Posted at 2:23 PM on December 7, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Galleries
Looking at Kyle Fokken's artwork evokes for me the term "mash-up" - in other words, bringing together two disparate things to create a new whole (the cast of Glee does it all the time with songs).
When I told Fokken this, he laughed and said perhaps "smash-up" would be a better term. Fokken calls his work "3-D collages," combining things like churches and airplanes into one single other-wordly creation. It's something he's been doing for a long time.
As a kid, I didn't have very much money to purchase new model kits and would often times get destroyed or thrown away ones made by other kids. I decided that I really liked the dioramas and the 'distressed' look that was popular among professional modelers. I learned their technique of using found objects to mimic elements that were part of the planes, but not part of the kits.
Planes, machinery, churches, dogs and wooden clogs are all recurring images in Fokken's work. Fokken says he's drawn to collage because it allows him to work with a
bigger visual pallet. He says when he combines objects he creates - and learns - something new.
I refer to making pieces along a series akin to choking off the end of a garden hose in a manner that increases the force and direction of the stream. Series are a way of focusing the mind and the work. The dog form to me deals with the idea of potential. Since there are so many variety of dogs out there, I use it as a metaphor for the potential of a child growing into adulthood. I added the "klompen" (dutch for wooden shoe) after finding out more about my German/Dutch (Friesian) heritage and taking a visit there. I like the idea that it's silly looking and very humble - a peasant's shoe in the low countries. It's also the "sabot" in "saboteur" or a "clog" in more plain English which I think is intriguing. Maybe I'm here to "sabotage" the conventional thinking of mixed media sculpture - who knows?
Fokken says his interest in churches comes from his own small-town upbringing; he sees run-down country churches as symbols of the loss of American culture.
Once Fokken has come up with a new form, he pays strict attention to both the skeleton and skin of it, making sure that it looks as real as possible from the point of structural engineering.
Every piece I've made has an internal "logic" to it. Things that are low slung look "fast". Upright things may be slow or have a vertical function like a helicopter. I want people to also look at nature in my work since I study it to see how things function together and how the natural world has dealt with the problem. This is actually how many scientists and engineers are making new strides in military and civilian aviation.
People have associated Fokken's work with the "Steampunk" movement, but he says that would be a mistake by definition, since many of his creations deal with piston machinery. But like Steampunk creations, Fokken's pieces are filled with nostalgia, at the same time as they evoke worlds never seen. Fokken thinks of his work as "retro-futurist."
I draw a lot of my inspiration from the Art Deco movement and Popular Science/Mechanics of that era; there's all this wonder at what the future will hold - which happens to be now... and it doesn't look anything like they imagined.
You can see Fokken's retro-futurist "smash-ups" on display at his alma mater, Saint Cloud State University, in the Atwood Gallery.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Posted at 9:24 AM on December 7, 2010
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: News and reviews
Here's a look at the arts stories making headlines...
Michael Chabon named director of board of MacDowell artist colony
Hillel Italie, Associated Press
Michael Chabon, novelist, screenwriter and father of four, has a new responsibility.
Cinderella gets a Dolls makeover
- Caroline Palmer, Star Tribune
In Ballet of the Dolls' reboot of a comedy classic, a Beverly Hills mansion becomes a gilded cage.
Moscow Ballet's "Great Russian Nutcracker" lives up to its name
- Betsy Gabler, TC Daily Planet
It was a perfect event to start out a season of joy and goodwill, fantasy and legend, faith and beauty.
Carols are key in two holiday songfests
- William Randall Beard, Star Tribune
VocalEssence and The Singers each present multiple concerts featuring old and new holiday songs.
Concert at the Capri: 'It's all baby steps, but it's happening'
- Michael Anthony, MinnPost.com
The Capri began presenting concerts and musical plays three years ago, invoking the venerable notion that the arts can have a positive effect on the environment -- and perhaps even stimulate some much-needed business development in the area.
Tony Ortiz's "Someday": Hear him, feel him
- Dwight Hobbes, TC Daily Planet
Ortiz's vocals, no matter what mode he's in, be it sweet ballad or you-know-what to the walls rocking, demonstrate pure, unbridled passion.
Motes tapped for a top role at College of St. Benedict
- Graydon Royce, Star Tribune
The former head of the Minnesota Shubert Center, she leaves Theater Latté Da for a major fund-raising job.
Funny bits in alt-Xmas legend
A witty concept and some funny moments make for laughs, but less would be more in this Christmas spoof.
- Graydon Royce, Star Tribune
Joking Envelope's "Super-Powered Revenge Christmas #1": Superheroes save Christmas with Minneapolis Theatre Garage logic
- Jay Gabler, TC Daily Planet
If the premise amuses you, you'll get a kick out of the execution. If you're not so sure, you're unlikely to be convinced.
Cleverly conceived Revenge Christmas a mixed bag of Yuletide mayhem - Brad Richason, Examiner.com
A consistently witty holiday mash-up that impresses with its concept, but struggles to make an emotional connection.
Miss Richfield 1981's 'Bingo Bonanza' offers too much
- Ed Huyck, City Pages
There really can be too much of a good thing, as was made clear Friday evening at the Miss Richfield 1981 holiday show, Bingo Bonanza.
At the Old Log Theater, "Jeeves in Bloom" droops
- Elizabeth Lofgren, TC Daily Planet
Jeeves in Bloom has some of the elements of a successful farce, but inconsistency in style and energy prevent it from being the breezy romp that we hoped to enjoy.
Playwright Carson Kreitzer awarded NEA grant
- Ed Huyck, City Pages
Local playwright Carson Kreitzer has earned a National Endowment for the Arts grant to aid in developing her latest play, Behind the Eye.
"Miracle on Chrismas Lake" at Yellow Tree Theatre: Osse-awesome!
- Bev Wolfe, TC Daily Planet
A last-minute loss of rights to a different holiday play resulted in co-founder Jessica Lind writing the last-minute holiday play "Miracle on Christmas Lake," which has become a holiday staple.
The Golden Girls get into the spirit with 'A Christmas Carol' at the BLB
- Shelby Meyers, City Pages
A Christmas Carol by Dickens is indeed a timeless tradition, but the Golden Girls are just as capable of offering up some holiday magic too.
The Guthrie's new Scrooge: More cynical, less curmudgeonly
- Ed Huyck, City Pages
Daniel Gerroll has made a splash in town with his fresh interpretation of the role in the Guthrie Theater's latest production of their longstanding holiday offering.
It's been a bad week for the Smithsonian.
Last Tuesday the museum pulled a video by artist David Wojnarowicz from its exhibition "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture," after taking heat for the video's controversial subject matter (the video depicts a christ figure on the cross, covered with ants). Critics of the video claimed they felt it was anti-Christian.
Since the video was removed, many in the art world have protested the Smithsonian's actions, including the Minneapolis Institute of Art's own Kaywin Feldman, who heads the Association of Art Museum Directors. The AAMD released the following statement on the incident:
It is extremely regrettable that the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, a major American art museum with a long history of public service in the arts, has been pressured into removing a work of art from its exhibition "Hide/Seek."
More disturbing than the Smithsonian's decision to remove this work of art is the cause: unwarranted and uninformed censorship from politicians and other public figures, many of whom, by their own admission, have seen neither the exhibition as a whole or this specific work.
The AAMD believes that freedom of expression is essential to the health and welfare of our communities and our nation. In this case, that takes the form of the rights and opportunities of art museums to present works of art that express different points of view.
Discouraging the exchange of ideas undermines the principles of freedom of expression, plurality and tolerance on which our nation was founded. This includes the forcible withdrawal of a work of art from within an exhibition--and the threatening of an institution's funding sources.
The Smithsonian Institution is one of the nation's largest organizations dedicated to the dissemination and diffusion of knowledge--an essential element of democracy in America. We urge members of Congress and the public to continue to sustain and support the Smithsonian's activities, without the political pressure that curtails freedom of speech.
Other protests have included a man standing in front of the exhibition, playing the video clip on his iPod. Here's the controversial video in its entirety - easily found on YouTube:(3 Comments)
In the last month I've added a new feature to State of the Arts - the daily "news and reviews" post which attempts to bring together all the Twin Cities arts reporting in one easy-to-find location. I figured this would be a useful service to readers, and simultaneously would get me in the habit of reading everybody else's work out there (which ideally, I should always do, but hey, nobody's perfect).
After a few weeks of posting the daily news, I have to say I was impressed. There are actually far more stories out there than I realized about Minnesota artists, theaters, musicians - you name it. Even dance, known for being the orphan child of the arts journalism world, is getting pretty regular coverage.
So why is it that I constantly hear predictions of the death of arts journalism, and artists tell me that coverage of their work in the Twin Cities is lacking?
That's the question I posed on Facebook... and by doing so, sparked a conversation far more nuanced and wide-ranging than I had anticipated. Participants included both artists and journalists, and even people who play both roles.
Many agreed that while there may be a number of stories out there, the style of journalism isn't to their liking. Either they're glorified calendar listings, booster-ish features or shallow reviews geared towards "should I go or not" decision-making.
Amy Rice, Art Director with Spectrum Community Mental Health and artist/Walker Art Center project director Scott Stulen both cited instances in which someone reviewed a show either without seeing it fully installed, or not even stepping foot in the gallery. Stulen went on to write the following:
There is a need for more critical, smart and unbiased coverage. Far too many press releases turned into promo articles or the "description review"...Competition and more writing, both online and in print creates a healthy art community. There is a vibrant art community in Minnesota, but it can also be complacent and afraid of critical dialog. For artists to grow, we need to be pushed on occasion...even when it isn't what you want to hear.
Journalists spoke to the combined pressures of both fewer colleagues and a thriving arts community, which makes the notion of "covering" the Twin Cities arts scene seem almost insurmountable. Sheila Regan with TC Daily Planet urged people to pick up their pens and join the fight. Fellow MPR colleague Ali Lozoff (with The Current) asked why give a bad review, when instead you can draw an audiences attention to something worth seeing?
For the most part, there are fantastic emerging artists that need every piece of good press they can get; things that aren't good are best left ignored where they wither on the vine, since all publicity is ultimately good publicity.
Theater director Charles Campbell says he doesn't want just a review, but a broader public dialogue about the ideas in an artist or theater company's work.
Still others, like Cantus' Executive Director Mary Lee, and MinnesotaPlaylist.com co-founder Alan Berks say really good arts writing should be more like restaurant reviews, with a real passion for detail. Berks points out that when sports writers may say a game was "good" or "bad" but that never implies you shouldn't go see it.
Really good sports writers make a double play seem somehow geopolitically significant. Are there art writers with the same sense of joy and obsessive passion combined with the same intelligence, arrogance, and style? If so, would that writing even get published in the forms that currently exist?
Berks went on to state that he does believe those writers are out there, but in the current media climate, they're restricted by either format or time. He says he believes there's more arts coverage out there now than there was two years ago, thanks to new outlets online.
Susannah Schouweiler with mnartists.org say if she sees a lack in local arts coverage,
it's in the more enduring, critical essays and think-pieces on a relevant theme.
I think we in the local arts press do both artists and audiences a service by focusing on the big picture - tying together threads and themes, looking at work repeatedly and over time. Frankly, that's a harder story to pitch to a commercial media entity whose interests tend to be pretty immediate and geared toward getting people to the site/newsstands today -- driven by what's hot *this weekend* -- but it's a really valuable part of a thriving, informed art conversation, I think. And we need to be able/willing to pay writers for that kind of effort. But as a reader, I'd love to see more of it.
So why/how is it that a place like the Twin Cities can have such a thriving arts scene, but the writing about that scene fails to be as dynamic or inspiring? Poet Paul Dickinson posited the most controversial theory - that there are simply "too many artists." Many disagreed that there could be such a thing, but the comment resonated with something Duluth painter and arts writer Ann Klefstad mentioned - the role funding plays in fueling - or stifling - critical discourse.
Because arts here is funded to a greater degree by foundation and governmental grants than by passionate purchasers, there is less role for critics and discussion in general. The decisions on grants are made by committees, often from outside Minnesota; their choices will be little influenced by popular discourse. Purchasers, however. like reviews, in fact need reviews. Think of how many people would go to movies if there were no movie reviews, only polite previews that said, "this is nice." Of course consumption of arts of any kind is driven by quality, understood not necessarily as "high esthetic value" but "things people love and find intensely interesting", but the talk that accrues around such things spreads the word.
So where does this leave us? Artists want criticism, because it helps them to grow and develop their work. But they don't want simple thumbs-up, thumbs-down reviews. Nor do they want boring academic treatises. Instead they want a lively, interested dialogue that takes the same care and attention with their work as a food writer does with a fine meal or a sports writer with a double play.
Meanwhile arts reporters like myself, due to the dramatic changes going on within the news industry, face tighter deadlines and fewer colleagues with which to share the work load.
It feels as though local arts journalism is caught up in one great catch-22. That is, in order for journalists to have time to nourish a meaningful critical dialogue, they need a dramatic increase in funding and institutional support. But it's that same longstanding local tradition of cultural philanthropy that may have dulled the conversation in the first place.