Editor’s note: Every Friday, MinnPost arts writer Jeff Severns Guntzel designs a custom weekend tour based on a theme of Twin Cities galleries, museums, public art and performance spaces.
Driving down Snelling Avenue past Summit in St. Paul, we’d probably rather not think of Ginny Heuer, who was killed there the morning of Sept. 27. Driving over the new Interstate 35W bridge we’d probably rather not think of the old one — and what happened to the people who fell with it. Driving through northeast Minneapolis we’d probably rather not think of the lives ruined by home loans that were destined to implode.
The words of Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, a master of monuments to tragedy, says this about art: “Film, theater, painting, literature, media art —all of this is a very good conduit for transmitting the things which people would rather not hear or see.”
I couldn’t help this week but be overwhelmed by things I stumbled upon that I took to be exactly this kind of conduit — whether they meant to be or not. Our tour this week includes three of them.
Four bicyclists were killed in motor vehicle collisions in September. The last of them was Virginia “Ginny” Heuer, 51, who was on her morning bike ride along Summit Avenue in St. Paul when she was hit by a sport-utility vehicle. She died seven hours later. In short order, a community of Twin Cities bikers were preparing a “Ghost Bike” to be placed at the site of the accident.
A Ghost Bike is painted all white and locked to a street sign near a crash site where cyclists are killed. The first ghost bikes were created in St. Louis, Mo., in 2003, and have since appeared in at least 63 cities internationally.
Heuer’s memorial is a living, breathing monument. It grows every day — flowers, notes, photographs. When I visited the site a block east of Snelling, St. Paul police investigators were there, still measuring and marking to make sense of the accident.
The things they left behind
There is a memorial planned for the victims of the 35W bridge collapse but if you know where to look, one exists already. It’s the spot where bent and torn pieces of bridges are scattered along the shore of the Mississippi River and it evokes all the terror and grace of the event. You can see the spot from the Washington Avenue bridge. And from that vantage point the enormous scraps of the bridge seem almost delicate. It’s not meant to be a memorial of course, but if the base function of a memorial is to tell a story, call it one — I am.
In John Vogt’s “Paper Tiger” show at the Soo Visual Arts Center there is a small piece — a wood block cut to roughly the shape of a small home. It’s painted black and called “Dream House.” When I encountered it I could hear Barack Obama’s voice from the front of the gallery — a live speech being broadcast quietly through small speakers:
“…while the decline of the stock market is devastating, the consequences of the credit crisis that caused it will be even worse if we do not act and act immediately. Because of the housing crisis, we are now in a very dangerous situation where financial institutions across this country are afraid to lend money. If all that meant was the failure of a few big banks on Wall Street, it would be one thing.
“But that’s not what it means. What it means is that if we do not act, it will be harder for you to get a mortgage for your home or the loans you need to buy a car or send your children to college. What it means is that businesses won’t be able to get the loans they need to open new factories, or hire more workers, or make payroll for the workers they have. Thousands of businesses could close. Millions of jobs could be lost. A long and painful recession could follow.”
Vogt’s “Dream House,” painted the color of mourning, instantly became a memorial not only to the homes lost to a historic housing crisis, but also a sort of placeholder for tragedy foreseen but not foregone.
Krzysztof Wodiczko again: “What are our cities? Are they environments that are trying to say something to us? Are they environments in which we communicate with each other? Or are they perhaps the environments of things that we don’t see, of silences, of the voices which we don’t, or would rather not, hear. The places of all of those back alleys … where the experiences of which we should be speaking, where voices that we should be listening to, are hidden in the shadows of monuments and memorials.”