Its shanty time

Art Shanty projects returns to Medicine Lake

Medicine Lake in Plymouth is only about 15 minutes from Southwest by car, but this time of year it feels even closer.

Maybe it’s seeing all the bedecked and bejeweled vehicles tooling around in the snow. Coming from the part of Minneapolis that for years has hosted Jan Elftmann’s quirky ArtCar Parade, it seems like a little taste of Southwest in the ’burbs.

The temporary village that springs up on Medicine Lake for four weeks in the dead of winter isn’t urban or suburban, it’s a unique kind of frostbitten, art-smitten community you won’t find anywhere else. Bundle up; it’s time for Art Shanty Projects 2010.

Sure, Southwest knows how to enjoy its iced-over lakes. Cross-country skiers glide around Cedar Lake, skaters take to Lake of the Isles and Lake Harriet hosts the Winter Kite Festival.

Still, there’s nothing quite like shanty hopping in the bitter cold. In fact, a bit of a wind chill makes a warm art shanty even more inviting.

It’s only a short walk from the Medicine Lake parking lot to the cluster of ice shacks, but it’s possible to catch a ride out to the shanties — or even take a tour of the entire lake — in an art car. The ArtCar Taxi Shanty is one of a few familiar shanties returning to the ice this year.

There are also the dICEHOUSES, tiny plywood cubes stocked with playing cards and board games, and the ArtPost Shanty, just in case the urge to write Christmas thank-you notes strikes on the ice. But most of the 20 shanties will be new to the ice this year.

The structures weren’t yet open when this column was being reported, but offered a sneak-peek at the event. Most of the artists were tracking the progress of their projects with regular blog postings.

The team behind The Gunderson Residence shanty (aka Listening Post Seven-Gamma) was using its blog to fill in the detailed back-story for their conspiracy theory-themed ice shack. A typical suburban single-family home on the outside, a hidden door inside The Gunderson Residence leads to the secret hideout of Free-thinkers Opposed to Insidious Lies, or FOIL, a mysterious organization keeping tabs on the other art shanties.

The FantaShanty was shaping up to be one of the more interesting places to visit on the ice. The interior was designed as an idyllic woodland scene with grass, a tree and colorful toadstools that will host performances all four weekends of the event.

The I.D.E.A. (Innovation, Design, Energy and Art) Shanty was coming together in early January with help from the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Design Team program for middle and high school-aged youth. Powered by a small wind turbine and constructed of recycled materials, the I.D.E.A. Shanty was described as a place for both artistic creativity and scientific innovation.

There’s no question spending an afternoon on the ice can get a little chilly. Warm clothing — preferably in several layers — is essential for a visit to the Art Shanty Projects.

When long underwear isn’t enough, pop into the Shan-Tea for some warm refreshment. The Shan-Tea’s creators promised warm tea served inside a round, teapot-shaped shanty modeled on a Mongolian yurt, as well as The Great Tea Cup Trade, an ongoing performance piece.

If you want to get really, really warm, slip into the Black Bania. The team behind the bania (also spelled “banya,” a traditional Russian steam bath) planned to erect a 21-foot tepee with a sauna inside.

Whether Native American sweat lodge, Finnish sauna or Russian bania, cultures the world over have put their own spin on the steam bath. The Black Bania group aim to explore the role those hot rooms have in community building for cold-climate cultures around the world.

The Black Bania will host a reading series, salons and a performance piece by New York-based conceptual artist Elaine Tin Nyo. If you plan to join in the sweaty fun, there’s just one catch: bring your own towel.

Go see it

Art Shanty Projects 2010 runs on weekends through Feb. 7 on Medicine Lake in Plymouth, about a 15-minute drive from Southwest. For directions, a full listing of events and links to individual shanty blogs, visit