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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

I am art!

July 16, 2009

I am art 300

Walsh (front right) teaches drawing at the U, and says she likes to have a conversation with her students about "not being afraid to take a risk and try something new."

If an artist falls in the forest, does he or she make a sound?

By Adam Overland

A new exhibit opened July 9, 2009 at the Weisman Museum, presenting the works of the inaugural set of artists sponsored by Twin Cities based arts agency Northern Lights (which bills itself as a "roving, collaborative, interactive media-oriented, arts agency from the Twin Cities for the world"), with support from the Jerome Foundation (a sponsor of Minnesota artists).

The exhibit is the result of Art(ists) on the Verge, a new fellowship and mentoring program for Minnesota-based, emerging artists working with a focus on the social, collaborative, and/or participatory.

Included among the displays are an electrifying mix of technology and art. One such display includes thermal printers emitting a constant stream of messages as they are transmitted through the social media phenomenon, Twitter. It's an endless rambling of receipts of the latest utterances unraveling from the ceiling, documenting the frustrations of untold chatterers.

U (and you) are in the exhibit

Krista Kelley Walsh, adjunct faculty in the U's Department of Art, has her work on display as part of the exhibit as well. She calls her project "Public Eye Action," and it consists of a series of public webcam performances—often by her and other volunteers, but occasionally, if you want—by you.

"All over the world," writes Walsh, "cameras are aimed at us by private, corporate, and government entities that capture our images and actions as we go about our daily lives." With this exhibit, Walsh is asking the question "Where does public space end and private space begin on the Web?" It sounds kind of like something George Orwell might have done had he worked in another medium, but Walsh's predictions are much more droll than dire.

In this most recent visual event, she's hijacked the public webcam in Walter Library showing a live view of Northrop Mall on the U's east bank. It runs directly to a monitor at the Weisman, so if you think you are not art, think again, or think differently.

If an artist falls in the forest

During the opening night of the exhibit on July 9, Walsh and a group of "performers," (from a miming clown to people standing around patting their heads), many holding postcard-masks with cutout eyes, pranced around in front of the camera and stared back. One young woman carried an umbrella, although it was not raining.

Walsh says, "Our current attitude is that these cameras are invasive. One of my propositions is that if we are the viewed, we can turn back on the camera and say, 'here is what you can see!'" Walsh also contests that the viewer is the artist as well. "I'm the artist if I'm choosing how to watch. And I'm the artist if I choose how to behave."

I couldn't say for sure whether Walsh's work posed more of a "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" question for me, or "if a tree (or an artist) falls in the forest…" But Walsh had faith in me: "I have this belief that we are all artists, it's just that sometimes we recognize it in ourselves, and sometimes we don't," says Walsh.