Drawing upon impulses both unconscious and calculated,” he says in his artist statement, “I move and alter lines and fields of color, acting and reacting to forms until the composition expresses a state of harmony.” The shapes and colors balance each other out, giving them a feel that is peaceful and almost zen. Even the way that the compositions are arranged in the gallery seems to have been chosen so as to balance the colors and tones on each wall. His works are all very bold in their plainness, yet delicate in their simplicity. They seem almost paradoxical by nature, a true testament to the harmony that Mulkey was able to achieve.
Along with a full slate of new exhibits at the Pavilion, downtown was buzzing with the annual Art and Wine Walk, as well as Sioux Falls Design Week projects.
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”.
Just past that, a sort of walkway lined in salvaged pallets led to an open white space, ceilinged with reclaimed lumber.
Rounding the corner again led to a space with painted mattresses lining its sides.
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?”
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.
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.
One of the qualities that I treasure most about my hometown is the tight-knit, supportive community that is downtown Sioux Falls. It seems that when any one of us is in a pickle, another soul is there, without hesitation, to have our backs. This week, my stand-out someone was fellow JAM blogger Kaitlynn Wornson. Kaitlynn stepped in for a couple of hours on First Friday and allowed me to dash off and sell some of my own artwork. So, with much gratitude and no further adieu, I give you a collaborative December First Friday review by Kaitlynn and yours truly.
–Jordan Thornton, JAM blogger