AI: Building a Mystery

Driving through South Minneapolis the other weekend, a friend and I noticed something strange as we crossed Lake Nokomis: a large statue of what looked to be some sort of giant reptile, in the water across the lake. We spent a few minutes debating what kind of creature it might be; apatosaur, brontosaur (and was that even an actual dinosaur?), the Loch Ness Monster, plesiosaur…eventually our conversation shifted, but my friend did some research later in the week and sent me this link.

Apparently it’s something of an art project: A joint venture between a local artist and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. “Minne” is a fantastical lake monster, who spends time in various lakes around Minneapolis during the summer, and people can then visit the website to share their experiences seeing her, and write stories about her. Cute, no?

Well, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed when I learned she wasn’t actually a dinosaur. I know. Grumpy, jaded, no-good, meanie skeptic needs to get a sense of humor, and maybe some whimsy. But how bloody cool would it be if it was a realistic life-size model of a plesiosaur? The artist has interesting ideas about taking art outside the confines of art museums. Why not add a little bit of science to the mix?

I’m not going to get up on my high horse and argue that fantasy has no place in the public imagination. I definitely appreciate this as a public art project. But I can’t help lamenting the absent possibilities. As it is now, the project is about wonder. It is about injecting a little bit of magic into the mundane; a wonderful goal, in my opinion. But why use a fantasy creature? Why not use something that has actually existed, and allow people to imagine the real world, transported tens of million of years into the past? I just don’t see any need for mystery mongering when we have such a rich natural history to draw upon.

Obviously, I’m biased. To me, the awesomeness of this world far surpasses anything that can be made up. So for me, “Minne” is more a cheesy gimmick than an inspiration. If that makes me a curmudgeon, well, I guess I’m okay with that.

What do you think? Is this worthy of my disappointment? Have you encountered similar projects in you hometown? How have you reacted to them?

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  1. What an artist does with their time and resources is entirely up to them. The involvement of the Parks Department is another thing. Since I don’t know what their charter is I can’t say whether I agree with their choice or not. I certainly like to see more sciencey/educational stuff in the world.

  2. Science and fantasy can coexist beautifully in a world where people know the difference (hence, my name). If being a skeptic meant I’d have to give up my love for Tolkien, it would be much harder and less fun. Fortunately, there is no reason it does. Now, off to D&D :)

  3. I agree that using the art as an educational outlet would be ideal; perhaps a letter to the Minneapolis Parks Foundation would prove fruitful?

    Still, such an alliance between art, nature and technology is (in my experience) rare; if this is a first step rather than the culmination of their efforts, Minneapolis may have some exciting public works in the future, especially if you can convince them that science and education would add value to the project.

    As for my own experience, little. The bar where we had Skeptics in the Pub featured, as its centerpiece, a large and beautiful hand painting of an ethyl alcohol molecule. Art, science, and alcohol; another fantastic alliance.

  4. Hi there!

    What I wonder is … Would you be less disappointed if it were something more clearly “fantastical”? If, rather than “Lake Monster”, they concocted some story about a “Magic Dragon” with wings and spines on its back? Is it just that they so obviously seem to be promoting pseudoscience/cryptology?

    Perhaps if they had some “re-enactors” dressed as Elves making appearances on the banks of Lake Nokomis, or maybe a Phoenix made of wood that could be set ablaze periodically, that would clearly have put this project into the arena of “fiction/fantasies/storytelling?

    Honestly, I’m not sure myself if it would be better or worse. I’m just speculating. It does seem kind of “wrong” to be putting on this kind of deliberate hoax. A “real” monster (e.g. dinosaur) probably would have been better. That was a missed opportunity.

    Then again, maybe this will inspire young people to grow up thinking: “Hey, remember how our imaginations all ran wild with ‘Minnie’? Maybe all those other cryptids are just as imaginary!”.

  5. There’s a wonderful ten foot tall black steel silhouette of Bigfoot on a remote highway tucked in some trees above the road in north central Washington. The first time I saw it I laughed and was very appreciative of the effort and humor of that particular public art. This past summer I saw another metal art piece that was on some private property but visible from the road. It was a huge grizzly bear about twice the size of a big real one. I think some art can have a powerful message or comment on social issues or reflect on history; and if there is a way to reflect nature or science that makes it visually interesting or makes a scientific discovery compelling that’s great. I recall seeing a great bronze sculpture in a building lobby one time that was a representation of a DNA double helix. It was very well done and quite fascinating to look at.

    Here’s a double helix sculpture that was built for a Burning Man in 2009 that has a great name.

  6. So for me, “Minne” is more a cheesy gimmick than an inspiration.

    If Minne were actually made of cheese, then you’d have an honest to goodness Sam destination on your hands.

    As it stands now, I’ll have to find my Lake Monster o’ Cheddar elsewhere.

  7. I saw that this summer in Harriet! When I did, I was surprised that no one else seemed to be able to see it. I figured I was imagining things because my next pass and it was gone. Now you have validate me. Thank you.

  8. I was wandering around the burial mounds north of Uppsala, Sweden (dead white male kings and such) when the similarity of the place to the Barrow Downs in Lord of the Rings hit me. At that moment, though, it was the unreality of Middle Earth that I realized rather than some magic quality of Uppsala.

  9. I’m with some of the others here (and a fellow Tolkien fan): for me, a bit of fantasy sprinkled into everyday life is fun and beautiful. I’m a professional scientist, and of course I find wonder and beauty and awe all around me in the universe. But a little “make believe” never hurt anyone, child or adult, as long as they recognize that it’s not real.

    And really, would a dinosaur be any better from a “skeptical” point of view? Wouldn’t that just lend support to the folks who insist that some dinosaurs must still be alive deep in the jungle somewhere?

  10. Yay! More Tolkien nerds!

    Here’s an interesting article written on this same topic by an artist and science enthusiast (not me). Jennifer Ouellette tweeted about this article last week I think.
    I really enjoyed it and thought it would be interesting for everyone to hear from the perspective of an artist whose muse is science.

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