Aby Wolf, K'naan, and P.O.S. top Artists of the Year '09

Paying homage to those who speak the language of creativity

There are great risks intrinsic to being a musical outlander. The promise of fame is gravely decreased. The chance for a life's work to go completely unheard skyrockets. But Yonkers is our champion example of the dividends such elusiveness can pay. He's beloved and revered as a technical craftsman, a performance virtuoso, and a musical thinker of the highest caliber, and his works are now canonical touchstones of discord, mansions of otherworldly elegance and fragility, and the listening lives of many thousands have been made stranger and more beautiful for his touch. Will Yonkers's retirement stick? It's unknowable—his life, much like his career, is a Rocky-esque, come-from-behind triumph. For now, Yonkers stands as a monument to the suspicion that becomes truer and truer the more one pays attention: Invariably, the finest work is done by the intellectual outlaw.

David Hansen is a Twin Cities writer. He is a regular contributor to City Pages and its music blog, Gimme Noise.

Matthew and Michael Dickman

By Steve Mcpherson

Aby Wolf
Sharolyn B. Hagen
Aby Wolf
Tony Kushner
Joan Marcus
Tony Kushner

Matthew Dickman's poetry is in love with life and with all things living and, most specifically, you. You hear about poems being a "celebration" of this or that, but they ain't shit because anyone present at a Matthew Dickman reading featuring his newish poem "Your" will understand that this is not just a poem that's celebrating—it's a poem that wants to undress you slowly and have its way with you. "Your/Ankles make me want to party,/want to sit and beg and roll over," it begins, working its way up to an ass that "is a shopping mall at Christmas,/a holy place" and shoulders "each a separate bowl of rice/steaming and covered in soy sauce." By the end of his reading this past summer at St. Olaf the crowd was whooping and giddy: Every guy wished he could have written that and every woman was flushed. "This is why I never follow him," admitted his twin brother, Michael, who had read earlier.

If Matthew's poetry is fireworks and a big brass band, Michael's is the darkness lying down on the ground beneath the exploding sky, the empty street after the parade passes. "I didn't make my brain," he writes in "We Did Not Make Ourselves,"

but I'm helping
to finish it

Carefully stacking up everything I made next to everything I ruined
in broad daylight in bright

The poems in Michael's debut collection, The End of the West, are like that: carefully stacked from lines, many of them only a word long—a catalog made from the same Portland, Oregon, upbringing that inspires his brother's overflowing odes to everything from public parks to Jay-Z's Black Album in his debut, All-American Poem. For them, poetry isn't a dodge or a pose—it's life and flesh and blood. Perhaps poet Dorianne Laux put it best in her poem "Savages," inspired by the Dickmans and their friends: "They buy poetry like gang members/buy guns—for aperture, caliber/heft and defense."

Steve McPherson is a Twin Cities musician and writer. He is a regular contributor to City Pages, including his Gimme Noise blog column, Point of Departure.

Andrea Carlson

By Suzy Greenberg

My favorite artists are the ones who can't stand still. They are always driving their work to that next place. This year Minneapolis artist Andrea Carlson has driven her work all the way to cannibalism. With her flair for finding meaning within meaning, cannibalism isn't just a tasty snack—the work is layered with flavors. She speaks of cultural cannibalism as a "metaphor for the assimilation and consumption of cultural identity."

Carlson's own cultural heritage plays a large role in her art. The work often teeters between her Native American and European ancestry. She has a remarkable ability to portray a seemingly universal cultural style. Viewers always seem able to read their own cultural interpretation into her pieces.

In her current series of paintings, "VORE," objects and words float above Carlson's signature stylized backgrounds. Some pieces depict museum objects; others contain titles of cannibalism exploitation films. In Cannibal Ferox (named after the film), statues hold human "drumsticks" with mouths agape, ready to chomp.

In addition to taking on a fierce subject, this year Carlson made us proud by landing a show at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (New York) and booking upcoming solo exhibitions at the Plains Art Museum (Fargo), Tweed Art Museum (Duluth), and Bockley Gallery (Minneapolis).

In a year of freaks and geeks coming of age, it seems fitting that the cannibals should get their day.

Suzy Greenberg is executive director of Soo Visual Arts Center.

Piotr Szyhalski

By Diane Mullin

Always challenging our assumptions, Piotr Szyhalski has once again taken on our violent present and laid bare its dangerous absurdities. Earlier this year in a small gallery at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Szyhalski restaged his Theater of Operations in full force and new form. He called this iteration The Second Sonic Reenactment of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and he did more than reprise his 2008 project—he dug even further into his latest investigation of our perceptions of war.

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