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WordsAndPictures: Book art on display at the Susan Hensel Gallery depicts images and behaviors of city life
"Geography and Memory" by Rosemary Davis

City--A Language We Speak
Book artist and writer, Rosemary Davis, will host a reading by 11 Minnesota writers-10 women and one man-on Friday, April 8, 7-9 p.m. at the Susan Hensel Gallery.

Davis, who has a book in the "Reader's Art" exhibit, was inspired by the question: Where do you come from? For Davis, the answer is everywhere. "There's a saying that we really don't belong to a specific country, we belong to the world. So, home is everywhere," she said. As a lifelong renter, she embraces the idea that it's good to explore and try new places.

The evening's reading will explore places on nearly every world continent, speaking about city life and experiences, in personal, travel-based essays, all nonfiction.

As a springboard for the evening, Joyce Kennedy will read her poem "These are the Cities Marco Polo Left Behind."
Other readers and cities include:
San Francisco, United States-
Rosemary Davis
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala-
E.S. Fletcher
Buenos Aires, Argentina-Larry Englund
Paris, France-Rachel Gabriel
Istanbul, Turkey-Lisa Calame Berg
Cairo, Egypt-Mary Ellen Evans
St. Petersburg, Russia-Christine Stark
Jaipur, India-Wendy Amundson
Seoul, Korea-Eileen Beha
Alice Springs, Australia-Susan Hensel

by Norma Smith Olson

What do book artists think about life in the city? That's what Susan Hensel asked when she sent out an open call to artists for her gallery's 11th book art show. The juried exhibit features more than 
50 pieces from 29 artists around the United States, including seven women from Minnesota.

"An artist book is a multimedia art object," Hensel explained. "It may or may not be bound. It can be as simple as something that refers to the book as an historical object or to the act of reading."

Some of the "books" in the exhibit have a traditional book feel-pages with text and a binding. But, most deviate from the standard form. There's a sculpture made from discarded book covers that resembles city rooftops by New York City artist, Ryan Sarah Murphy. Using an encaustic method to alter architectural-themed books, Minneapolis artist Jodi Reeb-Myers created a village of book buildings. Rosemary Davis' accordion-shaped book is filled with images and prose poetry about the importance of place. Through photography, painting, digital collage, paper and printmaking, artists share their visions of city life including street scenes, thrift shops, dog teeth and bullet holes.

"It's really subversive," Hensel said. As readers, "we all have expectations of what we're going to find when we open up the cover of a book. Artists' books will surprise or shock you in some way. It's an incredibly wonderful way to deliver subversive, political messages."

And that's Hensel's intent. Her mission is art and activism. She views her gallery, opened in 2004, as a place to make change. She hosts about six shows per year. "Artists are often talking about cultural issues several years before it hits the media. I'm interested in giving voice to that." Past political themes have included an art exhibit from an unwilling military mom-a lifelong peace activist whose son wanted to be a soldier; artwork by a man who had a life-changing experience when he walked with women in the three-day breast cancer awareness walk, and Hensel's recent collaboration with her son-his photographs of her fiber art embedded with anti-war messages.

Hensel started making book art about 15 years ago, after 20 years as a ceramics artist. "I needed a hobby, so I got involved in papermaking," she said. After taking a class in papermaking, which introduced her to book binding, she "retired" from clay. Her newest "hobby" or passion is spinning fibers into yarns. "I am totally smitten."

"Radical hospitality" is the term Hensel uses to describe her gallery in the Corcoran neighborhood of Minneapolis. It fits with her belief that everyone is welcome. "Too many people are terrified of art because they think they have to be educated to look at it, that it must mean something in par-ti-cu-lar," she said. "The artist doesn't always know in par-ti-cu-lar what they are working on, they just need to make this thing that is driving them crazy. They want people to respond. It's a two-way street." Hensel said it doesn't even matter what "it" is. She encourages viewers to just sink into "it." "It's about having an experience."


What: Reader's Art 11: Urban/Urbane Book Art Exhibit
When: through April 23, 2011
Where: Susan Hensel Gallery, 3441 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis
Hours: Mondays, 10-5, other days by very generous appointment
Cost: Free
FFI: 612-722-2324 or www.susanhenselgallery.com

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