Soo Visual Arts Center, a non-profit art gallery in the LynLake area, opened its doors on August 5 to two solo exhibitions by artists Ivonne Yáñez and Aaron S. Coleman. The short-run exhibits close this week. The gallery’s unique double-feature layout invites visitors to experience the work separately but closely, pulling together conversations and comparisons between different works, perspectives and ideas.

Though the exhibitions by Coleman and Yáñez differ visually and thematically, both reference memory through familiar yet abstracted objects. Associate Director Alison Hiltner said that any connections between the two are coincidental due to the curveball the team experienced in preparing the show.

Artist Hallie Bahn was originally scheduled to showcase work in August, but five weeks before the exhibition was scheduled to open, SooVAC was told that Bahn’s exhibit would have to be postponed until next year. Hiltner frantically researched artists to fill the space.

“Someone told me I should check out Ivonne [Yáñez] and I did. I absolutely loved her work, ran it past [SooVAC’s executive director] Carolyn, and went from there. I reached out and asked her, and she put a spectacular show together in five weeks,” said Hiltner.

"Rosa Mexicano" by Ivonne Yáñez explores dreams and memories represented through objects part of Mexican culture. The sculptures’ surreal proportions and appearances add a hint of abstraction to recognizable objects, as often occurs in dreams or memories. The SooVAC website recognizes Yáñez’s work as “altering concepts of impermanence through materiality.”

A close-up of one of Yáñez’s soft sculptures. The shiny purple texture represents dream-like appearances in which something is slightly off, yet the object remains recognizable as a cactus.

"Delicate and Filled With Dynamite" by Aaron S. Coleman brings the past and present into conversation. Using materials from an abandoned playground and discarded basketball court flooring in Indiana, Coleman constructed a vessel to convert what he describes as “wounds from injustice” into a vessel “to transport those inflicted with scars into a better future, or at least a more hopeful one.” With this work, Coleman represents the joy and pain of Black life.

Coleman’s side of the gallery holds a boat he built from found materials. The vessel fills nearly the entire space—visitors carefully shuffled around the work when moving from one side to the other.

This last-minute situation with Coleman and Yáñez’s exhibitions was unique—SooVAC typically selects artists a year in advance through a curatorial panel composed of Minnesota-based arts professionals Betsy Carpenter, Pao Her, Carolyn Payne, Gregory J. Rose, and Megan Vossler. They open an annual call for art to which artists apply, then the curatorial panel selects among the applicants. Coleman and Yáñez were among the 408 applicants for this current exhibition. The panel typically chooses artists “who would compliment each other” and present “a wide variety of stories and mediums that also have some sort of crossover,” said Hiltner.

Looking closely, viewers can recognize elements from the playground and basketball court.

SooVAC takes pride in allowing artists complete creative freedom, and many times artists change their ideas or practices over the course of a year. “If they have a brilliant idea that has nothing to do with the work that they submitted, we let them do that. Sometimes, the shows end up being entirely different than the work submitted,” said Hiltner. “SooVAC believes in their individual visions, and we follow their lead.”

Gallery visitors admired and discussed the pieces at the well-attended opening reception on August 5.

When asked about the Twin Cities art scene, Hiltner described it as “vibrant and layered.” Outside of her work at SooVAC, she is an exhibiting artist herself.

“The Twin Cities has an abundance of talent and stories, so much so that I wish we had more room to show more artists,” Hiltner said. “I have found this community to be so inspiring.”

The first step for the community to get involved with SooVAC is to show up, which is the hardest part, according to Hiltner. The gallery offers opportunities and events to connect with art such as workshops, artist talks, performances, as well as volunteering and internship opportunities.

Coleman and Yáñez's work are on view at the SooVAC through September 3. SooVAC's next exhibits, "ARTIFACT: Reality-testing through painting and the found object," by Neeyah Muhammad, and "EYES THEY SEA" by Syed Hosain open September 23.