Long Night’s Journey Into More Night: Northern Spark

We toured the first annual Northern Spark Fest this weekend – an all-night art fest in Minneapolis and St. Paul. OK – we didn’t make it to St. Paul (we hardly ever make it to St. Paul) but we rode the free buses from stop to stop in the Minneapolis loop until 3:30 in the morning. Maybe we would have made it all night if it weren’t for the Walker and their Lullaby Experiment, but more on that later.

We started at Soo Vac’s 10th anniversary carnival, which was a hit because it incorporated games and art. We played Robot Skee Ball and our friend, Katie, tried her hand at donning a helmet with antlers and trying to lift a stuffed wiener dog up and place him in a giant stuffed bun. Also, props to artist Levi Murphy for his incredibly cool table tennis boxy thing.

Then we boarded a free bus to make our way across town to the Nomad Pub for ping pong and projected photos by Wing Young  Huie. Free buses were a really awesome idea. The only thing is you’re then on the circuit and have to sit for five minutes at each stop before moving on, which puts a damper on the party feeling.

Suggestion for next year: We need music on the buses. Karaoke. Acoustic music. It should feel more like you’re on a shuttle bus to your resort in Jamaica or Hawaii rather than a prison transport. OK, it wasn’t that bad. I am dramatic. Also, if there is any way to have a keg on the bus, that would be great.

All in all, we hit most of what there was to see in and around the Stone Arch Bridge: “MURMUR” by Deborah Miller (photos projected onto the Gold Medal Flour silos); “beneath a glowing ceiling of living light” by Diane Willow (this was a tented area that was completely dark inside and up above, suspended in nets, were creature-like blobs that glowed with bio-luminescent. They glowed more if you touched them but there was much debate inside the tent if people were supposed to touch them or not. Keith declared it a FAIL, much to the consternation of an old hippie lady who said, “Now, I’ve heard this is very cool so let’s just look at it and try to figure it out,” then she tried to reach up and touch the creatures and couldn’t reach them); “Domestic Storefront” by Leslie Kelman and Mark O’Brien, the egg that was part of Egg & Sperm Ride, “Classic of the Mountains and Seas” by Liu Xuguang (another projection – projections were HUGE at Northern Spark).

We also saw “Modern Monoliths migrating” by Barbara Claussen, which were red phone booths you could get inside to hear different sounds. The one we got into was like a torture chamber of buzzing. I think Keith summed it up well when he said it was a place you would put someone you didn’t like very much. We tried to see “Illuminated Stream” but couldn’t find it – if you can’t find a stream that’s supposed to be illuminated, well, that might also be a fail. Also, much to everyone’s despair, the galloping horse projection called “Nightmare” that was supposed to go up and down the river being pulled by a barge was not functioning properly.

Note: Northern Spark is enough fun that it really doesn’t matter if the art is a fail or not; it’s cool just to be out in the middle of the night with crowds of other people looking at something.

We went into downtown to the Foshay  Observation Deck at W Minneapolis for “Station Identification.” This was probably one of the best stops. Not only did we get to watch the end of the night’s debauchery at the W’s first floor bar (drunk women sure love to grind up against things – men, women, poles, the air) but we got to go up to the open “deck” and look out over the city. As we walked went around the deck (really kind of a hallway or, um, cell), there were  radios tuned to various stations so that one minute we were looking out and singing along to “All The Single Ladies” by Beyonce and the next we were looking down at cars while listening to “Low Rider” by Foghat.

Back on ground level, we walked through hordes of recently ejected party-goers (2 a.m. bar closing) and saw two guys having a fight over one of them being an unemployed loser who may or may not have lived with his mom. It wasn’t certain whether or not either accusation was true. Guy #1 said, “You’re a loser who doesn’t even have a job,” and Guy #2 said, “I don’t have a job?” as if it was not a black or white area but rather more gray. In my opinion, one is either employed or not employed. I, for example, am not employed. I do not, however, live with my mother. But we never did get to the bottom of the question of the job because they quickly moved on to “You want to see me go?” and  “You want to see how I go?” which is the male ritual engaged in before punching each other.

On our journey to the Walker, we got on unlucky bus #9, which had a flat tire that everyone, including the driver, was chose to ignore. As we chunked merrily along I thought it would have been a great art installation in and of itself. Maybe call it “Midwestern Reticence – Nothing Is Wrong Here.” By this point, everyone was a bit loopy anyway and it seemed like it was all in the game.

The Walker really brought it’s Weirdness A-Game to the festivities. This was undoubtedly the best people watching (my fave was the guy who looked like Mr. Kotter from Welcome Back, Kotter, complete with mustache, swimming trunks as shorts and a tight button-down shirt with a 70s pattern). Also, people were drunk and high. One woman came in “hot” on her bike and inexplicably crashed it. And I heard my favorite bit of overheard conversation: “I’d just take my dick out and start slapping stuff.”

But the best part of the Walker offerings was the “The Lullaby Experiment.” We wandered down a hallway and came upon a short line standing in front of a roped off area. Down the long hallway there were hooks hung with clothing and bags; there was a cubby that held shoes. A man in a bathrobe welcomed us to The Lullaby Experiment in hushed tones – about 35 people were upstairs sleeping in a room and having lullabies sung to them.


“Would you like to go up and observe?” he asked. The way he was softly speaking I thought the sleepers were somewhere right around the corner but it turned out they were five flights up.

“Well, OK…”

We were told to wait in line, only a few people could go up at once. Bathrobe man wandered away and a new robed woman took his place. At one point a very harried looking woman came up to her and said, ” I can’t go out that door?” gesturing to a front door far down the hallway.


The woman looked pissed but she accepted this and left.

When it was finally our turn to go up, we had to take off our shoes unless they were “very quiet” shoes. Flip flops were out of the question. “Would you mind placing your shoes in the cubby?” bathrobe man asked. We went up in the elevator and entered a lounge where two morose young women sat on couches and an anxiety-ridden man stood by a doorway. No one smiled. Next to the couches there was a set-up of tea and water for the sleepers. Another project volunteer came out and asked us to wait – there were too many observers in the space. But soon enough some observers emerged and he deemed it OK for us to enter the space.

We walked into a dark room, dotted with humped forms of sleeping humans. A woman circulated around the room singing a lullaby. We proceeded to some more couches to watch. There were two women observers who had fallen asleep. One of them, a rather large lady, was practically snoring from her place on a padded footstool. A couple who had come in to observe cuddled on one of the couches facing away from the sleepers. Apparently, they were just there for the ambiance and to enjoy the lullaby. We sat for about two minutes, got up and left.

There was something about “The Lullaby Experiment” that sucked the wind out of our sails. Maybe it was just time to go home or maybe we were depressed that “The Lullaby Experiment” got to masquerade as art but we got on the free bus one more time and headed back to where we started from. I was a little sad not to have experienced the 4 a.m. bonfire at Loring Park or the pancake breakfast at Intermedia Arts but there’s always next year.

Save The Date: Northern Spark will take place on June 9-10 in 2012.

Northern Spark Bingo!

Next year, Keith and I plan to make and publish Bingo cards for Northern Spark attendees. Groups can play along and see who can be the first to spot things like the following:

Scott Seekins (Keith won this one – he was at the Soo Vac Carnival)
A tall bike (Keith also saw this first)
A person who brought their dog to the art
A dog in a costume or wearing dog clothing
A white person with dreadlocks (aka a “wolf”)
Face tattoo
Face paint
Inappropriately dressed teen girl
Art you don’t understand
Art only you understand
Missing art – something that’s promised to be there and isn’t


2 thoughts on “Long Night’s Journey Into More Night: Northern Spark

  1. i was so focused on the green room snacks outside the lullaby room that i didn’t even notice the anxious/unsmiling people – it was awesome being barefoot in the walker though!

    can we add “socks with sandals” to the bingo board??

  2. Oh, yes, I forgot “socks with sandals!” Maybe also “1980s pizza-sized eyeglasses.”

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