The M Blog

The M Blog is an online space for us and for you — artists, museum staff and curators, guest writers, and community contributors — to discuss issues and ideas related to the many experiences of being American today.

Northern Spark – St. Paul Style

By Susannah Schouweiler

I love Northern Spark, but I’m a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things on offer. So, this year, my son and I are hitting the festival together, but we’re sticking to the St. Paul side of things.

I’ve gone a number of times, covering Northern Spark as an arts journalist, but this is my 11-year-old’s first venture through the annual all-night arts festival. My son’s an incurable pack rat — the sort whose pockets are always full of odd bits, a collector of found and broken things, who’d rather dismantle toys for newly-made creations than play with them as intended. So, we’ll need to begin at the M and spend some time talking trash and making art with artist David Hamlow.

Using the handy “My Night” tool on the Northern Spark website, I’ve already highlighted a number of projects and performances, just in the Lowertown neighborhood, we plan to catch after that:

We’ll head out from the M, across the street to TPT, to wander through the real and imagined environs of Ecological Futures: Speculative Biomes of Past, Present and Future, curated by visual artist Alison Hiltner and Lisa Aston Philander (Curator of the College of Biological Sciences Conservatory). These mini-biomes were created by artists Alyssa Baguss, Julie Reneé Benda, Aaron Dysart, Regan Golden, Maxwell Hoaglund, Erica Hoaglund and Teréz Iacovino — “inspired and guided by what was, is, or could be specific environmental conditions.”

A bit further down 4th Street, we’ll hit Studio Z to take in the multisensory experience of Hole in the Skya collaborative installation animated by acoustic and electronic music and video, and made by Zeitgeist with Duluth composer Kathy McTavish.

From there, we’ll head toward CHS Field and Union Depot, where I’ve earmarked an edifying walk through Rage to Order’s Domination Corporation in front of the Saints’ stadium. It’s billed as an interactive timeline, a stage set replica of a city block built to scale, marking the way urban communities are changed by “predatory” gentrification.

After that sobering experience, a trip through Mary Jane Mansfield’s nature simulation will surely be in order. Presented by Forecast Public Art, The Transparent Spirit Elevation Chamber in Union Depot promises almost-real-life experiences of clouds, and birds, and clear blue skies to soothe the eco-anxious.

Before we board the Green Line for festival zones further west, we’ll wander through Union Depot: see some bees, hop on a land raft, and catch a roving flamenco-and-puppets performance. Then, before we call it a night, we’ll climb aboard the train and head toward the Little Mekong Night Market, Roots of Rondoand Motionpoems’ VR experience of climate crisis, Chaos on the Green Line in “Little Africa.”

How about you? Got your water bottle filled and your smartphone all charged up? Do you have your free Metro Transit pass printed and ready to go? How will you spend your night at this year’s Northern Spark?

Susannah Schouweiler is Communications Manager for the M. She has been an arts journalist, critic, and editor in the Minnesota arts scene for more than 10 years. As a writer and critic, she has contributed to a number of local and national publications, including Hyperallergic, MinnPost, City Pages, The Growler, Rain Taxi Review of Books, Public Art Review, and others. Before she came to the M, she served as Editor-in-Chief of Mn Artists, a web-based platform for Minnesota artists based at the Walker Art Center. She lives in St. Paul with her husband and kids and way too many critters.