Artists Of The Year

From escapist entertainment to aesthetic ecstasy: Twenty-nine writers script valentines to twelve months of culture

A FRIEND IS moving to Brazil. It's a nervy thing to do, relocating with a new spouse to an apartment overlooking the beaches of Rio while we pour sand on the Olympic-length ice rink that used to be known as the driveway. We've spent a reasonable amount of time wishing our colleague the worst. She's a friend, after all, and we owe it to her to feel envious and spiteful. That's what friends are for.

At the going-away party--that most excruciating of social rituals--we found ourselves talking about the upcoming calendar at Oak Street Cinema: a few brooding works by Bresson, a Tarkovsky or two, the giddily unreal reels of Richard Lester. Our friend is a moviegoer, and soon we were talking about all the great films that screened in the Cities over the last year.

Actually, we were doing most of the talking and our friend was doing a lot of listening. It seems that some people in town have the misfortune to hold down day jobs that preclude slipping out for the matinee screening of the new Steven Soderbergh. They teach children, and correct lines of code, and build bridges while we're sleeping off the previous night's six-hour marathon-read of the new Joy Williams. They oil the bowling lanes while we're sitting in a dark room, watching people under hot lights play make-believe. They're filing motions and collecting commissions while we're looking for signs of intelligent life on pigment-covered canvases. They're off running the world while we're looking for another hour of blissful escape.

In the spirit of this realization, we present the annual Artists of the Year issue, City Pages' ninth, and a list of the people whose creations transported us from our musty lives to someplace else entirely. Thanks go to the two-dozen-plus like-minded souls who boiled their own year-2000 artistic passions down to 350-word valentines.

Some of the cultural artifacts named below are bound to make it to Brazil. (We've heard there's a thing called the Internet that's filled with cultural jetsam; and American culture is said to be popular in a lot of places these days.) But the local artists named at the beginning of this compendium--a dancer, a writer, a filmmaker, an artist, an author, an actor--live right in our own Republic of Tundrastan. The place to see them is here.

Some time from now we will receive a postcard. Sun-burnished women and men--cocoa-skinned and glistening--will be tapping a ball over a net, with the Pacific Ocean lapping in the background like a puppy's tongue against the shore. We will look at that postcard and we will not despair. To repeat: We will not despair. Instead, we'll pick up a new CD from Mali, or a collection of photos from Cuba, or a novel set in Kenya, and we will leave this place far behind. And then we'll go to sleep in our own beds. We won't miss a thing.

 

EMILY CARTER
by Melissa Maerz

 

When I first saw Emily Carter reading from her work beneath the melting-clown décor of the Turf Club in St. Paul, she was prophesying about a pending apocalypse at the City Coin Wash & Dri. Carter appeared every bit as fantastical as the end-of-the-world scenario she was describing: There was so much smoke gathering around her that you would have thought it was being emitted directly from her pores rather than through the cigarette wedged between her fingers. This woman, I thought, is either a modern-day Athena sprung fully formed from the head of Tim Burton, or else she is an amusing embarrassment.

As it turns out, these are precisely the two roles--oracle and spectacle--that Carter examines through Glory B, the protagonist in her collection of linked short stories Glory Goes and Gets Some. Appropriate to a book title that could double as the name of a Skinemax feature, Glory Goes and Gets Some is a work of indecent exposure. Yet instead of relying upon erotica, Carter strips her prose down to its skivvies by converting some of her own life experiences into the fiction of Glory's drug abuse, HIV, and struggle to connect with others. "Maybe I do talk first and think later...I admit it freely," Glory says. Likewise, her lengthy monologues recount every detail--especially the mortifying ones you wish she would omit--of Glory's move from a privileged New York life to what she describes as the "haunted" city of Minneapolis.

Throughout her work, Carter continually calls attention to Glory's lack of inhibitions in order to disrupt traditional notions of what constitutes shame. The writer manages to level the weight of subjects like addiction and HIV by having Glory refer to them with a flippancy that, to the reader, remains poignant. In the process, Carter turns the radio static or sidewalk catcall of Glory's surround-sound urban sprawl into a small symphony of self-revelation.

Melissa Maerz is a Minneapolis-based writer and a contributor toCity Pages.

 

SHAWN MCCONNELOUG
by Linda Shapiro

 

Shawn McConneloug jump-starts her movement-theater projects by looking for something that scares her. Blessed with an incurably operatic sensibility, she creates emotional sizzlers about doomed relationships, faded memories, repressed libidos. But while her heart palpitates shamelessly on her sleeve, McConneloug keeps her frequently wicked tongue firmly in cheek. Take her recent Palace of Dreams, a homage to popular songs from WWI and II and a celebration of the eternal vaudeville in all of us. McConneloug's "Orchestra"--the eccentric collection of dancers, actors, opera divas, and circus-trained performers that she founded in 1995--careens through a series of acts. The scenes include a bittersweet rendering of "Sweet Leilani" with ukuleles and glamorous chorus boys, a juggler menaced by the mermaid from hell, and bellicose tapping to the Army Air Corps Song. But for all its slapshtick and skewed conventions, "Palace" tenderly evokes the fragility of memory and the hectic innocence of those Big War decades.

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