The Great Winter Crow Show Exhibition runs March 5 – April 11 Opening reception Saturday, March 5, 5 – 10 p.m. spiritroom.net
For her submission in the upcoming “Crow Show” at the Spirit Room, illustrator Heather Franzen initially wanted to depict a “standard” crow using plenty of blacks and blues.
Instead, she decided to use warmer colors and have her crow inhabit a laden apple tree. The change stemmed from her longtime familiarity with birds.
“I went through a phase in high school where I wanted to be an ornithologist. I read about birds all the time and did a report on crows and how they’re misrepresented in society,” Franzen says, adding that her submission is intended to contradict the popular notion the crows represent only death and despair.
Franzen’s about-face illustrates a central tenet of “The Crow Show,” a biennial exhibition and evening of poetry and musical performance. For a subject as simple as one species of bird, the crow has some surprising metaphorical depth – its dark physical beauty, yearlong residence in our cold climate and notable intelligence.
Thanks to those abundant metaphors, “The Crow Show” prompts diverse, eclectic responses from visual artists, poets and performers, and sets the stage for a memorable evening for area arts lovers.
This year, the Spirit Room will capture some of those responses in a new anthology, “In the Spirit of the Crow: a Gathering of Art and Poetry.” The book features the work of 27 visual artists and writers whose work has appeared in the exhibition and has been performed at the event in the 10 years since its inception.
In the book’s forward, Spirit Room Executive Director and “Crow Show” founder Dawn Morgan illustrates the prominence of the crow throughout history by relating the story of Huginn and Muninn, companions of the god Odin in Norse mythology.
“Each morning at dawn they flew around the world to gather the news of the day, returning with stories in time for dinner at dusk,” Morgan writes.
“Odin represents the god/man, the ethereal and imperfect being, who needs the spiritual connection of his natural allies. Ravens represent connection to the divine as they soar into the sky, into other worlds, worlds associated with wisdom, magic, prophecy, and memory of ancient times,” she continues.
Anthology editor and Minnesota State University Moorhead English professor Thom Tammaro also looked to cultures far and wide for the book’s “extracts,” short snippets of text that explore the crow’s role in places like the Old Testament, Chinese and Japanese culture, the writings of Wallace Stevens, and the music of The Beatles.
“The crow shows up in virtually every culture we’re familiar with,” Tammaro says. “It’s a god or goddess figure, it represents wisdom, or tells the future. In other cultures, it’s hated and despised as a carrion bird.”
Photographer Dennis Krull, a three-time “Crow Show” participant, says he liked the challenge of finding an angle on the crow with which to work.
He’s also fascinated with the ways various artists and performers externalize their own angles. The result is an exhibition and evening he considers a gem among local arts events.
“The crow seems like a mysterious bird to all of us and always has been,” Krull says. “All those different aspects that have developed throughout the ages make it interesting to try to come up with something and figure out this odd little bird.”
The result, as summed up in the anthology, is as surprising visually as it is conceptually.
“I was surprised by the explosion of color that we saw in so many of the images,” Tammaro says. “And when people see this book, they will be surprised by how colorful the images are. There’s also a kind of humor about the crow that shows through. ‘Humor’ and ‘color’ might not be two words that people think of when they think of crows.”
My decision to attend Friday night’s Laser Beatles show at the MSUM Planetarium was a happy coincidence of a number of factors. My friends and I were looking for a needed night out that didn’t involve elbowing into a bar. I’d just played some pinball at TILT that afternoon and was feeling a bit on the nostalgic side. And with everyone talking about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new reboot of “Cosmos,” I was also feeling science-y.
And, c’mon. Lasers are awesome, and how often does a laser light show happen blocks from my house?
So we went. And we had a blast.
A laser blast, you say?
After settling in to the Planetarium’s comfy seating, we were treated to about 40 minutes of Beatles tunes with laser light/animation accompaniment (created and distributed by Prismatic Magic) that fell broadly into three stylistic categories: literal narrative, the abstract, and the (for lack of a better term) poetic. The literal narrative treatments featured an absolutely earnest translation of the song (slightly reminiscent of Funny Or Die’s literal music videos) that prompted a few snickers for their rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies. The abstract ones played a dizzying avalanche of patterns and designs at high speed (thankfully, not enough to turn anyone’s stomachs).
The poetic numbers, most notably the presentation for “Across the Universe,” were easily the best. While others were pure eye candy, “Across the Universe” played with scale, perspective, and movement in a way that recalled the satellite ballet of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In terms of realization of its form, this just might be the pinnacle of lasered entertainment.
Throughout the presentation I couldn’t help but weigh the novelty of all these factors against the effect of more common forms of illustration and animation. Truth be told, you can get a lot more detail and meaning out of some basic CGI or cell animation. There’s very little connection with people and faces–substance–in a laser show, the kind of effect you’d get from even a simple stop motion video.
But you know what? That’s not the point. These are frickin’ lasers, people. Lasers projected onto the ceiling. Rather than judge it by the standards of any other visual medium, it’s better to think of a laser show like a fireworks show: a spectacle of light and color. There’s some stuff worth interpreting in there, if you strain as hard as I did above, but it can easily be set aside for the pure enjoyment of eye candy. Just sit back and let this dance on your corneas.
Factor in some other intangibles–its lovable quirk, its “newstalgia,” and the fact that this might prompt your young’un to want to play with lasers–and Laserfest is highly recommended.
And yes, you absolutely should sing along to “Yellow Submarine.”
“The impetus behind the virtual gallery was to expand our exhibition space,” said executive director Tania Blanich. “In this age of technology, an art gallery needn’t be limited by its four walls. The website allows us to share the work of the talented artists of our region to audiences well beyond a tri-state area or those who can drop in to the Rourke.” She added that the online gallery also allows the Rourke to introduce emerging artists to new audiences without the onus of preparing an entire show.
The online gallery includes images of the artworks and biographical information about the artists. Currently, the featured artists are John Scott Postovit, George Pfeifer, Gordon Mortensen and Greg Montreuil. Those interested in purchasing works may do so securely online or they can come to the Rourke Art Museum to view and purchase the featured artworks in person.
The Rourke got its start as an art gallery in 1960, but by the late 1990s had evolved into a hybrid institution, encompassing both a non-profit art gallery with works for sale and an art museum with a permanent collection. Nevertheless, it has maintained its focus on showcasing talented local and regional artists and connecting them to audiences.
‘The Inferno’ Presented by James Sewell Ballet Saturday, March 8, 7:30 p.m. MSUM Hansen Theatre Tickets: $12 – $28 mnstate.edu/perform/
Dante’s epic poem “The Divine Comedy” is easily one of literature’s most influential works. Its treatments of morality and striking imagery have sent shock waves through Western culture in the seven centuries since it was written. It’s sprinkled throughout the poetry of Milton and T. S. Eliot, the paintings of Botticelli and Dali and, contemporarily, in graphic novels, video games and cartoons.
Add to that list “Inferno,” a new multimedia ballet from the Minneapolis-based James Sewell Ballet, debuting this Saturday as the season finale of Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Cheryl Nelson Lossett Performing Arts Series.
In addition to the ballet, the university is planning additional walks through the world of Dante through music and visual art.
James Sewell, the ballet’s founder and artistic director, said he has thought about creating an adaptation of Dante’s classic for about 30 years.
The ballet will have the hallmarks of a Sewell production, utilizing up-to-the-minute lighting, digital projection and staging techniques to fashion an immersive experience for the audience.
Dante’s world will receive a modern update: Sewell’s “Inferno” begins in Times Square in New York City, moves through the woods in Central Park and enters hell through a subway station. But the performance will still pack the universal wallop of the original.
“It’s amazing how timeless it is,” Sewell says. “It’s a story of a midlife crisis, the 14th-century version of ‘Scared Straight.’ This man needs to re-find his moral compass.”
Sewell’s company sticks to the original material, but the artistic director hopes his reframing will show the audience how relevant Dante’s world is today.
“In Dante’s time, he had two political parties at war with each other,” Sewell says. “He was in exile and wrote this partially as a way to get back at them. In terms of social commentary and religious meaning, in operates on so many levels.”
The production has required weeks of technical rehearsal to coordinate the various video projections and sound (including music by Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd and Bach), and has required adjustments along the way to get the dynamics right.
But Sewell says he’s confident the hard work will pay off for both him and the audience.
“It’s really been an exciting and terrifying learning curve. It’s more like I’m directing a film – a dance film,” he says. “When this many elements come together, it’s completely uncharted territory.”
In addition to the ballet, MSUM will host pianist Jihye Chang, a talk by Dante scholar John Kerr, and will show artwork by students challenged with the task of visualizing the concept of hell.
For Chang, the reverberations of the themes in “The Divine Comedy” are just as apparent in music as they are in other art forms. Her program will feature music inspired by Dante and will highlight the structures of musical compositions that invoke ideas like sin, terror and divine love.
“This is ingrained in our culture and our experience, and we feel a certain way when we feel a certain type of music,” Chang says, adding that the usage of certain harmonies, note intervals and other musical gestures has been consistent through much of our musical history.
That spirit of renewing age-old concepts and being part of our larger inquiry into human nature gets right to the heart of the role of the arts, Sewell says.
“The arts aren’t a way to tell people what to think, but rather, they’re a way to get people together, to talk and express their differences,” he says.
The world premiere of James Sewell Ballet’s cutting-edge multimedia ballet ‘The Inferno’ closes out this season of MSUM’s Cheryl Nelson Lossett Performing Arts Series this Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at the Hanson Theatre. You can also take in a companion event this Thursday at 5 p.m. at White Hall and Fox Recital Hall, featuring a lecture on the legacy of Dante, visual art from MSUM students, and a performance by pianist Jihye Chang. Full details here: [MSUM Performing Arts Series]
Tin Roof Theatre will stage a weekend of performances of the play “The Twilight of the Golds” Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Stage at Island Park. The play (which we’ve profiled here) features a family in the throes of moral crisis. Details: [Tin Roof Theatre Company]
Celebrate Celtic culture at a festival of tartans, bodhrans, bag pipes and fancy footwork. The Celtic Festival, presented by the Fargo Park District, will be held from 10 am to 4 pm on at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. The festival celebrates the rich cultures of the seven Celtic Nations featuring the intriguing history, arts and traditions of Brittany (France), Cornwall (UK), Isle of Man, Galicia (Spain), Ireland and Northern Ireland (UK), Scotland (UK) and Wales (UK). Details: [Fargo Park District]
Wanna catch a band on the run? “Paul McCartney & Wings: Rockshow,” a concert film recorded during the band’s 1976 tour, captures the group at the peak of their popularity. The set list includes “Venus & Mars/Rockshow/Jet,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Silly Love Songs,” “Band On the Run” and the Beatles classics “Lady Madonna,” “Blackbird,” and “Yesterday.” It’s airing on at 7 p.m. CT on Prairie Public.
Sunday, March 9
The FM Symphony’s Chamber Music Series will take a trip across the pond this weekend, celebrating new conductor Christopher Zimmerman’s place of birth with a program chock full of British delights. The concert will include the “Downton Abbey” theme (above) as well as music by The Beatles, The Who, and the Rolling Stones. (If someone shows up with some synthesizers, maybe they’ll try their hand at the Doctor Who theme?) The fun gets started at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Fargo. [FM Symphony]
Concordia College will feature their Home Concert this Sunday, 4 p.m., at Trinity Lutheran Church. [Concordia]
Monday, March 10
Concordia College Music Organizations will present a Jazz Ensembles Concert at 8:30 p.m. in Anderson Commons, Knutson Campus Center. Included in the variety of songs performed will be works by well-known jazz composer/arrangers Sammy Nestico, Allen Carter and Stevie Wonder. [Concordia]
Wednesday, March 12
If you miss the FM Opera Young Artists’ MSUM concert on Friday, you can catch them in the HoDo Lounge at 7 p.m. [Hotel Donaldson]
Image: Sarah Hultin, ‘Voyage,’ 2014, oil on canvas, courtesy of ecce gallery.