Are You Yanking My Chain?

"Interact/React" topples conventions at the MMAA

Uncle Sam wants you to pull his finger. The famous image of the dour, white-bearded old man rallying Army recruits with that sinister stare rests atop a Tinker Toy car. A cutout of his index finger is taped to the end of a ribbon; when tugged it detonates Tim Fort's elaborate kinetic art sculpture, leaving behind an elaborate maze of organized chaos.

The fictional American icon, now reduced to the crude uncle no one wants to be in the room with, sets off a chain reaction of painted Popsicle sticks and other toys, cascading into mini-explosions. Within seconds, toppling blocks cause a set of glass bottles filled with varying amounts of blue liquid to unexpectedly ping "Shave and a Haircut" as the finale to Fort's finger-fueled domino-effect art. In the end, as in our current state of affairs, it's the obnoxious uncle who becomes the butt of the joke, or in this case, the man at fault.

Dean Lucker's 'Crying Pear' challenges viewers with its poignancy
MMAA
Dean Lucker's 'Crying Pear' challenges viewers with its poignancy

Though thoroughly modern, the 17 artworks by 11 local artists in the Minnesota Museum of American Art's "Interact/React" exhibit are less a reflection of current events than a contemplation of art (and life) as a spectator experience. Fort's Causality Entrainment Device with Lunatim's Imp #1, for example, is an event, even after the detonation, that relies on viewers to be more than passive receptors and to imagine the piece's logical (and illogical) progression. While the pieces also exist as displays, none of the artwork here is self-sufficient; it can only be sustained by viewer interaction. It's this human component, and what the individual artists' works say about communication and interconnection, that make this exhibit so remarkable.

For facing east (for Cid Corman), Charles Matson Lume pasted plastic magnifying lenses horizontally to the wall to create a spectacular arrangement of refracted light points. They dance and glow in a horizon line across a stark corner of the room. Viewers can extend or re-create the line by maneuvering a light bulb that hangs at the bottom of a string extended from the ceiling. Or they can become a part of the piece, casting their own warped shadows across the angular image. It's both Zen-like and childlike at the same time. Imagine it as hundreds of zooming Tinkerbells delivering meditative koans, or maybe just imagine it as the best darn ant scorcher ever created.

Other interactive works are equally contemplative: Dean Lucker's Crying Pear, for instance, is profoundly heartbreaking. It's a mechanical sculpture made from, among other things, delicate gold leaf, carved Plexiglas, and silk. At the push of a button, a naked, wooden male figure slowly rises to catch the golden tears that drip from the wide eyes of a pear dangling from a bare, abbreviated stump. He never catches them.

By contrast, Karl Raschke's works, while they have reflective and even sad elements, are a sociological experiment in spectator-as-artist creations. (It should be noted that Raschke is a friend of mine, though even if he were an enemy who'd pantsed me in front of the boys' locker room, I'd still find his work fascinating.)

In Commandments, visitors pick a card from a fishbowl filled with written commands such as "paint a cornfield" or "listen to Top 40 radio every Saturday for three weeks." In How to Miscommunicate, Raschke has arranged 26 sets of buttons in alphabetical order: doughnuts, lips, nukes, matches, queens, and more. He encourages viewers to use them to change the original meaning of the button image, and to create their own wearable message or sets of messages. I went away wearing a picture of a vulture, doughnuts, a zygote, and a kid wearing red wax lips. It's my own personal joke about the bastards who are out to devour everything in their wake, and it's meaningful even if I'm the only one who gets it. Well, especially if I am.

 
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