Artists of the Year

Makers who mattered in 1995

Jim Meyer is a Minneapolis writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

CHRIS WARE

by Joshua Glenn

Cartoonist Chris Ware would probably rank as one of the best in the business for his technical prowess alone. But this year, Sparky's Best Comics and Stories and Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth--two oddly shaped, meticulously crafted glossy volumes from his faux-retro Acme Novelty Library (published by Fantagraphics Books)--showed that he's at the top of the game by any standard.

The tiny superhero flying between strands of filigree on Sparky's front cover shows up inside looming behind the panels of several tiny, wordless, '30s-style strips in which the misadventures of a mouse and a bodiless cat's head are almost algebraically arranged. Arrows direct your reading in unexpected directions; panels pile up upon each other and then come tumbling down. In some strips, black-and-white panels are superimposed over gray-washed landscapes; in others, garish out-of-focus pastels dominate. Several beautiful Fluxus-style stories about the doomed love between a two-headed mouse and a suicidal cat round out a surreal jigsaw puzzle of a comic book.

Jimmy Corrigan is, as its cover puts it, "First in a Series of Fancy Pocket-Sized Chapters Which, When Properly Arranged, Will Concrete One of the Most Festive and Rompish Simulacra Ever Witnessed in This Juvenile and Trashy Medium." Here, Corrigan is a pathetic older man lost somewhere between his real life and his memories or fantasies, in which he's both a baroque robot and a farmboy trying to escape his murderous dad. In the best tradition of magical realism, when we see Jimmy kill his equally pathetic father--we're just not sure if it actually happened or not. Ware is onto something big here: Like R. Crumb or Daniel Clowes, he is taking this "juvenile and trashy medium" to complex new heights.

Joshua Glenn is Associate Editor at Utne Reader.

MARY LEE HARDENBERGH

by Camille LeFevre

One of a handful of American choreographers working in the realm of site-specific dance, Mary Lee Hardenbergh occupies a singular niche.
Her stage is the built environment--the Duluth aerial bridge, mooring cells in the Mississippi River, the plaza fronting the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, the balconies of the Opus Building. In these urban settings--places of steel, cement and glass--she coordinates the efforts of blue-collar workers, bureaucracy, and dancers with machines, natural elements, color, and rhythm to create works equal parts dada, ritual, and celebration.

On September 8, Hardenbergh pushed herself in a slightly new direction, creating a work at the Seneca Wastewater Treatment Plant that involved more audience participation and environmental education. Walking past gargantuan vats bubbling with smelly sludge while brightly clad dancers leapt, turned and swayed, the audience got to ponder which was the greater art: this miracle of modern science, or the dance that celebrates it. Always occurring on a solstice or equinox, with the full moon as part of the finale, Hardenbergh's work also serves to inject our secular culture with a healthy dose of paganism, while connecting us with a renewed sense of place and the feeling, once more, that we're a community.

Camille LeFevre is a St. Paul writer and frequent contributor to City Pages.

SHANNON FAULKNER

by Roni Sarig

From down here in South Carolina, it looks like just about everyone surrounding the Shannon Faulkner/Citadel case should be an Artist Of The Year for their dazzling display of symbolism over substance. During her two-year fight for acceptance into Charleston's venerable male-only military academy, the would-be coed became a pawn in an oh-so-'90s struggle between the myopic and the misguided. On the right: the Citadel brass, the Limbaugh Youth cadets, and the "Save the Males" coalition--all united for what they convinced themselves was an issue of "single gender education" and not just another knee-jerk reaction against those countercultural equal rights principles of the '60s. On the left: Faulkner's lawyers and the usual women's advocacy organizations, who got all swept up in using Faulkner as a poster child for girls' absolute right to educational opportunity, but lost sight that the issue here was one of equal access due to merit, not of just crashing the good ol' boys' party.

When Faulkner dropped out in her first week of rigorous military training due to the intense pressure from one side and lack of support from the other (not to mention the fact that she hadn't bothered to stay in the necessary physical shape while busy playing feminist icon) both sides declared victory and made asses of themselves equally. The left said the important point was their legal victory, which is like claiming less qualified minority workers as a victory for affirmative action. The right, especially the cadets, proved themselves to be most ungentlemanly by celebrating Faulkner's resignation as if some grand ideological position had been affirmed. Now the real race is on: Will the Citadel set up a "separate-but-equal" women's military program somewhere else before one of many more qualified females pulls a more authentic Jackie Robinson, not only breaking the barrier but excelling once through?

Roni Sarig is a Charleston, South Carolina writer.

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