Unless you live in Iceland, there’s a slim chance of finding an artist project that willingly takes place outdoors, on a frozen lake, in the middle of winter, anywhere in the world but Minnesota.
So who needs to travel to Iceland when you can discover the Art Shanty Projects, a collection of 21 ice-fishing houses turned art installations, on view weekends through Feb. 11 on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis.
Imagine if a carnival met up with a weird public art installation, all on ice. The shanties actually are officially categorized as “dark houses,” which is what Minnesotans apply for when they get a permit for an icehouse.
A standout this year is the Tomb of the Unknown Minnow by Nicholas Maurstad, Angela Maki North and Mike Taus, wherein serial ceremonies are conducted to celebrate the life and death of a random fish.
Art Shanty Projects artistic director Lacey Prpic Hedtke happened to stop by the tomb at just the right moment recently.
“They were like, ‘Would you like to carry the body for the funeral?’ We roamed around, said a couple of words, sang a hymn, and then we cremated Uncle Leroy — that was the minnow’s name,” she said. The minnow shanty even has tiny death certificates, which can be notarized over at the Notary Shanty, created by Alyssa Baguss and Jenni Undis.
It was almost closing time on a Sunday afternoon when I wandered over to the Notary Shanty, where visitors are led into what feels like a 1972 office space, replete with brown-laminate fake wood wallpaper and a portrait of Gov. Mark Dayton. The artists actually went through the process to become real public notaries. Visitors can choose from a variety of pledges, contracts and resolutions, fill out a form and get the seal of approval. While this all seems like a performance of legal documents that push idea into law, it is also a commentary on the silliness of the legal systems that bind us all.
Minneapolis residents Gina and Brad Rohles were standing in line in front of me, waiting to get two very important declarations notarized. The whole process took a few minutes. The notary read their declarations out loud, stamped them, and wished them luck. I scurried out behind them, with a few legal-ish questions of my own.
“We did a declaration that chocolate must be served at every meal, including snack time, and that wine has more health benefits than broccoli,” said Gina Rohles.
“That’s just fact,” chimed in her husband. “Science. I’m sure I’ve read that on Facebook somewhere.”
The couple had never been to the Art Shanty Projects before. They’ve lived near Lake Harriet for quite a while, and came down to check it out when they noticed a ton of people gathering on the lake.
“I heard it was a kite festival,” said Gina. “I was pleasantly surprised.”
The Rohleses weren’t the only ones to accidentally wander over to the lake. Last year’s Art Shanty Projects 2017 was on White Bear Lake, making it more of a destination spot for many. But this year’s location in Minneapolis means many more people wandering in rather than seeking it out.
“We had more people the first weekend than we had all last year, over four weekends,” said Hedtke, who is in her second year as artistic director. “We had at least 10K people. I guess we’ll see what happens next weekend because of the Super Bowl and because it is supposed to be very cold.”
Gabriel Bodkin, co-creator of the Get in Feel With Your Touchings Shanty, echoed Hedtke’s assessment.
“It’s been fun. Tons of people,” she said. Bodkin counted 9,000 at the shanty she built in collaboration with Alex Schluender, “so there had to be a couple more thousand.”
Their shanty is a colorfully painted upright rectangular shape with 36 holes for people to put their hands in and touch things — hence the name “Feel With Your Touchings.” Since it’s very cold, there are two that have hand warmers in them. There’s also a space for absolving any art-related confessions.
“One person said it had been their entire life, 26 years, since their last creation,” said Bodkin. “And I said, ‘That’s terrible. Go do three self-portraits, because that’s really bad.’ ”
The huge crowds at the lake meant that most of the shanties had long lines. But not so at Get in Feel With Your Touchings.
“Because mine is accessible from six sides, there were no lines,” said Bodkin.