Open to Interpretation

Open to Interpretation: Intimate Landscape

Reception: Thursday, Nov. 15 from 4:30 - 7 p.m.

Show dates: Nov. 16 - Dec. 14 (closed Nov. 22-25)

A good photograph tells a story, but it tells a different story to every viewer. These stories are fleeting and can disappear from a viewer's mind the moment he or she turns a page or walks into the next gallery. Open to Interpretation captures these stories by pairing the work of fine art photographers with the work of writers through a series of international juried book competitions.

The title and framework of Open to Interpretation addresses the human impulse to create art, as well as the human need to define or make sense of the work created. Artistic expression has long been a tool through which we share our individual and collective experiences. Inherent in its very existence is art's ability to communicate, engage and inspire its audience. At its most sublime, a work of visual art can transport us to a time, a place, a feeling or a memory. It may be an entire image or merely an aspect of an image that serves as the connecting thread or conduit through which the work becomes a commentary on our lives: past, present or imagined. Clearly, the power and meaning of art does not lie solely in the mind of its creator.

Open to Interpretation facilitates this collaboration between artists and writers, and later, between the artists, writers and their viewers/readers. Each volume in the series begins with a themed call for photographs. The selected images then become the inspiration for writers' submissions, from which two are chosen to accompany each image. The resulting book of photographs and their literary counterparts deepen not only the investigation of each photograph and written piece, but also the dynamic interplay of the "joined" works. The audience, therefore, becomes an integral part of the ongoing conversation about how art is experienced, perceived and interpreted. Certainly, there is no end to this discussion and the narratives presented here, whether pictorial or written, will forever remain open to interpretation.

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Mahpiyato k'a Maka (Sky and Earth)

Reception: Thursday, Oct. 11 from 4:30 - 7 p.m, followed by a talk by Dakota scholar Jim Rock and quilter Gwen Westerman from 7 - 8 p.m.

Show dates: Oct. 12 - Nov. 9

Guest Curators: Jim Rock (Sisitunwan Dakota) and Dr. Roxanne Gould (Odawa/Ojibwe)

Annette Lee (1 image):

  • "Building Community Around the Star Knowledge" (center)

Dr. Gwen Westerman (2 images):

  • "Mitakuye Owasin - All My Relations" (left)
  • "We Come from the Stars" (right)

At its heart, this exhibit, Mahpiyato k'a Maka (Sky and Earth), is about being a good relative in our immediate and extended universe, here, now and always. We are the Oceti Sakowin Oyate - The Seven Star-Fire Council Nations representing the Big Dipper and/or Orion Stars as the four Dakota Nations, the two Nakota Nations and the Lakota Nation, now spread over 500 miles to the Black Hills but beginning here in Mni Sota Makoce. Wakan Tipi is the sacred cave below the ancient, limestone bluff overlooking the Wakpa Tanka ("Big River"/Misi Zibi in Ojibwe). There are caves below the few remaining burial mounds upon the bluff above Imniża Ska, the "White Rock" of artesian waters. Water once held in glacial aquifers still flows from the cave and is filtered by the recently restored wetland before joining the Wakpa Tanka River.

Wakan Tipi, a sacred site for centuries if not millennia, and the Dakota Garden of Eden, was changed into a toxic waste dump due to the railroad, brewery and others. Only very recently was it partially restored into a sanctuary through community and tribal efforts. This exhibit tells this story and shows the relationships between the Star by the Milky Way above, and this sacred Cave beside the River below. We commemorate our Indigenous, Earth-Sky cosmology at this place representing our sacred Star-Cave, Milky Way-River symbolism, presence and relationships over the millennia.

Mahpiyato k'a Maka is conveyed by five Dakota artists, professors, scientists and storytellers by way of star quilts, paintings, beadwork, the moccasin game and live, visual interaction components which are braided, tied and/or leaned together like the Wakan Tipi tipi poles between the Sky/Star/Milky Way/Road and the Earth/Cave/River/Tree at this place and time.



Reception: Thursday, Sept. 13 from 4:30 - 7 p.m.

Show dates: Sept. 14 - Oct. 5

The photographs of Pao Houa Her from her series The Metal Bird are at first glance beautifully sensuous and infused with pungent color. That surface shimmer, however, masks underlying tensions of cultural and personal awkwardness. They are, for the most part, typical scenes of family life: children playing, dressing up, in moments of solitude, real and plastic food, and the incidental adult. Emotions are restrained, even when a baby cries.

I [Erica Rassmusen] recognize much in these photos. I feel that they could be my relatives, and then a kind of uneasiness unfolds. Those mixed feelings are perhaps universal when it comes to rendering familial realities. Or perhaps they become particularized when cultures bleed into one another, when exoticism and familiarity intertwine.

Both Pao and I try to make photographic sense of our hyphenated American experience. While I come from a more traditional documentary approach, the world Pao evokes is modernist and deadpan. It also describes a traditional female space of domesticity and backyards. In terms of photographic lineage, I detect echoes of Sally Mann. Her book, Family, which the New Republic called one of the great photography books of our time, "is a singularly powerful evocation of childhood from within and without, tender and vertiginous and scary, employing a large photographic vocabulary to render precise ambiguities."

But to be female and Hmong carries its own special weight. As ethnic minorities in Laos, this hill tribe people were subsistence agrarians and a highly patriarchal society that had no formal writing system until the 1950s. They became dislocated refugees when the CIA recruited them to fight against North Vietnamese army intruders into Laos during the Vietnam War. And now, in Saint Paul, Minnesota where Pao grew up, it is home to some of the highest concentration of Hmong in the world. But the idea of home to the displaced is a curious concept.

Pao writes: "My perception and understanding of the American culture were fueled by books like the Sweet Valley High series and American Girl series and television shows such as MacGyver, Saved by the Bell and Full House. This was coupled with Hmong classes out of concern that I would lose the traditions of my culture. Like most second generation Hmong American, I am caught between two worlds: one I was to embrace and the other I need to hold onto."

Guest curator Wing Yound Hule further explains: "As a people, our history and journey are hidden in the woven tapestries of our women. These tapestries are illustrated narratives. I see the act of photography as an artistic practice integral to Hmong culture. Hmong artists and the Hmong community are still developing a language for this contemporary medium. My goal is to be a part of that development through my photographic practice."

Weaving to Survive

Weaving to Survive

Reception Date: Thursday, April 19 from 5 - 8 p.m.

Show Dates: April 20 - July 26, 2012

Weaving Demos: April 23, 1 - 3 p.m. and April 28, 2 - 4 p.m.

This exhibition features traditional Lao weaving by Bounxou Chanthraphone Daoheuang and Laddah Insixiengmay. Regarding the exhibition, guest curator and Executive Director of the Textile Center Margaret Miller has said, "Growing up on a silk farm in Laos, Bounxou learned to spin, dye and weave from her mother and grandmother. At age 16 she began formally study of the weaving techniques and designs of her region. Then in the mid 1970's Bounxou was forced to flee her war-torn homeland. In the middle of the night, disguised as a fisherman, she rowed across the river to a Thai refugee camp. Leaving everything behind, she carried with her only her loom's reed.

At the camp she waited until Laddah her 8-year-old daughter could be smuggled across the river. During the three years they spent in the camp Bounxou managed to sell her gold jewelry to buy lumber for a loom and thread to weave. She was able to sell her work to foreign visitors so she could buy food for her daughter. After arriving in the States, Bounxou continued her love and passion for Lao weaving while working to support herself and her daughter. She has taught many classes to the Lao community determined to carry on the tradition. Now she is teaching her daughter, Laddah the intricacies of the complex techniques and designs." This exhibition simultaneously celebrates the weaving traditions of Laos and the extraordinary commitment that these artists have made to preserve their cultural heritage.

Student Salon 2012

Student Salon 2012

Reception Date: Thursday, March 22 from 5 - 8 p.m.

Show Dates: March 23 - April 13

Student Salon 2012 features multi-media works produced by Metropolitan State students enrolled in undergraduate programs. From two-dimensional works made of handmade paper to black and white photography, this exhibit surveys the diverse form and content explored in class and beyond.



Reception Date: Thursday, Jan. 26 from 5 - 8 p.m.

Show Dates: Jan. 27 - March 2

Program Date: Feb. 9, 7 - 8 p.m.

Voyage features the mixed media sculptural work of Chilean-born artist Alonso Sierralta (Minneapolis). Regarding the exhibition, guest curator William G. Franklin (Saint Paul) has said, "Few sculptors succeed in making their craftsmanship and aesthetic philosophies effective enigmatic personal and universal narratives. Sierralta's constructions are assembled as if organic forms serve to voice deep existential ideas about man's physical and spiritual condition. Sierralta's implementation of varied media and scale in his work can been seen as a poetic struggle from which three-dimensional revelations are born. He is an artist distinctly capable of converting sensations into forms, of achieving transmutation. The selected eleven pieces in this show are some of Sierralta's finest artistic deliberations, a great opportunity for The Gordon Parks Gallery visitors to experience some of his sculptures in conversation with each other." In addition to the exhibition, the artist will deliver a slide lecture in the Ecolab Community Room (adjacent to the gallery) on Tuesday, Feb. 9. In this presentation, Sierralta will discuss the conceptual underpinnings and methodology of his sculptural practice. A short film by Franklin regarding Sierralta's work will be screened as well.

Films about the artist available on YouTube:

Studio and Samothrace and Casa del Carbonero (Charcoal Maker's Hut)