Graphic art and feminist film at the Walker: too much of too much!

A wall of Aesthetic Apparatus posters on display at the Walker Art Center
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
A wall of Aesthetic Apparatus posters on display at the Walker Art Center

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is an exhibition of graphic design at the Walker Art Center just now. But I don’t know how you might have missed it. When has there ever been such an accumulation around its entrance, smoking cigarettes, wearing tight black jeans and ironic branded T-shirts, every single one of them in chunky spectacles? Of course, that could simply be a crowd of indie rock fans, so one must listen in on their conversations to discover whether they are discussing the merits of Bombay Bicycle Club or Akzidenz-Grotesk. If the subject is typefaces, particularly sans serif typefaces, they’re graphic designers. 

And there is a good chance they have something on display in this exhibition, titled “Graphic Design: Now in Production,” as about 20 percent of the whole thing consists of local designers. There is an entire collection of posters by Aesthetic Apparatus, as an example, piled up atop each other as though they’re competing for space at a rock-club kiosk. This seems fair, as posters by Aesthetic Apparatus also represent about 20 percent of all the art I own, and I imagine I’m not alone in this.

It’s a large exhibit, taking up two exhibit spaces, and is curated with the sort of precision designers often bring to their work, a sort of overwhelming deliberateness. There is, for instance, a room devoted specifically to inforgraphics. I can’t help but assume it was put there specifically to sucker me into loving the whole exhibit, as I recently and rather arbitrarily decided that inforgraphics are our generation’s most important communications tool. And there’s no mistaking what sort of room it is the moment you enter it — the walls have been neatly hung with oversized graphics breaking down the world into discrete and surprising factoids. All of them sort of look like this infographic I did about about what I learned at the State Fair, although the graphics at the Walker are better designed and communicate better information. I think of myself as the Joey Ramone of infographics, in that my work is fast, dumb and daffy, and punk rock from the days when punk meant “amateur.”

Metal logo design by Christophe Szpajdel
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
Metal logo design by Christophe Szpajdel

Not that there is anything wrong with amateurism. Some of my favorite work on display in this exhibit is amateur in the most universally understood sense, in that these designs are created for free, with nobody getting paid, which is the sort of thing that makes professional graphic designers cringe in horror and flick their cigarettes away in disgust. There is an entire wall of the work of Christophe Szpajdel, a Belgium-born, UK-inhabiting forest engineer who, as a hobby, designs meticulously drawn logos for death metal bands. He’s done something like 7,000 now, and does them as a simple swap. If you’re a metal band and want his logo, request one, and then send him a CD of the music with his logo on it. I myself have a metal band sort of lurking about in the background called Hammerstasch, and when we get ready to record our first album, I shall have to email Szpajdel.

I think I’ll peek into this exhibit at least once more and report back on what caught my attention. This seems to be the way of things at the Walker nowadays. Not only does it have a superabundance of things to see, but even individual events and exhibits are a bit overwhelming. There is, for example, an entire program of feminist films playing at the Walker, starting yesterday. The program is called “And Yet She Moves” and consists of 11 films. Who has the time to attend all of this, much less write about it? There is, for instance, “Shulie,” which is playing in the lecture room throughout the month, screening hourly. It’s bite-sized, thank goodness, at only 37 minutes, but still — what a bite! Because “Shulie” is, in fact, a 1997 remake of an earlier documentary, also called “Shulie.” The first version, from 1967, looked at a 22-year-old art student named Shulamith Firestone, who later would go on to author “The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution,” which is still a book you can generally get at any feminist bookstore.

So, when you remake a film that’s a documentary from 30 years earlier, what do you do? In the case of Elisabeth Subrin, she decided to reshoot the original shot-for-shot, as closely matching the source material as she could, including filming on Super-8. The resulting film looks very much like a document of a previous era, but for occasional hints of the contemporary that creep in — but now it is another 14 years after the remake, and even those are starting to look dated.

And so there you have it. It’s only about a half-hour long, but it raises such a terrifying collection of questions. Who remakes a documentary? And why so much fidelity to the original documentary, when it’s likely none of us are going to get the chance to see it? What does it mean that the remake not only cannot document an actual subject, but refuses to completely pretend that it is doing so, leaving in clues to its artificial nature? And what does it mean that we’re moving far enough away from the filming of the remake that we may no longer notice those clues?

And that’s just one film! One of 11! And there’s no infographic to help us understand it! It’s too much. I’ve never smoked before, but I’m headed outside to adjust my chunky glasses, pull up my skinny pants, and have a cig.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Elizabeth Fuller on 11/02/2011 - 11:14 am.

    Max – Many people try to make and remake the same things over and over and over…I suppose Weston could be considered a photographic success at that and the Sandy Duncan character in Alan Alda’s Four Seasons somewhat less in that regard. What the “art” is, what the artist chooses, probably is often a mystery or a puzzle, maybe even to him or herself. This whole thing is intriguing, but I will skip the short reel wonder, I think.

  2. Submitted by ann klefstad on 11/02/2011 - 01:19 pm.

    You know, Max, I find that I too am avoiding pretty much all self-reflexive art, for about a decade now. We have to fight the tendency for this stuff to pile up into indigestible artpastry Napoleons that only the 1% (and some students) have the time to actually ingest.

  3. Submitted by Max Sparber on 11/02/2011 - 02:03 pm.

    I guess I’m part of the 1 percent, but I wouldn’t insist anybody else be. If you change your mind, though, the film is only half an hour long and runs for the entire month. To my tastes, it looks pretty cool.

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