Back to the Future

Monk often refers to herself as an archaeologist and, true to form, the exhibit is all about discovery--from the prop-laden "Relic Wall" to an observation platform overlooking the space. A sculpture in the museum lobby titled American Archaeology 2 Twin Cities will invite people to dip found objects in beeswax and create a sacred place for what she terms "the residue of our times." Monk, who is fond of making shrines to accompany her performances, features two in her show, including an homage to beekeeping created for The Politics of Quiet. "I was thinking about technologies that have always existed," she reflects. "The way bees are kept has been the same since ancient times. This is about going back to basic ideas of community that aren't addicted to modern technology."

Community and tribal energy have always infused Monk's visions, especially her large-scale efforts. Standing in the gallery housing elements from her 1976 work Quarry, Monk was reminded of the performance's premiere at New York's La Mama, a major experimental theater venue. "The audience sat on two sides and the piece happened between them, so that each side saw a crowd, a human mass behind the performers." Continuing, Monk describes the sweep of the work, which used the Second World War as a starting point. "There were so many poetic licenses!" she exclaims. "There were five buffoon dictators who destroy themselves and then the real dictator comes, a combination of Reverend Sun Yung Moon, Franco, and others. It's a reminder that this kind of energy can rear its head at any time. It happened in Cambodia, Bosnia. Maybe it's my Eastern European Jewish background, but I can't help but wonder, 'What would it have been like for me? How does a person end up in the wrong place and time?'"

Monk keeps a flexible notion of time's passage, repeatedly comparing her process to a "mandala," the symbolic circular figure that continuously wraps its energy around itself. Standing amid the sets from 16 Millimeter Earrings, Monk drifts back 22 years into the memory of "rising like a phoenix" from a steamer trunk while projected flames flickered upon her nude body. It was a spiritual moment created on an artist's dime-store budget. "I've never been locked into the zeitgeist," she affirms, quickly returning to the present. "My response is to the eternal human." For Monk, like her counterparts Cunningham and Jones, being human begins with making art; the rest is for the future to decide.

Art Performs Life opens Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Walker and runs through September 20. Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble will appear in concert on Friday at 8 p.m. ($16. Walker Art Center, Vineland Place, Mpls.). A celebration service will take place Sunday at the First Unitarian Society, 900 Mount Curve Ave., Mpls. For information on all events, call the Walker at 375-7622.

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