Essay: Ken Bloom


The Tweed mission is to bring art and people of our communities together for delight, for discovery, and for learning. Along with maintaining and enhancing the Museum’s art collection and promoting visual art as a vital form of communication, the Museum is an active participant in a vibrant cultural community where collective programming can provide unparalleled experiences for audiences. Art can bridge social divides by stirring the mind to understanding in ways that words may not. The visual expressions of humanistically oriented artists in dialogue with others offer pathways toward vicarious experience and opportunities for direct engagement.

In an essay on what it means to be human, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei writes, “Everything hangs on how we define ourselves and how we treat those with whom we share our surroundings, which are teeming with different ethnicities, religions and cultures.”

May I introduce you to a project very close to my heart as well as to the mission of the Tweed?

The six-year project, 122 Conversations: Person to Person, Art Beyond Borders was inspired by Anne Labovitz’s impulse to work in a social sphere engaging with a participating audience in a cross-cultural dialogue, which would result in a form blurred in its distinctions between author and audience. Labovitz’s vision was to establish connections with the participants and then to render the dialogue by artistic means. Representing numerous conversations in the form of encrypted scripts, embedded within polychromatic layers of paint and resin, Labovitz transformed the experiences of cross-cultural dialogue into visual forms and then invited the many participants to share their own pictorial responses.

According to Darsie Alexander, an essayist in this catalog, “giving material form to a psychological state or emotion is a daunting challenge for any artist.” Yet, this is precisely what was required of Labovitz to accomplish the goals of the project.

By conducting and recording the person-to-person interviews and engaging with participants on a personal level, Labovitz initiated trusting relationships. These conversations became root sources of inspiration for the artworks of the project, which were at first formal paintings. As the project progressed, the form changed into long scrolls (which elicit a sculptural bearing in the gallery). Each Labovitz artwork depicts an interpretative vision of the collective interactions from each city, including archetypal figures, words, and descriptions of the experiences that were related by interviewees. These elements derived from the conversations have been inscribed within the artwork and are embedded, layer upon layer.

From 2015 to 2018, each Sister City hosted an exhibition of the Labovitz artworks. To extend the participatory nature of the project, multiple elements of the exhibition encouraged creative engagement with guests according to participatory opportunities organized by the artist. More than 2500 people added to the project by creating works by writing, mark-making, and drawing on paper sheets prepared for each venue by Labovitz. The imagery of these intimate artworks, ranging from the vernacular to the abstract, all embody the humanist message. The culminating exhibition at the Tweed presents representative elements of the entire project, including Labovitz’s paintings, participatory artworks from each venue, photographs, video, and documentation.

122 Conversations was founded upon acknowledging and demonstrating Duluth’s Sister Cities International’s interrelationships and was passionately produced Labovitz, under the auspices of the Tweed Museum of Art in collaboration with Duluth Sister Cities, International, and the University of Minnesota Duluth, School of Fine Arts.