Mary Jane Mansfield talks about 'Dream'

Mary Jane Mansfield's Dream House, detail 
Mary Jane Mansfield's Dream House, detail 

This Wednesday, the Shoebox Gallery and Smuda Studio are presenting a double header. Haley Prochnow's work will be shown in the gallery (the window next to Robert's Shoes on Chicago Avenue and Lake Street), and there will be a screening of Dream, a documentary on performance artist Mary Jane Mansfield. Mansfield will be on hand at the event to talk about her performance work with electricity and water. We caught up with that artist, and asked her a little bit about the film and her work.

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Sail by Mary Jane Mansfield 
Sail by Mary Jane Mansfield 

City Pages: Can you tell us a little bit about the film Dream

Mary Jane Mansfield: Dream is an electric water performance filled with intense imagery and unexpected elements introduced one after another in a manner as disconnected and nonsensical as a dream. No words are spoken during the performance. The work consists entirely of images, actions, and sound. Although the images in the work do not literally represent specific dreams that have had an impact on me, they do shape the content in more visceral ways.

Who shot the film? 

The majority of the filming was done by David Cervin and Michael Johnson. Debbie Donovan and I also contributed a fair amount of footage to the overall production. Michael Johnson did the editing, with me by his side overseeing the artistic direction.

How did the project come about?

I began to piece together concepts for a performance based on dream imagery while spending the summer at Franconia Sculpture Park in 2010, creating an installation called Tornado Sky Sunrise. Ultimately, I came to present the performance using my installation as a stage set. There were also pieces that were made specifically for the performance that were added to the space, as well as off-site installations that were shot and added in to accommodate the limitations of live work.

You describe the work as an eclectic surrealist vision. What does that mean?

It really is pretty much literally what it says. This is the best I can do to sum up the totality of the work presented. Most of what I do is very eclectic. I drift between genres and polarities, such as rust and polished steel or kitchen curtains and the sky on fire.

As for surrealism, one of my earliest creative connections was with Dali's work, and Yoko Ono standing on a ladder in a gallery being philosophical. It really isn't much different than collage -- or '70s album art, for that matter. What I love about that aesthetic is that the rules of engagement don't exist. There are no rules. I like to think of it along the lines of the cut-and-paste experiments Beat poets put in to practice. My vision is certainly not rooted in practicality. I am not even sure there is much about me that makes any sense beyond the constantly underlying need and drive to make art.

Who were your collaborators? How did you work together?

For the performance aspects of Dream, I worked with circus artist Chimgee Haltarhuu and Matt Cisler, brainchild behind Datura1, who composed soundtrack [for the live performance] using strange toy instruments and de-tuned electric guitars processed through the computer. The performance also features a Charlie Brown-style marching band led by Bridget Beck and Carrissa Samaniego.

Chimgee and I alternate between our practices. A lot of what I do live requires set up and prep time. That is when she entertains the viewers. In this case, during the performance weather conditions were unseasonably cold, making much of her work impossible and altering my capabilities to carry out certain electric water experiments. This led to additional filming off site that was edited in to create the final presentation.

What inspires you?

Ditchswamps and eye candy, psychics, physics, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Bukowski, Rimbaud, fluffy clouds in a deep blue sky, Walter De Marias Lightning Field, Nikola Tesla, light bulbs under water in buckets and jars, and the laughter of children to name a few.

How do you choose your materials?

I am pretty sure they choose me.

What are you working on now?

Tying up a lot of loose ends and blasting into the universe with godspeed -- to be sure.

The Shoebox Gallery
2948 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
Smuda Studio is Buzzer *08
7 p.m.
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Shoebox Gallery

2948 Chicago Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55407


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