Sunday, October 6, 2013

Local Art Seen: AK-5 and the Graffiti Graveyard

Thursday evening at Pizza Luce the Limbo Gallery's Artist Kamikaze V, curated and organized by Eris Vafias, emerged on the scene at Pizza Luce in Downtown Duluth. This is probably the third event i have attended and the first I did not participate in, primarily due to other commitments. My personal opinion is that this was the best event yet, in terms of the artwork created and shared.

For those unaware, Artist Kamikaze is a local art show/competition in the Twin Ports area, with artists vying for the title of Artist Kamikaze Champion and other assorted prizes. It is based loosely on the Rock and Roll Kamikaze (which occurs annually at Pizza Luce-Duluth), insomuch as artists sign up and get placed into teams by random draw, fate, etc. Teams are then given a period of time, several months, to create collaborative work.

My first year I was paired with Lydia Walker or Pineapple Arts, a young woman who was active in helping the homeless. Through Lydia I learned about the homeless camp located in the Graffiti Graveyard beneath the highway that runs along the bayside of Downtown Duluth. This past week I took my first trek to this isolated underground world that proved to be very different than I'd imagined.

I'd expected the graffiti, for I'd seen Lydia's photos, but I had not expected the enormity of this place. Nor was it an easy place to trespass. The local "residents" had thrown skids into the stream to help you get across the water and set one against the concrete wall as a form of ladder to reach the plane where their underworld space stretched. Far off in the distance, perhaps two and maybe three football fields in length away, I saw movement and was told that it's where the tent city is located. After a short while a pair of young men began to approach as we snapped fotos of the artwork there, a.k.a. graffiti.

A rumor had been circulating that the Duluth police were preparing to close the Graffiti Graveyard, which became the occasion of this visit. Annie Dugan, curator of the Duluth Art Institute, thought it might be good to grab photos of the art before it disappeared or became inaccessible.

While we were capturing a panoramic view of the scene the two men who had been approaching finally reached us. It turns out that they were part of a program to dispense clean needles to addicts. The rationale for their service is to help prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis. The problem is extremely serious because people fighting HIV are not able to deal with certain strains of Hepatitis. What exacerbates the problem is that the local government is reluctant to publicize how widespread the problem is because it might negatively impact our thriving tourism trade.

Monday afternoon members of the homeless camp held a press conference as a form of protest against the police action to remove the residents of the Graffiti Graveyard. One member of the community told the Duluth News Tribune that the camp serves to provide a safe haven for many homeless people there. "When you’re alone, you’re much more vulnerable to attack. It can make you a target,” she said. “As part of this little community, we’re all much more safe.”

Articles in the Duluth News Tribune and the Minneapolis Star Tribune presented both sides of the problem. Even though people feel safer in the communal lifestyle under the bridges, there has been violence in the past, and ten years ago two women were found brutally beaten to death back in there.

Needless to say, the Graffiti Graveyard is remarkable for its size and the amount of paint that has been left on the manifold surfaces. It seems truly to be an example of "art for art's sake."

Artist Kamikaze V on Thursday evening gave us some excellent work, and some great musical entertainment in the form of T Dack the first hour and The Tico Three for the second. The artists paired in this year's competition included Kristin Martin, John Heino, Aleasha Hladiek, Lesley Ross, Kat Singer, Patricia Mahnke, George Ellsworth, Ali Peace, Jonah Cannon, Tobin Dack, Sarah Riley, Nichole Cannon, Jeanna Aldridge, Peyton Farrell, Eris Vafias, Wally Mahnke, Rebecca Domagala & Tina Luanna Fox. The pieces were as varied as the artists themselves.

Because I've gotten to know many of the artists here I could identify certain pieces as being the handiwork of certain artisans. The costumed models who served as bookends for the musicians up on stage were clearly Patricia Mahnke's creations.

The piece I voted for (you had to pay to vote) was a re-purposed chandelier with some kind of underwtaer scene beneath it that was played out behind the windows in pale shades of illuminated blue. As it turned out the piece was a collaboration between Nichole Cannon and Kat Singer. "We never officially titled our work," Singer noted, "but, if I recall correctly, we did kick around the idea of calling it 'Submirage' when we were first laying out our general idea. 

I also voted for a pair of paintings in the key of green that flanked a decked out mannequin. This is one election you could probably buy if so inclined. I voted twice.

The show will be on display through the end of October. At Pizza Luce. Dowtown Duluth. The sandwiches and pizzas are very good. Make it a point to grab a lunch there this month.

Graffiti Graveyard photos courtesy Anne Dugan

No comments: