Artists of the Year

Max Sparber is the theater critic for City Pages.

 

Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears
By Sarah Price

 

This year was an odd one in terms of artists who inspired me: Hollywood, Indiewood, Documentarywood, and mainstream and indie music simply failed to deliver the goods. Everything seemed too overproduced and bottom-line-motivated for my taste. And yet there are still unique artists afloat in this sea of Wal-Mart culture, creating the bake-sale-on-the-porch kind of work that makes you aware of contributing to the world, not just of absorbing its product.

When I first saw Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears at the Turf Club, they sent me straight into the sweet abyss with their melancholic cabaret stylings. Telling tales of love, lost love, and the state of being just plain horny in the modern world, the duo of Steph Dickson and Tom Siler captures a moment in time when live rock shows were more about connecting with an audience in an intimate space than about making prepubescent guitar noise in order to land a record deal. At the risk of sounding corny: Picture Paris in the late Forties--a smoky, dimly lit nightclub oozing its atmosphere while a languid chanteuse sullenly cuts through the spotlight with her supple frame. Now add a few decorative corduroy squirrels (Steph makes them), and a sonic backbone of piano and guitar (that's Tom), and you've got the basic idea.

Following in the footsteps of early cabaret pioneers, Tulip Sweet wants you to feel the painful journey of a broken heart--but also to remember that the here-and-now is what matters most. At one point in the set, Steph stomps her foot, bangs a drum with a tambourine, and sings over and over, "I live for the you that lives in my mind!" The musicianship of both Steph and Tom has become truly awe-inspiring, their Beangirl sound pared down to its most sparse and clairvoyant. Alas, with the release of their second album, Cry, the two have moved out of the Twin Cities. But this is a good thing: From the heart of New York, they'll spread Tulip love throughout the world.

Sarah Price is a Milwaukee-based filmmaker whose credits include Caesar's Park and American Movie. She also plays drums in Competitorr.

 

Charles Matson Lume
By Michael Fallon

 

Humans perceive the world primarily through their eyes. This may explain why it is a cliché to describe any artist whose work seems fresh and new as possessing "a new way of looking at things." Never mind that artists are primarily "makers," and not lookers: It is neatly appealing to imagine that such individuals are possessed of extraordinary points of view, and that such points of view are the sole source for their art.

In the case of Charles Matson Lume, whose work stood out in two group shows this year ("Nothing and Everything" at the now-defunct Waiting Room and "Art Inside/Outside Space XIV" at Intermedia Arts), the old saw may once again apply--though, to be sure, Lume is still an assiduous artmaker of a fairly unusual kind. That is, Lume is a true installation artist who labors to create pieces out of an interaction between quirky elements in a room. In practice, Lume transforms entire spaces into objects of beauty by gluing plastic magnifying glasses, round mirrors, clear filament, twist-ties, and the like onto floor and walls and ceiling. The interplay of the small items with available ambient light and strategically placed light fixtures creates swirling patterns of shadows and luminous droplets. Lume's skill in managing the optical effects of mundane and unnoteworthy plastic toss-offs is what's revolutionary.

The only shame is that with the relative lack of exhibition opportunities locally, Lume's works have had to share space with other displays; and so they've been relegated to only a small corner or wall of a gallery. Word on the street is that he was only a finalist this fall--and not a winner--of a 2002 Jerome Fellowship (what were the panelists thinking?). It's too bad: He could have done wonders with the vaulted caverns of the MCAD gallery in the annual exhibition granted to the fellowship winners. Oh well, perhaps next year--keep your eyes peeled.

Michael Fallon is a St. Paul writer and the art critic for City Pages.

 

Jon Springer
By Jeremy Swanson

 

Ten years ago Jon Springer began his filmmaking career with a bloodbath. His debut short "Dead Looters" featured a babyfaced teenager roaming a postapocalyptic St. Paul and nonchalantly gunning down the undead. Since then, the Inver Grove Heights native has injected his filmmaking with a more significant amount of thematic and visual substance. But in some ways, his style, which includes a mix of extremely graphic imagery and morbid humor, hasn't changed.

Earlier this year, besides screening the director's cut of "Dead Looters" at Bryant-Lake Bowl, Springer also unveiled "Heaven 17," a comic sci-fi short with a Catholic antiabortion twist. Set in a familiar dystopian world defined by a hyper-hedonistic society and a totalitarian government, the film follows a 17-year-old girl after she conceives a child in her virgin womb and is then commanded by the state's abortion doctor to terminate the pregnancy. You can glean Springer's religious-right politics from his description of the antagonist: "The doctor is a vampire. He feeds off blood, amniotic fluid, and the act itself. Could you have a more truthful metaphor for an abortionist?"

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