Art on the Edge

"It's like those Magic Eye stereograms--you have to know how to look at it," Sattinger says of techno's hypnotic allure. "But once you see it, music will never look the same again."

--Will Hermes


Piotr Szyhalski

WEB sites are such a new thing that there's no precise language to describe them--terms like "gallery," "theater," "billboard," "channel" don't really apply. But Piotr Szyhalski of Minneapolis says his never-for-profit web site, The Spleen (http://www.mcad.edu/home/faculty/szyhalski/Piotr) is "like standing on a busy street with a handful of flyers... when/if you manage to make eye contact, you might succeed with the delivery." He insists he likes this one-to-one interaction, adding that "audiences fulfill the promise of art, not artists."

However, attention has started to gather in the traditional media: Both the online HotWired and actual Wired magazine have pointed readers to Szyhalski's site. And for good reason. The Spleen wrestles with the elusive nature of public--and private--communication, demonstrating how thin the lines are between cheerleading, salesmanship, and more frightening forms of manipulation. A visitor first encounters an old medical illustration of this unexplainable (and usually dispensable) organ; clicking on "The Inward Vessels" leads to a number of areas, some of them narrative and tenderly memoir-like, some full of oblique exhortations. "The Will Power Clinic," for example, is a set of text instructions whose choices sound as much like New Age corporate training exercises as they do old-fashioned communist propaganda. "Electric Posters" is a set of images that evolve over time. A "poster" titled "Dawn" first shows a cozy bungalow at night; a new background descends with the familiar rosy clouds; then a third background reveals parachutists landing. Instead of a misty poem ("Release all the deep things of your heart") the poster becomes about lurking fears ("and listen! As the world comes alive at dawn").

A Polish native who came here over five years ago, Szyhalski says he is a teacher, not an artist. He admits that the propaganda allusions could trace their origins to his native land, where "everything is a political act." Yet he avoided Army training (art school students were not drafted), and he points out that whatever the country, there are scant differences among forms of "propaganda, indoctrination, and all sorts of social ills."

In addition to his semantic interests, he has a fresh command of the budding aesthetics of online communications. His pages and screens have "height" and "depth," and mere clicking isn't their only feature. Szyhalski's current gripe is with the "default aesthetics" of Netscape, which he feels limit artistic expression. And don't get him started on "cyber" or "virtual," because those are "precisely the terms that make people think of art as confined within objects, as art being the object." Some of Szyhalski's non-electronic works are included in the current Situation Ethics II gallery show at MCAD (through Dec. 17), and he's created a new web site to accompany his exhibit.

Szyhalski was interviewed entirely via email for this piece. He enjoys the "purity" of the experience. "I make an effort to send; you make an effort to receive," he writes. "We flex organs we didn't know we had... (the site) is the triumph of thought over matter: The artwork actually does not exist!"

--Phil Anderson


Ralph X and Brent Sayers, with associate partner Derek X, successfully produced a year's worth of their Microphone Check Showcases at a time when hip-hop was being virtually boycotted by local clubs .


Universal Parliament of Hip-Hop

FOR almost a decade, local hip-hop artists have raced to be the first to break out of town and "put Minneapolis hip-hop on the map." Of course, those artists usually got lost before they hit the finish line. The Universal Parliament of Hip-Hop is taking a whole different direction--bringing a collective hip-hop consciousness and national networking power into Minneapolis.

Ralph X and Brent Sayers, along with partner Derek X, have just completed a year of Microphone Check Showcases featuring national hip-hop stars and local talent, moving between four major venues--Capri Theater, The Rogue, Cedar Cultural Centre and Glam Slam (now The Quest)--at a time when hip-hop shows were being virtually boycotted by local clubs. And with the recent debut of their own Underground Railroad cable video show, which features artists from around the country, UPOHH is making links with the greater hip-hop nation.

"To be honest, I don't even think from a local perspective," says Ralph, who worked in the New York record industry for two years. "Minneapolis is just one little part in a big machine that needs to be turned on and fine-tuned." The idea for Microphone Checks was born during Ralph's years at Virginia Union College in Richmond. After college he worked as a street promoter for Prime Time Promotions in New York, early representatives of the now-dominant Wu-Tang Clan. Upon returning to Minneapolis in 1993, Ralph saw the need for a spiritual assembly of hip-hop lovers that could work to overcome the isolation that stunted early TC rap artists and the scene as a whole.

But more than a tool for commercial acceptance, the Universal Parliament of Hip-Hop is continuing a centuries-old fight for the preservation of black culture and self-determination of its meanings and messages. "Before 1989," says Ralph, "hip-hop was like a big light that was beaming. Now the light's been shut off by the commercial forces. First they made it a fad to be all positive and wear African medallions; then they made it a fad to be evil. Hip-hop has always been a mirror of the battle between good and bad, but if we depend on others to reflect and report our culture, we're basically handing our dinner to someone."

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