'8 Chapters': Collaborative artwork between Granite Falls, Dakota Community artists-in-residence showcases a journey and story of place

·4 min read

Oct. 13—GRANITE FALLS — "A great, big, beautiful gut punch."

That's how Granite Falls artist Nicole Zempel described the exhibit, "8 Chapters," by Talon Cavender-Wilson and Dani Prados earlier this fall to Minnesota Public Radio for its Art Hounds segment.

The punch comes from what the two artists reveal through their exploration of the history and relationships between people in the Minnesota River Valley, and also their relationship with the landscape.

The beauty is the art the artists created and the still evolving story their work tells: It's one of pain and suffering, to be sure, but also of healing and hope, Zempel said.

"8 Chapters" is also a story of how two artists from different backgrounds and who work in vastly different mediums can create a work that comes together as if it were destined to be so.

"The key is food," said Cavender-Wilson, only partly in jest, of how the two artists came to harness their creative energies for the work.

Their work — which features eight separate pieces, one for each chapter — was on exhibit from Aug. 9 through Sept. 18 at the K.K. Berge Art Gallery in downtown Granite Falls. It will return to the public eye in an exhibition in New London at dates yet to be determined.

Cavender-Wilson brings to this work his heritage as a member of the Upper Sioux Community who grew up in the Minnesota River Valley working in what is not a traditional Dakota craft. He had just returned from a five-year study of woodworking and blacksmithing in Sweden when Prados approached him with the idea of a collaborative venture.

This happened not quite a year ago. Prados was early into her role as the first artist-in-residence for the city of Granite Falls. She grew up in Washington, D.C., and the East Coast wanting to become a marine biologist.

Her personal compass led her to the arts. She arrived in Granite Falls with two decades of experience in creating live performances, short films and large, visual exhibits along with multi-sensory installations and interactive transmedia around the globe, according to her resume.

Shortly after arriving in Granite Falls, she had made a commitment to the local Arts Council that she would have an exhibit together for an open time slot. She had no idea what it might be when she invited Cavender-Wilson to work together.

"We had a space and a time," said Prados, referring to their starting point.

Cavender-Wilson had hesitated when Prados first asked him if he was willing to work together. Not only was he newly returned home, but his experience in Sweden had taught how much he lacked in the tools of his craft. His forge is located in a yurt and he lacks the power tools he had available at the Sätergläntan School in Sweden.

After he agreed to work on a project, they met for a home-cooked meal to discuss what to do. They talked until 3 a.m. They talked until 4 a.m. at their next get-together over home-cooked food, and that pattern would repeat itself through the summer.

"Talking over food connects people in a way sitting down in a meeting (does not)," Cavender-Wilson explained.

They decided that their work would tell a story of this place — the Minnesota River Valley. They were determined to tell that story in eight chapters. Cavender-Wilson was focused on a minimalist approach in art, and had brought up the story of how the late author Ernest Hemingway had once won a bet for a short story told in six words: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."

Each of the eight chapters begins with an eight-word introduction, and the two artists began creating works in their individual mediums. Due to the extreme heat of the past summer, Cavender-Wilson did much of his work in the night hours, toiling over a 1,000-degree forge with high humidity and triple-digit temperatures outside. He had to wring the sweat from his shirts as much as three times a night.

Prados put in long hours of her own. She collected materials, everything from insects and leaves to bones, and created a sensory work using sound, light and even smell. At one point, materials she had sent to be cast were ruined. What she called extenuating circumstances cost her nearly half of her materials at that point.

Their exhibit is designed to evolve and grow as it tours. Their hope is that those viewing the exhibit in New London can add their chapter to this evolving story, and that the same can happen in other communities where the exhibit is shown. "A wonderful way of linking communities in conversation with each other," Prados said.

The exhibit is both a conversation and a journey. "Every chapter invites viewers on a journey they will find that really begins within themselves," Zempel said.

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