Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Brings Out the Creative Spirit in Boys and Ghouls of All Ages

When I was a kid I can't ever recall buying Halloween costumes. Using the raw materials at hand and that magic ingredient "Imagination" I became a whole variety of characters, from Pinochio (with a home-made paper mache head) to Kal-tiki the Immortal Monster (a.k.a. The Blob) for which I actually won a best costume award. (Mom dyed two sheets grey and I rolled around on the floor, which was quite exhausting when the parade circled the room for judging.)

Both my parents were especially creative at Halloween. One year our whole family went to a Halloween party as the characters from the Wizard of Oz, Mom being Dorothy and Dad decked out as the Tin Man, wearing a customized silver-painted cardboard 55-gallon drum for a torso (arm holes cut out for silver arms and silver gloves, silver pants and shoes and all the rest.

This has to be why Halloween is one of our most popular seasons. It gives people a legitimate excuse for creative self-expression. In other words, everyone gets to become an artist for a day. And a character.

Not that everyone suddenly becomes Bob Ross or Pablo Picasso. Rather, people get a thrill by using their imaginations to become fauns, lions, ghosts, ghouls or trees. (Costume idea: if you did want to be an artist, you can dye your hair red and cut off your ear and call yourself Van Gogh.)

Part of this blog entry was stimulated by noticing all the Halloween-themed events that are happening this week. There's the Haunted Halls at UMD from 5-7 tonight in Ianni Hall; Bike Grave II: Apocalypse at the Bike Cave Collective; three days of Halloween Havoc at Tycoons; a performance of Dracula in Washburn; Haunted Happenings: Legend of Hawthorne Manor at the Harrison Community Center; Crafty Ellen's Spooky Booty Dance Party at the Red Star Lounge; a Haunted Shack & Hay Ride at the Buffalo House.

Then there's the Remembering the Dead gathering, with massive robed puppets (kudos to Mary Plaster) and an assortment of moody goings-on including a Funeral March for Rotten Ideas, plus music, poetry and more. This event is from 6-8 p.m. Saturday in the Depot’s Great Hall and the Library pavilion before moving to the Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 W. Fourth Street.

If you're not in the mood to dress up yourself, you might simply want to dress up some of the pictures in your office or living room. That's what my daughter did with my print called Don't Look Back (top of page here.)

Meantime... Whatever you decide to do, do it with all your heart and have fun.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Spotlight on Crystal Pelkey

The Twin Ports has a rich heritage in the arts that spans many decades. One recent addition has been the Zeitgeist Arts building with its Zinema, Café and Teatro Zuccone, spawned by the Zeppa Foundation for whom Crystal Pelkey served as managing director.

EN: What was your role in the Zeppa Foundation and how did that come about?
Crystal Pelkey: In February 2009, Alan Zeppa asked me to join the Zeppa Foundation team to help launch the new performance theater, Teatro Zuccone. As Managing Director from 2009-2011, I created programing/events/experiences in our theater that fit within the mission of Zeitgeist Arts. It was exciting to be there as the actual venues were being built (Zinema, and the Café) and have creative input on that process. The Teatro Zuccone became venue for local artists, touring artists and the permanent home to Renegade Theater Company. From 2011-2012, I served as Marketing Director for Zeitgeist Arts, and had an eventful time creating and marketing unique arts experiences for our community.

EN: When did you first take an interest in the arts and what kind of creative work do you specialize in?
CP: My creative work started in theater arts. It helped shape me as a writer, producer, and director, areas that I specialize in. It took off in 2004 when I accepted the role as Nurse Flinn in Renegade’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I was hooked. I stage managed and then assisted directed the next few productions, helped write and performed in the original holiday sketch comedy shows after that, and really jumped full steam ahead into the theater scene, worked hard, had a ton of fun, and found my new family.

EN: How did you come to be part of the Duluth arts community yourself?
CP: In many ways it started in 2005 when I stage managed the first production (The Laramie Project) at the Play Ground theater, then located in the Technology Village. The space was so new that upcoming performances were scheduled, but no one was on staff to run them. I quickly jumped at the opportunity to work in the arts all while having another full time job. It was in that position that I first met and worked with artists in theater, music, film, dance, spoken word, visual arts, as well as touring regional and national artists. I stage/production managed nearly every show for the first four years of the theater’s existence, and had the amazing opportunity to work with artists from all mediums---from the initial show/concept idea all the way to the end of the production by running lights/sound/projections.

It was in this role that I really felt like I was a part of the Duluth arts community. As producer, stage manager, production manager, and ultimately a fan, of amazingly creative and bold new work.

EN: What creative work are you most proud of?
CP: I’m most proud of using my creativity to help worthy causes in our community. In 2011, I wrote, produced and directed “Youth in the Shadows” which became a fundraiser for Life House, a non-profit that serves at risk and homeless youth. I volunteered regularly at Life House and collected the stories of homeless youth in our community. Utilizing those stories, with teen actors, and the music of the internationally celebrated band from Duluth Low, I brought the stories to life and introduced these voices to our community. I followed that play in 2012 with “Out of the Shadows” a continuation of the story, with the music of my friends, Trampled by Turtles. Theater is such a powerful medium for storytelling and these shows became platforms for important issues that at- risk teens are dealing with in our community. We raised a great amount of funds for Life House, and the teens I met and worked with have carved a permanent place in my heart. It was the most powerful project of my career to date.

EN: What is the Twin Ports Arts Align and what is its role in the local arts scene?
CP: I’m the chair of  Twin Ports Arts Align. It’s an ongoing discussion that brings together players from both sides of the bridge to talk about ways that we can work together to make the arts community stronger. This group is a result of the Arts Align seminar at the Sheraton/Zeitgeist on February 4, 2012, sponsored by UMD's School of Fine Arts. It is a collection of arts administrators, executive directors of arts organizations, as well as working artists. We meet monthly in-person, and have an active group, over 400 members, Twin Ports Arts Align, on Facebook to share information/connect with one another.

The role of Twin Ports Arts Align is evolving rapidly. Our role has emerged as advocates for the arts and education, as well as working to build audiences, collaborations, and specific topics such as: how it is that more artists can make a living here, and call this place home?

EN: You're also involved in making jewelry. Tell us about Crystal Pelkey Designs.
CP: Crystal Pelkey Designs is my freelance jewelry business. It started in 2008 when a then-stranger, now great friend, Lisa Bodine, complimented the necklace I was wearing and I offered to make her one. That turned into her buying several of my custom pieces and telling her friends about it. As a result, I had a small client base that I designed for that launched my small business. What Lisa and friends didn’t know at the time is that the money I made from my jewelry sales helped pay for gas during my frequent trips to my hometown, Little Falls, and to the Twin Cities, several times a week to take care of my mom who was battling cancer. Sadly, my mom passed away in 2009, but she remains one of the biggest influences in my work. I think of her when I’m designing jewelry and infuse as much love into each piece as I can. I’ve been told that my jewelry makes women feel loved, special and beautiful, so I think that love transmission must be working.

EN: Where can we see more of your work?
CP: You can see my work on the ears of many ladies right here in the Twin Ports, in stores such as Art in the Alley, Double Dutch, Electric Fetus and Tweed Museum Gift Shop. Currently, I have a facebook page, Crystal Pelkey Designs, on Facebook.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Catherine Caswell's "What Remains" at the Tweed

This past week at the Tweed Museum in Duluth we had the pleasure/privilege of attending the opening for Blood Memoirs, an exhibition I've already written about here this past week, shining light from a new perspective on  aspects of the Tweed collection. On the same evening of this opening there was a student show in the next room featuring work by Katie Caswell. As u entered the space I was immediately captivated by the imagery, as well as the imbalance in some of her work. I had the good fortune of being able to meet her there. I started by asking about a piece which she had titled Life Story. I felt impelled to understand the work more deeply and learned much as she shared.

"Basically, my whole show talks about the emptiness and isolation that results from the internal obsession with having an eating disorder or having any other kind of debilitating mental illness," she explained in a most transparent manner. "I have struggled with eating disorders and still do… something I will be struggling with my whole life. I got the idea of relating it to insects based on the idea of getting too big to fit in your own skin basically and becoming the empty shell. Cicadas were the insect I was drawn to because you find their husks clinging to trees and and stuff all over the place. The life of the cicada I found interesting because they spend the majority of their life underground in the darkness down there and I kind of related to that feeling like you’re kind of curled up in a dark place for a lot of our life and you emerge only to shed your skin and die. It’s really grotesque. I don’t know if if that comes through in the work, but the life of a cicada in my opinion is kind of a depressing thing. I also found it interesting during research to find that cicadas are also a sign of re-birth in Chinese culture. They would put cicadas on the tongue of a deceased person to ensure rebirth in the afterlife. So it’s loaded with symbolism."

Indeed it is.

Wikipedia outlines the life of a cicada in this manner:

Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives, at depths ranging from about 30 centimetres (0.98 ft) down to 2.5 metres (8.2 ft). The nymphs feed on root juice and have strong front legs for digging. In the final nymphal instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then molt (shed their skins) on a nearby plant for the last time and emerge as adults. The exuvia, or abandoned exoskeleton, remains, still clinging to the bark of trees. After mating, the female cuts slits into the bark of a twig, and into these she deposits her eggs. She may do so repeatedly, until she has laid several hundred eggs. When the eggs hatch, the newly hatched nymphs drop to the ground, where they burrow. Most cicadas go through a life cycle that lasts from two to five years. Some species have much longer life cycles, such as the North American genus, Magicicada, which has a number of distinct "broods" that go through either a 17-year or, in some parts of the world, a 13-year life cycle.   

The natural world is filled with wonders, of which many --like the cicada-- are quite unusual. I remember finding cicada exoskeletons on a number of trees in a forest near my home in Maple Heights when I was a boy. In more recent years we learned that it was another "year of the locust" here in Minnesota. Until this show I was unaware, however, how brief their time in sun actually was.

What impressed me most about Caswell's exhibition was her transparency and vulnerability, her willingness to put herself out there like this. Hopefully we won't have to wait seventeen years till she does it again. It's an impressive body of work. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Free Dylan App Now Available and Way Cool

The new Dylan app...
First off, I’m still hooked on Another Self Portrait, a.k.a. The Bootleg Series Vol. 10. What an amazing collection of outtakes that continues to deliver an emotional punch both elegant and tender.

Now the marketing minds behind the Bob Dylan enterprise have made available an incredible new product for fans and potential future fans, a free downloadable iOS app with over 500 content elements including exclusive interviews, histories and photo galleries to accompany the 36 rare tracks for this tenth volume of the Bootleg Series.

Tonight I had a chance to check it out first hand. Each track has a visual timeline with little blue dots that you can click on to get connected to video interviews by people associated with Dylan and the development in these works. It’s unbelievable what the technology is capable of.

Evidently for the past many years efforts have been made (and are continuing to this day) to assemble high definition videos of all the musicians and producers who have had anything to do with all facets of Bob Dylan’s career. This particular app is only the beginning of a massive, far-reaching compilation of material designed to share inside perspectives on Dylan’s creative oeuvre in the context of his times, which have been changing.

...courtesy Nelson French.
From a marketing point of view it’s brilliant. I half wonder if the seed of this concept was planted back in the 80’s when Dylan performed with the Grateful Dead whose non-trademarked method of enabling concerts to be recorded and shared freely served to ensure their music’s broadest distribution. Today, Dylan has wedded this concept of free distribution to the most advanced technology in order to share new insights regarding the work he created decades ago.

OK, you don't really get all the music free. You get a free song and lots of content, and if you have the 3-CD set of Another Self Portrait, you sync that in and get the full package. (Who among  Dylan fans does not have this album already?)

On the app you can see nine blanks where future batches of content will be inserted. The plan is to have similar insights produced for every one of his bootleg series collections. It’s quite awesome. According to “You can unlock all 36 tracks plus the live Isle of Wight performance inside the app by adding your copy of 'Another Self Portrait’ to your iOS device.”

I can imagine that this might be just the incentive for some people who have otherwise been on the fence to finally get a Smartphone. (I’m referring to myself here.)

For the record, if you have not been to lately, it's really expanded over the years. I used to go regularly just for the lyrics to his songs. It's now become a powerful marketing weapon. I can imagine a marketing class at a major university studying this site to see its effectiveness as a tool to attract new fans, but especially to reinforce commitments from old ones. It is a marketing maxim that it's five times easier to sell products to an existing customer than to find new ones.

The thing is, we all know that content is king in the realm of all things internet. And the producers of this Dylan site have plenty of content to work with, but they aren't stopping with that. They've been making strident efforts to bring new ideas and technologies to bear upon the historical Dylan experience.

It's interesting to think about how Dylan may have come full circle on this idea of being a legend. As we know from his interviews he was more than annoyed with the manner in which journalists hyped him and typed him and called him a spokesperson for a generation back in the mid-Sixties. He ultimately retreated from the public eye, cocooning himself in Woodstock, though continuing to make music.

Here it is nearly a half century later and he's allowing his life work to be promoted in legacy form. Is it for the money?  To be honest I don't think he cares about money or fame at this point. He's more of an elder statesman for a tribe, a head of a corporation that provides a livelihood for its manifold employees who are beneficiaries of this fame.

I'm just guessing here, of course. What I do know is that the music continues to move me. In this I'm not alone.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Local Art Seen: An Abundance of Creative Expression on Both Sides of the Bridge

Briefly, I can't say enough about how rich the arts scene is here in the Twin Ports. Sooner or later one realizes you can't do it all, but I made an effort to hit some hot spots. Katie Caswell, a UMD senior, has a really thought provoking show called What Remains in the Tweed and I'm really grateful for having had a chance to talk with her about the work she's produced, which was on display at the same time as the much publicized Blood Memoirs show in the adjacent rooms, curated by Amber-Dawn Bear Robe.

I can't say enough about the value of talking with artists regarding their work. I know there are some who say the work should speak for itself, but more often than not the artist will provide insight that is like a new lens that brings into focus new thoughts, perceptions and understandings. This was especially the case for me regarding Katie Caswell's work, which I will share on another occasion.

Wednesday evening the Tweed shared Chris Eyre's Skins, an inspirational film about two brothers living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. If Graham Greene, one of the actors in Skins, looks familiar it;'s because maybe you've seen him in The Green Mile. Or Maverick. Or Dances with Wolves. Eric Schweig you've seen in Last of the Mohicans. When I spoke with Mr. Eyre Tuesday evening he spoke about being on the jury of the Sundance Film Festival in 2005. Being on the jury meant being required to watch sixteen films plus he saw many others that he wanted to see so that by week's end he'd seen 28 movies, "a new record for me. Not only were my eyes sore but my butt was sore, too."

Last summer Eyre directed Hide Away with Josh Lucas and James Cromwell, which was shot on Lake Michigan. It's the story about a man on a sailboat who tries to resurrect his life after a tragedy. "As a Native filmmaker people are always expecting me to make Native material. I've directed Friday Night Lights on NBC and Law & Order. Then I made this movie Hide Away with James Cromwell and Josh are the greatest actors.. As we were in a rowboat crossing Lake Michigan Jamie Cromwell said to me, 'Indian hunters used to traverse these waters and then the French fur traders came along.' And he laughed and said, "Chris, we should open this up here and talk about the Indian history on Lake Michigan.' And I said, 'Jamie, I love you. I'm tired of talking about Indians. I want to make a movie with no Indians.'  He laughed  and we continued the scene."

For Amber-Dawn her talk regarding the Blood Memoirs show indicated that her show was much about understanding  her own identity in the context of a larger culture. In a sense the show itself was her story, or as she shared in her talk, "a self-portrait."  Ms. Bear Robe shared that the Blood Memoirs show was an attempt to open the Tweed Collection to alternate interpretations through different cultural perspectives. The net-net for me was a strong desire to see what other treasures are hidden in the "vaults" of the Tweed.

Buffalo Boy
Another piece of this event/opening was a challenging presentation by Buffalo Boy. Utilizing footage from the popular Lone Ranger television series, we all had a chance to be challenged by the manner in which white and native cultures were presented when many of us were growing up. Buffalo Boy went around the room distributing masks like the Lone Rangers which we were encouraged to wear ("Don the mask") but the manner in which he did it was quite in your face, and by this I mean, he put his hand on one's shoulder and made eye contact, very directly, communicating his personal humanity to each person in the room. It made a deep impression. After we were all suitably attired, that is, masked, he gave a speech and performed which included instruction about being prepared mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually... and "never be without a mask." He also gave an assortment of other maxims for living including this one: "The most important thing of all, don't do it if it isn't fun."

Live radio is as fun as it sounds.
Meantime, on the other side of the bridge, the episode 3 of the Twin Ports Live Radio Soap Opera was in full swing in Belknap Lounge. So many familiar faces (voices) here. Some of these players were cutting their teeth when I first came here in 1986 and today they're in their prime, in it for the long haul. You can't blame them for wanting to share the fun they are having. And from what I'm hearing this is only the beginning of much, much more.

Thursday Minnesota Wine Exchange had an art opening that included for by Philip C. Jones. If you have not been to this space yet, for the wine or the art, then you need to poke your head in the door instead of just walking by next time you're downtown. it's five steps from the corner of Lake and Superior. You just have to do it once and you will be back.

Finally, it was Friday. Thank you to everyone who attended our joint show at Goin' Postal featuring at least nineteen or twenty artists. It was truly rewarding to see the volume of people who stopped by to take in the event, the art and the sharing. Musical backdrop was provided by Mark Anderson. There's a bit too much to say about this show, so I will save it for another day.

Goin' Postal Fall Art Show was busy and buzzing throughout the evening..

There's more to say, but let's save it for another day. It was personally rewarding sharing these events with so many of you. Thank you especially for making last night for making this show a very special moment in time. Special thanks to Andrew Perfetti for coordinating this show and making it happen.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Room with Many Views... 2013 Fall Art Opening at Goin' Postal

There is a certain understanding that comes from standing on that border between knowing and unknowing, as the light of full consciousness chases away shadows. Giambattista Marino, in Borges' story A Yellow Rose, understood it.

Viktor Frankl understood it. Fernando Pessoa understood this place, too.

It led Gauguin to the furthest corner of the world to ask us all those questions we forget when caught in the day-to-day of our busy routines. Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here?

Scientists have discovered that the eye only "sees" when it stops moving. As it skins across a page, or a computer monitor, it stops then moves then stops, capturing the words only when still.

In the same way we best engage art when we still ourselves before it. We best engage life in the same manner. As we bustle about, we can miss so much. Like the infinite solace in a single gesture.

Join us tonight for our Third Annual Art Show at Goin' Postal in Superior. Talk to the artists. Ask questions. And open your eyes.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Screenwriting for Fun and Profit

In 1993 I had the privilege of being an extra in the Disney film Iron Will. The power of Hollywood to make an impact on mid-America communities was brought home with such force that I conceived a story about it that I pitched to the producer, Robert Schwartz. I called it The Extras. Mr. Schwartz agreed to read my treatment if I wrote one, and upon his return to Hollywood after the film was completed he called to say he would actually read the screenplay if I wrote it. Being a Minnesotan himself he offered some advice on the matter, including the recommendation that I obtain and read Syd Field's book called Screenwriting.

My brother Robert had studied film making in college and agreed to assist me on the project. All of his suggestions proved to be improvements when I implemented them, and my only regret is that I hadn't implemented more of them. Alas, I had a certain vision for the story based on my experience and conceptually the idea was sound, but it costs money to make a movie and "sound" isn't enough.

When the screenplay was finished I sent it to Mr. Schwartz who promised to read it. Sure enough, he kept his word. A couple days later he called to tell me it was a very good first effort. He asked me then to write a second screenplay, but in a different genre. I created a dramatic World War II story told from the point of view of a crippled man  from Estonia called Uprooted. There were life and death escapes galore and lots of opportunity for nail biting by audiences.

After submitting the manuscript in the spring of 1994 Mr. Schwartz once again called me on the phone to say he'd read it. He proceeded to read various passages to me, noting it was very good writing. He suggested I consider coming to Hollywood and that he would introduce me to people.

But I had a job, and a family. I did not feel I was in a position to take risks. Instead, I obtained an agent who believed in the manuscript enough to shop it around a little as I worked on my next screen play in yet another genre, Love Letters Inc., a comedy.  What follows here are some lessons I learned from my two year infection with the screenwriter bug.

1. Read Screenplay by Syd Field.
Even if the book is dated, his ideas of how to tell a story in film will never be out of date. There are also other books on screenwriting that you can obtain and should probably read, but I can't say what's best and most currently respected. In 1993 Field's book is the one that was recommended to me.

2. Read a few real screenplays.
You can do a Google search and find sources for screenplays of many of your favorite films. I bought Dave and the screenplay for Runaway Train. Even if you never get an inkling to become a screenwriter it might be fun to purchase the screenplay of your favorite film. In 1993-4 they were only $15 apiece.

3. Join the Screen Writers Guild.
Not sure what it costs today but back then it was $35 a year. Supposedly they have attorneys who will defend writers ini court should a studio or director steal your script or concept and not pay you for it.

4. Watch lots and lots of movies.
I went through a phase where I watched the first ten minutes of hundreds of films, studying them to see how the director set up the story and foreshadowed the end. Studying films is invaluable if you are desirous to truly be part of the film making industry.

5. Study the various ways directors move the story forward.
A standard film is essentially a series of scenes. Study the pacing, the way in which directors create tension and then release it.

6. Don't write a sequel to an existing film.
When I pitched my idea for The Extras to Robert Schwartz, I also pitched another film called Pause Button which I imagined would make a great sequel to Honey I Shrunk the Kids. He said that when the first film was being made they were already working on sequels in the event it was a hit.

7. Know that what you do will probably never get produced in Hollywood.
Why are you writing this movie script? My guess is that because it is a story you feel needs to be told. Why else would you sacrifice so much of your energy and time on this project? I say go for it. Once you find a way to tell the story as a screenplay, you may later turn it into a novella. That's what I have done with my story Uprooted. It is now a semi-polished manuscript which I aim to see in print within a year or so.

Bottom line: the notion of screenwriting for fun and profit is a joke. It's work, and you will probably never see a dime of profit. But it's a rewarding experience to create something from nothing, to share it with friends, and to see what happens next.

In the case of my writing The Extras, I discovered the the author of Iron Will, the film I was in, was also the author of Runaway Train. He'd written it two decades earlier but nothing came of it. Till Disney picked it up. Now it's been two decades since I started writing Uprooted, inspired by my brief exposure to the Hollywood experience. Perhaps it's time for this story to be discovered, too.

In the meantime.... life goes on. Have a great, great day.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Robert Rauschenberg and a Few Local Delights to Put On Your Calendar

"The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history." 
~Robert Rauschenberg

Rauschenberg piece in Allentown
A Rauschenberg quote seems suitable on this 22nd day of October. Had he not passed in 2008 he would have been 88 today. Rauschenberg's work was influential to me when I was a young artist. Like many others, he loved being part of the New York scene, having once said, "I think that even today, New York still has more of this unexpected quality around every corner than any place else. It's something quite extraordinary." Probably an understatement.

What I remember him for is the edgy, outside-the-canvas assemblages that he called "Combines." His goat with a tire around its waist is probably the most memorable image of that time. His collages or pictures made using photostencil screen printing processes energized me as a young art student. His work preceded the Pop Art scene and became part of it, evolving into the Happenings and multi-disciplinary "anything is possible" art extremes.

In 1964 he became the first American to win the Grand Prize at the Venice Bienale. Afterwards he became increasingly involved in collaborations.

Rauschenberg's work for me symbolizes that period in modern art history where the public had lost its ability to comprehend what was going on in the art scene. It was difficult for many to take the work seriously. Somehow when I saw the cardboard piece at the top of the page, simple as it is, there is more design to it than you think and it's not a joke, as some would surmise. As soon as I saw it in the Allentown Museum of Art I knew who had done it.

* * *

Lots of events going on this week in the Twin Ports. Tonight's Blood Memoirs opening at the Tweed is one that's been on my calendar for quite some time. The opening is at 4:00 or 5:00 or 7:00 depending on what source you get your information from. Curator Amber-Dawn Bear Robe will be making a presentation at 6:00 p.m. in Montague Hall at UMD that you won't want to miss.  

Wednesday evening Tweed Museum of Art is presenting the Chris Eyre film "Skins" in conjunction with the Blood Memoirs exhibition. Chris Eyre is an internationally recognized film director who will be on hand to introduce the film, again in Montague Hall. His film “Smoke Signals” won the Sundance Audience Award and Sundance Filmmakers Trophy. “Skins” is an inspirational tale about two brothers living on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the struggles they face individually, and as part of the community.

ALSO Wednesday, Episode 3 of the Twin Ports Live Radio Soap Opera will be performing at the Belknap Lounge in Superior.  6:00 p.m. sharp. Be there or be made fun of.

Finally, on Friday, the 2013 Goin' Postal Fall Art Show will be happening. I have a number of new works on the wall there are again, and am personally hoping you will come so I can share them with you. The location is 816 Tower Avenue in Superior next to the railroad tracks. Just follow the traffic.... Opening is from 6-9 with an afterparty at the Thirsty Pagan. Thanks for coming out... We will keep you warm.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Crimes, Misdemeaners and the Genius of Woody Allen


Woody Allen is one of the great film makers of our generation. From the opening titles, the white letters on black background with New York jazz playing underneath, I am in. What I find rewarding in Allen's films is the manner in which he weaves the deepest issues of philosophy into an entertaining narrative. He doesn't moralize. He creates characters and tells stories.

Last week I watched Hannah and Her Sisters again and over the weekend watched Crimes and Misdemeanors. Each is fast paced with vividly drawn characters. In both there are affairs and the subsequent struggles with guilt and emotional confusion. But in the latter, the high profile Jonah Rosenthal deals with the situation in a very different manner, moving Crimes into a different class of film.

Publicly, ophthalmologist Jonah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) is a distinguished and generous gentleman in his community. Privately ha has been having an affair that goes especially bad when Dolores (Anjelica Huston) begins to interfere with his public life, threatening to expose him if he doesn’t marry her. Judah’s brother Jack is connected to the shadier side of life and helps his brother by eliminating his “problem.” Near the end of the film Jonah meets film maker Clifford Stern (Woody Allen) at some fancy occasion and they sit together in a shadowed space away from the party.

It's no accident that Crimes and Misdemeanors has a similar title to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. In each the man justifies his murder beforehand making it seem an absolute necessity, but afterwards the unexpected fear (of being caught0 and the guilt at having committed the horror tears him up inside.

The film is dense with sub-themes and mini-stories. One of these is Clifford's love of movies, a theme that carries through many Woody Allen films. The story of Clifford making a film about his wife's brother Lester in order to fund the project he really wants -- a documentary on philosopher Louis Levy -- strikes a chord with anyone who has worked a career to support another passion, such as photography or music.

But the central story here is Jonah's struggle to save his good name, and the lengths he's willing to go in order to do so. All throughout the film, though, we see flashbacks to a scene from Jonah's childhood, a large dining room scene with kids, teens, aunts, uncles and elders, debating morality and ethics, right and wrong. In one of the last flashbacks, Jonah the successful ophthalmologist who seems to have gotten away with murder is standing in the door listening to this ethics debate and finally enters the scene itself to ask a question. It's surprising, and silly and can't be, but it happens and it works. It's the kind of deftness in story telling that Woody Allen uses to keep the weight of Jonah's tale from becoming a burden for all of us.

So near the end of the film Jonah meets Clifford  at some fancy occasion and as they sit together in the shadows Jonah introduces himself.

Jonah: That’s what Ben told me. He said you make films.

Clifford: Yeah, but not that kind.

Jonah: I have a great murder story. … My murder story has a very strange twist.

Clifford: Yeah

Jonah: Let’s say there’s this man who is very successful. He has everything…. and after the awful deed is done he finds that he’s plagued by deep-rooted guilt. Little sparks of his religious background which he’d rejected are suddenly stirred up. He hears his father’s voice. He imagines that God is watching his every move. Suddenly it’s not an empty universe at all, but a just and moral one. And he’s violated it. Now he’s panic-stricken. He’s on the verge of a mental collapse. An inch away from confessing the whole thing to the police. And then, one morning he awakens. The sun is shining and his family is around him and mysteriously the crisis is lifted. He takes his family on a vacation to Europe and as the months pass he finds that he is not punished. In fact, he prospers. The killing gets attributed to another person, a drifter who has a number of other murders to his credit. So what the hell, one more doesn’t even matter. Now he’s scot-free. His life is completely back to normal, back to his protected world of wealth and privilege.

Clifford: Yes, but can he really ever go back?

Jonah (clearly justifying himself to the viewer, though Clifford doesn’t see it): Well, people carry sins around with them. Oh maybe once in a while he has a bad moment, but it passes. And with time it all fades.

Clifford: So then his worst beliefs are realized.

Jonah: Well, I said it was a chilling story didn’t I?

Clifford: I don’t know. I think it would be tough for somebody to live with that. Very few guys could actually live with something like that on their conscience.

Jonah: People carry awful deeds around with them. What do you expect him to do? Turn himself in? I mean, this is reality. In reality we rationalize. We deny, or we couldn’t go on living.

Clifford: Here’s what I would do. I would have him turn himself in, because then you would see, your story assumes tragic proportions because in the absence of a God or something he is forced to assume responsibility for himself. Then you have tragedy.

Jonah: But that’s fiction. That’s movies. You see too many movies. I’m talking about reality. (laughs) If you want a happy ending you should go see a Hollywood movie.

Getting away with murder is a theme Woody Allen returns to years later in less comic fashion in Match Point. With nuance, eros and drama.

What I like about Woody Allen's films, though, is the seamless manner in which he places rich pearls like this one into the story: “We define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of all our choices.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

An Angry Visitor from Xon

My grandmother was a voracious reader of sci fi, with many Asimov books prominent on her shelves. I'd enjoyed a fair share of it in high school and perhaps this strange little story was birthed from those early readings.

An Angry Visitor from Xon

He landed his spacepod in a field near Carlton, Minnesota. It was night and he hoped that there had been no sign of his landing. He had landed without lights.

He meant no harm, visiting this planet for the first time in more than a hundred earth years. During his last visit he was instructed to refrain from making contact with the residents of this planet, called Tortell in his own world (which means, Two Thirds Water.) It was not a creative name, as most of the inhabitants of Xon are factual, reality based engineers, lacking in imagination. (Xon means, “The Largest Blue Planet in our Solar System”, which it was.)

His name was Som Felo Fint, which translated means he was the first born son of Som Felo. His parents, however, called him Rau, which means “Male Boy.” Happily, Rau had discovered in his previous visit that Tortell had ample supplies of oxygen, that the molecular designs and carbon based life forms corresponded to his own planet and that, but for his clothing and one other handicap, he could practically pass for a Tortellian, that is, earthling.

Rau’s unfortunate handicap was the lack of vocal chords. The peoples of Xon had developed their telepathic communication skills to such an extent that it was believed by Xon scientists that vocal chords were irrelevant. The vocal chord gene was removed from the genetic code shortly after the elimination of the genes that cause migraines, cancer and an assortment of other miscellaneous maladies. The only peoples to be infuriated by this decision were Xon’s pet owners and pet trainers. Telepathic communication with animals has yet to be developed, in spite of that “can do” attitude of high ranking Xon technologists.

The spacepod landed without mishap in a farmer’s field shortly after dusk. He made only a modest attempt to conceal it, intending to depart by morning.

Rau’s visit to Northern Minnesota corresponded with the county fair season, and as luck would have it, these were the days of the Carlton County Fair. His first stop: a farmhouse just off Highway 61, to pick up a set of clothes. The farmer and his family had gone to the fair and for a Xonian, subduing the family watchdog was a cinch. In no time at all Rau was appropriately decked out. He smiled when he caught his reflection in the mirror. On the surface, at least, he made a passable rural Minnesotan, and a handsome one at that.

Rau was off to the fair.


Lisa Flanagan was mad at her boyfriend Curt Steffle and she intended to let him know it. Curt had made fun of her in front of his friends. Roland Kinney and Billy Mitchell were laughing so hard tears spilt from their eyes. And if that wasn't bad enough, Tess Harper saw everything and she probably wouldn't get off Lisa's case for a year. For definite and for sure Curt was finished.

Lisa took a walk in the field beyond the parking lot and found a place to be alone with herself while her friends went off to have fun. She cried into the folds of her sweatshirt, then quietly composed herself in the dark. As she stood up to head back toward the fairground she heard the sound of footsteps and whirled about only to see a man's silhouette moving toward the lights.

At first it frightened her to think that she may not have been alone. Then, she wondered if maybe it had been Curt feeling awkward and guilty, having followed her but being too timid to approach her.

Walking briskly, she pursued the dark figure until she reached the open lighted space between a tent and a vendor's trailer. The figure turned, and it was not Curt at all. In fact, it was a young man, taller and fuller in the shoulders, and very handsome, with deep set eyes that seemed to possess an understanding which exceeded his years. The glare of lights shone on her face and he saw that she was looking at him with a strange expression. Rau turned and walked out of sight around the corner.

About ten minutes later she found her friend Melissa. “Did you see him? That new fellow. Know anything about him?”

But Melissa hadn't seen him.

“Where’s Curt? Didn’t you come with Curt tonight?”

"Curt’s history,” Lisa said and she spat. She wasn’t very good at spitting, so it was more like she sprayed a bit of spittle in the direction of the ground. The sound was effective and showed what she thought of her former boyfriend.

"So what’s his name?”

"I don’t know,” Lisa said. “We haven’t really met.”

"You don’t even know the guy and you –"

Lisa cut her off, pointing. “There. He’s over by the cotton candy.”

Rau was standing alongside the glass, mesmerized by the furls of air and sugar that were being wrapped into pink and blue clouds of cotton.”

Come on,” Lisa said. “Let’s go meet him.” Reluctantly Melissa went along.

Lisa acted like she had lost her footing and brushed against him. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m such a klutz.”

Rau looked at her and smiled. He found her features delicate and pleasing to look at. Using his telepathic powers he attempted to tell her she was beautiful and that it was O.K. that she bumped into him. He said he was shy and wanted to comfort her in the field, but sensed that she wanted to be alone. He said many more things, but on his face he wore only a smile that seemed strangely sad.

Unfortunately, human comprehension of Xonian telepathy is zilch and Lisa wondered if she may have said or done something wrong.

The second half of this story, which I posted at Ennyman's Territory in October 2008, can be found here . Enjoy!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Venice Biennale Is a Wonder

"To grow in learning, to open up to the world, seems truly to be finding those to whom we are akin."  --Andre Gide, Concerning Influence In Literature 

From the first of June till 24 November the 55th International Art Exhibition has been taking place at the Giardini and at the Arsenale, as well as in other various Venetian venues. The artistic director of this year's international exhibition is Massimiliano Gioni, a curator and contemporary art critic from New York City.

The scale of this event is mind-boggling, with as many as pavilions representing as many a 90 countries including the Holy See. (Full list here.) Each pavilion showcases a selected artist or group of artists and this year's U.S.A. selection is Sarah Sze. [EdNote: I love how you can Google an artist's name, click on the Images tab and see what kind of work they do. Any time you read about an artist you are unfamiliar with you should try this trick.] 158 artists in all have been enlisted to make this year's event happen.

One has to admire the people who create and manage an event of this scale, especially the creative director Gioni. He wasn't just selected by happenstance, however. He's been co-director of other major events including the Berlin Biennial and this Venice event in 2003. In other words, this isn't his first rodeo.

The setting alone that houses this event is a dream and quite a bit more spacious than the one meter square gallery Gioni opened in Chelsea when he was 29. (You read that correctly: one meter square.)

The theme for the Biennale is based on artist Marino Auriti's Encyclopedic Palace, which was intended to be "the center for all man's knowledge," a museum to house all mankind's greatest achievements. In a NY Times story called Ripples of Rumination Gioni spoke of "the impossibility of capturing the sheer enormity of the art world today."

This is certainly true. As big as this show has been, it's still like a faraway star on a distant galaxy for most Americans, even those who follow the arts in their own constellations and communities here.

For more information, read Carol Vogel's NY Times story, "A New Guide In Venice."

Can't make it to Venice before the end of November? There's plenty to see here, in whatever city you find yourself in. If you're in the Twin Ports,  I recommend Tuesday evening's upcoming opening for Blood Memoirs, curated by  Amber-Dawn Bear Robe at the Tweed. You're also invited to the third annual Goin' Postal Fall Art Show in Superior on Friday evening the 25th. I myself have quite a bit of work here in what feels like my home gallery. I'd love to share it with you. 

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it!

Friday, October 18, 2013

She's Back! AJ Atwater Shows Her Stuff... Again

AJA w/ Sailboats on the Hudson, Battery Park
When I discovered AJ Atwater's work at the Washington Galleries earlier this spring I knew too well that I was late to the party. That is, others were well aware of the power of her work for quite some time. As I wrote in my review, "her abstract paintings energized the room." The show was called Urban Landscapes, a series that emerged from one of her two annual "painting retreats" to New York City each spring and fall. 

At summer's end, after giving the Duluth community Project 30/30, which was both performance and exhibition, she returned to the Big Apple for autumn inspiration and continuation of her studies/explorations there. Now, she's back and preparing to show featuring new paintings of Manhattan's Central Park and Duluth's Stoney Point at the Minnesota Win Exchange.

A Balcony, Amsterdam Avenue
If you follow the local art scene and you've not been to the MN Wine Exchange you are missing out on a very cool space. It is just off the corner of Duluth's busiest section, next to the Double Dutch on Superior Street. What a great hive of art activity this corner has become, with Jitters anchoring the other end of the block, Lizzard's in the middle and the PROVE up around the corner. Pizza Luce is always showcasing local art as well with Artist Kamikaze V currently on display there. But the MWE is our newest slot with walls downstairs and a fabulous gallery space up.

The opening for Atwater's show will be November 2, with music by Matt Mobley. I caught up with the artist as soon as I heard about this event.

EN: What was the biggest thing that got you jazzed during your most recent trip to the Big Apple?

From Lake & Boathouse Central Park Series
AJ: The Upper West Side. The neighborhood blossomed before my eyes the minute I stepped outside my apartment on West 71st and Broadway. I could see the subway station and feel the energy of the people at the mad-house intersection of Broadway, 71st and Amsterdam. Book vendors line parts of Amsterdam. I would stop by, pick up a book, chat, all the while listening to saxophone music drifting down the avenue. The deli on the corner. Trader Joe's across the street where it takes 13 minutes to get to the checkout on a busy day, people shopping as they move down the checkout line, grabbing bunches of fresh spinach, avocados, bags of onions. I call it shopping in line. Then, I'd grab the 1 train and in a flash be at Columbus Circle/Central Park. Two blocks away was my home away from home, the Art Students League on West 57th where I painted. What got me jazzed was the city itself. It's incredible good energy. The arts are present at every turn: Plays are preformed near the fountain in Columbus Circle, found sculptures appear out of nowhere, the Village does amazing food tours, hip-hoppers take over crowded subways. This results in a richly detailed, powerful life force.

Piece from the Stoney Point Series
EN: What new direction did your art take and why? What was the primary impetus for the work you produced this fall?

AJ: I'm working now more with edges...doubling up on edges, squiggling them, pushing them and defining them with thin black lines, giving them new dimensions. Also continuing to work with the idea of flat space, much like Japanese artists do. With planes. Learning how to see it all in space, yet on a 2D surface. The city itself, again, is responsible for what I produced, like my Central Park Series. As I painted Manhattan's most famous park, the horizon line so prevalent in Duluth was also present and transplanted into a small series of abstract landscapes titled Stoney Point. Both locations I live in influence my artwork through their sheer and really exciting differences.

Minnesota Wine Exchange is locally owned and dedicated to serving wine produced by Minnesota wineries buys local produce and uses sustainable products. Located in the heart of downtown Duluth, Minnesota Wine Exchange offers a simple, elegant menu served in the midst of work by artists. For more information visit

Atwater paints at the Art Students League in Manhattan and operates a studio/gallery in Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood. For more information visit

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Art Stuff Both Here and Abroad

We have friends who were guests of a woman in France for part of a summer, and at one point after they had been there a while she asked, "What is this word stuff that you use? I do not understand it." She said they don't have a word quite like it in French. Our friends explained that it was a versatile word that you could use to refer to almost anything when you couldn't find a better word. She contemplated this notion a bit and finally smiled broadly, saying, "I really like this word."

All this to say that there is a lot of stuff happening here in the Twin Ports arts scene.

Today, for example, Art in the Alley is celebrating it's fifth birthday. I saw two different times for slated so maybe it is at two and maybe from four to six. Since they're having food and beverages, I am guessing the latter time, though there's a ribbon cutting planner. They have a great art space in Downtown Duluth and if you've never been there then you really should check it out. (Note: Free Blackwater martinis when you buy $25 worth of art today!)

Tonight at Beaner's Central in West Duluth there will be an open mic poetry event hosted by Tina Higgins. These are great places to share your work in a supportive environment. 7:00 - 9:00 pm.

This past Tuesday after work I attended an art talk hosted by Anne Dugan of the Duluth Art Institute. Because it was under-promoted it was also under-attended, but I'd put it on my calendar as soon as I heard about it and went because I really liked the idea of talking about art with people who know more than I about these things. Annie came to share information about the Venice Biennale, a.k.a. 55th International Art Exhibition.

I found it utterly fascinating, as the Biennale has been like a World's Fair of art for more than 100 years, taking place every other year with great enormity. Just like the New York World's Fair that I attended as a youth, countries from all over the world each have their own pavilion to display the works of an artist or group of artists from their nation. What astonished me is how large this is and that I'd never heard of it. Or if I had, it never registered somehow.

My guess is that I read about it in ArtForum magazine when I was an art student but it was just some far off and far away at the time. Annie brought it close to home with details about the curator Massimiliano Gioni who selected the theme for this year's event -- Il Palazzo Enciclopedico / The Encyclopedic Palace -- based on a document by Jung.

It's my hope to share more of what Annie shared in another blog entry, but I will tease you with this. What do Edward Hopper, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Ben Shahn, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Morris Louis, Robert Rauschenburg, Franz Kline, Louise Nevelson, Jim Dine and Hans Hofmann all have in common? Each of them had been sent as artists to represent the U.S. in the Venice Biennale at one time or another.

Last week I missed a really good meeting of the Twin Ports Arts Align at Pizza Luce. How do I know it was good? Because Crystal Pelkey took very good notes and shared them on the Twin Ports Arts Align Facebook page. In addition to Crystal, who moderated, those in attendance included Susanna Gaunt, Bill Payne, Mark Harvey, Richard Hansen, Mary Matthews, Sam Black, Cal Metts, Helen Smith Stone, Chani Ninneman, and Shane Bauer.

Bill Payne reviewed the history of Twin Ports Arts Align, including the two major January gatherings we’ve had, and our first project North x North last May.

He reminded us that the Twin Ports Arts Align is not an organization; we are a conversation that has been going on for two years. It is my opinion that the social media component alone has proved invaluable, though the group has achieved some rather important things beyond the sharing of ideas. The focus of this meeting revolved around the future of Twin Ports Arts Align and what that will look like.

Mary Matthews, represented the Duluth Public Arts Commission (PAC) and gave an update to the group of Twin Ports Arts Align (TPAA) which you can read on the TPAA Facebook page cited above.

The members of the group discussed various points and addressed questions that were posed such as these:

Question posed: Is it possible for the PAC to sponsor a gathering of arts issues/public art in January similar to how the UMD School of Fine Arts brought together the arts community for the past two years?

Discussion point: We discussed the importance of having a common vision. Richard discussed the NxN project and perhaps we didn’t reach that vision and that was part of the problem of that initial effort Helen mentioned the importance of talking about the same thing, having the same goals/vision and having an advocate to keep the conversation moving forward.

Question: Does a model exist out there where the Public Arts Commission and an Arts Align group could combine?

Question: Is the Twin Cities Springboard for the Arts a good model to look at? In the Twin Cities artists are integrated into the administration of the city.

Question: Where do our citizens see themselves in relation to the arts? Do they see it as an important part of their lives? Can we pose a survey to non-artists and pose that question to the community and enlist Visit Duluth?

Question: What are our measurements of success going to be? Minneapolis publishes a creative index, and distributes a booklet annually documenting the impact of the creative community.

Question: What statistics/data already exist in terms of the impact of the arts in our region?

Discussion point: This past January, 5 working groups met and created action steps. That model worked really well to keep things moving forward

Discussion point: Is the Greater Downtown Council a model to look at for TPAA? Members pay dues for their specific services—research, advocacy. Action step: Research the GDTC model and investigate how they became successful.

In short, there is a lot of seriously good thought behind what is happening in the local, and global, arts scene. It doesn't "just happen." It's fascinating to watch the fermentation of ideas, especially when the outcome can be the betterment of our communities.

Go team!