Megan Mantia & Leone Reeves of Blanket Undercover on their 2016 project The Mini Vinnie Bini
Link to video
Transporting the international art stage from Venice to KC
Megan: Hi! We are the duo Blanket, sometimes known as Blanket Undercover.
We have had the pleasure of doing a Rocket Grant project, known as the Mini Vinnie Bini. It’s a miniature dramatization of the fifty-sixth Annual Venice Biennale.
And so what that means is that we traveled to Venice Italy, we documented the international world stage exhibition of contemporary art… and then we packaged it up in our cameras… [with] documentation and… materials we collected and brought it back home,… then recreated it and interpreted it – in some cases in our own way… and in some ways very true to what we saw there – so that people could learn here in Kansas City.
A field trip from the White Cube
Leone: We chose the sites by sitting down and making a very large list of all of the places that we loved and all of the places that we had always wanted to activate as spaces in the city. And then we eliminated everything that we thought existed in a place where most art already happens – like we took almost everything that was a space in the Crossroads off of our list – and then tried to focus on places that were not normally used as art venues. And that’s how we started.
Megan: We have a strong belief that’s echoed in our artist statement… about taking a field trip from the White Cube… and so we are actually always trying to do that anyway – but that’s also a mission of the Rocket Grant project. And so it was very appealing to us…
Leone: And there’s also something about putting pieces of artwork in a less designated area that allows you to maybe accidentally come across people who might like something or be inspired by something…
Megan: We created a new thing that is… not normally at the Biennale. But just watch, it might be some day soon.
Leone: It totally will be, some day!
Megan: And then you’ll know where you saw it first! We created something called ‘roaming pavilions’… certain members of the community that are already movers and shakers and that people already know… each have a piece on them somewhere, and there are five of them roaming around town… And so some of them are wearing something, some people will have things on their iPhones… And you have to find them and ask ‘Where’s the piece?’ – and sometimes there’s an extension, and another place you can go visit.
We negotiated like thirty venues. We’ve had five assistants and an intern, and… a lot of press members we’ve been talking to trying to explain what this is… and so we’ve had just conversation after conversation. And then also programming… every single week for three months… and a…whole different crowd of people come to those events, and… we’re providing performances and texts and tours and video showcases for all of those people.
Leone: One huge thing about bringing the Venice Biennale to Kansas City for us was that there is this world conversation about the state of the world, which we are all questioning right now, that the entire world of artists is making stuff to be the problem, and the question, and the discussion, and the solution. And we are going to share it with our community here in Kansas City and hope that they see what the conversation is about… and then be able to add to it.
Oscar Murillo at Operation Breakthrough
Megan: We worked with Operation Breakthrough to do a great piece that is… Oscar Murillo related… we have these desks, physical desks, the students are able to draw on – they are able to draw on the chairs, on the top and anywhere they want… it’s part of a bigger project called the Frequencies project. And so what he did was… add canvas to the top of desks and allow students to work on them – all over the world… the only place in America that it’s been done is on the coast – New York and L.A. – … nowhere in the Midwest. So in the end we’re going to send all of our documentation in and try to merge that with the project – though we are somewhat unauthorized.
Leone: I think that the kids who were exposed to this project were already looking for art projects that involved artists that they could relate to… So when we discussed doing this with them we specifically chose Oscar Murillo because he is not just a white man from America, he… has a more interesting past with… immigration in his history, and more than one nationality. And he is doing something that is…something you’re told you’re not supposed to do.
So giving them permission to do this and then stating it as a part of an art project, I think, was a really great way to be slightly rebellious while fitting… the way you should act in a society…
Art teaching the power of collaboration
Megan: We had a really big discussion on the first day… about if somebody were to draw over your drawing that might be OK, that sometimes a form of destruction can be a form of creation, and that when you work together something that you didn’t know was going to happen can be the most beautiful thing ever… to give up control can be a very inspiring thing.
Leone: Working in collaboration is what we all do all the time in all of our daily activities, and so to transfer the idea of having someone to bounce an idea off… into the art making process seems like an ‘of course’ sort of thought, but it is something that we don’t always talk or think about.
When you do something that allows people to have fun and feel like they’ve been involved in something, that idea can transfer into other things that they do in their daily lives… People are always telling us that they were inspired by something that we did or involved them in… So I think it’s just slightly contagious – just because it’s fun – while also giving you a different perspective on ways to be.
Kansas City as a place for artists to take risks
Megan: You know, Kansas City is a really generous place for that – there’s a lot of goodwill… You know, it’s cheap to live here. People are a little bit less… mean and scrappy about stuff… I think people are a lot more neighborly about coming together… sharing materials… I find it really hard to imagine sometimes working without the kind of relationships that we have in this city…
Leone: I always feel… that we… are allowed to do whatever we want. Which means have any idea that we want, and follow and pursue it and question it, and break it… And we decided we were going to do nothing else, and not try – because we were trying for a while – to do what we thought would help us get… attention… it just wasn’t fun, and we didn’t care about it, and we didn’t like what we were making – and so we decided that we would just do whatever we wanted to do
Megan: We are ready to take it on, head on, and maybe those happy accidents – or things that you don’t know are going to happen – are the best parts. And so we always… live for the adventure… – even when it’s uncertain [that] can be an energizing force of its own.
How Operation Breakthrough became a pavilion in the Mini Vinnie Bini
Jennifer: Operation Breakthrough provides early childhood education, and before and after school programming for children from very low income Kansas City families. We also provide social services and a lot of other things to help those children be successful.
I… got an email from Leone and Megan who knew me already. And they came in, and met with our school age coordinator to tell him what their plans were and kind of get his blessing. And from there they were introduced to one of our classrooms…
Our children need to be their own best advocates
Well, first of all, our children being in the urban core, coming from families whose average annual income is less than thirteen thousand dollars, [with] no reliable transportation a lot of the time, their world is very, very small. The opportunity just to meet two professional artists who live in Kansas City was an expansion of their experiences right there. And then the fact that Megan and Leone introduced them to an international artist, introduced them to a possibility to make their own art – and at a time where there weren’t a lot of rules about how to do it – it… opened them up in a lot of different ways.
It’s very important for our children in particular to have ways to express themselves. And they need to be their own best advocates – things are not handed to our kids, they’ve got to go out and get it. So to have that freedom to say this is me and this is what I want to say today, it’s really meaningful for them.
Artists as activists who draw people in
One of the neatest aspects of it is that one of the desks the children decorated is on display outside our building. So it’s sitting there chained to a post, and lots of people have talked about why is the desk there, what is it, why did you let the kids draw on it? And furthermore I’ve seen a lot of people waiting for the bus sitting in the desk. So they’re participating with the art project whether they realize that or not.
…artists are activists – but I think they’re activists in a way that’s more palatable for most people. They’re not usually holding a sign, or protesting, or writing angry letters to the editor. They make their art, they put it out there, they let you bring your own interpretation to it, and so you’re participating more than being preached to. And I think that’s a lot more accessible for most of us – maybe we get the message a little bit better.