Artists of the Year

On Songstories, the three recount some of their formative experiences and sing the songs that have become attached to them. It's part scrapbook and part testimonial, presented like a homespun cabaret. Calof tells of growing up Jewish in Winnipeg in the '30s and '40s. Cox pays a loving tribute to her musician father. Smuda poetically recollects how the WWI-era anthem "The Long Long Trail" became embedded in her family history.

By taking it off the page and into the studio, Smuda and her fellow performers have created a new, more economical model for the memoir. These three women have somehow managed to create an intimate portrait of their lives on a CD that contains only nine tracks. They've made the idea of passing on your life story more manageable, even for those of us still struggling to come to terms with the fact—or is it just a vicious rumor?—that our lives will end some day.

Chris Roberts is an arts reporter for Minnesota Public Radio News and host of The Local Show on the Current.

Gary Taxali

David Treuer


Even as a part-time teacher who is well-versed in the ways that fatuous notions sometimes hold sway in academic criticism, I was a bit shocked that David Treuer had to write Native American Fiction: A User's Manual. But he did. The author, scholar, and U of M professor's thesis is simple: that Native American fiction should be read and appreciated as literature—not, as many tenured types have suggested, as a type of cultural artifact for which "authenticity" is the primary measure of merit. Though he convinced me early in the intro, I read on, largely for the pleasure of seeing him demolish the false metric.

But this City Pages package celebrates artists, not scholars, and it's The Translation of Dr. Apelles that proves Treuer's mettle. His third novel—published, like NAF, by Graywolf in September—is an intoxicating confection, grounded in Treuer's extensive knowledge of Native lore and customs. Just as central to its appeal, though, is a narrative complexity that recalls the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabakov. In prose slicker than Brilliantine and more lush than the Amazon Basin, the author shuttles between two stories. The first involves the titular Ph.D., an underemployed, middle-aged linguist of Native American descent who falls in love (first, with love, then with a hot, bibliophilic co-worker 18 years his junior) for the first time while translating a manuscript that only he can read. The second recounts the adventures of the manuscript's subject: two extraordinarily gifted Indian kids who have a knack for getting out of jams that become more gloriously harrowing as the narrative progresses—and less likely. While he's great at complexity, characterization, and charm, nobody tells a better American tall tale than David Treuer. And he's full of 'em.

Rod Smith is a Minneapolis writer and DJ and an instructor in media and criticism.

Chris Larson


"Dessert" may be the last label you'd give to the rough-hewn carpentry of St. Paul artist Chris Larson (a termite might feel differently). Yet at the opening of his current Minneapolis Institute of Arts solo show, "Crush Collision," exhibition coordinator Stewart Turnquist called Larson's lumber constructions just that. Perhaps Turnquist was referring to Larson's sweet countenance, because in truth this artist is best known for cooking up a formidable main course. With his penchant for cultural and physical collisions, Larson has brought forth such imagery as a wooden Dukes of Hazzard car careening into Ted Kaczynski's hate shack, and a cardboard-clad house buoyed for months on a Wisconsin lake.

"Crush Collision" includes the weather-beaten house itself as well as a 10-minute film featuring Minnesota musicians Michael Bland, Grant Hart, and gospel group the Spiritual Knights, along with performance artist Britta Hallin. The film (originally shot on 16mm, shown on DVD) is a miracle of concision: How many performance art films beg to be longer? In it, we see Larson's machine creaking and oozing at the hands of Hart and Hallin. The end product is a large, white ring of wet clay. On display in a nearby gallery, the now dry, hardened ring suggests a sort of visceral, primeval recording—one that could possibly be remounted in the machine that created it and played back like a giant long-playing record.

Showing across town at Northeast's Creative Electric Studios is "Shotgun Shack," another full-scale Larson installation. "Shotgun Shack" is partly the aftermath of an opening-night performance with Hallin and Hart, partly a photo and video exhibit. The performance—the stuff of future Minneapolis lore—is available from the gallery on DVD.

With both shows running through the first week in January (and "Shotgun Shack" heading to Milan, Italy) Larson has been busy of late. But he has already enjoyed concurrent shows on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Curiously, Larson's drawing and photo show in Berlin sold out completely, while its New York counterpart lagged behind (until European collectors bought out that show, too).

Some viewers of Larson's work describe references to torture, slavery, class, and race. Others see only raw materials, physical effort, and ambiguity.

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