2012 Artists of the Year

From poets and directors to comedians and dancers, the Twin Cities are teeming with creativity

2012 Artists of the Year
Photo by Stefanie Motta. Stylist: Jess Hirsch.
Artist Kate Casanova

A performance artist who communes with crabs and crickets. A famous 93-year-old poet who turned down a $65,000 prize because he didn't like who was funding the award. A champion of rural artists. A comedian with cancer. A 23-year-old entrepreneur and college dropout who is trying to change the face of local hip-hop music.

These are just a few of the creative people who inspired us this year and give us hope for the year to come. Our annual Artists of the Year are the representatives and avatars of artists everywhere — the imaginative souls who remind us that life, to be fully appreciated, must not be just lived but keenly observed, celebrated, sung, danced, internalized, confronted, and laughed at.

For that, come to think of it, they deserve more than an award. They deserve our patronage at least, and our thanks for sure.

Kate Casanova

Kate Casanova's Mushroom Chair
Kate Casanova's Mushroom Chair

By Camille LeFevre

All artistic action originates with the body. Dancers, actors, and musicians know this innately, kinesthetically. Since at least the 1940s, when the action painters overtly manifested the physical gestures of putting paint on canvas, and the 1960s, when performance and body artists transgressed discipline boundaries to put their flesh at the center of aesthetic activity, the role of the body in creating art has been a ripe subject for investigation.

Kate Casanova is quickly becoming one of those subjects. Fearless, enterprising, and young (an MCAD grad, she'll complete her MFA at the U of M next year), Casanova is heir to such intrepid performance artists as Chris Burden, Carolee Schneeman, and Marina Abramovic. But with a marked difference.

Sure, in her filmed performances — whether hermit crabs are canoodling and burrowing in her braided hair ("Ornament"), crickets are emerging from the damp dark of her mouth ("Wetland"), or she's preparing and eating cicadas during a camping trip ("Blue Ridge Expedition: Seventeen Year Song") — the sight of her body conjoined with creepy-crawling "others" instantly incites reactions. Fascination. Fear. Wonder. The urge to recoil.

But also because these short films are silent or nearly so, and Casanova's demeanor is transcendently demure, her performance art inspires awe rather than shock or revulsion. The same goes for her art installations, recently featured on the TPT arts series MN Original. These include upholstered chairs embedded with fungal spores and encased in temperature- and humidity-controlled boxes, which quickly grow the colorful protuberances called mushrooms.

Her work is surreal, yes. It invokes Freud's sense of the uncanny with juxtapositions of that which, in everyday life, belongs here, not there. For Casanova, cultural separations between object and flesh (whether animal, insect, vegetable), idea and inspiration, exist to be reconfigured into, as she's said, "poetic moments" that unveil the taboo.

Such revelations occur across her body of work, which includes hand-cut paper collages and mixed-media creations that often reference the rotting — that grotesquely fantastical in between. In her body art, however, Casanova's willfulness and passivity as the canvas on which interspecies boundaries are breached generates a sense of adventure driven, in part, by self-disclosure. We can't help but wonder: Where will she take us next?

Camille LeFevre is an arts journalist, and has written books on architecture and dance. She is a frequent contributor to City Pages.

Steven Soderbergh

By Nick Pinkerton • Photo by Claudette Barius

Since Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to working at a brisk clip, there's nothing exceptional about his having two movies theatrically released in 2012. What is unusual, and little commented on, is how perfectly those two movies — Haywire and Magic Mike, both excellent — complement and are in dialogue with one another.

Each of these films — mirror images of the other — inverts traditional cinematic gender roles, in which the male is active and the female passive, the male looks and the female is looked at. Haywire is an espionage thriller lashed with double and triple crosses, which happen to involve a female operative who is deadly in close quarters. The warrior woman is nothing new in cinema, but what makes all the difference in Haywire is Gina "Crush" Carrano, a former MMA fighter from Texas who is wholly up to the task of hanging tough in some of the most punishing donnybrooks in memory, fight scenes whose bruising physical veracity is unquestionable. Haywire's set pieces open with foreplay flirtation and play out like sex comedy, which might also describe Magic Mike, a film also cast around performers with unique physical skill sets: Channing Tatum, the former Tampa stripper who has dusted off his old routines, and the snake-hipped old cowboy Matthew McConaughey, who play the star dancer and owner, respectively, of the Xquisite Strip Club. Magic Mike is chockablock with choreographed, full-body, bring-down-the-house, honest-to-God musical numbers. Like Haywire, Mike owes a great deal to American cinema of the 1970s. You might draw a straight line between it and 1979's football drama North Dallas Forty, likewise concerned with putting aside childish things. We can only hope that Mr. Soderbergh, who has a habit of announcing his retirement from filmmaking, won't put movies aside just yet.

Nick Pinkerton's writings about film appear regularly in City Pages, the Village Voice, and Sight & Sound Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Jake Heinitz

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