An Uncommon Experience: A preview of Northern Spark

An Uncommon Experience: A preview of Northern Spark

Published June 14th, 2018 by Russ White

Now in its eighth year, the normally dusk-'til-dawn downtown public art extravaganza will be open two nights this year, each from 9pm - 2am. Here are some not-to-be-missed highlights.

Northern Spark, for the uninitiated, has traditionally been a marathon all-night phantasmagoria of public art that mixes spectacle, interaction, high-tech new media, and low-fi handicraft to transform venues across Minneapolis and St. Paul into a dazzling meditation on a different theme every year. This year’s theme is Commonality, a fitting sentiment for a divisive time, and you will have even more opportunities to engage with the artists and performers around that theme this year because the festival will now take place over two nights: Friday and Saturday, June 15th & 16th.

This year's iteration has three locations in downtown Minneapolis: The Commons in front of US Bank Stadium, Nicollet Mall, and the Minneapolis Central Library. We’ve put together this quick list of coming attractions to get you started, but check out their website for the full listing, including time-specific performances and discussions.


The Commons

Smart Wars: Mini Wiconi Alliance by Wakemup Productions
The festival kicks off at the decidedly specific time of 9:02pm on Friday with a performance led by Rory Wakemup, a local artist and gallery director of All My Relations. Combining Star Wars costumes with traditional Native American regalia, the performance satirizes racism in our popular culture (looking at you, NFL) without losing its sense of playfulness. Watch out for Darth Chief, the Mascot Hunter.


A Buffalo Nation by Keith BraveHeart
Keith BraveHeart, currently an artist-in-residence at All My Relations, is asking for your help to recreate and reclaim a disturbing image from our nation’s past. In the 19th century, buffalo and bison were hunted to near extinction in North America in part as a service to the railroad and cattle industries, but primarily to cause harm to Native American peoples dependent on the wild herds for food. A famous 1870 photograph of a mountain of skulls serves as the inspiration for BraveHeart’s piece: visitors will create skulls themselves out of seed-laced paper. At the end of the festival, the mountain of skulls will be moved to the green space beside All My Relations Gallery to slowly revitalize the soil there with native wildflowers and nutrients, just as the buffalo carcasses left by US soldiers and westward expansionists fertilized the ground on which they were slaughtered.

Meme Weaver by Danielle Everine and David Heisserer
When you hear the word “technology,” you probably think of iPhones, space shuttles, snarky memes, or killer robots, right? But the clothes on your back wouldn’t exist without one piece of much older technology: the loom. With Meme Weaver, designers and engineers Danielle Everine and David Heisserer have combined the old and the new in a delightfully homemade interactive piece that’s like a combination of Whack-A-Mole, Zoltar Speaks, and your grandmother’s throw pillows. Come for the mechanics, stay for the crowd-woven poetry.


Carry On Homes
This installation, funded by the Creative City Challenge, is the product of five artists, all from different countries, creating a space for us to reflect on immigrants through the stories of what items they brought with them on their journeys here. Read more about the project here.


Minneapolis Central Library

The Night Library
This year, the Night Librarians will get to put on their annual book-based labyrinth inside an actual library (instead of the hand-built, open-air structures of past festivals). Make your way through the darkened stacks of the Central Library’s third floor to discover untold stories through projections and theatrical enactments. This is always a popular event, so organizers suggest downloading the Waitlist App to schedule your visit.


Section of Disapproved Books by Daniel McCarthy Clifford
Local artist Daniel McCarthy Clifford often works with the idea of institutions, creating sculptural installations that meditate on and illustrate both the human stories and the dehumanizing effects of life within schools and prisons. Here Clifford presents a collection of books banned from American prisons. As the artist explains, “The commonality based on shared interests, histories, and cultures gives way to the reinforced commonality of denied access and prescribed behavior” in our carceral system.


Common Urban Edible Plants by Paige Dansinger
Paige Dansinger, who runs the Better World Museum and is the artist-in-residence at the Spencer Collection in the Minneapolis Athenaeum, uses virtual and augmented reality technology to rediscover the beauty and power of our native flora. Participants will be invited to virtually draw common edible plants found here in the city and receive temporary tattoos that explode in shapes and colors when viewed through an augmented reality lens on mobile tablets.


Nicollet Mall

Something Worth Remembering by Tiffany Carbonneau
Perhaps no contemporary political issue highlights both our current divisions and our commonality better than immigration. Artist Tiffany Carbonneau has compiled a slideshow of images and data related to immigration in Minnesota and across the country for this project, which will be projected onto the City Center facade. Take time during your night out to reflect on how our shared history is being misremembered and how it impacts who we are today.


Celestial Amnesia: A Passage To Peace by Miko Simmons
Multimedia artist and theatrical production designer Miko Simmons has created a poetic portal of light and sound along Nicollet Mall. Drawing inspiration from mathematics and science, Simmons seeks to create a connection between modern technological marvels and ancient biological truths, providing a thoroughfare that encourages both wonder and calm.


Archive of Apologies & Pardons by Sami Pfeffer
We’ve all seen pictures of the most famous misspelled tattoo ever: No Regerts. Maybe those unlucky few are truly living with a clean conscience, but most of us have some skeletons in our closet. Performance artist Sami Pfeffer is here to help, allowing participants to fill out official forms of apology and forgiveness to be catalogued in the artist’s roving archive. Give a little penance, maybe get a little grace, and remember that one thing we all have in common are mistakes.


There are plenty more installations and activities to enjoy this weekend at Northern Spark, so be sure to check out their schedule of events on their website. The festival is open from 9:02pm to 2am both Friday, June 15th, and Saturday, June 16th.

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