March in the Midwest #3 – Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

After Chicago I drove west, to Omaha!

Omaha is in Nebraska, almost right in the middle of the US, and people were generally surprised that I was visiting there. But, being from a place that’s often overlooked as a destination, I was keen to visit somewhere ‘off the beaten path’. (And have something of a Saddle Creek pilgrimage – more on that later).

According to my Wikipedia research Omaha has a similar population to Manchester, but a much lower population density. Everyone is spread out. There is a definite sense of space in the Midwest that I don’t really feel in the UK, even the streets seem to be much wider and more spacious. I was expecting a big car culture, to drive instead of walking, but I hadn’t really realised how utterly frustrating this would be. A twenty minute walk out of downtown was an odd experience, hardly any other people walking and a real sense that the streets were designed for cars not people, and taking the bus seemed like an unusual thing to do. (Buses came every hour and a half in the evening, which, as I’m used to Oxford Road’s Magic Buses seemed like a personal insult.)

Anyway. Aside from my transport frustration, Omaha has a bunch of interesting and cool stuff to do, including the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art which houses Artists in Residence alongside exhibition space.

exterior of bemis art centre

Riitta Ikonen’s work really felt Finnish to me, for some reason, and I really liked the relationship between people and nature in her work. Did remind me quite a bit of the Wicker Man? But my highlight of her work was the Mail Art she’s been sending for the past twelve years. A series of ‘to be posted’ pieces were displayed, constructed from paint palettes, trays of pastels and a football. I’m very drawn to the scale and intimacy of mail art, and Ikonen’s approach to pushing what could be delivered through the postal system added another playful element.

I’ve never directly used food in my work, but I always consider it in the design of events, and I have strong feelings about the place of food in social activity, so Emilie Baltz’s work was right up my street. The interactive, event based nature of her work actually translated well in the gallery space as collateral materials were displayed, including water bottles, stamps and tiny envelopes containing taste bud altering plants. The potential for food to bring people together is huge, especially when considered in this theatrical way.