Devotees of Northern Spark, Minneapolis’ nightlong summer arts festival, have their rituals: Sleep ahead, map the route, check the bike tires, hydrate, go.
A fully charged cellphone will be even more helpful than usual for this year’s Spark, a free shindig that runs officially from 9 p.m. Saturday to 5:26 a.m. Sunday.
In those 8 ½ hours more than 400 sound-and-light shows, films and videos, dance and music performances, games and creative hijinks will unfold in downtown Minneapolis from Walker Art Center to the University of Minnesota campus, the Convention Center to the Mississippi River. Most participants walk, drive or bike from site to site, but those who choose to pop for the $60 “Launch Party” can also ante up $75 for a “curated” three-hour bus tour.
Phones are always helpful in coordinating a 3 a.m. food-cart rendezvous, but they’re essential in accessing one of the more unusual projects.
“You’ve heard of geocaching?” asked artist Eric William Carroll. “It’s GPS-based art that uses your location and iPhone to find different artworks. It’s kind of strange.”
Carroll, a visiting sculpture instructor at Macalester College, admitted he’d never made phone-art before he was commissioned to do so by Northern Spark organizers and Leav, a Minneapolis-based app maker. With their impetus, he produced five short videos about the “Golden Hour,” a luminous moment at dawn and dusk when the world is aglow with amber light. To see the videos, viewers must download the free Leav app, which gives directions to the five parks where the videos were made and can be viewed. The videos can be viewed on Leav at those sites throughout Northern Spark, but afterward they will be accessible only at dawn or twilight.
Spark tends to liberate everyone’s inner child, but the “Mini_Polis” project at the Convention Center is a special treat for the 7- to 12-year-old set. Designed by artist/architects Niko Kubota and Micah Roth, it is an interpretation of central Minneapolis 50 feet in diameter, complete with more than 100 plywood houses big enough for kids to sit on and climb over, a 12-foot-wide (concrete) Mississippi River, neighborhood and downtown landmarks (IDS Center, Sculpture Garden).
Built in neighborhood workshops, the mini-city comes with residents’ recorded stories and ideas for urban improvements (more wildflowers, solar power). Lights and recordings are coordinated to link the stories to buildings throughout the city.
“This is an art project so we don’t have an agenda, but the Minneapolis Planning Department is hoping to get some ideas and feedback from people visiting the sculpture,” said Kubota.
Cultural dreams and connections are important in two pieces that will be shown near the Mississippi. In the courtyard of the Mill City Museum, designer Miko Simmons is staging a dance-music-and-image meditation about the river’s past, future and healing potential.
“The challenge is to create something that’s compelling and reflects on spirituality, indigenous culture and the ecology, which matters to me,” said Simmons.
Personal experience also undergirds the video installation of Syrian-born Osama Esid, who emigrated to the United States 20 years ago and has lived in Minnesota since 1999. He exhibits his films and photos regularly throughout Europe and the Middle East, but regards Minnesota, where his two children were born, as home. Still, the pull of his native culture is strong, especially given the political turmoil and civil war of the past four years.
Those concerns are reflected in his “Still/Life/Syria” video-and-portrait project to be shown in the Mill Ruins Park near the river. Made during a monthlong visit this spring to a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey, the images present Esid’s countrymen as he knows them — hospitable, generous, welcoming despite the privations of war and displacement. During Northern Spark he plans to make portraits of Minnesotans to show in the camp on a return visit this fall.
“Whatever I do will be political, but I want to stay away from the politics of the [Syrian] regime. All of that does not interest me and it seems it does not interest anybody,” he said. “That is why I took staged portraits in the camp, to show these people to my fellow Minnesotans. It is an acknowledgment of the situation and my people and my home. I am not debating.”
Masks and pancakes
Nor are Jenny Schmid and Ali Momeni debating the cultural stereotypes they’re playing with in their “Gutless Warrior” drawing project. Staged at Walker Art Center, “Gutless Warrior” is a drawing event in which participants don masks and act out moves and gestures they associate with the persona of a “gutless wonder,” or “worthless billionaire,” and so on. The masked performances are recorded on video and reworked with more drawings added by other participants.
“People feel so free to respond to a video and make comments on really sensitive issues like money, drug use or sexual attitudes,” said Schmid. “It’s like the somewhat cruel anonymity of the Internet. Someone might not get that immediately, but they do once they see people responding to their masked image. It’s also somewhat playful.”
Throughout the night dedicated Sparkers can hear church bells, play video games, attend a health-and-wealth seminar, even nibble birthday cake. Then after pancakes served at dawn by the Bachelor Farmer and Al’s Breakfast at Aria in the North Loop ($5 in advance, $25 at the door), it’s off to bed.