Tag Archives: Jamie Burmeister

Magic From the Mundane

December 10, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Having one’s work shown internationally is a milestone for any artist. Jamie Burmeister has scattered over 5,000 “Vermin” in over 1,000 separate installations across six continents (sorry, Antarctica).

The tiny, 4-inch ceramic figures, now found in 42 countries and 46 states, are dispersed through a social media experiment he began in 2008. The only requirement for participation is that Burmeister requests that in situ photographs showing the vermin’s new natural habitat be sent to him so that he may document the effort.

The vermin appellation was inspired by an infestation of starlings in the eaves of the pre-fab building adjacent to his home in Gretna that acts as his studio.

“Part of me thought ‘I need to get rid of these birds,’” muses the artist. “Then I had a moment of empathy. I realized that they’re just trying to take care of their families like the rest of us. So I decided to call my little creations vermin.”

The miniature proportions of the otherwise human works evoke mice and other…well, vermin. Whether found in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower or acting as Lilliputian statuary at the Acropolis, the idea is to interrupt the landscape with little surprises, with an emphasis squarely on the word little.

“A woman once found one in Australia before I had even sent any there,” Burmeister says, “I have no idea how it got there.” Another, he explains, went up in flames when an effigy was set ablaze at Burning Man. “A friend in Minneapolis had requested one for the festival and another friend—totally unrelated—happened to find it in the ashes afterward during the cleanup process. He recognized it and took it back to his art venue in Los Angeles. Weird, huh?”

But you don’t need a visa or even a plane ticket to see the artist’s work. There’s plenty of it right here in Omaha, including his Omaha Song sculpture that greets visitors to the Omaha Childrens’ Museum. Part of 2007’s public art “O!” project, the interactive sound sculpture chimes whenever a child sits in the assemblage’s built-in seat. South Omaha Sound Field (2008), situated at the South Omaha Public Library, uses sensors to detect visitors and plays music in homage to the rich tapestry of cultures that have inhabited the city’s historic meatpacking district.

Many other works also employ motion activation and other electronica. A pair of men’s wing tip shoes spring to life in a staccato tap dance when approached. Vermin atop a record player embedded in a retro suitcase—this time aided by a strobe light—boogie to the disco beat of “Do the Hustle” as the vinyl spins. In Funky Junk (2007), the contents of a metal garbage can bump and grind while the container’s lid is struck in a way that mirrors the tinny vibes of a Caribbean steel drum.

His decidedly (and intentionally) crude vermin once took a mere 30 minutes for the artist to craft from clay. Now Burmeister is using a 3D printer for this and other projects.

“Now my vermin can be actual, recognizable people,” he says, “which takes it to a different level because I can cast anyone into my work.”

Burmeister’s gallery and museum pieces have been exhibited in such spaces as the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln and the Des Moines Art Center. And he has been a frequent contributor to shows at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

“A lot of my work speaks to the mundane,” the artist explains, “because that’s the world I live in, the world that most of us live in, I think. There’s nothing mundane about, say, climbing Long’s Peak in Colorado. When I got to the top it was certainly exhilarating, but I couldn’t answer the ‘why’ of it all. It doesn’t make any sense to climb a mountain and it doesn’t make any sense to build sculptures…but I still do.”

Visit jamieburmeister.com for more on the artist.

TypecastRecast

September 27, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We all do it. See someone and come to snap judgments about who they are. It might be because they’re dressed a certain way, talk a certain way, or come from a certain neighborhood. Typically, these judgments are negative and divide communities instead of uniting them.

Enter TypecastRecast, a public art project spearheaded by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which addresses bias and bigotry in the community, subtle and otherwise.

Alan Potash, director of the regional office located in Omaha, talks about the project’s genesis in 2012. “Our board went through a strategic planning process with the goal to create a signature event to bring attention to the ADL and bring a dialogue to the community to combat bigotry through a variety of processes.”

Several board members had experience with public art projects in cities like Kansas City and St. Louis, and Potash himself has an art background. For that reason, public art seemed ideally suited to combat stereotypes. “When you’re dealing with bigotry,” notes the director, “art starts those conversations.”

ADL partnered with the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and issued a call for regional artists to submit proposals that would initiate dialogues. Over 50 artists responded, and 12 made it through the jury process. By the time the final selection process was finished in 2013, six artists were chosen, with one chosen at a sold out “People’s Choice” event at the Holland Center for Performing Arts.  The artists included the two-man team Andrew Conzett and Ryan Fisher, Jarrod Beck, Charley Friedman, Jamie Burmeister, Avery Mazor, and Paige Reitz.

Reitz, program coordinator at the Union for Contemporary Arts and a social practice artist, built upon the People’s Choir, a monthly community sing-along event she had helped pioneer in Portland, Ore. For TypecastRecast she envisioned providing an outdoor place for community members to gather and sing. “When the call came out,” Reitz says, “I thought of the People’s Choir and how I could reimagine it in a public space with more presence.”

Her installation “The Risers” features a semi-circle of tiered risers, and sing-alongs include familiar pop songs—such as the Beatles and John Denver—that are in the public consciousness and most people tend to know, many by heart.

The installation is situated along Cass Street between 12th and 13th streets in NoDo
and runs through November.

While the art is temporary, the ADL hopes to make a long-lasting impact on how people interact and treat one another. “Our goal,” says Potash, “is to help individuals understand and conquer their uneasiness. Our goal is for them to go beyond their feelings and change their behavior to be more respectful; and to change their perceptions.”

For more information visit typecastrecast.org.

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