New music and art by DMLH, plus other good tunes for all tomorrow's leaders.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Community Mythology

*note: This article was originally published in the program for The Five Town Massive Art Festival in January of 2006. Mikael has continued with his work capturing personal narratives on film, and his work can be found at*

During the summer of 1998 Joe Shafer showed me a zine titled "Interrupt" that contained music interviews, photography, and irreverent articles. That would be my first introduction to the creative adventure of Mikael Kennedy, and what would become Interrupt Art Productions.

At the Winter 2001 Five Town Massive Micro Mini Film Festival (which has since become too massive to be micro mini) in Bristol, Vermont, Mikael's photodocumentary "Kids Life Sucks" was the premier gallery attraction. This collection of color photographs, handmade books, and silk-screened patches documented his time traveling around the country, interacting with young people who were uprooted or did not fit into the traditional society mold. I have my favorite print from that exhibit hanging on my wall; part of a series of photographs of a young man in a hooded sweatshirt. In this particular image, the subjects head is just outside the frame, the light is greenish blue and there is an uneven quality to the focus. Although it may seem as though the picture has missed it's focal point, this perfectly illustrates the theme of lost children who live, somewhere outside of the frame built by our culture, a life that is literally out of focus to the eyes of the status quo, and at home in the electric shadows of city streets.

After that festival, at my family's house in Lincoln, sometime well past midnight, Mikael scaled a boulder on my family's property in order to snowskate off the top of it. This ended with him hobbling back toward the house, with what we later found out to be torn tendons, and a smile of absurdity. The morning after this incident, Mikael hiked down the driveway to his car, leaning on a staff for support. This image stays with me when I think of Mikael: ambitious yet humble, with a supportive sense of humor. These traits allow him to capture the overlooked beauty of an everyday experience.

This is the magic of "Still, Not Dead", Mikael's latest gallery series, which has also been collected into a book. This collection reads like a mythology of people I know, people I might like to meet, people I may never encounter and people I have never met, but feel as though I have known all along. This collection tells the story of the present moment, populated by its own great heros. In an era when the grand narratives have been deconstructed into post-modern oblivion, Mikael presents a simple response, a personal narrative positioned to carry its own weight. These faces look out to us in a statement of their existence, with no further qualification needed. That we are given names to the faces allows us to experience them as community, so that we might say hello if we met them in the course of our own lives.

Labor in Love

*note: This article was originally published in the program for the Five Town Massive Art Festival in January 2006.*

If you watch what other people are doing during study hall, you will find a few types: those who actually study, those who whittle at the clock with games that fall beneath the radar of authority, and those who choose to use the time for interests not well fed during the average school day. When I first met Nissa Kauppila, she sat down across from me, and pulled out a sketchbook.

In the years since then I found that she was a great artist, whose talent is only overshadowed by her work ethic. If she sets a goal for herself, be it with painting, filmmaking, or just meeting someone for a cup of coffee, she will do everything in her power to make that happen. This quality is what set her work apart from others in high school; the details spoke of someone who has spent hours making choices of color, line or texture. The early paintings I can recall were images that spoke of a young woman exploring and crafting her response to the world. She worked with stylized imagery that seemed to grow and move beyond the frame as evidence of the fluid process of creation Nissa chose to take part in.

It is her trust and effort in this process that has brought her thus far. Nissa graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2005, and though she went in a visual artist with a strong background in painting, she emerged a filmmaker. While attending college she found work to support herself on the lobster boats that have long been a part of that community's economy. Nissa's film work has been personal, often finding some aspect of her own experience to share with the community. There is an essence of social responsibility in her work, she is aware that moving pictures have an effect on the minds of the viewers. Her films are a celebration of free speech that tell her story with the trust that in sharing our stories, we may better understand the world we co-inhabit.

Nissa's most recent film work, "I Live Here, but I Stay in Vermont", is her documentation of a specific time in her life, and the process that led her there. Like her paintings, the images in this film often move beyond their frame. They tell of the greater reality that brings them to life. This is the story of a young woman who has learned the value of life by making the choice to follow her aspirations despite whatever may block the path, as told through her family's shared experience of growth. It is her decision to live a life she can love, and her effort to follow through on this, that brings such personal work to connect with a public audience.

Dialogue of Truth

*note: This article was originally published in the Program for the Five Town Massive Arts Festival in Bristol Vermont in January 2006. Anais has since put out a number of projects including the critically acclaimed album "The Brightness" on Righteous Babe Records. You can learn and listen at*

I first saw Anais Mitchell perform during a coffee shop night at Deerleap Books in Bristol, Vermont, during the spring of 1999. I remember a song that tied an examination of the cultural influences that make up the young American man with a story about people exploring each other beyond those influences. I have a distinct memory of listening to her voice as it explored what would become a signature style, giving each word the weight to stay with the audience long enough to influence conversations well beyond the night of the performance.

A year later she played at a Boston coffee shop that has since closed down. With her guitar, voice, and a suitcase amplifier, she brought people out of their conversations and into a group audience. This same effect would happen in the subway stations a few blocks away, and at the club in Cambridge where she would become a regular in the scene. In the years that followed she would play for many more audiences, no longer in subways, but on the bill at festivals, local bars and coffee shops, from her time in Austin, Texas, to the Kerrvile Folk Festival where she was awarded the prestigious New Folk Award in 2003, to touring with the "Circus Guy's Rock and Roll Revue" throughout the Middle East.

Anais' most recent album, "Hymns for the Exiled", recorded with Michael Chorney at the Gristmill in Bristol, Vermont, is graceful, buoyant, concentrated and honest. Her voice resides in the space it once explored, as though it is now building upon a solid foundation. Her subject matter is focused, delightfully poetic and straightforward.

I had the opportunity to see her play in 2005 at the Northeast Kingdom Music Festival. She stood on stage, with her guitar, in front of friends and strangers, and played with the confidence of one who holds her strength and challenges her weakness. Her energetic presence is a hundred times the size of her figure, and the rapt attention of her audience at the first ripple of her voice is a tribute to this. through the meandering notes, the smiles, direct eyes and soulful dance with her guitar, Anais Mitchell delivers an honest experience that asks us to find the same truth in ourselves.