by NATHANIEL NELSON
What does it mean to be in between spaces in life? Or in between cultures? Winona artist Sharon Mansur’s work often deals with these themes, but in her upcoming film, “… in the space between,” Mansur tackles these questions in the most abstract way yet.
The film will have its first work-in-progress debut on Friday, November 9, at 7 p.m. followed by an encore screening on Saturday at the Outpost in downtown Winona. The 30-minute film features Mansur dancing on location across Winona at locations where the “space between” is most prominent, as she presents the confusion and friction between two imposing forces.
Mansur has been working on a larger solo project titled “The Cedar Tree Project” which focused on her Lebanese heritage, and how she is split between her roots here and in the Middle East. “[The film] really grew out of the Cedar Tree project. It’s about that feeling of being culturally in between, and I was curious of exploring that in-between heritage in a broader way,” she said.
The project is fairly direct about its themes, featuring exclusive Lebanese and Arab-American artists, but Mansure said her film allowed her a new avenue to explore the same themes in a way that anyone could relate, whether it is being between jobs, homes or cultures.
“The Cedar Tree acted as a great springboard into something with a more subtle context,” Mansur explained. “It acts a bridge that has allowed me to offer something recognizable and then be an entry point for something that may be a little more challenging.”
Surprisingly, the abstract work is more typical for Mansur’s workflow, albeit with a few changes. On the whole, Mansur’s art often deals with issues of identity, including “The Cedar Tree” project, its predecessor “Under the Cedar Tree” and a piece titled “Off-White,” which dealt with high tensions around Muslim Americans following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. However, aside from the larger current project, most of her work lends itself to the more avant-garde vein of visual art. Mansur is predominantly a dancer, performing frequently in the area, and much of her performance work is more about subtext than context.
That work led her eventually to working on dance films.
“I’ve made two standalone dance films before, but this is the first time I’ve been the sole editor. It’s interesting to learn from my own visual style,” Mansur explained. “I’ve been layering video in my live performance work for quite some time, but this is a more recent thread.”
Earlier this year, Mansur applied for and received a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant for the film, continuing an exhibition she held in February exploring the “in-betweenness” of objects and a collaboration with local artist Sarah Johnson. She then worked with Minneapolis-based dance artists and videographers Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad of the BodyCartography Project, along with fellow Winona dance filmmaker Sydney Swanson, to film a set of sequences over three days in the Winona area.
The locations were chosen based on their identity as “in between” spaces, such as abandoned buildings, railroad tracks and sidewalks. “It’s all about that big state of transition, and I wanted to explore that environmentally,” she explained.
From there, she contacted local blues musician Mike Munson to compose a score, who has worked with her before, but she wanted to work through a different process. Instead of editing the film and then giving it to Munson to score, she pointed him to the locations and asked him to visit and record music while there, being inspired by the themes, objects and sights used in the film. “Friday will be his first time seeing any of the film, too,” she said.
Through this project, Mansur also said she wanted to focus on community outreach in a much larger way than ever before. Over the past few months, she has been hosting various workshops, talks and sneak previews of the film across town at places like the Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts, Winona State University, Outpost Winona and the East End Recreation Center.
While she has done plenty of outreach in the past, she explained that she wanted to test herself this year in bringing her work to communities who normally wouldn’t have the chance.
“I really like seeing where I can bring contemporary art,” she explained, “and I’m intrigued by bring contemporary art to places where it’s not on the forefront of people’s minds.”
The film will not be completely done by Friday, Mansur said, since her first time editing has proven to be a bit of a challenge. The film will consist of seven or eight sections edited independently and then stitched together into a 30-minute feature, and the screenings this weekend will give local audiences a chance to see a majority of the sections and give feedback directly.
“For me, work-in-progress is a really excited stage to see. There’s a rawness and excitement about work evolving,” Mansure explained. “As an audience member, it’s a good time to participate and help me shape the work. Art is such a great container for us all to offer our own points of view.”
After the screening, Mansur said she will continue to work on the film through the end of the year before shipping off the final work to film festivals around the world after the continued success of her past works. “I feel there is a growing audience for dance films everywhere, and it’s a great time for the field.”
“… in the space between” will premiere on November 9 at 7 p.m. at Outpost Winona, located at
119 East Third Street in Winona, followed by an encore screening on Saturday, November 10, at the same time and place. The screening will be followed by a discussion and reception, and food and drinks will be provided. There is a suggested donation of $5. For more information, contact Outpost Winona at firstname.lastname@example.org.