Worth A Look: M. Thomsen's 'Tethered To The Ether'

Worth A Look: M. Thomsen's 'Tethered To The Ether'

Published March 9th, 2024 by Russ White

The assemblage artist's latest venture is a film eight years in the making, now running a fundraiser to cover film festival fees

"Worth A Look" is a series of semi-regular essays about excellent art, interesting ideas, and whatever other cool stuff we find around town. Go see art; it's good for you.

Content warning: this article mentions suicide.


Back in my 20s, fresh out of college and trying to find some reasonable path forward, I tried for a few years to break into film editing. I interned at IFP-Chicago, I did contract work for Vitamin Productions on a stop-motion McDonald's commercial (mostly I dusted the potatoes in between shots), and I made coffee for the cool kids at a production house in the NBC Tower, who let me play with their editing software during my downtime.

The only trouble: I wasn't a filmmaker, I was a sculptor. Every interview I had, I brought not a reel but a portfolio of my found object assemblages. To me, it made sense: collaging together objects in a composition was a hop, skip, and a jump from splicing together snippets of a film. Both are about timing and emphasis and structure; all I needed was more time to learn FinalCut. Nobody was really buying it though, and before long I gave up on that particular dream.

But another assemblage artist here in Minneapolis has not. Michael Thomsen, known for his gothic maximalist sculptures that have been shown at Rogue Buddha Gallery, Public Functionary, and elsewhere, has just completed a new film called Tethered to the Ether, and he and his producers are raising funds to get it screened at film festivals near and far.

The project was an 8-year odyssey, entirely self-funded and shot piecemeal, guerrilla-style, in familiar locations across Northeast and beyond. Co-producer Kate Iverson, an artist herself and veteran of the art scene here through her work with Public Functionary and Bishop-Iverson, invited MPLSART over recently for a private screening. It's a rare privilege to get to watch a movie with live commentary from the director himself, and over vodka 7-Ups and a bowl of Nacho Cheese Doritos, we dug into this strange fever dream film that Iverson describes as "arthouse horror."


Film stills from Tethered to the Ether, starring Clare Hoogesteger (bottom) as Tulip.


The story follows several characters but focuses on two: Tulip, a woman who has survived a double-suicide attempt with her lover, whose body seems to have been mysteriously snatched from the scene; and The Thief, who takes a tumble and awakens inside a junkyard scrapping operation in service of the Big Machine, where he learns the trade from bug-eyed mechanic Felix. Other mysterious characters emerge, including a nefarious gang wearing animal masks, an autoharp-playing valkyrie, a tenacious gumshoe, various goons and henchmen, and, by the end, the big boss himself, played by Thomsen.

Several themes arise around surveillance, noir, dreams versus reality, and loss and longing, and there are instances of stunning cinematography throughout. Thomsen's sculptures play a role, too — not just as thematic bookends, as with his recurring Medusa head assemblage, or as hand-made costumes, as with the valkyrie's helmet, but as actual miniature sets that call to mind Terry Gilliam's Brazil and H.R. Giger's work for the Alien franchise. It's all very spooky and strange, very much like Thomsen's sculptures, and no less so because the main character barely utters a word. She spends most of the film moving from set to set, crawling through junkyards and foggy, tangled jungles while the other characters move through their own menacing machinations; by the end, I found myself relating her silent journey looking for answers in this film to my own.

Having spent the past month watching as many Oscar contenders as possible (with some real hits and misses in there), sitting at Kate's house eating Doritos, recognizing the Northrup King basement and the PNA Hall, and getting lost in another artist's world was a fun break. It's a shame there's no Academy Award for Best B-Movie, but I reckon that might spoil half the fun anyway. Films of this ilk are like a record you own that's never been added to Spotify — it's your discovery to enjoy.

What comes next for the film is, in part, up to you. Their GoFundMe is up and running to help cover the cost of film festival submission fees over the next year, with the hopes for public screenings to come and financing for future projects from there. The film has already secured placement in three international festivals and won Best Experimental Feature at Hallucinea Film Festival in Greece. I hope you get the chance to watch it, not only to honor the years of work that went into it, but because, where I come from, weird shit makes the world go round. ◼︎ 




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