Summer 2021 News

Dear Friends, Colleagues and Family,

I find writing a newsletter to be a strange exercise under normal circumstances, and it feels doubly bizarre these days. I worry that if I comment on recent events that it will seem as if I’m trying to be profound, and if I don’t that I am contributing to the cultural amnesia that is the US’s hallmark. The third option seems to be vague, anodyne-sounding hopes that people are “doing as well as possible during all this”, which feels like trivialization of ongoing crises.

I’ve been fortunate during the last 15 months. I’ve had personal and professional upheavals and anxiety, but my closest circle has been relatively lightly touched by tragedy from COVID-19. I don’t take this for granted, and I know this is not the case for many of you.

As a white person living in Minneapolis, it’s also difficult to find adequate words to address the epidemic of police violence here. In our metro area, there has been at least one extrajudicial killing of a Black man by law enforcement each year since I moved back here from Germany in 2014, each time triggering protests, community meetings and re-evaluations of police procedure. The brutality of George Floyd’s murder last year by Officer Derek Chauvin (warning: graphic imagery) has created a tipping point where the abolition of police—something that never would have seemed feasible in my youth, or even 5 years ago—is now part of mainstream discussion. I try to contribute to moving that discussion forward where and how I can, but perpetually come up short. Here’s one local organization that’s doing the hard work.

So I am left trying to engage with the world as best I can from my position, which is always changing in relationship to context. Often the best way still seems to be through art—to create room for the constant ambiguity and uncertainty that is, for me, endemic to being human. Part of my good luck has been to have the time during this last year to bring a few projects to completion, and I’m writing to share those with you.

a seafoam green background with a black ink drawing of the lower right corner of a mailbox with the words "three seasons" on itFirst is an illustrated essay in booklet form. Entitled “Three Seasons”, it is a subjective look at porches and how they might help or hinder neighborhood relations. This work has its origins in my return to Minneapolis, when the unfriendly façades of the enclosed porches of the vernacular architecture seemed to be reflecting the social challenges of reintegrating into a fairly closed culture. Many thanks to Andy Sturdevant of Birchwood Palace Industries for helping bring this little guy into physical form.

two magazines lie on a orange velvet background ,surrounded by a pair of black, strappy super high-heel platform shoesSecond is another print-based project, Issue 2 of The GRIND from The Feminist Strip Club. The FSC, a collaborative project begun during my residency in 2019 at the Weisman Art Museum, is a group of current and former erotic dancers who examine the present conditions of and utopian visions for stripping.

Like so many others, our activities and plans were turned upside down by the pandemic. Uncertain access to unemployment insurance, health concerns, job insecurity from strip clubs closing and re-opening and closing again were existential crises for members. But by the second half of 2020, members wanted to pick back up and share what they’d been through. Now, a year after it was originally planned, Issue 2 is available for purchase. Naturally the pandemic influenced the content of this issue, including expanding previously drafted articles about traveling for work and writing completely new ones about switching to online sources of income. But we also found some time and space for more visionary content like self-care tips for dancers and imagining future transfeminist technologies. And though we couldn’t have the big photoshoot we’d planned, we still found some ways to include dancer photos, art and images.

orange, pink, brown and off-white dots are arranged in a diamond pattern with curved, colored lines connecting them in various configurationsI’ve also been working on a series of drawings that diagram various relationships between artist, participant, artwork and audience as I experienced them in the project Das Fundbuero. I’m hoping to complete it as a printed multiple (apparently this is my new medium) by the end of 2021.

I do sincerely hope each of you are well, and I’d love to hear from you, too. I still hold out hope that we can learn new, better ways of being from our experiences in the pandemic, so if you’re looking for someone to share your resistance against “going back to normal”, I’m here for that.

Best Wishes,
Monica

Winter 2019 News

Is it too late to start by wishing a Happy New Year? I know we’re almost a month into 2019, but it still feels fresh to me.

I’m starting off the year as an artist in residence through the Weisman Art Museum’s Target Studio for Creative Collaboration. The platform, curated by Boris Oicherman, serves to bring Twin Cities artists and University of Minnesota researchers into meaningful collaboration.

For a pilot project this semester, I’ll be convening a series of workshops with entertainers from Minnesota strip clubs to collaboratively identify how dancers see their work, what their ideal structure of labor is and how this could be implemented. We will then develop an artwork addressing the changing value and structure of labor in society, the stigmatization of erotic dancing and the place of sex work in the feminist utopia. I’ll be documenting the process in blog posts on the WAM website starting in February.

On Wednesday, February 20 from 7-9pm, the project kicks off with a public panel at WAM.
https://wam.umn.edu/calendar/the-feminist-strip-club/
https://www.facebook.com/events/976632802542739/?active_tab=about
Dr. Beth Hartman will present a brief overview of how Minneapolis has regulated erotic dance in the past, and Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies PhD candidate Jayne Swift will talk about current efforts to regulate VIP rooms at strip clubs. Presentations will be brief to leave plenty of time for discussion about how regulation can better serve the safety and labor rights of dancers rather than the moral anxiety of neighborhood groups and city officials.

Despite the preparation and research leading up to this project, I’ve still been able to do some other work: Last summer I completed another neon sign, this time incorporating animation.  I’m also hoping to install collectively we support your autonomy in a new location this year, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re in the MSP area.

Happy 2018!

Happy New Year!

I’m excited to be starting off 2018 as part of the exhibition Land Body Industry, running January 16 through February 10 at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The opening reception is January 20 from 5-9pm. I’ll be showing a new installation drawn from Das Fundbuero’s archive that looks at the roles of work and consumption in people’s lives.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ve made a page for my neon sign “collectively we support your autonomy”. The install photos are also pretty cool.Thank you so much to everyone who helped support this project! I’m really honored by your contributions. Big shout outs to Ne-Art Custom Neon and Marlaine Cox for the fabrication work.

January 23rd will be the last of a series of 5 new open house events I designed for the City of Minneapolis’s 2040 comprehensive plan development process.If you live of work in Minneapolis, come and have a say in future city land use (e.g. zoning and housing) through direct conversation with the people writing the policy.

Maybe it’s the psychopharmaceuticals, but today at least, I am feeling optimistic about 2018. What about you?

The neon sign “collectively we support your autonomy” is supported in part by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, or to make it all legal:  Monica Sheets is a fiscal year 2017 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Fall 2017 News

As promised, here’s a fuller update of what I have been working on this year.

You can see in the photos that there has been a lot of progress on the neon sign. I am planning to install this weekend, if the weather will cooperate. The opening reception will be at the Soap Factory on Saturday, October 14 from 7-10pm. If you are in the Twin Cities, please come out and say “hello”.

This is the final week of the crowdfunding campaign for the sign. I am really humbled by all the support so far. If you haven’t checked out the Kickstarter page, please do, and if you can pledge to the project, even better. As I write this, there’s only $500 left to raise – any pledge helps! And backers will get a preview of the finished sign via photo before it’s unveiled to the public.
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/490401770/collectively-we-support-your-autonomy-neon-sign?ref=8jlzsz

UPDATE 10/12/2017: The Kickstarter was successful! Thank you so much to everyone who contributed. Look for images on the project page by the end of the year.

In January and February I was able to attend formal mediation training to support the participatory artwork I do. I attended Civil Mediation Training and Circle Training at Community Mediation and Restorative Services in New Hope, Minn. Since then, I’ve been observing sessions, and it’s a really intense process to be part of. Next week I’ll be volunteering in Hennepin County Schools, where the emphasis is on restorative justice processes, supporting students as they develop their own ways to resolve conflicts.

I’ve also been involved with more public engagement consulting. In April, I worked with the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development again for another event as part of the 2040 comprehensive plan. For this event I designed several activities to gather input about how housing in Minneapolis can help close the equity gap. Last week, CPED city planners and I presented this work at the American Planning Association statewide conference in Mankato, Minn.

Both the mediation and public engagement work take a lot of energy, but I find them to be good complements to my artmaking. In both mediation and pubic engagement work, the processes offer opportunities to try ideas in a much more immediate feedback loop; I can see very quickly if A or B is the best approach. These projects also have definitive goals and endpoints. This is something that is not part of my artmaking methodology, where I try to keep things more open for participant input on the process itself. It is a more immediate gratification from the work, which is a nice change of pace. And of course they are both about facilitating communication, so they tie into my general interest in civic engagement as well.

That is all for now; it will likely be 2018 before I write again.

Be Part of my “Collectively” by Sponsoring a Project

I’ll be writing again in a few weeks with a full update about what I’ve been working on, but today I have a special request: I need your support for a project.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/490401770/collectively-we-support-your-autonomy-neon-sign

I’ve been commissioned by the Soap Factory gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota to produce a neon sign for their roof.

The message – Collectively we support your Autonomy – comes specifically from lessons I learned during my participatory projects in Germany, but I also see it as representative of my artistic mission in general, as well as the larger relationship between society and the individual.

I could not pick a better location for a message that raises questions about the world we want to live in and how we see each other in it. The location is highly visible to a broad public – the Soap has over 20,000 visitors a year and is located in a densely-populated neighborhood just two blocks from the Mississippi River and other local attractions. Additionally, there is a visual relationship to historical rooftop neon signs in the area.

Be a part of my “collectively” by helping to sponsor the project. I need to raise $3700 to cover additional fabrication costs. I do not normally work over my budget, but in this case, the aesthetic compromises to stay within the budget would have been too large for what is to me a very important project.

This is exciting new territory for me artistically. My work in public space is normally short-term or ephemeral, and this would be my first long-term installation. The sign will be unveiled October 14th and remain in place for at least one year.

Please visit the Kickstarter page I’ve set up for the project and consider a donation of whatever amount is possible for you. I’ve created a number of gifts to thank you for your sponsorship including original art related to the project.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/490401770/collectively-we-support-your-autonomy-neon-sign

Thank you in advance for your support, and I’ll be writing again shortly with more news, including a reminder for the October 14th unveiling celebration for the sign.