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John Lamb, Published October 27 2010

Blood and art: Artist compares museums to cannibals

In her Plains Art Museum show, “Vore,” Andrea Carlson uses a shocking comparison – museums to cannibalism.

Carlson uses images, though not graphic ones, inspired by the mondo exploitation films of the 1960s as a metaphor for museums’ hunger for cultural artifacts, even through ill-gotten means.

On Thursday, in a discussion about her work, the Minneapolis-based artist will show trailers from some influential exploitation flicks as a reference. The presentation, she says, is “definitely not for children.”

She points to museums’ history of acquiring pieces and collections through war, conquest and colonialism. Once they display the object, the holder dictates its history and cultural significance.

“If you have everyone’s objects, you have to tell the story for the objects, that’s part of domination,” she says. “We take museums as authority when often times they are relying on pretty fictitious information.”

Comparing museums to flesh-eaters doesn’t seem like the most business-savvy move for a young artist.

“I’ve been told, ‘You’re biting the hand that feeds you,’ in a joking way,” laughs the 30-year-old artist. “Museums are self-obsessed enough to want to be critiqued.”

“You don’t have to go very far to know museums, especially major museums, were built so much on colonialism,” says Colleen Sheehy, director and CEO of the Plains, who has taught museum studies classes in the Twin Cities. “I’m aware of the checkered history of museums … there’s some quite nasty things connected with museums.”

Sheehy praises Carlson as an up-and-coming artist who could inspire Fargo-Moorhead residents.

A 2005 MFA graduate of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Carlson has had a number of high-profile shows, including “New Skins” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, in which she and painter Jim Denomie pulled imagery from their Ojibwe heritage without clichés.

“Her work combines an incredible technical, image and conceptual complexity, that I think is really engaging,” she says.

Carlson’s mixed-media works are presented on four pieces of heavy paper placed in a rectangle. The assembly gives it the effect of a movie poster from one of the films that inspired her.

The images are usually balanced throughout the piece, with some kind of predator (an alligator or a tiger) on one side and its prey or prize (a heart or a diamond) almost as a mirror image.

In the centers of the pieces are what could be tag lines for movies, like “The most violent human sacrifices you’ll ever see.” The phrases are scripted in fonts to look like movie posters, like the dripping blood scrawled look of “Gut Munching Gore Hounds.”

The artist sees more than just violence in her inspirations.

“When you work with cannibalism as your metaphor, sexual stuff comes up a lot. Humor comes up a lot. You can’t talk about cannibals without it being slightly funny,” Carlson says.

Individual pieces are displayed butted up next to each other with no frames, giving them the feel of film strip, Carlson says.

“I like film because it’s also the papa storyteller,” she says, using the term to describe museums and how they can create a narrative.

Sheehy didn’t have any concerns about hosting a show comparing cannibal exploitation films to museums.

“It was quite adept of her to think about using that as a metaphor,” Sheehy says. “It’s part of popular culture … I thought it might be a way into the work and get people interested in it.”

Likewise, Carlson stresses that she’s using the films to start a discussion, not honoring them.

“I don’t actually want anyone to have to go rent these films, because then everyone will just be mad at me,” Carlson says with a laugh, adding that she’s not a moralist and isn’t trying to teach a lesson. “I really love exploitation films and I really love museums, but I’m kind of putting them on the same levels.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533