Michon Weeks and Carolyn Swiszcz in Universe-ity at Space 369

Michon Weeks and Carolyn Swiszcz in Universe-ity at Space 369

Camille LeFevre takes a survey of the new exhibition, Universe-ity, on view throughout April at Space 369 in St. Paul

 

Left: Carolyn Swiszcz, Universe Building (detail), 2017. Right: Michon Weeks, Electric Sign, 2017.

 

Consider, if you would, the familiar; the idea, adage, or common wisdom that the things we experience the most become invisible to us, that the quotidian becomes something that we take for granted, to which we no long pay attention. As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein put it, “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something—because it is always before one’s eyes.)” What re-awakens us to what lies before us, to what we pass by or walk through or hear or see on a daily basis, might be two things: change and/or art. 

 

Take, as an example, the St. Paul neighborhood known as South St. Anthony Park. Bordered by University Avenue, Highway 280, Energy Park Drive, and Raymond Avenue, the small enclave of curved streets and mostly small homes was long a white working class neighborhood also ringed by a train switching yard, warehouses, and industrial buildings. That began to change about 10 years ago. A diverse array of families (in terms of age and generations, race and economic status, gender and sexual orientation) had already moved in and upgraded the housing stock. But coffee shops, microbreweries and mid-century vintage furniture stores also appeared. Some former industrial facilities were converted into artist housing. 

 

 

Then came news of the train: a new Metro Transit light-rail line down University Avenue connecting the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Opportunity called. More restaurants opened and record stores, microbreweries, artists’ studios, design companies, and myriad other creative enterprises set up shop in empty storefronts and industrial spaces. The area around the neighborhood was rebranded as the Creative Enterprise Zone and expanded to include areas south to Interstate 94 and east to Prior Avenue. That’s a lot of change. Still, some retail establishments closed. 

 

To walk down University Avenue and through the Creative Enterprise Zone today is to experience an urban fabric that’s a patchwork of old and new, renovated and dilapidated, vibrant and vacant, commercial and nonprofit. At one corner, signage for various ministries vies for attention in juxtaposition with Christian picketers outside Planned Parenthood and a billboard for “compassion and care” for girls—as if implying that the women’s healthcare services provided by Planned Parenthood are neither. Here’s where we get to the art part. 

 

That corner—where Planned Parenthood, a vacant Pirtek hydraulic hose store occupying the curiously named Universe Building, a bank, and the Green Line light rail intersect—is where Carolyn Swiszcz has focused her attention for Universe-ity, a two-person exhibition with Michon Weeks at Space 369 in the Dow Building. Occupying one wall is Swiszcz’s giant mural (created in sections) of the Universe Building: a soft, thoughtful work in which finely wrought technical acuity and fast loose brushwork, realism and abstraction, blurred and defined textures coexist. 

 

 

Talk about the quotidian: Despite its grandiloquent name, the Universe Building is the blandest of the bland, a beige one-story structure that, even though still brandishing the primary colors of Pirtek signage, remains a quintessentially unnoticeable, boring building. And yet, what Swiszcz has done with her painting is re-contextualize and de-familiarize the Universe Building. She’s called it out, made it the object of her attention and considerable artistic talent and given it a treatment that entices viewers to pay tribute to it, too. 

 

Moreover, she’s included that portion of the billboard on top of the building that proclaims “compassion and care.” Below that, she’s painted one of the windows with the notice, “24 hrs 7 days.” Taken together, these phrases convey a humanitarian or even spiritual message that quietly defines the most commonplace of street corners, but also defies the warring pro-choice, pro-life activity nearby. 

 

 

On another wall of the gallery is Swiszcz’s finely detailed iteration of a nearby fire station. The building’s banner, “Help Your Heart,” is also part of Swiszcz’s artwork. Once again, subtle and multiple meanings can be derived from her word play, in this case the message being not only physical and medical (the banner is for free blood-pressure checks) but also one of, well, compassion and care. 

 

Michon Weeks, whose whimsical mixed-media works and sculptural installations are created from everyday stuff—stacks of Amazon delivery boxes, shoe boxes, cardboard, pieces of wood, and paper—also focuses on the area and uses messaging from the Metro Transit light-rail train line to similar effect. Her installations are towers of stacked boxes on which she’s painted images and instructions in a graphic style that recalls a playful form of street art combined with woodblock printing and sophisticated cartoons in an underground zine. 

 

On one tower are Metro Transit’s instructions for buying and validating tickets—in English, Braille, Spanish, Hmong, and Somali—while on a different side are brightly colored backgrounds for gem-like shapes. On another tower, circles with lines through them to signify “no” contrast, on a different side, with Weeks’ delightful paintings of the things we like to say yes to—skateboarding, cigarettes, coffee, a cold beer, loud music—not allowed on the train. In her re-contextualizing of transit and the experience of riding the light-rail train, Weeks has generated symbols that embrace the diversity of riders served and convey a sense of magical realism that enlivens that everyday experience. 

 

 

Weeks has also created a plethora of one-dimensional works gridded with “systems for abstraction,” as she describes them, and with simple, geometric outlines of the trains, fare instructions, or announcements in boxy lettering. In one of these works, she lays her imagery over a photograph of the train tracks down University Avenue. In another, Weeks juxtaposes the matrices and abstracted train imagery with painted, exaggerated faces. Weeks also distorts these matrices like a funhouse mirror might, further altering viewer perceptions of just what’s happening on that flat piece of cardboard or paper, as the dots, zigzags, and voids move kinetically across the surface. 

 

Wittgenstein suggests that, in order to counter our tendency to take the familiar for granted, we should seek out ways to find amazement in the everyday. With their work for Universe-ity, Weeks and Swiszcz have done precisely that. Together, they’ve originated an outlook on one of the most humdrum, colorless, featureless stretches of University Avenue that brings it into clear relief. The show de-familiarizes and reanimates that familiar stretch with their fresh perspectives, aesthetic approaches, and purposefulness.

 

In other words, what the artists have done is create and capture a memory. Not only by collaborating with Nathanael Flink and Julie Buffalohead, the artists who run Space 369 and live in the neighborhood, and by collaborating with each other as they created the work, but by making work that’s integrally connected to its context. This is abundantly evident in the works Weeks and Swiszcz produced together. Works in which Weeks’ block text and swaying grids and Swiszcz’s color washes and textural layering combine in rich assemblages of luminous symbolism. 

 

And so no one forgets, the artists also collaborated on a series of “boppers,” hammer-like tools constructed from found materials, or portrayed as such on other media, with which to tap oneself on the head—or not, as some are soft, malleable or sewn with fabric and others are built from wood. The point is the boppers are tools with which to remind oneself of daily tasks, such as not forgetting one’s cell phone or “to err on the side of grace.” Or to not take any moment, place, or person for granted. And to listen for the train. 

 

 

Universe-ity is on view April 1 – 30th with an opening reception on Friday, April 7th, 6-9pm. Gallery hours: Saturdays 1 - 4pm and by appointment. Closing and artist talk on Saturday, April 29th, 2 –4pm. For more info, visit https://www.space369.online.


#mplsart
If you are making art or looking at art in the Twin Cities, use the hashtag to show it off.
OPENINGS & EVENTS
Jun 23rd - Jun 25th
Block Studios
676 Smith Avenue S, St. Paul
Thu Jun 29th 6PM CST Night 1
White Page Gallery
3400 Cedar Ave, Minneapolis
Thu Jun 29th 6PM - 9PM CST
Sabes Jewish Community Center
4330 S Cedar Lake Rd, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 1st 12PM - 4PM CST
The Soap Factory
514 2nd St. SE, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 1st 7PM - 9PM CST
Public Functionary
1400 12th Ave NE, Minneapolis
Fri Jul 7th 5PM - 9PM CST
AZ Gallery
308 Prince Street, St. Paul
Fri Jul 7th 6:30PM - 9PM CST
Highpoint Center for Printmaking
912 West Lake Street, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 8th 2PM CST Artist Talk
Katherine E. Nash Gallery
405 21st Ave S, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 8th 4PM - 10PM CST
Fulton Brewery
2540 2nd St NE, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 8th 5PM - 8PM CST
Showroom
615 W Lake St, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 8th 6PM - 8PM CST
Form + Content Gallery
210 N 2nd St, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 1st 7PM - 9PM CST
Public Functionary
1400 12th Ave NE, Minneapolis
Sat Jul 15th 6PM - 11PM CST
Midway Contemporary Art
527 Second Avenue SE, Minneapolis
Thu Jul 20th 5PM - 8PM CST
Groveland Gallery
25 Groveland Terrace, Minneapolis
Fri Jul 21st 6PM - 9PM CST
Hair And Nails Gallery
2222 1/2 E 35th ST, Minneapolis
Jul 22nd - Jul 23rd
Stevens Square Park
1801 Stevens Ave, Minneapolis
Jul 29th - Jul 30th
Loring Park
1382 Willow St, Minneapolis
Aug 4th - Aug 6th
Uptown
Hennepin Ave and Lake St, Minneapolis
Aug 5th - Aug 6th
Powderhorn Park
3400 15th AVE E, Minneapolis
Thu Sep 7th 6PM - 7:30PM CST
Textile Center
3000 University Ave SE, Minneapolis
Sat Sep 9th 6PM - 9PM CST
Form + Content Gallery
210 N 2nd St, Minneapolis
Sat Sep 9th 6PM - 9PM CST
Traffic Zone
250 3rd Ave N, Minneapolis
Fri Oct 6th 6PM - 8PM CST
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
2501 Stevens Avenue, Minneapolis
NOW SHOWING
May 12th - Jun 30th
Rogue Buddha Gallery
357 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis
Feb 25th - Jun 30th
801 Washington Lofts
801 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis
Apr 20th - Jun 30th
Ditch Gallery
400 1st Ave N #535, Minneapolis
May 20th - Jul 1st
Circa Gallery
210 N First St, Minneapolis
Apr 29th - Jul 1st
Midway Contemporary Art
527 Second Avenue SE, Minneapolis
May 25th - Jul 1st
Form + Content Gallery
210 N 2nd St, Minneapolis
Jun 9th - Jul 2nd
Southern Theater
1420 S Washington Ave, Minneapolis
Jun 2nd - Jul 2nd
AZ Gallery
308 Prince Street, St. Paul
Jun 21st - Jul 6th
Showroom
615 W Lake St, Minneapolis
Jun 12th - Jul 8th
Space 369
2242 University Ave, St. Paul
Jun 10th - Jul 8th
The Porch Gallery
3306 Park Avenue, Minneapolis
Jun 3rd - Jul 9th
Flanders + Associates
818 West Lake St, Minneapolis
May 26th - Jul 14th
Light Grey Art Lab
118 East 26th St, Minneapolis
Jun 3rd - Jul 15th
Katherine E. Nash Gallery
405 21st Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 2nd - Jul 15th
Soo Visual Arts Center
2909 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 10th - Jul 15th
Groveland Gallery
25 Groveland Terrace, Minneapolis
Jun 10th - Jul 15th
Groveland Annex
25 Groveland Tr, Minneapolis
Jun 2nd - Jul 15th
Soo Visual Arts Center
2909 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 10th - Jul 15th
Groveland Gallery
25 Groveland Terrace, Minneapolis
Jun 2nd - Jul 15th
Soo Visual Arts Center
2909 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 9th - Jul 16th
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
2501 Stevens Avenue, Minneapolis
Jun 22nd - Jul 23rd
Isles Studios
1311 W. 25th Street, Minneapolis
May 6th - Jul 28th
Independent Filmmaker Project MN
550 Vandalia ST, St. Paul
May 25th - Jul 31st
Minnesota Museum of American Art
141 E 4th Street, St. Paul
May 20th - Jul 31st
Two Rivers Gallery
1530 E Franklin AVE, Minneapolis
Jun 9th - Aug 4th
Christensen Center, Augsburg College
2211 Riverside Ave, Minneapolis
Jun 9th - Aug 4th
Gage Family Gallery (Augsburg)
2211 Riverside Ave, Minneapolis
May 11th - Aug 12th
Intermedia Arts
2822 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis
Jun 15th - Aug 24th
Sabes Jewish Community Center
4330 S Cedar Lake Rd, Minneapolis
Jun 24th - Sep 1st
801 Washington Lofts
801 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis
Jun 17th - Sep 10th
Weisman Art Museum
333 E River Pkwy, Minneapolis
Jun 1st - Sep 30th
Track 29 City Apartments
2841 Bryant AVE S, Minneapolis
Jun 10th - Apr 17th
The Soap Factory
514 2nd St. SE, Minneapolis