I sometimes put off movies, video games, books, etc, until long after they’ve lost all pop culture relevancy. It’s alright though. It means when I want to watch something really good I can cherry-pick whatever piece of media I’ve been neglecting to visit. Sometimes removing the temporal cloud of hype from something makes it all the better. Sure, had I watched 10 Cloverfield Lane in the theaters, I’d have loved it just as much. But would I have wanted to run out of the movie theater and scream it on a mountaintop? No, because the collective excitement would defuse that impulse. Having a private experience with an intense movie is special, sometimes. Plus, movie theaters cost money.
Tomorrow evening I’ll be uploading a piece on Pan’s Labyrinth, which, believe it or not, I’ve never seen. The Guillermo del Toro feature I have seen, I’ve loved. So Pan’s Labyrinth has been one of those rainy day movies. I’m choosing to pop the cork now because, about a month ago, I visited the Gullermo del Toro: at Home With Monsters exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I’m still kicking myself for waiting til the last minute; the exhibition was PACKED on the final day, and I would have loved to linger in the gallery.
Mia (they recently ditched “The MIA” in favor of a more personal and cutesy name) has undergone a lot of changes since the last time I visited. They’ve updated their Native American and African wings to include contemporary work, and are reworking their labels to try and address racism and colonialism. Good on them for trying to do that work. Although in a few place, like the label below, felt off. Boiling down the racist “primitivist” aesthetics of modern art to an “influence” misses a lot of the context here, and it’s more difficult to challenge something when you refuse to acknowledge it.
They also had a temporary re-working of their contemporary wing by a guest curator, complete with murals on every wall of the gallery. I didn’t take any pictures because, frankly, it was bad. It managed to encapsulate everything I dislike about contemporary art (and I don’t actually dislike contemporary art! I love it!), and 90% of the “showcased works” were the things I already have seen countless times at Mia, Chuck Close among them. The final sin was a Rembrandt, propped up leaning against the wall, image obscured, with only its hanging wire and archive label visible.
They did, however, include contemporary music “piped in” to the gallery. And by that I mean, I found a dark cubby with a single didactic label and a boombox playing Blondie, illuminated by dingy spotlight. As I stood in the corner, snapchatting the macabre murder nook, two young girls peered around the corner, jumped in fright, and hurried away. I like to think I improved the installation. Killer In The Blondie Closet.
Jokes aside, what I did see at Mia were two absolutely incredible temporary pieces. The first was this absolutely breathtaking film by the Propeller Group, The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music. I sorely wish there was some way to view it online. Here’s the label, to give you an idea. The music haunted me for days. It’s on display until September 10th, so go see it if you can!
As for the second piece…. As I rounded the corner, having just exited the del Toro galleries, I spotted this sign:
Looks promising. The green stuff in the top right corner was a video projection. Past the sign was a dimly lit gallery room, the top third of the wall showing a projection of something green and bubbling. I could hear something mechanic, something organic, something confusing in the next room. Nothing could have prepared me.
From the museum label:
“It Is Yesterday, 2017. 52 polymer vessels filled with algae (spirulina); sensors, video projection, workstation.
By breathing into the sensor linked to the sacs, visitors provide CO2 (carbon dioxide), causing the algae to release more oxygen into the air. A computer monitors levels of CO2 and oxygen in the galley space, establishing a baseline for the aeration pumps that keep the sacks “inhaling” and “exhaling” when no one is in the gallery. The video projection in the first gallery presents a visualization of the collected data. The increase of oxygen caused by the visitors’ CO2 is shown by the acceleration of bubbles released by the algae.”
“Average temperatures across the planet are rising each year, stoked by the ever-increasing CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. Algae–aquatic, mostly microscopic, organisms–transform CO2 into oxygen, accounting for 75 percent of the oxygen we breathe. As humans, we are dependent on algae as part of the ecosystem that sustains us.
Alison Hiltner’s immersive installation It Is Yesterday addresses our role in climate change. Plastic polymer sacks filled with algae are aerated by CO2 from people’s breath when visitors blow through a sensor connected the the sacks. The algae use that CO2 to produce oxygen, which is released into the atmosphere. Part experiment and part environment, Hiltners work entwines sci-fi, popular culture, and scientific inquiry to provide and intimate look at one way in which we directly affect the environment and, ultimately, climate change.”
I spent an long time in this room, walking among the bubbling sacks, before I even found the sensor. The lights, the noise, and just how many of these things there were arrested my attention. But there, by the door:
In the back of the exhibit space was something of a work table, perhaps the mother of all these little algae colonies. A plastic curtain and a warning kept visitors out.
And next to it, another label:
“I view myself as an archaeologist of science fiction, exploring the media landscape of films, television, and video games and intertwining these themes with current scientific inquiry. It Is Yesterday is a responsive environment demonstrating the symbiosis of algae and humans. Equal parts experimental laboratory and functioning mechanized interior environment, this installation immerses the audience in a landscape influenced by science fiction yet populated by real organisms, where fact and fantasy converge. By creating a localized personal connection with sensor data, the work provides an intimate approach to climate issues. Though humans make connections to the natural worlds in different ways, the more we empathize with what surrounds us, the more we long to understand and become invested in the outcome. – Alison Hiltner.”
I love this. I love this? I want this in my house. I want a sack with a little tap on it, so I can put the spirulina in my smoothies (if you’ve ever had Naked’s Green Machine juice, you’ve had a sip of the same goo that’s in these bags). It felt like being in some sort of big nasty alien hive. It’s also solarpunk as hell. I want a warehouse, all bubbling with algae, funneling in the pollution outside. I want a five hour ASMR recording of bubbling aerators and humming sun lights. I want the slime pods. I wanted to reach out and touch the bags, were they warm? They’re so tactile. The room was heady.
Anyway, I just want to thank Alison Hiltner for this awesome experience. The piece is part of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program, and is on display until June 25th. Anyone in Minneapolis can take a break from Pride festivities to say farewell to these algae friends. Lot’s of Hiltner’s work is equally as awesome. You can check it out here.