Minden-based artists Chris Hanson and Henrika Sonnenberg invite people to an artful experience of thought with their latest exhibition, Places Count, which opens at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery on Saturday, August 27. Photo by Jerelyn Craden

The Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg experience

By Jerelyn Craden

Can art change you?

Can it open your mind, broaden your perspective, and reignite the childlike wonder that was once alive in you? Well, it happened to me last week at the studio of the internationally acclaimed contemporary artist team, Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg, whose new exhibition, Places Count, opens at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery on Saturday, August 27 in Minden.

 As I pulled up to their shiny roofed hangar-like studio on Booth Street in Minden, Hanson and Sonnenberg, life and work partners for 35 years, greeted me with a smile and a wave. They had generously delivered the Places Count catalogue of their new exhibition to my home days before, but after looking at the photos, I felt compelled to see their work in person. 

Upon entering the 1,600-foot studio, I immediately recognized several of the pieces from the catalogue: beans in a bag, a mattress leaning against a wall, and a mound of tires with a papier mâché object on top. 

I knew there was much for me to learn.

“Beans in a bag?” I asked, staring at a white plastic bag on the floor filled with red kidney beans.

“Pick one up,” they said. “We made all 17,000 of them by hand. It took us three months to make.” 

They were perfect. Incredibly smooth and quite beautiful, made from a synthetic modelling compound. I had never thought of kidney beans as being beautiful before. And I hadn’t thought the ones in the bag could be anything but real. I was ready to move on to the next piece, but paused, realizing that Hanson and Sonnenberg’s art challenges the viewer to slow down and take the time to really see what you’re looking at. To be in the place you are in 100 per cent, and by doing so, make that place count.

Then, my eyes fell on a mattress leaning against the wall as I had seen it in the catalogue. Like my initial reaction to the beans, I thought: a mattress is art? I moved closer. The Beds We Make and Where We Lie – a Hanson and Sonnenberg sculpture, impeccably designed and hand-crafted, “is made of polystyrene and hot glue,” they said.  “There’s that proverb that goes, ‘you’ve made your bed, now lie in it. What we do as a practice is the bed we made and now we have to lie in it. So, you have this completely baffling object that asks the viewer: Where do you lie and where does it lie in relationship to you?”  

Pinocchio’s nose grew when he lied. My mind expanded when I focused on their art. 

Their self-portrait was next and it made me laugh. A long-poled spade stood beside a shorter square head shovel (ink jet on paper). It smacked of Norman Rockwell’s American Gothic painting of a farmer and his wife, except in their place were farm tools. 

Then, I saw the profile of Donald Trump made of bent wire, or so I thought. “You recognized him?” they asked. 

“Yes, immediately,” I said. 

“It was our response to the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Take a closer look.” 

My jaw dropped. The artists had bent a wire coat hanger in the image of Trump – an object associated with darker days when abortion was illegal, and the options to terminate a pregnancy were unsafe, even deadly. 

Next, was a flat version of their piece, Roadkill Bunny. 

“There’s a similarity between roadkill and litter on the road,” they said. “We wanted to make a piece that brought those two things together. Litter and road kill appear competitive in size and sadness.”

Landfills are less filled thanks to Hanson and Sonnenberg. 

Among their beautifully made wood pieces are a pair of reconstructed Barcelona chairs, a sleek, elegant street lamp, and a trio of intricately hand-crafted wood blocks, smooth as silk and mounted like paintings – the latter made from pallets about to be tossed from the old arena, the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena in Minden (before it was rebuilt).

When installation artist, John Notten, referred to the partners as, “They’re the real deal,” he wasn’t kidding.

Places Count opens at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery, Minden on Aug. 27. Reception is from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and runs to October 26. For more information see www.bucketofblood.info.