WHITTIER — On one of many walks Marcus Young will take through Downtown this month, the artist passed a bus stop filled with afternoon commuters.
A dozen or more people blankly stared into the distance as Young passed, many wearing that weary expression office workers get at the end of the day. But when Young stopped near them, slid his backpack off one shoulder and reached inside, their eyes began to focus.
He pulled out a clear plastic squirt bottle filled with grey fluid, crouched and drizzled a thin line down the sidewalk.
When he replaced the bottle and continued walking north, one woman could be seen staring at the fresh mark on the pavement. She slowly turned her head left and then right, noticing — maybe for the first time — it was part of a much longer line running right past her bus stop.
Essentially a two-mile-long line, "From Here to There and Beyond" is Young’s contribution to the Jerome Artists exhibition at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). He was one of five recipients this year of the MCAD/Jerome Foundation Fellowships for Emerging Artists.
The line only spends a moment in MCAD’s main gallery, where the other Jerome artists’ work is displayed. From its starting point near a gallery wall, it skitters across the terrazzo floor, smashes through a window and takes off down the sidewalk.
Once it leaves the protective confines of the gallery, "From Here to There and Beyond" is vulnerable to an important question: Is a line down the sidewalk really art?
Young encountered that question more than once while seeking approval for the project from the city and property owners along the route. In one of those meetings, an unconvinced committee member was "literally pounding his head with his fists," he recalled.
When he first started drawing the line, which meanders north from MCAD, a passing bicyclist confronted him. When Young refused to explain what he was doing, the bicyclist threatened to call police.
"For some reason, something as simple as this [line] ignites a lot of feelings," Young said.
Primarily a conceptual artist, Young’s work is designed to jostle people out of their daily routines, if just for a moment. In a previous project, "Break," Young collaborated with seven Chinese restaurants in Minnesota, replacing typical fortune cookie messages with some of his own, like: "Wait."
"From Here to There and Beyond" can sneak up on you in a similar way.
Since Young created the piece in October, probably hundreds, if not thousands, of people walked past or over or on top of the line without noticing. It is easily ignored, resembling the thin trail left by a bike tire that’s just run through a puddle.
"It’s like a gentle whisper in the back of your mind," Young said.
Along the route, Young "borrows" cracks in the pavement and landscaping features, integrating the line into the streetscape.
The line is sometimes obscured by fallen leaves or broken by torn-up sidewalk. It fades under heavy foot traffic, so Young and several assistants walk the route daily to fill in missing pieces.
For the viewer, the experience of "From Here to There and Beyond" is a nice, 40-minute guided tour through Whittier and Downtown. Young suggested walking with a partner, if just for someone to talk to along the way.
The line passes through a gritty urban neighborhood, under towering office buildings, near halls of government. It passes office workers, homeless people and bored commuters.
"I’m borrowing the landscape," Young explained. "I’m not creating anything for you to look at."
Young doesn’t provide any easy answers as to why he has chosen this particular route, or what he wants us to notice along the way. He acknowledged the piece could frustrate some viewers, but he welcomed that response.
"That’s your own mind exercising," he said.
Ultimately, the question of whether it is art — or good art — is left to each person who experiences "From Here to There and Beyond," and that was Young’s intent.
For some, the answer may come at the end of the line.
After two miles, the line stops, and Young leaves you to ponder another, longer line.
Eventually, though, you have to walk away from the line, back to your car or home or wherever you’re off to. Will the experience of that walk be different, somehow, than when you were following the line?
Now that’s something to think about.
"From Here to There and Beyond" appears in the MCAD/Jerome Artists 2006-07 exhibition at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, which runs through Nov. 25. www.mcad.edu.