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A playful take on community-created art at the Twin Cities TASK party

Photo-sculpture by Oliver Herring
Photo-sculpture by Oliver Herring

"Most people are much more unusual and complicated and eccentric and playful and creative than they have the time to express," says the German-born, Brooklyn-based artist Oliver Herring in an interview for "Art: 21" on PBS.

He goes on: "Play is the thing we put on hold because we get distracted by so many other things," like the day-to-day grind of work, making money, and generally living according to the prescribed norms and expectations of the workaday, grown-up world.

Through his own large-scale photographs, sculptures, videos and performance work, Herring aims to recapture some of that fundamental, child-like eccentricity and openness. He says the medium, even the product of his labor, isn't what's important to him; rather, he's interested in the sparks of intimacy and spontaneous collaboration (often with strangers he enlists as his subjects) that emerge from the process of making work.

Of particular note are Herring's elaborate photo-sculptures - patchwork assemblages of cut-up, photographic portraits overlaid on a carved template of his models. A collection of these pieces is currently on view at Bethel University's Olson Gallery.

Even more intriguing than his artwork, though, is Herring's traveling community art project, TASK. TASK parties are improvised, open-ended community art-making events that Herring has brought to a number of cities around the country. The operating rules of each TASK party are simple: Members of the public who attend are provided with some basic props and art supplies (pencils, paper, cardboard, tape, plastic wrap, plastic bags, aluminum foil, markers, stepladders and the like).

Visitors are then asked to concoct a simple task, write it on a slip of paper, and add it to the TASK pool: "Get a caterpillar painted across your face," or "Have someone trace your body on the floor. Then draw and paint in your clothes and features," or "Get everyone in the room whose name starts with 'M' to get together and sing 'Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.' "

After they've contributed a task, visitors then grab one of their own to complete. The on-hand materials are exchanged and recycled throughout the evening as people give and take tasks to perform. From the video record of previous events, the mood is festive and playful, even silly. (You can see a number of these TASK party videos on YouTube.)

On his blog, Herring describes these events as fluid, impromptu community collaborations - purposeful play among strangers as art-making exercise. He writes: "The continuous conception and interpretation of tasks is both chaotic and purpose driven. It is a complex, ever shifting environment of people who connect with one another through what is around them."

If you want to join in the fun, this week — thanks to MCAD and Bethel University — Oliver Herring is bringing TASK to the Twin Cities. The TASK party is free and open to anyone, 15 years old and up. The more diverse the crowd, the more interesting the night is bound to be.

The Twin Cities TASK Party will be Tuesday evening, April 20, at MCAD's College Center from 7 to 10 p.m. An exhibition of Oliver Herring's work, including a number of his photo-sculptures and videos, is on view at Bethel University's Olson Gallery through May 30. (You can see additional sculptures by Herring in the MCAD Gallery through April 26.)

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