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Masterminds 2010 

Meet the talented Bay Area artists competing for our $2,500 grants.

Wednesday, Feb 17 2010

Page 3 of 4

One of the main components of making their work more accessible is Smith and Rein's choice of locales. Take their 2009 work, "The Beauty Project," which took place in the most unlikely of locations to see avant-dance performance: the mall. The company occupied an empty storefront in the Westfield Centre on Market Street, and spent long hours entertaining passing shoppers. The work was inspired by fashion photography and took mechanical, mannequin-esque movements as its vocabulary.

Rein admits that they may have surprised mallgoers not expecting to see humans in the window. "I think one kid may have cried," she says. Bringing dance to the people may involve certain pitfalls, but it also has rewards. "It's really important to us that we bring in audiences who might not be otherwise exposed to dance," Smith says. As their back-and-forth banter shows, these two, at the very least, have great timing.

Dennis Ruel
Many independent filmmakers restrict themselves to traditionally low-budget fare — moody failed relationship pieces, absurdist ironic plotlines, or lots of talking about esoteric bands. But Dennis Ruel, 30, makes and stars in films that showcase action.

Unsurprisingly, Ruel grew up watching martial arts movies, although it wasn't until he was 14 that he actually began taking martial arts classes. "It came very naturally, to want to do it all the time," he says. From the beginning, he knew that he wanted to study fighting for film. It was more "screenfighting" than streetfighting.

For several years, he has channeled his knowledge into well-shot action shorts while teaching at a local martial arts school. In Ronin, Ruel shows off both his quick moves and his acting chops, although, perhaps most impressively for low-budget cinema, he manages to make the action believably intense. Fight choreography and good blocking are often taken for granted in big-budget flicks, but are painfully apparent in most amateur fare.

This year, Ruel is working hard on assembling material for a full-length film that will look and sound as professional as possible, and will also "be strong on [the] story side." He has also signed up with a local acting agency and began appearing in roles — he has already played an unlucky electrician on the NBC show Trauma.

Ruel is hopeful about his prospects, although realistic about the odds. Film "is a rough area to compete in, and I know the chances of a martial arts movie to be popular at Sundance are next to zero, but not actually zero," he says. "Hopefully ... we can turn some heads."

Packard Jennings
Conceptual artist Packard Jennings, 40, is perhaps best known as an effective propagator of the "shop drop," the term for subversive additions to store inventories (basically, the opposite of shoplifting). As shown in videos posted on his detailed Web site, Jennings' M.O. is to discreetly bring in his satirical objects like his Walgreens Local Business Coupon, a list of local shopping alternatives designed to be inserted into the store's coupon catalogs. Then there's his distinctly uncommercial anarchist and Mussolini action figures, which he put on the shelves of big box chain stores. Clerks, when trying to ring up the rogue items, are often hilariously stymied.

It's a surprisingly effective way to throw a wrench into the American corporate shopping paradigm; Jennings encourages action that "upends the power structure," as he puts it, through such inventive works.

More recently, he has begun a series of Pocket Survival Guides, tiny comic books designed to help you stay afloat (literally) amidst the giant gyres of garbage that now swirl in the world's oceans. These small comics are then taped to different sizes of plastic bottles for consumers to find. "I try to be a little funny about it," he says, noting he himself has shop-dropped them on a variety of cleaning products.

Jennings is putting together a project for the S.F. Arts Commission's 40th anniversary that will be, predictably, untraditional: It's a dinner party for a group of artists to discuss what kind of project they should make. A Web site will launch this fall to serve as a clearinghouse for the kind of mischievous, interventionist work Jennings and frequent collaborator Steven Lambert have been doing for years. "Depending on how people use it, it could be more of an archive [for work like this] or more dynamic," he says. "I'd prefer for it to be dynamic."

And in the midst of what he calls a "collaborative" year, Jennings is making a short feature film on the theme of guerrilla marketing. It would be his first film project, although he has made videos and animation. As usual, he doesn't aim for the obvious. "I don't want to hit people over the head with this stuff," he says. "There are serious issues, though, under the surface."

Mary Van Note
Comedian and San Rafael native Mary Van Note, 26, began her standup career in college at UC Santa Cruz, where she purposely dressed in conservative clothing to tell bawdy stories about masturbation or her sex life. But, after playing countless shows around the country, as well as making the Web video series The Mary Van Note Show: Gavin Really Wants Me, her stage persona has shifted. "When people ask what I do, it seems like the easiest way to describe it is as 'not your normal standup comedy,'" she says. "It's gotten to the point that I've forgotten that the difference [between my looks and act] is surprising. I dress the way I want to dress. And then I forget that people are surprised by what I say."

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Reyhan Harmanci


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