Take ‘Inventory’ of Carolyn Swiszcz’s work at MIA

Arts / Article

You should go see West St. Paul-based artist Carolyn Swiszcz’s exhibition, “Inventory,” which is currently on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as part of their Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP). That’s putting it pretty plainly, but if you’re in the Twin Cities and can make the time, it’s worthwhile to see the video pieces that make up this show surrounded by some of the sculptures and fabrications created for the videos. The setting highlights the dichotomy of the very real and the clearly artificial that these video pieces smash together.

“Frosting Cans.”

Swiszcz is a visual artist who has been quietly making surprising and compelling work for the past two decades. Ostensibly a painter, Swiszcz incorporates masking tape, stamps and printmaking into the creation of her pieces, which somehow add depth and dimension to fairly mundane images. She’s also been making video works for the last several years. These have visual echoes of her paintings, but they also use subtle comic timing to highlight the absurdities of everyday life, and to make unassuming buildings into three-dimensional objects. For example, a basic observation and some simple editing make “Tuesday Afternoon” a comedic commentary on consumerism, nature and destruction. The video piece (which can be viewed at the top of this post) is touching without tipping over into lecture or pretension.

Football Snacks

“Football Snacks.”

Swiszcz has certainly made work that deals with her family and the places she’s called home in the past. Her paintings are full of landmarks from various parts of the Twin Cities, and she’s got a music video called “West St. Paul.” But the five video pieces that make up “Inventory” feel more intimate and personal than any of her past work has. In her artist statement describing this exhibition, Swiszcz says, “For two months in 1997, I worked an inventory job with a crew in Rhode Island. I was 25 years old and living temporarily with my parents. I’m often nostalgic for this period–being adrift was uncomfortable, yet there was excitement in trying to figure things out.” The combination of audio from real interviews with family members, drawings, animations and live action in the videos works well to highlight the fact that these are memories from more than 20 years ago, creating a lot of white space around the words and action that capture the feeling of “being adrift.”

Inventory Calculators

“Inventory Calculators.”

The five video pieces featured in “Inventory” are “Piano Babies,” “Shrine,” “Whale’s Tooth,” “Pizza” and “Super Bowl.” In one piece, Swiszcz will use the audio from an interview with her mother or her aunt, while in another she’ll use her own voice to say her father’s words. One video will be made up entirely of writing on post-it notes laid on top of interview audio, and the next will be puppets in front of a hand-painted backdrop. Each of the videos are different in look and technique, allowing them to stand on their own, but they all come together sharing a tone in both color and emotion. And there are what feel like huge moments of silence, despite each of the videos being fairly short. Each video creates moments where laughing or crying would be a completely appropriate reaction. And it’s clear that Swiszcz doesn’t want to tell her audience how to react to her work.

Surveillance camera

“Surveillance Camera.”

The videos of “Inventory” and the objects on display in the MAEP gallery really capture nostalgia and memory. From far away they look surreal, as you get closer they look almost totally real, and when you get right up next to them, they become a mix of obvious artifice and perfect representation.

“Inventory” will be on display through March 29th in the MAEP Galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Avenue S., Minneapolis; 888-642-2787; artsmia.org. Admission is free.