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Artist's show plumbs the meaning of her father's beep

Lisa McKhann will have to recruit all her artistic abilities when her show, "Beep the Horn!" opens tonight at the Play Ground. "Horn" is McKhann's mixed-media meditation on her relationship with her father, Charlie, who died about a year and a ha...

Lisa McKhann will have to recruit all her artistic abilities when her show, "Beep the Horn!" opens tonight at the Play Ground.

"Horn" is McKhann's mixed-media meditation on her relationship with her father, Charlie, who died about a year and a half ago. The Duluth artist uses her own choreography, visual art, writing and singing to represent her love for her father and the way she felt when they hit some, as she calls them, "rough spots."

The project's title comes from a game McKhann and her father used to play when she was a child. When her father, a cancer surgeon with the University of Minnesota, left for trips, McKhann would wait outside and listen for him to honk the horn as he drove away.

"It's the metaphor for parting. He died about a year and a half ago so that game makes this about he and I," McKhann said. "It was just a fun game at the time. But it takes on a different meaning in the show, given the things that transpire in a lifetime."

McKhann went through a difficult time when her parents divorced when she was a teenager and her father began dating again. Toward the end of his life, when he was dying of prostate cancer, she said they had "difficult conversations" about their relationship. Her father was also the family archivist and, as his illness progressed, he divested some unseen photographs and forgotten letters to McKhann that stirred her.

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"It's like, 'Whoa, I wouldn't have expected to write something like that,'" McKhann recalls about receiving some of the forgotten correspondence.

In "Horn," McKhann performs her own choreography, sings snippets of songs by Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell and displays portraits she's made from old family photos. The monologues she's written and recites set this show apart from the other mixed-media events she's put on.

"It's more narrative than what I've done before. It's not just a collage. It's a story being told," said McKhann, who has performed several mixed-media projects since moving to Duluth 10 years ago. "The writing dictates everything else."

It's also very personal.

"This show is kind of different because it calls on more meanings and layers than anything I've done before," she said.

McKhann said she originally envisioned it as a multi-person, participatory show before deciding the best interpretation of the way she and her father related would be one she did on her own.

"At some point last fall I realized 'Wait a minute, what am I doing? I don't need all these bodies,' " McKhann said. "A one-person thing just became the thing to do."

But in some ways, it's not a one-person show at all. Mc-Khann's father is present, at least in spirit, when she performs. "It goes deep enough into the personal to become the universal," McKhann said. "It's almost a collaboration between he and I."

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