Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dr. Evermor's Forevertron

Upon entering Dr. Evormor's Forevertron, one is instantly struck with a strong sense of awe for the sheer magnitude and complexity of the work. Never have I seen such barbaric and utilitarian objects turned into something so complex and playful. Some of the pieces are in-fact interactive allowing the viewer to actually play.

There were bird like structures with feathers that could be rung like church bells. Dragons with scales that actually play a scale of musical notes. The experience was overwhelming to say the least. One has to really be there and experience the work to gain all that it has to offer. Even then, one might find hidden things that another would not. There is no path or guide to experiencing these objects. One must find them on their own.

Listening to Dr. Evermor speak about his work and the metaphysical energy involved with it was quite exciting. He described the entire park as one gigantic cohesive piece. An elaborate space-time symphony where energy is transmitted and received through these objects. It was all really quite abstract. His thoughts were deep and complex, yet somehow still very understandable.

I'd really love to spend more time in this place, as these objects do in fact hold great amounts of raw energy. Energy that has been injected by the creator. This energy should be tapped into by anyone and everyone who can.

Gobbler Supperclub

This week's adventure took place in Johnsons Creek, WI. Our class met at the Gobbler Supper Club located just off Interstate 94. Fifty years ago this location was a prime spot for travelers to take a mid=trip pitstop on their drive between Madison and Milwaukee. The supper club was also the place for people to come eat, drink, and socialize. Today the luxurious purple chairs are empty. After the death of the original owner in 1979, the site saw a number of owners and their personal incarnations before finally closing in 2002. The building is currently for sale at around $2,000,000.

Architect Helmut Ajango met with us to answer some of our questions and to discuss some of the concepts and materials put into this elaborate design. He described to us his architectural process of allowing the materials to speak to him. If the steel support beams told him they wanted to bend in a certain way he would listen and construct them accordingly. The exterior is constructed of different rock and wood materials, including quartz, amethyst, and even petrified wood that is now on the endangered list.

The inside had a striking purple theme, with the interior architecture being designed with mostly circular shapes. The bar in the center was circular, and in its prime would rotate, customers and all. The purple shag carpeting that once covered the floors and even some of the walls has since been removed. The building has undergone many renovations since its inception. Although I was never around to see it, the loss of the shag carpet must be the most disappointing.

The current owner is set on turning the once supper club into a modern sports bar. He plans to cover the walls in HD televisions, catering to the popular and excessive need for sports and entertainment while eating and socializing. I guess it really isn't that excessive if you consider what the club used to be like. Rotating bars and amethyst stone siding isn't really my idea of a minimalistic design.

J. Shimon & J. Lindemann Interview

Just down the street from Rudy Rotter's Museum of Sculpture in Manitowac is the studio of renowned photographers, J. Shimon & J. Lindemann. While not exactly outsiders to the world of art, Julie and Johnie bring to each of their photographs a certain intuition worth mentioning.

Our class met in their studio where Julie showed us around and answered some of our questions. Due to time restraints, our class had to run before I could think of any questions worth asking. Upon leaving I asked Julie if I could send her over some questions for an interview. Below is the result.


What was it like starting out in a small town in Wisconsin? I think it would be interesting to live and work in a big city, but personally I'd prefer to set up shop in the middle of nowhere.

We started our projects in Madison and Milwaukee mainly and felt like we had gotten a bit of a start working and showing by the time we bought our studio building in Manitowoc. We had friends and contacts when we came here and always made a point to do outreach. We were intensely focused and wanting to be photographers. The Internet did not exist as it does today in the beginning but we had a fax and FedEx and that helped.

I read that you both moved to New York but returned to Wisconsin after a year. What was this experience like, and why did you return?

We moved from New York to Milwaukee where we worked at the Milwaukee Art Museum and made editorial portraits for Milwaukee Magazine, Art Muscle and the Shepherd. We dug being around what was quirky and familiar and all the great cheap thrift stores and funky people. We ran out of money in New York when Julie's student loans came due and our rent increased from $400 a month to $1600. Johnie didn't care for being in the big city and that made us less determined to stay there.

How did you deal with competition starting out? Is it just a matter of waiting for the leading photographer to keel over and then take their place?

We just did what we did and tried to show our pictures to whoever would look at them. Some people liked how we approached projects and others didn't at all. We found an audience.

What kind of education did you guys receive on art and photography? Was it instrumental in your success as working artists?

Johnie has a degree in sculpture and painting and Julie in journalism. We were in school at a time that teachers didn't teach. It was very hands off, not like today. Same for grad school. In fact this experience informs how we teach. We are very rigorous and demanding of our students! Not laid back like our professors. We learned a lot by talking to older photographers, meeting artists and going to museums, galleries and reading magazines. We still do all of this and feel completely unsuccessful and woefully inadequate. But sometimes we have fun and meet amazing people and that sometimes seems more important than so-called success. Not sure on any of this today!

What kind of commissions do you guys receive? Which ones are consistently paying the bills?

We are full-time professors at Lawrence University in Appleton teaching photography and digital processes. 10-15 years ago we were shooting for the New York Times, Fortune, People and others. We also worked for local industry shooting products for packaging. That was lucrative and enabled us to build up our personal work and upgrade our cameras. We always taught, shot for magazines, did some product work and pursued our own projects and wrote grants to fund them. Juggling it all was exciting and sometimes jarring.

What is it like having your work published and recognized in galleries and museums? How did you get started with this?

It's a long road. We wanted to make photographs all the time so about 25 years ago we started showing our pictures around to gallery owners and curators. Then we just kept doing it.

Why shoot film in such a digital age? How do you feel about digital photographs?

Film has a specific appearance and it works for what we're trying to do. We like the connection to the continuum and the history of the medium. Julie shoots snapshots with a Canon G10 and uploads them to flickr and Johnie makes rock music videos that he posts on YouTube in addition to the platinum-palladium prints that we make and exhibit. Artists should use whatever medium suits a specific project and enables communication with whatever audience they have in mind.

Besides going digital, has the photography market changed since you started? Where do you see it going in the future?

There's much less call for original photographs for commercial purposes. Photos are used and reused rather than commissioned for specific purposes. Working with light sensitive materials or analog processes will become totally an artist's domain. Young artists might consider taking advantage of online communities by doing blogs or sharing their work in some way. The problem is cutting through the clutter. There are so many images out there that some photographers, like Joachim Schimd http://schmid.wordpress.com have given up making images and spend their energy curating images from flickr to make new thematic projects.

Is there any advice you would give to an aspiring photographer who is about to graduate?

This is a hard one because we're in an exciting and maybe scary time of change. We are thinking about it a lot too. Hopefully if you are determined, focused and engaged, something will reveal itself. Judging from our friends who have had some success, we can only say that it takes time and a lot of dedicated work before it starts making sense.

Rudy Rotter's Museum of Sculpture

"Rudy passed away November 4, 2001, at the age of 88. He was born April 23, 1913, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He received degrees from the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and Marquette University (Milwaukee), served in the Army Dental Corps during World War II, and operated a thriving dental practice in Manitowoc until retiring at the age of 74. It wasn't until age 43 that he began making and exhibiting his art. From his earliest experiments with plaster in the mid-1950's to his more recent drawings, made just months before his death, he produced an estimated 17,000 works of art. Many remain housed in his Museum of Sculpture in downtown Manitowoc. The joy expressed when describing his creative process, and the imaginative energy of his artworks have been an inspiration to all who met him."


Rudy Rotter's Museum of Sculpture is no longer open to the general public. The three story warehouse which houses the artwork has been deemed structurally unsound. Rudy's wife was kind enough to allow our class access to these works, but with instruction to proceed with caution.

Upon entering the museum, one would think they had just walked into an old antique shop. Long wooden tables were stretched from wall to wall, each covered with hundreds upon thousands of works, large and small. There was truly an overload of objects set before us, one really had to look closely to see each objects beauty.

The main problem with Rudy's work is that there is simply so much. No museum has room for it all. A selection process which would deem one object valuable, and the other not, would seem kind of ridiculous. Each piece represents a thought process by the artist, both conscious and subconscious. To select individual pieces, one would be judging value based on materials and labor alone. It's kind of like saying apple pie is better than just an apple, solely because of the materials and labor involved. While this may translate to pricing values in the grocery market, what place does it have when speaking about art and its values?

With over 14,000 works of art in the museum to chose from, do we select only the intricate and decadent pieces of work, or do we keep some of the apples for their simplistic perfection?

Kohler Restoration Facility

After leaving the James Teller site, our class met at the Kohler Foundation Restoration facility in Sheboygan, WI. Here there were shelves full of archived work. The workers unpacked some of the artwork to show us how it was stored and labeled. They also described some of the processes and difficulties of restoring artwork that wasn't created with sustainability in mind.

James Tellen Site

"Beginning in 1942 and continuing until his death in 1957, James Tellen (1880–1957) created over 30 historic, religious, and mythic figures within the woods surrounding his family's summer cottage in the Black River area of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Tellen was first inspired to make a sculptural environment after a stay in a local hospital, where he became inspired by its marble statues and intriguing naturalistic grottos."


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Art of the North Woods

The art of Northern Wisconsin resonates vernacular in its purest sense. There are a myriad of local shops that are packed with representations of wildlife and mystical forest creatures. On a recent camping trip to Minocqua, WI I drove through some of these towns and villages and experienced their native tongue.

The first and second images are of the Paul Bunyan Cook Shanty in Minocqua. It was styled after the cook shanties that were common in the early days of logging camps. We ate from metal plates, and drank from metal cups. The servers brought endless plates of breakfast food to our tables. We dined on flapjacks, eggs, and assorted meat until we could dine no more. A lumberjack can't chop down trees on a bowl of cold cereal.

In the restaurants gift shop were cabinets filled with locally crafted items and trinkets. Living in Wisconsin my entire life, I've almost become numb to this kind of stuff. It would seem that every other home I've been in around here has at least one deer head or fish mounted on the wall. Seeing it here in a massive spotlit display case gave the work new context. Somebody makes this stuff, and then sells it to the shops. What began as a simple tributary reproduction of the artists environment, has now become a tourist attraction. These works have become just as necessary to the North woods as the pine trees.

This is a photograph of Rhinelander's local hero and menace to lumberjacks of the North Woods. The infamous Hodag has become the trademark of the entire city. Schools named their athletic teams "The Hodags," and every other shop in town is called Hodag Auto or Hodag Laundry. The creature which began as a prank in the late 1800's was instrumental in situating Rhinelander as the Industrial leader in Northern Wisconsin. Tourists came from far and wide to see the infamous Hodag, and returned home to tell others of the areas natural beauty.

Below is an image of the original object and photograph created by Eugene Shepard, a notorious prankster in the area. Its hairy body is made of wood and ox hide, and the horns from a bull. The claws were made from bent steel rods.

A very interesting history of the creature and the events around it can be found here: http://www.hodagpress.com/about.htm