Monday, June 16, 2014

Northern Spark Experience/Review written at 8am after less than 4 hours of sleep

It is 8am in the morning. Doesn't sound so momentous or anything. The thing is, I stay up until 345am in the morning. Something this 33 year old, does not do often or on purpose.
My muscles feel cramped up and my throat is a bit scratchy. Because for 6 hours last night, I roamed around in the rain and lightning going from one site to another for Northern Spark. 
Just moving back from LA, I decided I couldn't miss this event. It would give me a sense of the Minneapolis art scene and I could meet some fun people. To be up front, I am weary of Northern Spark. As I reevaluate Public/Social practice I see pitfalls to these large art events. I also think they are completely rad. 

It was sealed that I would be a part of Northern Spark after going to their TPT TV takeover, another event that I am weary of, as a public television employee, I found it hurtful that they made fun of what our station's studios look like. Not ours in particular just public access a la Wayne's world. But I met Molly, who runs Marketing for Northern Spark. She was kind, gracious and energetic to meet a recent LA transplant. By the end of the night I was signed up to work the Launch Party. One of two ticketed events of Northern Spark. Dosh was playing and it was at Orchestra Hall. I would do a 3 hour shift and then be set free to explore all that NS had to offer. 

In fine Minnesota spirit, the weather did not cooperate with Northern Spark. Though NS went "rain or (moon)shine," this year's Northern Spark was an abbreviated one. The pomp of large projections were cut unceremoniously, and smaller outdoor video projections didn't happen either. Which made for a different art crawl experience. So did the torrential rain. Luckily, when my volunteer shift began, it wasn't raining. While volunteering, I met most folks that spent $50 to hear Dosh and eat some fancy foods. I handed them Spark-ers and welcomed them. I have not lived in Minneapolis for 6 years. I assume I met some fancy writers, local celebs, and people of note. I just can't tell you who cause I don't know them. Except for Mark Wheat, Sara Schultz, and Jack Becker, who I met and flubbed being my natural awesome self because I knew who they were. Celebrity is a strange phenomenon. I would love to talk to Sara about my concerns for Social Practice art. I would love to be taken seriously in this town as an artist. I am doing a Walker Open Fields this July/August and the organizer as been very kind to me. But it is also very much clear that Open Call means less than. Not by Sara but by the fact people ask when I tell them I am participating if it is through "Open Call" or not. I know there is  more time. Part of me finds this hierarchy hilarious. Part of me is angry that I have to play this game. I feel it is a game. This game of fighting for a niche in the art world. There were a few people that even with my smiles, witty banter, my easy goingness were so disdainful to me cause I wore a neon volunteer shirt and hadn't paid $50 to be there. I feel sorry for these people. They are wasting their time trying to be elite. Which made me realize if I am meant to be friend's with Sara, and Jack it will happen on it's own time. AND that I met Jane, Brie, some gorgeous man with white blonde hair, many smiling faces and I got to be this anonymous smiling face for a great event. A few art folks took my card. I talked to everyone and it was grand. 

Anywho, the Launch Party was a success, and while it occurred it started to rain torrential in earnest. I had a great time being me handing out spark-ers and being funny. I grabbed a half dozen desserts at the end and chomped on them and a pulled pork sandwich to get ready for the evening. The evening that I was planning to have was going to end around 1am. I thought I would be dragging by then and planned to be in bed. I met up with Andrew and Ahndi at the convention center. I don't want to give a play by play of the whole night. Cause well it is 8am and my 1am deadline was not kept but rather was extended to 345am. I am up writing this cause I can't sleep and am sort of jazzed to write this stuff down. I want to hit on what was amazing and some of my concerns.
Let's set the scene. There was no way in the rain and on foot I was catching everything. I saw what was around the convention center and what was along West River Parkway. The Parkway was the part of the night that intrigued me most. 
I would say Spark was too spread out this year. That larger institutions could have created smaller installations in a more confined area. That being said I love the use of the Convention Center cause people can pee and congregate so easily. I have to start off with my rant and then get to what I loved. 
I saw some shitty social practice art. I saw some groups trying to do the collaborative work that was like a question on a chalkboard variety and everyone gets to answer. This work to me dumbs down your audience and your art. It doesn't challenge anyone and it isn't that engaging. There were variations of this in a few spots. I am not here to name them. 

There was a second thing. The not really engaging your audience. The pieces that are hard to read and not much guidance is given. Sometimes I love these pieces. In one such piece there were moments of engagement. It is the inbetween ones that think they are engaging while still being totally opaque. Ugh to those. I wonder if people just make things to be photo ops. NS creates MANY photo ops (is that what art is?). 

This is my quandary of Northern Spark, are many of these pieces just not well thought out, half baked ideas…that happen in public? I saw things that I think will be great ideas in 2 more years of work. 
I got angry at one point around midnight that just because some small non-profit has a building space they could put on a half-assed project. That it looked lame and was hard to follow and not engaging and I had walked there in the rain. That the people running it seemed not happy to be there cause they were there for there day job. Now angry is a harsh word, I just turned around and walked out. This is my rant of the evening. 
But overall, I think Northern Spark is magical. And as an event planner I WAS IMPRESSED by the size and structure of all the sites, volunteers, and security and was thoroughly impressed by how this thing ran. 
What was redemptive and magical was walking into one of the Letter Writing to a Stranger aka "Nighttime Ride" tent and sitting down after walking miles in the rain and writing this note to a "Grumpy Couple" at 145am in the morning. Getting warm from the flood light on the ground. This adorable man getting EXCITED…like that magical writing we are making poetry look on his face, he signed and bridled…seriously like a pony…when finishing typing up our postcard letter. This was a creative moment in a tent on the banks of the Mississippi. I had taken a shot of bourbon from Patrick the man with a tartan umbrella. The one drink I had all night. Cause I was cold, soaked through, and needed to get warmer before trudging to the next bridge. Andrew and I sat down and wrote an amazing letter and then shook hands with our postmaster and left. THAT was worth the whole night's walking around damp. 
I enjoyed Gamut Gallery's Jungle themed media party. There button give away my favorite piece of visual art I saw AND I got to take it with me. 
Minnesota for the Book Arts was totally awesome and Andrew and I spent much time making screen prints and a fluxus book. Which well here is the thing…the act of a screen print and making a small book are NOT Fluxus…love to do these things but theming a book 1978 and giving it a score of putting the book together…well ok it is oft of fluxus…but I mean we would have donut his act if the theme was book making 101… :) i don't know…yeah Fluxus used letterpress too…yes Fluxus is every day acts made into scores…but i don't know….make the score a bit more adventurous…quirky…there was a strange overlay to making a normal demo a FLUXUS event. I see my hypocrisy about critiquing this…Fluxus is about scores and making everday objects of course the book I made fits that…but something was missing…some other art historian would know. I am just an under slept artist writing a blog. 

I was impressed with how many folks braved the elements. Picked up a mallet or sat at a piano for All Night in C under the Central Ave bridge. People participated. Had fun. I learned I was a Vata in Ayurvedic medicine and had amazing fennel, cumin, cardamom tea and ate popcorn in accordance to that. There was some great Super 8 films by a Sam that works at the U of MN.

I am happy with the slice of the Northern Spark pie I ate. I consumed. I was a part of it, volunteering and roaming. It was a mental and physical challenge to withstand the cold and the rain. And I most definitely am fighting to not get a cold. There is magic in Northern Spark. It is made by the participants. The willing to trudge through rain to see art. It is made my earnest artists. I am glad to have experienced this amazing arts event. Though I have to say I was so glad NOT to have my own piece. The stress of setting up and staying there all night. The roaming is the best. The expiring. The stumbling upon. 

As an artist, when a piece wasn't earnest. Or just an ad for an org. I was upset. Like Gamut Gallery they put all in. They had freebies and they had a party. There was art with there self promotion. But a half assed set up…and weary employees manning their stations led to a boring time and bad art. Not good bad art just poor under conceived art. Will I Spark again? YES. No doubt. We all need more magic in our lives. Do I see my place as an artist in Spark? Not yet. I worry that Northern Spark takes funds from individual artists that want to do longer term projects and gives it to production costs. I worry about this with the tidal wave of money that is being given to orgs instead of individual artists. I want to draw again and that seems taboo. I want to perform and interact with audiences and right now that is the hot ticket. 

As Andrew, Ahndi, and I trudged back over the Hennepin Bridge, without finding Kevin Obsatz's piece, I was getting a bit rickety in body and mind. I was swerving from exhaustion and talking to keep myself going. To the chagrin of the two introverts I was walking with. I stand on the other side of Northern Spark. I see why people stay up all night to eat pancakes at 5am. I  saw/met some many cute boys. I enjoyed myself and have a great volunteer tshirt. In my work I am looking for the intimate. Maybe in something like Northern Spark it is hard to create that space. Or wait, no there was intimacy.Just maybe not my kind all the time. I want glowing fields and quiet moments. Which maybe their was somewhere else…or would have happen without the rain. I want to stumble upon things not marked. I want to see out growths of people's thoughts. I want to see less production and more intent. Not just at Northern Spark but in the art world in general. Obviously, I come out of last night inspired. Happy to be just one of many in the crowd. Thanks Steve Dietz and his huge crew for keeping this going. And thanks to the major who wasn't a jerk to me when I asked if she was at the launch party and standing right next to the coordinator. I told her I had just moved back from LA while I shook her hand and handed her her spark-er. Who ever her assistant was that night was a hot dude…who I am sure is a local figure and/or her husband. May my public gaffes continue to be entertaining and may I continue to not take it all too seriously.

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