Picks :: The Chamber of Steel

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October 25, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

// A forgotten room in the Northrup King Building becomes the world’s largest interactive poetry installation //

Tucked away on the fourth floor of the Northrup King Building is a room that has never been blessed with a creative tenant — a surprising rarity, considering manager Debbie Woodward has converted nearly every square foot of the place into either artist studios or retail space.

But the forlorn Studio 459 isn’t very welcoming, Woodward explains. It’s narrow and oddly shaped. It’s echoey. There aren’t any windows.

And “it’s completely encased in galvanized steel,” she says. Even the ceiling. Yikes.

Dubbing it “the chamber of steel,” Woodward has no idea as to the room’s original purpose, and up until a month ago she had used it exclusively for storage. But then in September, she says, “I was sitting there looking at those walls, and I just said, ‘This is magnetic poetry.’”

So for Northrup King’s 12th annual Art Attack — a sprawling open-studio bonanza, featuring all of the building’s 200-plus artists, which marks the halfway point between Art-A-Whirls — Woodward wanted an epic installation of magnetic poetry.

Luckily, the inventor lives in town.  

South Minneapolis resident and wordsmith Dave Kapell spent a recent afternoon slapping hundreds of oversized word magnets on the chamber’s cold, sporadically mineral-stained walls. Kapell invented magnetic poetry — well, as much as one can invent the process of cutting up phrases in order to rearrange their words — back in 1993. Since then it’s bloomed into a big business, with over 150 different products ranging from kits inspired by sexual innuendo and marijuana to T-shirt stamping supplies. Its headquarters are in the Banks Building, at 615 1st Ave. NE.

Kapell, a former English major at the University of Minnesota, says he’ll have at least 10,000 words up on the wall. And that may or may not be counting all the lexemes — the “ly”s, “ing”s and “er”s — necessary for sense-making poetry.

“I would not be afraid to claim that this is the world’s largest interactive poetry installation,” he says.

As for the tricky linguistics of choosing vocabulary, Kapell claimed that, “Over time, it was kind of like developing a recipe. I found out that the kit needs to be about half words and half word fragments in order to work correctly. And then there’s another recipe for nouns, verbs and adjectives. My own personal taste is to go noun-heavy, adjective-light because people tend to get florid with the adjectives. I’m more Hemingway-like.”

An ink-stamping station will allow visitors to make their own magnets, Kappel told us. He’ s already made a few of his own words, inspired by the recent news that Randy Moss had rejoined the Vikings: “knucklehead” and “superfreak.”

“And then I’m thinking of this,” he said, pointing out an odd corner with an exposed pipe, “of making that a curtained-off adult section” for naughty poetry.

On opening night, Kapell will be photographing and live blogging peoples’ poetic creations.

Art Attack 2010 at the Northrup King Building
5–10 p.m. Fri., Nov. 5
noon­­–8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6:
noon­­–5 p.m. Sun., Nov. 7