An e-zine for happenings of local culture in Milwaukee and elsewhere

Archive for February, 2011

Picture Milwaukee, Downtown City Scapes

A medium lacking opacity, chilled air hovering in Milwaukee’s Downtown held fast to architectural structures planted in East Town. Milwaukee’s downtown at night possesses serenity mostly reserved for remote forest lands. Stone, metal, and light-emitting-filaments posed in the dark, kept company by a hand full of passing cars, exchange gestures with the concrete below.

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People’s Books Co-op, DIY baggie style

A corridor of books leads to a small card table covered in plastic shopping bags. Two young women dressed for cold weather, kept company by an overflow of shopping bags sitting on the floor, busy their hands manipulating scissors to trim excess plastic into likable shapes. One of the two, Flannery Steffens, temporarily transplanted from New York, got this crazy idea to organize an activity not involving beer suds on a Saturday night at People’s Books Co-op.

Sparked by the recollection of a batiking project and the sight of numerous plastic bags hanging around, Steffens went looking for a clothes iron. Her theory would prove correct that, with a precise amount of heat, layers of bags fuse together to form a fairly durable and pliable fabric. Melting plastic bags allows desecration of corporate labels, no matter the weight and texture of the bag. The brand image is not completely destroyed however, it blends with the other colors and images printed on the other bag layers in a “new and improved” motif. A tad of alchemy helps the process along too. Id est, when in doubt experiment.


Steffens, now guided by her ambition as a playwright, admits to pursuing painting at one-point. Less about art and more about reuse, a night of creating also serves as a conduit to interacting with crafty people. People’s Books Co-op has a coziness that Steffens intends on sharing at other “Do-it-Together” functions.

Books do not always draw enthusiasm, but making things should. Just ask Elis, the Honduran who also stopped by the event. He plans to share this technique with his family that remained there, when he left 17 years ago. The discovery of an everyday use for fused bag material would deem Steffens an inventor of modern-day fire, in the world according to local lore.

In March, the next “Do-it-Together” session will take on old magazines, newspapers and what-have-yous, in a bout of collage making at People’s Books Co-op on East Locust Street.


Danceworks cranks-up Vaudeville!

A stylized historical rendering spruced up with overlays of contemporary subject matter, Vaudeville! hearkens back to the Gilded Age, just as its title self-explains. Danceworks’ current production, Vaudeville!, opened Friday night with little buzz, nearly selling out its first three performances to the contrary. The production spotlights a series of choreographed vignettes driven by a mix of turn of the century show tunes, cast member voice-overs, and original music. Although mostly a period piece, Vaudeville!’s costume design travels through the first quarter of the 20th century, with performance content themes advancing to the current decade.

Vaudeville! leaves ample space for odes to the silent film era. Imaginary marionette strings jostle coordinated movements of limbs, mechanically pantomiming humorous antics behind lumbering 1910 World Fair carnival music. Human flesh morbidly transforms into disposable wooden hinged playthings spurred into action, by the character positioned as the conductor of the show. The games of diversion give way to dramas of perversity and grim resignation, which supply depth to contrast the overall levity of the show.

Absurdity and spectacle contribute key aspects to the vaudeville genre. Danceworks dabbles with these expected vaudeville qualities using dance, acrobatics, kinesthetic dialog and ‘bit’ comedy as vehicles to carry the audience’s attention from vignette to vignette. The Vaudeville! production has an intentional shape provided by the genre, giving the dancers multiple dimensions in which to exist, not limited to just that of dancer. With theatrics used as much as dance, Vaudeville! almost allows you to expect verbal dialog. Quite aptly however, Vaudeville! does not betray its silent era inspiration or talent of its performers.

The Danceworks space is intimate, making you an aristocrat being entertained for the evening when you are there. Vaudeville! runs from February 18 – 20 and 24 – 27, 2011.


Retrospective: Gallery Night, Winter 2011

Always enjoyable Gallery Night yielded a few notables during the winter 2011 edition.  Originally posted to the Sane Artworks Blog January 26, 2011.

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Gallery Night Milwaukee: Green Gallery, Patricia Terry, Berkeley and other splashes

The winter edition of Gallery Night in Milwaukee took place Friday and Saturday this past weekend. I took the A.V. Club’s lead on a couple of art exploits seen on Friday night, but ended up off the trod path and left one destination on my to do list.

The Green Gallery is somewhere I’ve wanted to check out for a while. I heard of this space a couple of years ago, recognizing the name of creative mind Michelle Grabner in a promotional piece for the Green Gallery’s second installation Silverpoint Drawings with Guest Mobile. Keeping with Milwaukee’s good fortune, several classes of privileged but angsty local teenagers  (myself included, more angsty than privileged), among others I’m sure, felt edified by her instruction and her work.

A Person of Color: a mostly orange exhibition is currently on display at the Green Gallery. It features a host of artists, mostly spry, hip, and trained with their works of mixed mediums staking out floor space and wall art hung low to make you exert some effort to take a gander. Aggressively, which I guess reflects the color swatches of orange employed here, several of the current pieces take deliberate stabs at your intelligence in overtly self-indulgent to fast approaching borderline cliché ways (making it quite possible that cliché is the new cool this spring).

At Cuvee Black Art made a seldom witnessed mainstream appearance in Milwaukee, expressed through several collages, paintings, and illustrations authored by Evelyn Patricia Terry, a founder of Milwaukee’s art presence. Best known for her paintings and printmaking, Terry’s Gallery Night work included a series of illustrations carrying wisdom laden captions. Words offered ranged from the philosophical “Opposites attract, but likes stay together” to the practical “I have much work to do”. The didactic intent of the Black Arts legacy resonated the gathering.

Art showed up in musical form at Bayview’s Sugar Maple, as the cooperative Milwaukee Area Composers and Artists (MAC&A) filled the sound stage with a couple Master’s thesis jazz compositions, featuring brass favorites tenor and baritone saxophone, trumpet, and lesser seen instrument the marimba. Instigated by local musician Steve Gallam, the set featured work by composition peers Blake Manning, and Mike Neumeyer. Ears out for these guys. Their scoring of original works with pen on parchment tinted paper and impromptu is well done; neither often shared with the public in an informal setting, both suitably hosted by Sugar Maple’s indy jazz inspired confines.

Speaking of jazz, a free benefit (donations accepted) for the legendary Berkeley Fudge will take place at 7:30p this Friday January 28, 2011, at The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Berkeley recently suffered a health setback and the arts community is doing their part to recognize his contributions to the Milwaukee scene. Berkeley resident musician at the Jazz Estate, he was on the bill in the summer 2009 and I missed him unfortunately.

I missed out on Studio 420b exhibitions that featured artists Leslie Peckham, Lindsey Marx, Steven Ruiz, Fred Kames and several others. Judging from previous work, this camp of artist should also be added to your watch list.

Gallery Night in Milwaukee comes around again with spring this time, April 15 and 16th 2011.


Use out of the useless at MAM After Dark, feats by Chakaia Booker

February’s installment of MAM After Dark kept it fun and snooty, truly befitting of the Calatrava. Although the recently opened Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition fills the main gallery space, providing the draw of a registered trademarked name, New York artist Chakaia Booker concluded her MAM co-starring role. The MAM atmosphere, ambient with disc jockeyed music courtesy of Radio Milwaukee, supported the closing of On Site: Chakaia Booker in the Baumgartner Galleria (back hallway leading to the War Memorial).

Booker’s sculptures, forged of tightly wrapped, sharply cut automobile tires and industrial screws, and some other secret bonding agents no doubt, evoked curiosity and anxiety in Quadracci Pavillion patrons. Fourteen unsung weeks on display, the unsettling creations of On Site stood poised on the floor, and perched on the walls presumably ready to strike at any moment.

It was not really an option to stand with your arms folded, gawking. Option one: karate stance with hands prone in an action grip. Option two: impulsively grabbing at the twining appendages. Option two tested, and a nipping from a security guard occurred from 18 feet.

There is not much one can do with old tires. No, I recant. You can contort them beyond recognition, and actually make people want to look at them. Conservation art with found industrial objects is a fine tradition indeed. On Site closed February 13, 2011.