MILLIONS OF INNOCENT ACCIDENTS: Arts Magazine

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

Print, Crackle, and Pop
In concurrent exhibitions, printmakers and performance artists provide crackling wit through pop-culture parodies.

By Tamatha Sopinski Perlman

“MILLIONS OF INNOCENT ACCIDENTS” and “Unconventional Wisdom” are the new concurrent exhibitions on view in the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) Gallery through October 26. Both shows address pop and consumer culture and the cultures of media, politics, war, and fear. The artists, in the eye of the media storm, play with text and commercial images in provocative and satirical ways. A word, for instance, an image, and a tossed-aside scrap of detritus are reassembled to create new meanings that bring sharper focus to everyday events. “Unconventional Wisdom” and “MILLIONS OF INNOCENT ACCIDENTS” are a fine mix of humor, outrage, and matter-of-fact commentary about a range of topics, including consumerism, war, looming elections, and a constantly changing landscape of arbitration.

“Unconventional Wisdom” features the print works of Ruthann Godollei and Mike Elko. Both use text placed strategically against familiar backdrops. Godollei’s work is generally devoid of people, but full of their stuff: kitchen tools, iPods, clocks, and the like. She counters these objects with current military terminology, bringing out the irony of words such as containment, surge, and extended tour. Using a palette of black-and-white with an occasional hint of color, Godollei strips these iconic words of their intended meanings, opening them up to interpretation. In Time Change 2 (2008), three clock faces are lined up to show various time zones. Under each is a different label: Minneapolis Time, Kabul Time, and Time to End the War. Her dark humor recalls Honoré Daumier’s political prints of the nineteenth century, in which characters from all walks of life are labeled with humorous captions imbued with social and political satire.

Elko, on the other hand, brings witty dialogue to his brightly colored prints assembled from vintage print ads and current news media. He, too, riffs on the contemporary vocabulary of war and impenetrable jargon of politics, but his humor often induces out-loud guffaws. His faux advertisement for “alert level trauma trousers” elicits a knowing laugh because it’s both edgy and true. His aesthetic is part Andy Warhol, part Roy Lichtenstein. His appropriation of established imagery contrasted with contemporary politics bares the truth behind the idealized image of our country and reveals the way the media manipulate us through our fears. His large-scale print series, My Presidents, pays homage to the presidents in his lifetime. Celebrating both the highs and lows of their careers, they float in an ocean that represents both the morass of media coverage and their desperate attempts to keep their heads above water. Elko’s work is submerged in politics, but he never forgets to let us come up for a laugh.

Hardland/Heartland (HL/HL) is an artists’ cooperative helmed by Eric Carlson and Aaron Anderson. HL/HL dredges through the excesses of consumer culture to assemble installations and performances that are less social commentary than conceptual scrapbooks of a point in time that takes shape as social, physical, and digital environments simultaneously emerge. For “MILLIONS OF INNOCENT ACCIDENTS,” the artists have created a landscape and narrative in what they call “an ongoing saga of grandiose proportions.” Their inspiration comes from a mélange of influences: popular culture, current events, graffiti, vector graphics, Robert Raushenberg’s “junk aesthetic,” and the narrative of contemporary science fiction. The individuals in HL/HL work as a whole, producing drawings, zines, fashion, and video—passing objects from one member to another in a fashion similar to the automatic drawings of the Surrealists. In the hands of HL/HL, new technologies are immediately pressed to their limits and abused, while older ones are cobbled together just well enough to last the run of an exhibition. If their art seems raw and unabashed, it may be because we have not had the luxury of time to reflect on the events that inspire them. There is no comfortable cushion of nostalgia. For these young artists, the Security Alert Levels that Elko jokingly refers to in Herr Hausenfuss have been the norm for their adult lives. Videos of masked terrorists have been as much of a part of their online culture as the banal humor of YouTube. At least the members of Hardland/Heartland are in it together.

Tamatha Sopinski Perlman is MAEP program associate at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Citation: Tamatha Sopinski Perlman, "Print, Crackle, and Pop
In concurrent exhibitions, printmakers and performance artists provide crackling wit through pop-culture parodies." Arts 31, No. 4 (September/October 2008):14-15. The Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP) is made possible by a generous grant from the Jerome Foundation.