Monday, April 18, 2011

Playing Spy, Getting Smashed, MN Int'l Film Fest

GREAT LOOKING COVER, yeah? Bunny and I are excited about this project, another in The Ultramods' repertoire. Our first book is a collection of essays from six years of consuming, and writing about, alcohol entitled Bunny and Coco Get Smashed, Stories from Six Years in the Drinking Life. It will be out in a week or so. I'll keep you posted.

ON WEDNESDAY I had an exhilarating time playing spy. In fact, I seemed to enjoy the experience in exact opposite degrees as some critics disliked it. I've long suspected these "some critics" don't enjoy much of anything, though, especially if there is the slightest hint at fun involved. So their reviews weren't much of a surprise. It doesn't seem to matter anyway, as the event is currently sold out. (But check in with them in case of cancellations! There may be a chance yet to participate!)

I'm talking about "A Machine To See With," an interactive experience created by London-based Blast Theory, brought to Minnesota through The Walker Art Center. From their description of the event:
Arriving at your appointed street corner, you wait for your cell phone to ring. When it does, your journey through the city begins. Keep your eyes peeled for traps. You are the lead in a heist movie; it’s all about you.
You can read the entire description here.

Obviously this experience can't be a recreation of The Game -- you remember that thriller with Michael Douglas? The one where he gets drugged, kidnapped, and confronted with a creepy camera-faced clown, etc? You've got to build up to an experience like that, honestly. "A Machine To See With" could be that introduction; despite the absence of drugs and flying bullets, it's far from a child's game.

After the first couple of phone calls I no longer had time to Tweet -- I was on the run! Also, I stopped tweeting because I was on a heist, after all. Top secret stuff. My pace quickened the moment I was told I had "better get the fuck out of there as fast as possible." What's not fun about that?

There is an underlying purpose to this project, of course. It wouldn't be a proper heist without one, really. According to an even more in-depth description of "A Machine To See With" on Blast Theory's Web page, the event is not only about cinema, but also the tyranny of choice and consumerism, and the financial crisis.

Just as one often does when attending more traditional theater, I enjoyed suspending my disbelief for this nontraditional experience. Additionally, I enjoy all manner of heist and spy lore and this was, to put it simply, incredibly fun. I had a blast.

The MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL started off in high-style -- and high temperatures! -- on Thursday. A large tent was set up to accommodate the festival's opening night party and whoever was in charge of heating the place, well done! It was a cold, rainy night but everything inside was cheery. Had a great time meeting RT Rybak again. Kieran Folliard insisted I get my photo with Minneapolis' mayor. Thanks for taking our picture, Kieran! I told RT I have been enjoying his tweets -- particularly the ice cream dilemma he had during the recent Twins game.

Saw the documentary Front Page: Inside the New York Times and enjoyed it very much. I always love a good newsroom/journalism story, and this one narrows in on the subject of the New York Times' Media Desk and how it is managing to survive in the shaky world of print newspaper. David Carr, who writes a column for the Times' Monday Business section, participated in a Q&A after the movie along with director Andrew Rossi.

Again we all shuffled out to the party tent where, after discussing the movie, The Ultramods and the Folliards closed the place down. Glad the rain stopped long enough for our walk to the car.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sweat Stains, Pink Hobo, Urban Arts, Hannah

Drinking at Hotel Monteleone, French Quarter. Photo by Bunny Sparber.
SUSAN MARKS IS RIDICULOUSLY FUN TO drink cocktails with. The author of In The Mood For Munsingwear, Minnesota's Claim to Underwear Fame, was nice enough to get together with Bunny and I at the Bradstreet Crafthouse. It's the only place to get a well-made Sazerac. When Bunny and I drink Sazeracs, we get a little bit teary at the thought of our old place in the French Quarter, so I'd like to take a moment to both apologize to Susan, but also thank her for patiently waiting for me and Bunny to stop crying into each other's shoulders. Really, we're sorry for the awkwardness of that situation, Susan. If there is some way we could make it up to you? Maybe we could go out for drinks? I know a great place that makes a wonderful New Orleans drink called the Sazerac. OH GOD.

To distract us from our maudlin tendencies, Bunny and I switched to The McQueen and were thrilled that Susan was up for trying it as well. I'm pretty sure that drink is partly (or wholly) responsible for the three of us losing track of time. But when the conversation is that fun and interesting, why keep an eye on the clock?

SO IF YOU DIG THE BAR BAND SCENE, the current exhibition at the Stevens Square Center for the Arts gallery will definitely make you want to crack open a cold one and listen to loud music. "Sweat Stains Beer and Cigarettes" is the name of the show, and that pretty much spells it all out. See it. The exhibition shows moments of chaos, in-your-face action shots of performers, and condom machines that have been turned into dispensers of ultra-mini comics (bring quarters). Their closing-night party on April 16 sounds like it's going to be fun, too.

Bunny and I also stopped in to PINK HOBO'S OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION for their newest show, "The Itch That Burns." As I wrote in The Dressing Room last week, "'The Itch That Burns could be the name of a teenage cautionary tale or personal hygiene film from the '50s." But don't worry -- This particular exhibition at this self-proclaimed "geek" art gallery steers clear of VD and BO. It's a fun show where the titles of the pieces are just as fun as the paintings themselves. Be sure to look for Fat Lincoln.

URBAN ARTS THREW A PARTY this weekend, too, and damn it was a big'un. In honor of their first anniversary, this local organization (they advocate for visual, musical, and performance-based art forms) opened the doors to their giant warehouse space in the midway area of St. Paul to display over 300 works of art. Amidst all of the canvasses, there were dance performances, food, drinks, and dance music. Great party, guys!

STOPPED IN AT THE AMERICAN SWEDISH INSTITUTE where Swedish artist and cartoonist Jesper Löfvenborg has a wildly colorful exhibition on display. Even better? Sometimes Löfvenborg is smack in the middle of the display, standing on a little black-and-white checkered platform painting a brand new piece. The museum has two fun parties coming up this weekend, "Scandamonium" and "How Swede It Is" on April 15 and 16. They've designed a signature champagne cocktail and specialty dessert for both occasions. Read more about these events here.

SAW THE MOVIE HANNAH this weekend, too. Wow. This movie is ultra-cool. What more can I say? Oh yeah. See it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Minnesota Naughty, Evidence, and Everybody is an Astronaut

THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING EXCITING GOING ON in the Twin Cities' art scene, and this weekend I found myself viewing some especially unique pieces at the University of Minnesota's Katherine E. Nash gallery and at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The Minnesota History Center presented some equally unique imagery in its latest History of Hip lecture, too. So let's start with that.

Entitled "Minnesota Naughty," this lecture focused on Susan Marks' latest book, In the Mood for Munsingwear: Minnesota's Claim to Underwear Fame (I will review it soon), which explores Minnesota's connection to the underwear industry and the surprising ad campaigns that accompanied it. Marks pointed out the many connections ads had to homosexual culture. It's funny how, in this day and age, we may see these ads and think that it looks kind of gay but, since it was from that time, were the ad men just naive? Marks points out that no, it's more likely that back then naive folk would see the ads and think nothing of it, the more in-the-know folks may snicker or get a kick out of the modernity of the ads, but more importantly, the gay community knew who the ads were targeting. And, as Marks pointed out, the ads sold underwear. An intriguing look into the past, for sure.
Sharing the bill with Marks was Sarahjane Blum-Murphy of Grapefruit Moon Gallery, who spoke a bit about the culture of pin-up art and even brought along two gigantic and gorgeous original Gil Elvgren paintings. Did you know that this iconic painter is a Minnesota-native? It was news to me!
AN EERIE EXHIBITION has befallen Gallery 262 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Evidence is the culmination of Angela Strassheim's art background (she's an MCAD grad and received an M.F.A. at Yale University) and her crime scene photography training (between her undergraduate and graduate studies, she earned a living as a forensic photographer). If I remember correctly, I first saw her photography years ago at the Chambers Hotel's Burnett Gallery. Her Left Behind series was on display; a few of the photos in that series seemed just a little too squeaky clean to be completely innocent, if that makes any sense. In the simplest terms, the crisply dressed characters in the familial settings felt, well, creepy. I remember there being an unreal quality about them, making it hard not to gaze at every inch of each large-scale photo. This sense of wanting to look further into her photos, around the corners and in the closets, happens again with Evidence. In this series, she literally exposes the remnants of the gruesome histories that will never truly disappear from some now-happy homes.

The best example of this is her photo entitled "Evidence No. 10." A skinny wall in the center of a bedroom is pictured. On this wall hangs two photos -- the baby pictures of the married couple currently inhabiting the place. But Strassheim's photo, like all of them in the series, is dark. The lights in the room are off, leaving only rogue streaks of light coming in through cracks in the drawn curtains. And then there is another form of light, which is the focal point of the photos. This is the luminescent remnants of DNA, the sprays and spatters from decades-old crime scenes. I couldn't help but wonder what the current residents think about the photos of their homes.

This following short video is part of the exhibition. Strassheim talks about the luminescent spray she used to get the effect in her photos, and the process by which she approaches the people who now live in these homes. Supplementing this exhibition are vintage Minnesota-specific crime scene photos. This exhibition will be on display as part of the New Pictures 4 series at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts through October 11, 2011.

THE MFA THESIS exhibition Everybody is an Astronaut is currently open at the University of Minnesota's Katherine E. Nash Gallery. The show features works by Jennifer Anable, Ben Garthus, Bart Vargas, Sam Hoolihan, and Areca Roe. For the most part, all of these artists are working on a large scale for this show.

I'll mention only a little bit about the show here, but all of the works make up an impressive exhibition.

Jennifer Anable's ceramics creations have a surreal and comforting quality about them. For instance, she has made a pile of ghostly flowers and they are set in the middle of the floor. It's hard to believe these flowers are made out of porcelain; they look like wax and as delicate as real flowers. Squat down for a closer look, but take note -- it will be awfully hard to resist the urge to touch them. Before I gave in, her larger sculptures distracted me, and I quite enjoyed her refashioning of doors, and even how she managed to literally dig a hole in a set of dresser drawers. 

Photographer Areca Roe has a knack for capturing the unrealistic qualities of zoo environments. In the middle of her exhibition she includes mauled toys -- a giant red ball and a sled -- in boxes that may as well be coffins. Those toys have seen lots of aggressive animal teeth. 

And don't miss Sam Hoolihan's Etudes for Penney’s photographic series, either. As far as I can tell, this may be the best use of JC Penneys' photo studio ever.