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Kris Kerzman, Published January 12 2014

New Plains exhibition takes aim at the norm through the work of young artists

Artist Steven Hammer said he hopes his entry in a new Plains Art Museum exhibition, a multimedia installation entitled “Ambient Movie,” is “a bit unnerving.”

For the installation, Hammer has two televisions showing the 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky film “Solaris.” One television was dropped at one point and has a broken screen, which renders the film into distorted colored lines. The other television shows a “datamosh” version of the film, meaning the code comprising the video file has been purposely altered to the point where it “glitches.”

Meanwhile, induction coil pickup microphones read electronic activity from within the televisions and spit out noisy static.

“I hope it’s a weird experience for people,” Hammer adds, “and I hope somebody says, ‘Is this art?’ That’s a valuable question.”

The definition and purpose of art are among many assumptions challenged by “My Generation, Let’s Take It Over,” which opened last week and runs through April 6. Right from its title (taken from the Patti Smith cover of the famous song by The Who) and one of the exhibition’s central images, a large cardboard handgun created by Kelly Cantrell, the tone of the exhibition is aimed squarely at encouraging audiences to rethink familiar notions while getting to understand how a new crop of artists likes to get its hands dirty, said exhibition curator Christian Gion.

“We tend to be rather complacent in our community and tend to gloss over more difficult ideas, whether political or cultural,” Gion said, “and that makes it much more difficult for artists of this nature, because they don’t get the support they deserve.”

“Doing a show like this at a major institution goes a long way to legitimizing the work that these artists are doing,” he added.

Gion said the medium of many of the works chosen for the exhibition subvert our notion of a museum exhibition. “My Generation” primarily features installation and participatory works from its eight artists in favor of the two-dimensional and sculptural work audiences might be accustomed to.

Judith Feist’s “...and this one is for you…” is hung from wire along a portion of a wall. Small swatches of paper from old prints she created hang from the wire and audience members are encouraged to take them and give them to another person.

By giving away her art in this fashion, Feist said, she hopes people will reconsider a basic modern fact: the ease with which we communicate.

“People are starting to get a little too comfortable with how easy it is to communicate with each other,” she said. “I see people in public, with each other, but they’re all playing around with their phones. My piece is quietly saying that we should communicate with people face-to-face rather than through a text message.”

The piece, Feist said, is inspired by the interactions she has with her 10-year-old nephew and the small, artistic gifts they create for each other.

Gion said that Feist’s piece hits on a general theme to all the works in the exhibition: the modes we use to connect to one another and how those connections are influenced by technology. In the process, he also hopes to make the point that art plays a critical role in actively questioning those structures.

“The world is constantly changing and constantly developing and artists are generally at the forefront of that change, not necessarily making the change but commenting on it, asking ‘what does this mean?’ We don’t always take time to appreciate the implications of what effect (technology) is having on us as individuals and as a society.”

Gion said this discussion is often sorely lacking but says that “...Fargo-Moorhead is at a point now where we can handle that dialogue and should be having that dialogue,” adding a challenge to artists, arts organizations, galleries and other art lovers in the area to roll up their sleeves and join in.

“Art,” he said, “should be fearless.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “My Generation, Let’s Take It Over”

WHEN: Through April 6

WHERE: Starion Gallery at the Plains Art Museum

INFO: Plainsart.org

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net/artspulse.