The new and unnamed solo exhibition by artist Eric Rieger, known as HOTTEA, is his most personal yet. Thousands of strands of white cotton string – not his more usual colorful yarn – fall from near the ceiling into shallow pools of water and India ink. Over time, the ink will rise up through the string a foot or so and the liquid will evaporate. By the time the show ends on April 14, the bottoms of the strings should be black. At least, that’s the plan. This is a technique he hasn’t tried until now.
Many of Rieger’s outdoor installations are moved and shaped by wind and weather. This one will be changed by time and permeation.
A Minneapolis native, Rieger is a street artist at heart. He started with graffiti, got arrested twice, and hated bringing shame to his family. So he switched from spray paint to yarn – non-destructive street art. An MCAD grad in graphic design, he wound yarn through chain-link fences around the Twin Cities, spelling out HOTTEA and other messages. Discovered by bloggers, he has gone on to create large-scale installations for Mia and the Mall of America, Google, New York Fashion Week, and galleries and festivals around the world. He’s won an Emmy for a video he did with PBS and TPT.
Rieger’s installation at Burnet Fine Art & Advisory, which opened last Friday, is also his most vulnerable. At its center are four life-size plaster figures seated casually on a pedestal. All represent people who have died. Two were his friends; one was his aunt; one was a friend of a friend. Handwritten on their shirts are personal messages of affection, memory and gratitude. Written on a wall near the entrance is Rieger’s statement about the show, in plain English. In writing and in conversation, he’s 100 percent jargon-free. We met him at the opening and spoke with him by phone the day after seeing the show.
MinnPost: Most of your art is colorful and joyful. You’ve said you want to create happy memories for people, and feelings of awe. This new piece is very different.
Eric Rieger: It’s different visually, but I feel like the same energy is there. What I want you to think about are the positive memories we have with people who have passed away. In all of my work, I’m trying to create subconscious memories. With the colorful work, I’m trying to create new memories. This work is about bringing back old memories.
MP: People who were looking at the figures and reading the shirts seemed very moved.
ER: I’m hoping they were relating to their own experiences with loved ones who have passed away. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish – just helping people remember. I think it’s sad when we start to forget. I think we need to remember anyone and everyone, no matter who they were, or if we knew them or didn’t. Every person’s life is worth remembering.
MP: Why did you choose these four people?
ER: I’ve done work about other loved ones who passed away. I did a piece called “Socorro,” for my grandmother. For this show, I wanted to do pieces about friends and family I haven’t mentioned before. I picked these four because they each passed away differently. [My aunt] Lupe died from cancer. My friend Jason died from a hunting accident. Louis died from HIV and throat cancer, and my friend’s friend, Jen, passed away from a heart attack. I wanted to call attention to different ways of losing someone, and be as diverse as possible. If people couldn’t relate to Lupe, maybe they could relate to Louis, or Jason or Jen.
MP: There’s always a story behind your art, but here the stories are part of the art, written out for everyone to read.
ER: I’ve been writing my whole life. Ever since I was a little kid, I’d write how I was feeling or whatever I was going through. It wasn’t until college, when I wrote a creative story for a class, that I realized this might actually be a thing. Every time I write, I feel like people are able to connect with it on some level. For this, I wanted to put myself out there as much as I could. This is definitely the most writing I’ve done for any show, and it inspired me to maybe do more, because I did hear some of the reactions to the figures. That’s the highest praise I could get, to evoke an emotional response.
MP: One of the figures is signed “Sarah” and one is signed “Bob.” Why is that?
ER: My friend Bob wrote the description for Jen. My mom, Sarah, wrote the description for Lupe, her sister. Jen was Bob’s friend. I didn’t know her at all. Bob is very reserved, and he doesn’t talk about his feelings. He took it hard when she died, and I don’t feel he ever mourned in a way that was healing. So I asked him to write about Jen. He hasn’t seen the show yet, but I’m going to do a private showing with him sometime next week. Hopefully this will help him.
I was very close to Jason and Louis. But I didn’t want this just to be a healing process for me. I wanted to give Bob an opportunity for that as well, and my mother.
MP: Are you still making yarn art in the Twin Cities?
ER: Yeah. I usually do a few pieces during the winter, but it’s been a little cold here. Now that the weather is warming up, I have a big project planned, and probably numerous fences around town.
MP: What is the big project?
ER: I’m going to do a performance piece based off the number 35. It’s one of my favorite numbers. I enjoy the number 3 and the number 5. I enjoy odd numbers in general. There will be 35 people in the performance, and they’ll each be wearing a suit that’s a single color, and the performance piece will create a living gradient going over a pedestrian bridge and doing some sort of choreographed dance or movements. It should be good.
“HOTTEA: Solo Exhibition” continues at the Burnet Fine Art & Advisory in Wayzata through April 14. The gallery has special hours during the show: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Now at the Pillsbury House Theatre: Red Bird Theatre presents Tony Kushner’s “A Bright Room Called Day.” Set in two times and cities – 1930s Berlin and 1980s Manhattan – this play by the author of “Angels in America” dates from 1985. But it’s not being presented for nostalgia’s sake. In Berlin, Agnes and her friends watch democracy erode and fascism rise. In Manhattan, Zillah fears the same might happen here during the Reagan era. Directed by Genevieve Bennett, the cast includes Barbra Berlovitz and Paul de Cordova. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20/10). Ends April 13.
Friday and Saturday at the Walker: Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods: An Evening of Solos and Duets. In the first of two weekends at the Walker, the famously unpredictable, hugely influential choreographer reconfigures 30 years of dance with selections from solo works, duets and evening-length performances. Contains nudity and adult content. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25/20). Stuart will be back next weekend for “Celestial Sorrow,” a Walker-commissioned gallery installation with Indonesian visual artist Jompet Kuswidanananto. FMI and tickets for that.
Sunday at the Hook and Ladder: Larry Englund Memorial. Before he died in early February, Larry Englund – lifelong music lover and booster, radio host, DJ, journalist, blogger, gentleman and friend to countless people – wrote his own obituary and planned his own memorial. He promised it would feature “some of the area bands that I have been so fond of.” Larry was a man of his word. 2-6 p.m. FMI. Free.
Monday at Anoka County Library: Club Book presents Linda LeGarde Grover. A member of the Bois Forte Band of the Chippewa Tribe and longtime professor of American Indian studies at UMN Duluth, Grover won raves for her first novel, “The Road Back to Sweetgrass,” which follows the diverging paths of three Ojibwe women. She’s out with the followup, “In the Night of Memory.” 7 p.m. FMI. Free. Can’t come in person? Catch the podcast a few days later.
Monday at Bryant Lake Bowl: The Theater of Public Policy: Attorney General Keith Ellison. Laugh and learn when former U.S. House member and new Minnesota attorney general gets the T2P2 treatment. First, he’ll sit for a thoughtful and knowledgeable interview by company co-founder and Humphrey School alum Tane Danger. Then the T2P2 troupe will respond with comedy improv based on what Ellison just said. It’s always informative and funny, never mean-spirited or dull. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 7. FMI and tickets ($12 advance, $15 door).
Tuesday at the Westminster Town Hall Forum: Jonathan Capehart: “A Bold Look at Today’s Headlines.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Washington Post opinion writer and editorial board member, MSNBC contributor, host of the “Cape Up” podcast and Carleton College graduate will discuss the news of the day. Noon. FMI. Free. Arrive early for music by Thomasina Petrus and Thom West at 11:30.