Kathy McTavish’s Yearlong Exhibition at the Tweed Offers an Ever-Changing Sensory Experience

By Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune

Kathy McTavish walked into a blank canvas about five months ago — the Sax Gallery at the Tweed Museum of Art. The most recent installation, Sharon Louden’s “Windows,” had been taken down. The reflective aluminum sculptures that had hung bent and curved were gone, the walls were white.

McTavish, a multimedia artist, had 900 square feet — with 22-foot ceilings — to consider for her site-specific installation, not including an upper level with an additional 200 square feet.

“The first ideas I had were too small for this space,” she said during a visit to the gallery that has been since transformed into, seemingly, the next natural step in her career as an artist who works in film, projections and computer coding, and as a composer and cellist. “Chance” is her largest collection of sights and sounds that work together to create an unpredictable choreography that will never be replicated.

The exhibition opened in October and runs for a year at the on-campus gallery at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

But first things first: McTavish went up to the second level with a roller and made a single black streak.

“I had to break that white canvas,” she said.

She found screws in the wall from Louden’s sculptures.

“It was like she had done battle in here,” McTavish said. So she made chalk lines from screw to screw, a nod to her predecessor.

“I wanted to leave her marks here,” she said. “The effort in hanging these things was heroic.”

Composer and media artist Kathy McTavish talks about her site-specific exhibit “Chance” as part of it plays behind her at the Tweed Museum of Art. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com


McTavish kept the black streak and made more, a concentration of arcs like waves or prairie grass that extends as far as her roller could reach — and a few stray strands above it. A row of 39 computer monitors shows code-generated graphics in gold, black, off-white and dark red. Images from seven projectors are like shadows on the walls. There is a surround-sound soundtrack that includes recordings collected by McTavish, notes, chirps, and industrial tones bouncing and echoing.

At first: “It was so chaotic. I felt like I was going crazy. I felt like I was inside the skull of someone who was completely insane,” she said.

The Tweed Museum of Art commissioned the installation as part of a plan to include more digital arts at the on-campus museum, according to director Ken Bloom.

“Part of that is involved with redefining the use of the Sax Gallery as an installation space and modernizing and creating a contemporary venue for digital arts, which, from an academic standpoint, are big in the School of Fine Arts,” he said.

Bloom stops into the gallery everyday, he said. He considers “Chance” a success because it has transformed the Sax Gallery. He can’t get enough of it. There is an aural sense of space in addition to visual, he said, adding, “That’s a complicated thing to do.”

Plus: “You walk in there and it feels pretty trippy,” Bloom said.

In recent years, McTavish — who has a background as an electrician — has been working in film and projections in addition to musical compositions. She’s active in the Minnesota art scene, between shows at the Duluth Art Institute, Sacred Heart Music Center and Joseph Nease Gallery, and the Northern Spark Festival in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Bloom said the museum was looking for a digital artist who could treat the space like a laboratory.

“(McTavish) seemed like a likely candidate,” he said. “The fact that she’s local is convenient. Her professional integrity and her recognition is quite varied. It was a local artist with the qualities of a national artist.”

Kathy McTavish used 39 computer monitors and seven projectors to display the constantly changing visual part of “Chance,” while speakers deliver the exhibit’s abstract sound. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

Super local

Local is an understatement. McTavish lives within walking distance from the Tweed and has been able to easily stop in to meet with students, writers and others who want a one-on-one about her work. But this also means it’s easy to tinker and tweak the pieces.

“I keep coming in and thinking, ‘what is it, exactly? And how can I clarify that?’ ” she said.

While she continues to make modifications, McTavish is satisfied with the feel of the space.

“It feels nice,” she said. “Light will shift and incredible color will come into the room. I can start to feel that something is coalescing. I can keep evolving.”

Images in Kathy McTavish’s exhibit “Chance” are displayed on computer monitors and projected onto painted walls at the Tweed Museum of Art. “Chance” is on view through Oct. 26, 2018. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

If you go

What: Kathy McTavish’s “Chance”
When: Through October 2018
Where: Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota Duluth