Design Studio Dream The Combine Brings Community Together

As dusk descends upon St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood on June 8, the district will come alive with over 100 art projects in 34 venues.

Entering its third year in the Twin Cities, the Northern Spark Festival is a free, all-night event bringing the community together to look at art and their own cities in a new light.

St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood is already home to a thriving, artist community. Laden with historic buildings, independently owned restaurants and a shiny new light-rail line, the once quiet district is growing into a hotspot of community gatherings and activities.

The newly renovated historic Union Depot will serve as the hub of Lowertown’s Northern Spark Festivities. Under the waiting room by the railroad tracks you’ll find the installation called, “The World is Rated X” by Tom Carruthers and Jennifer Newsom Carruthers. The husband-wife team behind design studio, Dream the Combine will make their debut with a structure designed as an urban hammock for people watching at the festival.

When talking with the Carruthers, you can tell how excited they are for the festival. After moving to Minnesota from New York City six months ago, the pair first learned about Northern Spark from Jennifer’s mother, who encouraged them to submit a proposal.

Building off an existing idea for an art installation they wanted to execute in the New York subway as well as their fascination with infrastructure, the Carruthers are building a piece which plays upon optical illusion as well as conversation.

“The project we’re doing for Northern Spark came from an art idea about two picture planes and collapsing the space in between using visual techniques, so taking surveillance technology and using it to create a space in the middle where no one can see you,”   Tom said.

Formally trained in architecture and sculpture, the duo has experience working on a number of projects ranging from high-end residential to large-scale public art works, to master plans and feasibility studies for non-profits.

“We have an interest in bringing design to communities that may not necessarily be served by architects. I think that is a very important part of the kind of work we have done and hope to do more of,” Jennifer states.

The pair brings their public art focus to “The World is Rated X,” which will be constructed using steel, nylon rope seating and lycra screens. A camera will be placed on each end of the structure, recording outwards from the piece. The live-images will then be rear-projected onto the screens on opposing ends, creating two intersecting cones of projected light. Audience members will be able to observe what’s happening at the opposite ends of the piece and the real space of the structure will be virtually erased.

“We are interested in conflating real and virtual space to create an unexpected thing on the inside,” Jennifer explains. 

The name of the piece comes from a Marvin Gaye song of the same title.

“One quote that really stuck with us is ‘Not only in the movie shows, take a look outside that’s where the truth is really told,’” Jennifer said. “We’re really interested in saying that life around us, people just interacting and talking, hugging your children, eating a hot dog, doing all the things people just do, that’s entertainment enough. You don’t need these fictionalized images in addition to that.” 

Most of all, the Carruthers hope viewers will be “delighted” when seeing their work. “I hope it inspires new ways of interacting with people because you might be able to have a conversation cross distance that you wouldn’t normally be able to have,” Jennifer states.