Saturday, December 1, 2012

Minnesota Minimalism: Chris Larson Curates Silence at SooVAC by Jenna Westrick

As winter settles firmly upon the Minnesota landscape, we all feel the familiar pull toward solitary hibernation. The same goes for the Twin Cities’ many art spaces, as autumn’s abundance of openings turns toward the lull of winter. The ninth annual Untitled exhibition at Minneapolis gallery Soo Visual Arts Center reflects a similarly subdued tone. 

After a typical Minnesota summer’s vigorous lineup of colorful festivals, large-scale exhibits, and art with self-congratulatory impact, the show reminds us of the quieter, more introspective side of art. Humble and haunting, Untitled 9 combines work by thirteen emerging artists, resulting in a decidedly discreet study of subtle transformation and enticing vagueness. With accessible and evocative translation's by the show's sole juror, admired Minnesota artist Chris Larson, we can better understand the Untitled 9 artists' potent statements. In doing so, we are reminded of the modest comfort that art can provide. 

"Insight," Rachel Breen
In his description of the show, Larson writes, “Through a quiet sense of natural wonder, 13 artists noiselessly manipulate, cut, dissect, blur, and disintegrate architecture, bodies, and the landscape. Murmuring.”

After meeting the man himself, it is clear that the tone of the show reflects Larson’s humble demeanor. When I asked him about his “quiet sense,” he answered, “Early on, I started picking up on quiet, subtle manipulations of simple materials, slow videos, and a lack of color in some of the works. The show could have gone in many different directions; I followed that way.” Avoiding the route of the ostentatious, Larson instead curated organically and with restraint. He recognized a pattern among the works — “simple, quiet gestures with a darker undercurrent.” Viewers are provoked to look inward, and to reconsider the seemingly ordinary world around them through an enchanting new lens.

"Monolith_05," Jesse Draxler
Despite the show’s subtlety, clear trends emerge in Untitled 9, such as the use of collage and physical remixing. The graphic manipulations of Jesse Draxler, for example, use mash-ups of impossible architecture to create ominous imagery with a crushing feel. Six delicate, smaller-scale collage pieces by Haley Prochnow silently speak volumes; they are mysterious yet intimate patchworks.

Untraditional conceptions of landscape are another major theme, with many of the artists distorting environment. The landscape photography of Monica Howell reconfigures the highly trafficked tourist destination of Yellowstone National Park using chance and accidental outcomes, shifting the viewer’s understanding of an exceedingly familiar place. Conversely, Noel Worden’s photography of barren, rural landscapes enlightens the viewer to these undervalued areas’ powerful beauty. 

Larson’s perception on group dynamics is telling: “You can have small special moments with each work or a feeling of a whole. Some left the exhibition saying that they really liked this particular piece and did not care for the others, and some said it felt like one artist could have been responsible for all the work in the room. I am interested in the conversation that happens when you place one thing next to the other for the first time.”

"terraforming," Sean Connaughty
Much like the restrained transformation evident in the thirteen artists’ individual works, the physical space of SooVAC has been delicately warped as well. These manipulations also mirror Larson’s subjectivity and quiet intention. For instance, installation artist Leslie Kelman travels inside the unconquered niche of a gallery wall, creating a temporary shelter. Here she brings secrecy and private comfort to life in her “hidden space for human activity and subsistence.” A fish tank holding ecological orbs resides in a built-out SooVAC broom closet, fulfilling artist Sean Connaughty’s mission to highlight natural beauty within seemingly mundane situations.

While jurying the exhibit, Larson also developed a particularly profound relationship with SooVAC: “I heard that this was the show Suzy Greenberg was most proud of creating. I can see why. Untitled has given a platform to hundreds of emerging artists. Untitled 9 was the first exhibition for a few, and that's pretty cool. As far as the physical space, I wanted the gallery to reflect the quiet vibe and sparseness of the work.”

So how does the audience fit in to this mix? As Larson says, “The viewer is usually correct.” In SooVAC’s opinion, community is half of the equation. Through our own personal perceptions of the dynamic show, we can revel in our own intuitive interpretations.

Untitled 9  could not have come at a better time. The exhibit reminds us to see the wintry world around us in a novel way. We begin to recognize the ordinary as charged with value and beauty, and find peace during this less-admired time of year.

*Untitled 9 is on view at SooVAC until December 30th.
*This post also appears in the December issue of Quodlibetica
*Photography by Joe Burgmaier