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Not-so-sweet dreams: Exhibition wakes us up

<em>The Grisly Discovery</em> by Alex Kuno
Alex Kuno, 2007
The Grisly Discovery by Alex Kuno.

We've all had sweat-inducing, heart-racing dreams more times than we can count. In my recurring nightmares, I accidentally take up smoking again. I often give birth to twins with slimy tentacles and serious intestinal issues.

These disquieting manifestations of our worst fears are what the nine local artists in the "Anxiety Dreams" exhibition at Altered Esthetics aim to uncover.

Take, for example, "Chiefs," a collection of painted plates by Andy Sturdevant. (Full disclosure: I call Andy a friend, but I think you'll find his work is among the best in the show.) Headshots of CEOs decorate dainty dinner plates: Xcel Energy's Richard Kelly; CenterPoint Energy's David McClanahan; and my favorite, Al Lord of Sallie Mae, are just a few of the images that hang from vintage wallpaper as collectible trophies of financial panic.


Sturdevant's images are eerily prescient: Given the looming recession and foreclosure crisis, little room is left for ostentatious decorations. The only reward is a wealthy CEO's head on a platter, so to speak. 

Our dreams, ourselves
Artists Ellen Mueller and Tonja Torgerson curated "Anxiety Dreams," a collection based on discussions they had while working at The Soap Factory last summer. In fact, Torgerson's mixed-media pieces are inspired by dreams she had while putting together an exhibit at the Soap. The show required delicately arranging red string, which wove itself into her nightmares.

Torgerson's wooden boxes are whimsical yet foreboding, private and revealing. Encased in one is a medical-book-like painting of a foot. Red string represents blood dripping from a half-toe. The missing tip appears in the corner, next to a bloody razor blade. "They're biographical," Torgerson says. "I had been struggling with illness. And I had these work dreams, too."

Like anxiety dreams themselves, many of the pieces in this exhibit are personally revealing. In fact, this exhibit of young artists' work — from large-scale drawings to videos – is pleasantly compelling. Torgerson and Mueller have an eye for creating a cohesive show of up-and-comers.

<em>Self Portrait with Wet Cat</em> by Noelle L McCleaf
Noelle L McCleaf, 2007
Self Portrait with Wet Cat by Noelle L. McCleaf.

Photographs by Noelle McCleaf are technically ambitious: Doors and floor lines are used to balance chaos and direction. In one, McCleaf stares back at an unknown subject from a mirror as her just-cut long braid snakes around the sink below.

And Alex Kuno's ghoulish fairy-tale images -- made from crayon, pen, chalk, marker and watercolors -- are emblematic of the haunting nightmares of childhood. The subjects have mirroring faces; their eyes are half-open and bleary, as if they're fighting with their own bodies for consciousness.

Perhaps, Kuno says, the "sum of an adult is little more than the anxiety dream of a child." If that's true — that we're just a bundle of closet monsters and missed classes and that even in our sleep we're mysteriously connected — I think my anxiety has just been reduced by half.

Where: Altered Esthetics gallery, 1224 Quincy St. NE, Minneapolis
When: Opening reception, 7 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday, Feb. 1. Exhibition runs through Feb. 26; 1 p.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays
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