We write them on the backs of envelopes, on cigarette packets and even on the backs of our hands. Why, even 3M got in on the act and invented, with the Post-it note, the perfect repository in which western man could fulfil his greatest modern need: the desire to keep on creating lists. Modern living gives us lists borne out of necessity, lists to note down our favorite things and even lists to remind us of who we are and what we are meant to be doing. Now, beginning May 3 and continuing through June 30, comes “Lists: An International Exhibit” which will be showing at Gallery 308, 250 Third Avenue N, Minneapolis.
Curated by Harriet Bart, Scott Helmes and Eric Lorberer, the exhibition showcases 80 lists from a truly international collection of artists and scholars. Other than US talent, lists on exhibit also come from Germany, Netherlands, England, New Zealand and Japan. The exhibition claims to be “as much anthropology as it is art” and a demonstration of how “creative people organize their thoughts and projects”. Indeed, the anthropological bent of the exhibition is evident in the curatorial statement:
“From the weekly shopping list to the Ten Commandments, our lives are dominated and governed by lists. Whether created to impose a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic world or as a simple memoir, they are an inescapable fact of life.”
— John W. Smith
It should, of course, come as little surprise that all the exhibits are products of advanced industrialized societies, where leisure time is being increasingly squeezed, longer hours more prevalent and traditional modes of parenting have given way to households where more than one parent is a full-time worker. With leisure at a premium, lists can act as both life planner and embryonic journal. For the time-poor modern worker there is something disturbingly redolent of Aldous Huxley and William Burroughs in the list on exhibit from Wayne Koestenbaum. Its apparent banality, which exhorts us to “shower”, “shave”, “take pills” and “eat”, can also be read as a shocking indictment of modern living. With four succinct statements Koestenbaum cuts to the heart of a problem that the Harvard economist Juliet B Schor identified in her 1992 national bestseller “The Overworked American” .
Naturally, this paucity of time is also connected with another dilemma in western societies: that of cultural and creative stasis. The scholars and artists exhibiting here touch on this; the phenomena of shows, books and programs devoted to lists of “favorite” or “best” things, examples of what The Fall’s singer/songwriter Mark E Smith calls “regressive idealism”.
The exhibits also show us how artists and scholars approach their work and let us, the viewer, in on the little “nudges” that they put in place to jog the memory, orient their approach and craft the finished piece of work. Open from 5:30 – 9:00pm or by appointment, “LISTS” is a fascinating look at a modern phenomenon that afflicts us all and, if your own list is not too exhaustive during the next few weeks, it is well worth a serious look.