Jessica Heart Above Minneapolis, 2011 by Carolyn Lee Anderson
Traditionally, there are two ways to experience a poem. You can either read poetry, usually in a book or literary journal, or you can go to a reading and hear it spoken out loud. "Pilot Car," a new exhibit at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts, offers a new way to interact with a poem.
Indian Elvis, 2012, by Marisa Carr
Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts is housed in a building built in 1847. It has been a tavern, inn, post office, and dairy farm, and is now a wonderful art center right in the middle of some beautiful parkland.
The latest exhibition there, "Pilot Car," features poems by Heid E. Erdrich (as well as one by Vincent Moniz Jr.) and art by other collaborators. While the themes explored in the works go in a variety of directions, there's a great synchronicity that happens traveling from the written poetry to the visual art with the group riffing off of each others' ideas.
For example, Marisa Carr's Indian Elvis
, a work featuring a man with a plaid shirt and big hair, painted with acrylic on paper and mounted on velveteen, is adjacent to Erdrich's poem "Indigenous Elvis, Works the Medicine Line" and a poem-script of the same title which is written in multiple voices, including Carr's. In the poem, Indigenous Elvis works the border crossing and croons to a driver, asking her where she's from and if this is her car. It's a humorous poem, and a humorous piece of art, portraying a character that is both eccentric and sexy.
There's also some lovely poems by Erdrich about children and family, presented alongside work created by her family members, including an intricate piece made of porcupine quills and birch bark by novelist Louise Erdrich, Heid's sister.
The exhibit has some really lovely work from a variety of different types of artists. There are some incredible masks by Jim Denomie made from rocks, buttons, hair, tortoise shells, bones, jewelry, feathers, a guitar pick, and Valley Fair tickets, among other things. There are also some incredible pieces by Carolyn Lee Anderson, who almost seems to be channeling Frida Kahlo in her deeply personal mixed-media pieces, where painted human hearts and internal organs are juxtaposed with images of family members.
Shafted Flicker/Madeline Island By Gordon Coons
Gordon M. Coons shows a few vibrant paintings with rich colors and bold images, although his most interesting work are two masks made with hubcaps. They have a spiritual power to them. One, titled Road Warrior, is ornamented with beads, deer hide, and felt, while the other, Makwa the Healer, uses 38-caliber cartridges, spurs, tongue tack, measuring cups, shells, and bones. Both masks also act as mirrors, so as you peer at them you see your own reflection. Coons's block print Laughing Ravens features the image of three birds in silhouette -- maybe laughing, maybe crying out -- and has a nice symbiosis with Erdrich's poem "Golden Woodpecker," calling "all the way follow me/to the bay/ and all the hollow way home."
One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit is that it offers a new way to experience poetry. So many of Erdrich's poems are filled with acute imagery. The ability to spend a few minutes reading a poem and then reflect on the words while looking at works of visual art offers a different perspective than one might have reading the poem alone. Erdrich's poem "Pre-Occupied," a response to the Occupy movement from a Native American perspective, becomes particularly more nuanced when experiencing it in conjunction with Andrea Carlson's apocalyptic watercolors.
Other exceptional pieces in the exhibit include work by Frank Big Bear, Jonathan Thunder, Peter Martin Morales, Stuart Wayne Perkins, Gwen Westerman, and Zoran Mojsilov.
Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts
Open through September 29
There will be an artist talk and film presentation at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 14, and a free writing workshop with Erdrich on Saturday, September 22 from 1 to 3 p.m.