WHITTIER — By now we know what to expect from Artists in Storefronts, the public art project in Whittier that, by filling vacant Eat Street storefronts with art, draws eyes to empty buildings and holds out the promise of economic revitalization.
Except this latest installment, the fifth since 2012, isn’t like the others, displays that offered the gallery experience in a form of a department store window diorama. This time, Artists in Storefronts founder Joan Vorderbruggen partnered with local filmmaker and performance artist Jaime Carrera to curate a walk-able mini-festival of local film and video art.
Carrera credited the idea to Vorderbruggen, who in the past has been described in these pages and elsewhere as indefatigable but who really does have an awful lot on her plate these days. She recently took on the role of artist coordinator for Hennepin Theater Trust and is tasked with replicating her Artists in Storefronts magic downtown.
They figured setting up a few TVs, projectors and DVD players would be less demanding than installing sculptures and paintings. And Carrera took on the grueling but not unenjoyable task of watching the 50-plus submissions, a process he said took him more than three days.
Besides, they thought, what better time than the near-darkest days of winter to bring a little light to Eat Street?
Well, the weather still poses something of a challenge. It wasn’t quite polar-vortex cold during a recent evening tour of Artists in Storefronts 5, but it was still cold enough that the wind chilled one viewer through his long johns and wool socks, draining his patience. It’s hard to stand still in front of a television screen when your toes are going numb.
There are screens installed in six locations on or near Eat Street, as Whittier’s stretch of Nicollet Avenue is known. In one vacant, recently remodeled storefront, where banners advertise space for rent, two televisions facing the street from behind a pane glass window were on this night, unfortunately, as dark as the room they sat in — a technical glitch Carrera later said he’d look into.
Across the street, though, a monitor placed in a window of the Icehouse restaurant cast its glow on the sidewalk. Pedestrians hustled past as Emily Kaplan’s animated short “Y’all Strut” played silently. (There’s no attempt to project sound into the street.)
In “Y’all Strut,” strange, long-legged creatures parade across the screen, followed by disembodied heads that float in clusters, like clouds, against a cityscape. The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” movie, animated by Ron Campbell, is clearly an inspiration, but Kaplan’s is an odder, grittier kind of psychedelia.
Jane Meyer strung together 130 etchings for “Hearsay,” a looping, two-and-a-half minute animated short that depicts a young man and woman sitting close together, engaged in what appears to be an intimate conversation. (Watch it on YouTube; Meyer’s sketchy prints are really lovely.) The scene plays several times with subtle changes to the title cards that narrate the film, and it builds momentum with each repetition.
A man passing by at that moment stopped when he recognized Meyer’s work; they’d taken a printmaking class together, he said, watching for the screen a minute before moving on. Artists in Storefronts sets the table for serendipity. It’s one of the project’s great strengths.
Half a block south and another east, the smell of frying tortillas filled the alley next to Little Tijuana, or “Little T’s,” as the 48-year-old Tex-Mex institution is known to generations of patrons who’ve made it a late-night destination. A projector was placed in one of the restaurant’s second-story windows, with the brick and cinderblock wall opposite serving as a screen.
Now, some people will feel uncomfortable standing alone in a narrow alley after dark, unnoticed by the few passersby. Those people will be better off visiting this edition of Artists and Storefronts with a partner.
As it was, the experience of viewing Blake Weld’s “A Catalog of Passage Perception” was an oddly affecting one. Watching a man fold and refold a large sheet of paper, then open it and start all over again, in the process creating a web of creases, was almost meditative. But the cold made it a test of endurance, and the cold eventually won.
No need to bundle up for Film 4M, a weekly series run by Tom Siler in conjunction with Artists in Storefronts. Siler’s tastes tend toward the oddball classics of 20th century American film, and the first two installments included the 1972 disaster film “The Poseidon Adventure” followed the next week by “Skidoo,” an obscure 1968 comedy from director Otto Preminger.
Aficionados, take note: Siler has wrangled a professional-grade popcorn popper, and he’s taking movie suggestions on the Film 4M Facebook page.
Artists in Storefronts 5: Cineteca
WHEN: Through March 28
WHERE: Various locations on and around Eat Street
WHEN: Thursdays at 7 p.m. through March 28
WHERE: The Black Forest Inn, 1 E. 26th St.