ArtofPolitics.com

One common blogging convention, that our Vicious Circle of intrepid arts writers has yet to employ, is what I am going to hereby dub the "Cavalcade of Links" (also sometimes called, by those who follow such things more closely, a "Blog Carnival"). For our purposes, a Cavalcade of Links is a posting wherein a lazy or overwrought (or too clever) blogger, in an effort to give the appearance of having thought an issue through, picks a topic and offers up a mass of live links to topic-related sites. All I can say at this point is, enjoy the first Cavalcade of Links!

 

IN THIS RAPIDLY UP-RAMPING POLITICAL SEASON, the time seems right, on our little visual arts blog, to offer up a "Cavalcade of Links" on the expanding intersection, of late, between local art and national politics. That is, I would like to point out how artists in our Minnesotan voting districts and precincts will be attempting, over the next couple of months, to position themselves to garner attention, usurp power and influence, or simply quibble and complain over the ongoing political process to anyone at all willing to listen.

Based on preliminary investigations, my working hypothesis is that Minnesota will, this year, be witness to a veritable explosion of art-meets-politics positioning, caviling, and attention-seeking (and this is true even considering that it’s a national election year). This uptick could be because of local excitement/agitation about a particular candidate. Or it could also be agitation/excitement over the looming Republican National Convention, although the growing cynic in me has another theory. That is, it’s possible this may also be a desperate attempt by a lost and distant generation, fast growing increasingly frustrated with their several layers of electronic separation from the real world, to connect with anyone on the outside willing to listen and take a looksee at their art. But that’s just the personal theory of a rapidly aging ex-radical critic…

Whatever the reasons, what’s on offer here is a helpful guide for wading through all this local political artsmanship. To assist in such an effort, I have attempted to break down the various activities — either commenced or announced — into three main areas: (A) Come Together, Over Me: Broad calls, mostly web-based, to motivate artists to join together to work on some sort of upcoming artistically political group activity; (B) Hey, Look at Me!: Politics-related exhibitions being currently planned or mounted by artists, galleries, and museums seeking to insert themselves in the thick of the ongoing buzz/activities; and (C) Me Me Me Me Me: A catch-all category for any and all aristic public rants, arguments, and kerfuffles in advance of the looming grand ol’ gathering and election.

(If you have additional links to upcoming local arts-political activities of any sort — in any of these areas — please add them to the comments section at the bottom of this post.)

Without further ado, shall we start the Cavalcade?

A) Come Together, Over Me

  • The UnConvention is the granddaddy of all assemblies of artists looking to dip a toe in the pool of politics this election season. Citing as its main mission — "To umbrella the myriad artistic and educational activities (exhibitions, lectures, performances, etc.) that will take place in the Twin Cities during the lead-up and staging of the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota" — the UnConvention’s list of planned projects is pretty extensive. It includes: a variety of public art projects — sculpture, performance art, and an artist-made lawn sign competition very similar to one that was mounted in 2004; opportunities for civic dialogue and speechifying; a parade culminating in a gathering in Loring Park; an art car powered by humans; a skywriting project; an interactive peace-themed picnic complete (I’m guessing) with hootenanny-style sing-alongs; a round-the-clock gathering place for alt-media and others; and much more. In the end, so vast are the UnConvention’s planned efforts that it ends up as partner/umbrella to many of the projects listed below. The whole shmear is sponsored by, who else?, the Walker Art Center.

  • One notable sub-project to the UnConvention that’s worth pointing out separately is a competition called I Approve This Message. In this project, artists are invited to create a video in response to questions surrounding the scripted nature of presidential nominations and democracy in general. In addition to being shown online, the best works submitted will be screened at the Walker and other venues.

 

  • Vote YES Minnesota is the public advocacy campaign associated with the dryly-titled Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that will be on the ballot this November. (This amendment, if passed, will increase our state sales tax by three-eighths of one percent through the year 2034 to dedicate funding to protect drinking water sources, wetlands, prairies, forests, and wildlife habitat, to preserve our arts and cultural heritage, and to support our parks and trails.) Interestingly, one of the key features of the Vote YES MN campaign is (as with the UnConvention’s "I Approve.."), a video contest, in which filmmakers "of all skill levels" are encouraged to tell why Minnesota is "such a special place to live."

 

  • Spark 24, an offshoot of the UnConvention, is a non-stop marathon of free entertainment that will kick off at 5 p.m. on Saturday, August 30, 2008 and continue until 5 p.m. on Sunday, August 31 (the days just prior to the start of the Republican National Convention). Free events of all sorts –music, theater, dance, etc — will be scattered around Minneapolis, mostly downtown in and around Peavey Plaza and Orchestra Hall, but also in over 60 nearby restaurants, bars, hotels, and retail stores. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be video contest involved with this project.

 

  • But not to worry. Though it’s not a strictly local effort, YouTube is sponsoring yet another politics-based video contest. Actually, it’s two contests — one for each side of the political fence. All you have to do is answer (in your video) the question "Why are you a Democrat/Republican in 2008?" and you can win a day in the campaign press pool and a trip to either of the 2008 political conventions.

 

  • And, True Blue Minnesota, an honest-to-goodness 527 non-profit corporation formed to act as a counter-balance to the Republican National Convention, is also planning to present videos to the world during the convention (will we ever tire of political videos?!). They have rented two "JumboTron" televisions on which they’ll show a wide variety of imagery, ranging f
    rom single words, short phrases, and famous quotes to full-length motion pictures, artist videos, comic bits,visual art, photographs, comics, and animation. One television, 17 feet high and 23 feet across, will be located in Triangle Park, across from the Minnesota History Center, and the other in a Harriet Island parking lot. Meanwhile, if you’re getting tired, like me, of all the videos, True Blue MN is also sponsoring a competition for artists to redesign the RNC logo.

 

B) Hey, Look at Me!

  • The Weisman Art Museum, that oft-overlooked third wheel of the local museogarchy, is running a vast number of politics-oriented exhibitions and programs in coming weeks and months. "Who is a Citizen? What is Citizenship?" is the first of a series of exhibits and programs examining the role of art and artists in a democracy. It draws from the museum’s collection in exploring the stated theme. Meanwhile, "Hindsight is Always 20/20" is a solo exhibition featuring prints — based on U.S. presidential State of the Union addresses — by R. Luke DuBois, a New York-based composer, performer, video artist, and programmer. Meanwhile, the museum has planned a nearly non-stop slate of political-themed events, lectures, exhibitions, performances, and dialogues for the next three months, including, on September 4, an event called "American Politics Sideshow," that will "mimic a three-ring circus, [with] speakers, tours, films, and performers from late morning ‘til nightfall."

 

  • The Saint Paul Public Library is hosting a series of poltical-oriented events — both civic and artistic — cleverly called "Saint Paulitics." Among the wide range of stuff taking place during August in downtown St. Paul are: "Political Scenes" — free screenings of politics-themed movies in the Central Library Courtyard; lectures by various experts on politics, including Mark Halperin of Time Magazine, Susan Estrich of Fox News, and Bill Arnold (writer of Triple Espresso); and "Moving Lives Artists" — a series of lectures, held in conjunction with Intermedia Arts, by artists whose work focuses on social change.

 

  • Speaking of Intermedia Arts, as of August 30, this community arts center will be no longer (at least through Nov. 8 — election day). As stated on its website, in advance of the RNC, Intermedia Arts "will transform into "The UnConventional Gathering Place," a place to "hang out with artists, community leaders, educators, alternative journalists and socially engaged citizens" in a "digital information playground of new media installations by national and local artists, online reportage by community and youth journalists, political karaoke evenings, one-mile radius UHF TV station, art exhibits of the people, by the people, for the people and more."

  • While we’re back on the subject of the ubiquitous UnConvention, the Form + Content gallery too will give itself over to the cause for the duration with an exhibition called, uh, "Party Party in a Tweety Land b/w This Republic of Suffering." Apparently inspired by old 45 records (thus the tricky title), this barrel-full-of-fun exhibition will contemplate the "tensions between suffering and denial, grief and self-absorption, and the real cultural losses buried under the flotsam of a consumer and celebrity obsessed culture."

 

  • Not to be outdone, the Altered Esthetics gallery is mounting, in August, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." This show will be comprised of over 100 works made in response to global and socio-political topics by 50 local and international artists working in sculpture, installation, performance art, painting, and photography.

 

  • The Northrup King Building will present "Translating Politics," a response to the looming RNC by 13 local artists working in painting, photography, sculpture, mixed media, and (of course!) digital video. This show is being sponsored by the Northeast Minneapolis Artists Association (NEMAA) and (you guessed it!) the UnConvention.

 

  • And finally, students and graduates of the McNally Smith College of Music in downtown St. Paul have announced they will perform at six outdoor locations (an activity known, in the parlance, as "busking") during the RNC. According to college vice president, and occasional public performer, Chris Osgood, the idea originated after discussions between the school and city officials about how to energize downtown during the convention. You may also want to take note: McNally Smith will host "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" for the duration of the convention.

C) Me Me Me Me Me

 

  • Ironically enough, when the Southern Theater announced just about the same time as the MAEP that it was placing its longtime veteran artistic director on "administrative leave," local dance artists reacted with much the same public fervor. In response, the Southern’s board mounted, just as the MIA did, a press blitz and a public forum to discuss the situation. I don’t know if the dance artists remained as un
    happy as the visual ones after all the furor died down, but I haven’t yet seen issued any local dance manifestos. (And there’s no word yet on whether the artist-reaction to the recent news about the shut-down of the Minnesota Center for Photography will be anywhere near as passionate.)

 

OF COURSE, IT’S ALL UP TO YOU — each individual voter — to decide how much of this hoohah to participate in. While it’s quite likely that Minnesotan art lovers will never again see quite the convergence of this stuff in their lifetimes, it’s also just as likely that a good percentage of us will be as far away from the goings-on as we can get (and so will miss it in the first place).

In the end, if politics is, as Bismarck said, "the art of the possible," well then in Minnesota this year politics is, thanks to local artists and organizers, everything that’s possible in art.

(Again, submit arts-political links you’d like to see added to this list to the comments section below.)