Hal had to attend to some business in Ann Arbor, so he made the trip over the weekend! He hasn’t been on campus since last January. When he got there, he was shocked by how quiet it was… Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s because it was a cold Saturday morning in the midst finals season. Whatever the reason, the lack of activity took Hal by surprise.
It seems like a lot of little things have shifted over the past year. It makes sense that campus activity patterns would change like anything else. Still, Hal and I both look forward to the day when north campus, the diag, and the UMMA can be full of people again.
If this is your first time here, welcome! Hal is a graduating senior at U-M, and he’s been studying from home all year. We post updates on Tuesdays, but if you’re itching for more content, check out the backlog on the Study Hal tag!
On Wednesday morning, I woke to news of a hate crime that left 8 murdered in Georgia. As an Asian American, there are plenty of thoughts swirling in my head surrounding the event. In a time when crime targeting Asian Americans has risen given a perceived association with the coronavirus, it’s interesting to tackle what my Asian identity means to me.
The same Wednesday, I also received my weekly email from the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). UMMA brings art straight to my inbox, something that’s been convenient given the pandemic. The subject line #StopAAPIhate caught my attention, and in addition to art, the email contained information about an event and podcast focused on recent anti-Asian and anti-Asian American violence. The art of this week? Dinh Q. Lê’s mixed media piece Interconfined.
The artist, Dinh Q. Lê (Vietnamese name: Lê Quang Đỉnh), was born in 1968. He is most known for his photography and photo-weaving techniques. According to the UMMA website, many of his works refer to the Vietnam War. Concepts and themes of memory and its relationship with the present are also featured. This work, Interconfined, has three figures, with the central figure being interwoven between a Buddhist statue and a Christ-like figure. The central figure is none other than the artist himself.
For Dinh Q. Lê, a Vietnamese American multimedia artist, the piece represents the “struggle of finding one’s identity as an Asian immigrant (represented by the Buddha) in a Western, Eurocentric world (represented by Jesus)” (UMMA Exchange). This is tastefully represented by how the material in the art piece is cut into strips and is woven together. As a mixed Asian American, I’m inclined to consider how the piece represents being torn between two worlds, or stuck in the middle of two cultures. There are also themes of connectivity in play; the central figure is strategically overlapping the figures of Buddha and Jesus Christ, perhaps suggesting how they – or more so, what they both represent – are found within him.
I come from different ethnic backgrounds, with some parts of me more visible than others. They all, however, comprise who I am. I think of my mother, who experiences a divide tenfold as an immigrant, carrying a mixed bag of stories, traditions, and customs. In the US, we are constantly forging new traditions and identities as cultures and people collide, learning from one another and creating a mixing pot that should serve as a a place for liberty and justice for all. I say should, because as the recent hate crimes have demonstrated, we still have a long way to go as a nation. Being Asian is something that often “othered” me in my youth, and just as I began to found my voice in college, I found myself being shut down by a society that still casts me as an outsider. But just as the central figure in Dinh Q. Lê’s work stands strong, so can we. His work could not have popped into my inbox at a better time, and I am glad for a piece that resonates in such a remarkable way.
After a brief intermission, we will be back in action next week. I’ve spent this week reaching out to many exciting and diverse student organizations to learn more about how they’re handling the semester, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far.
In the meantime, I thought I would spend this week highlighting some events the UMMA is putting on this week that I found especially exciting.
If you’re a fan of spotify collaborative playlists and/or how art and music intersect, check out UMMA’s jukebox. Through that link you can fill out a form to suggest songs that pair with two of the museum’s newest art pieces. As someone who has always enjoyed interdisciplinary work, I found this project very interesting and I’m excited to see the results!
The UMMA is also putting together a virtual event called “The Adjacent Possible” on Feb. 18th at 8PM. They describe it as “[mixing] music performance, storytelling, and technology that converts the audience into an orchestra. The project culminates in the recording of an orchestral piece – the first and last ever to be performed.” If you need to transport yourself for a little while from the stress of schoolwork or job searches, definitely check it out – it seems like a really unique event. Pre-registration is required, so make sure you confirm ahead of time!
That’s all from me today. Check back next week for an interview with the co-presidents of Relevé – they had some really interesting points to make about the creative process and COVID!
Happy Friday! I hope you’ve all had a chance to recharge over the break, whether you celebrated Turkey Day or not. The holidays look a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the best out of them and still find ways to connect to friends and family (albeit virtually).
This week I had the chance to talk to Katie Lorenz, a member of APG (Arbor Promotion Group) Presents, about how the org is adapting to the year as well as how she views the arts scene on campus acclimating to the health and safety guidelines. Read on to learn more!
Founded in 2018, APG Presents is one of the more recent groups to enter the music scene on campus. They have two main focuses: producing and promoting live events, and helping students in the organization with professional development. In a typical year, they help put on shows at Necto and other venues around campus, bring in speakers from the industry to talk to members of their organization or the larger UofM community, and help with resumes, internship searches, and interview prep. They currently have over 50 members, with leadership opportunities for those interested in learning more hands-on about the industry.
This year, APG Presents has had to pivot, as all of us have, but they’ve done a great job of maintaining much of their usual programming. They’ve moved their weekly meetings to be virtual, as well as their professional development programs. Their live music events have also been moved virtual, but have been able to shift to include things like artist Q&As as well. Katie explained that, although it’s obviously a bummer that they can’t all be together and produce their normal concerts, there have been bright sides to the changes, too. “Virtual experiences do a great job for [these] events of bringing people to us who might not have been able to, like, fly to us directly, people all across the world… So I think that’s been working in our favor kind of this year.” If you’ve read other posts from Looking Forward, this is a theme that a lot of people have come to notice over the pandemic – the musical theatre department, the Shapiro Design Lab, and now APG Presents. The limitations of geographical barriers seem to be non-existent now, and it will be interesting to see if that trend continues once things start returning to “normal”.
I also asked Katie to share her thoughts on the state of the arts on campus right now. She told me that she sees creativity and the
way that arts organizations on campus have expressed themselves during this time as being really interesting – people are finding new ways to commit to their ideas and what they stand for. One example she brought up is the UMMA showing support for the Black Lives Matter Movement. If you’ve walked by the UMMA recently, you may have noticed that half of it is covered in stitched-together canvas sacks. This is by artist Ibrahim Mahama and is meant to “[celebrate] the often-invisible labor of Black and brown people behind global exchange and commerce while acknowledging the troubling histories of colonialism and slavery in the Western world,” (from the UMMA website). Personally, I found this interesting because although I had walked by this installation many times, I didn’t really understand what it was saying. Katie’s comment reminded me that there is always something to uncover about the arts on campus, always something new to experience, and that gives me a lot of hope for the year ahead.
If you’d like to learn more about APG Presents and stay up-to-date on their future events, be sure to follow their Instagram @APGPresents and their LinkedIn page. If you’re interested in joining the organization, you can email Talia Rizika at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you wanna read more about the UMMA installation I mentioned, you can check it out here.
That’s all from me this week. I hope you have an amazing rest of your week and stay safe!
Exploring UMMA is one of my favorite things to do in my spare time. I enjoy wandering in the quiet and cozy museum, stopping by whichever painting that draws my attention, and trying to appreciate it by looking closely at it and reading the label. However recently, rather than try to learn more about each painting, I found a more interesting thing to do: to look at several paintings together, to compare them and to find the subtle similarities or underlying relationships among them. Today for my little themed tour, I picked four portaits in UMMA, in each of which the costumes of the figures can tell us the story behind the painting itself.
The first painting Iâ€™m gonna introduce is Portrait of a Lady by Johann Tischbein, which is located in the European Gallery on the first level. It is a portrait of a well-dressed lady. We can see her elegant blue silk dress with delicate lace cuffs, her resplendent earrings and necklace, her elaborately braided hair and the matching hair ornaments. Although we donâ€™t know her exact identity, but from her costume we can infer that she is a lady from high social class. She is also holding a fan in her right hand, which may give us a clue of the fashion trends back the time she lived. Fans became fashionable decorations for women in 18 centuries and can be seen in many portraits in that period. Ladies used fans not only to cool themselves but also to enhance body languages.
Right next to this portrait is another portrait of a man. Like the lady in the former painting, he is also dressed in a sumptuous way. His red coat and waistcoat seem to be velvet, with rich gold embroideries on them. His powdered wig is also noteworthy. Pamela Reister, one of the curators in UMMA, once told me that the size of the wig could reflect the manâ€™s rank to some extent. She said bigger wig would suggest higher social rank of the wearer, and was also considered to be more fashionable. The identity of the figure is indeed Pierre Bachelier, the director of customs at Lyon, according to the title of this painting. Therefore, the outfit of the figure in this painting can tell us much about his profession and also his social status.
Costumes could be deceptive sometimes, too. If you go upstairs and turn right, you would easily spot a portrait on the balcony of a woman in a blue dress. The lady is shown in a elegant position, with her head raised a little bit and his eyes confronting the viewer with confidence and dignity. Her dress doesnâ€™t even look outdated now, which was probably of the highest fashion back the time the painting was made. However, if you are guessing she was a bourgeois woman, you would be surprised to find out that she was actually a working class widow who could find no other jobs but modeling for the painter. She was in poor health and could hardly pay for the medicine or support her two children. The discrepancy between her dress and her actual identity makes this painting more intriguing and thought provoking for the viewer.
Ok. Here ends my special tour of UMMA:) Btw, you are welcomed to come to UMMA After Hours this Friday (which is Oct.15 and Iâ€™m gonna be a volunteer, too!). And if you come, donâ€™t forget to check these paintings out!
Today is Valentineâ€™s Day and Iâ€™m feeling like this guy:
Sometimes when Iâ€™m feeling like this guy I go walk around in the UMMA. It clears my head. Something about all that marble flooring. The word austere comes to mind.
So Iâ€™m in the UMMA. Itâ€™s afternoonish and Iâ€™m pretty much the only person in there. I feel mildly artsy for being the only person in the UMMA on Valentineâ€™s Day afternoon. And mildy lonely. I feel like an aestheteâ€”â€œWho needs lousy Hallmark holidays when thereâ€™s the cold, austere beauty of the UMMA?â€
Loud noises are coming from the back-leftish corner, from the New Media Gallery.
Currently I donâ€™t know that the room in the back-leftish corner is called the â€œNew Media Gallery.â€ I Google it later.
The noises sound like a film score: orchestral instruments blare and echo off the austere marble flooring.
In general the UMMAâ€™s atmosphere right now seems somewhat funny, because itâ€™s pretty much empty and silent, but then there are all these melodramatic, film-score-y, orchestral instruments playing loudly. It seems â€˜surreal,â€™ not unlike a Robert Wilson avant-garde short-film conglomeration thing.
Which is what the exhibit making loud funny noises and breaking the austere atmosphere of the UMMA turns out to be: Robert Wilsonâ€™s Video 50.
I walk over to the New Media Gallery and read this introduction posted at the entrance: â€œRobert Wilson gained a reputation as a creator of aggressively experimental theater work. Wilson first came to prominence with works from the mid-1970s such as The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin (1973) and Einstein on the Beach (1976).â€ (My roommate saw Einstein on the Beach a couple weeks ago. Einstein on the Beach was in town a couple weeks ago. In situ I suddenly remember this. And just now ex situ I asked my roommate â€œif it was sweetâ€ and he said â€œyeah it was sweet.â€ He said that it was five hours long and that he thought he wouldnâ€™t be able to sit through the whole thing, but he ended up sitting through the whole thing and not really feeling bored or whatever. I canâ€™t imagine sitting through anything for five hours.) â€œThese lavish, unusually long productions broke and then redefined every convention of theater.â€ After reading â€œthese lavish, unusually long productions broke and redefined every convention of theaterâ€ I feel mildly skeptical. I skim over some more praiseful Robert Wilson bio and get to the part about Video 50 itself. â€œVideo 50 are smaller-scale experiments, but they share with these spectacles the qualities that typify Wilsonâ€™s aesthetic: surreal, dreamlike imagery, unlinear narrative, conflation of seemingly unrelated characters and micro-stories, and a mesmerizingly slow paceâ€¦Video 50 consists of a random arrangement of 30 second â€˜episodesâ€™â€¦The work is immersive and experiential, seductively dissolving the distance between viewer and subject.â€
So basically it sounds to me like your SOP for an avant-garde short-film conglomeration thing.
Thereâ€™s a sign outside the doorway warning about adult content and unsuitability for young viewers, which makes me mildly excited. Eventually I walk through a little L-shaped hall into the NMG itself, passing by yet another warning for adult content on the way Â (there turns out to be nothing I would consider adult content in Video 50), and now Iâ€™m standing in an empty dark square room. A ceiling-mounted projector projects Video 50 on the front wall. Currently some type of credits are rolling and Iâ€™m uncertain whether theyâ€™re the end or beginning credits. The only seating in the room are two austere wooden benches, one pushed up against the back wall and the other against a side wall. I sit down on the back-wall bench so I donâ€™t have to painfully twist my neck 90 degrees to see the film(s).
The credits keep rollingâ€”I determine theyâ€™re the opening credits, meaning my timing for entering the NMG was perfectâ€”and I take out my trusty Moleskine notebook and begin writing notes about the austerity of the room. I write things like, â€œThe room is empty, except for four Sony speakers placed atop the four corners of a spotless white wall that doesnâ€™t quite reach the ceiling.â€ Did I mention that today is Valentineâ€™s today?
After the credits, the first â€œepisodeâ€ of Video 50 arrives. The first episode is this guy:
I write: 1. Business-dressed man standing by waterfall. Loud waterfall noises. The image sort of flickers.
I write: Screen flickersâ€¦shitty projector or intentional part of the film?
Before long the first episode is over and cuts straight into the next episode:
2. A window with white drapes. Wind blows the drapes. Loud whooshing noises.
And before long it cuts to the next episode:
3. A cream-white old, rotary-style phone. Itâ€™s ringing loudly.
This is more or less how the entire thing goes: I see a short clip of a pretty random-seeming object or scene or something, and before I can even jot a few notes down describing what it is the episode is over and Iâ€™m looking at something new.
I try to write fast enough to make notes for every episode, but I end up missing a few here and there.
4. A door opens. A woman in a pink dress enters the room. Romantic music starts playing.
5. Overhead view of a man smoking and an unlit light bulb. Dripping noises. The man turns on the light bulb. (I.e.,
6 makes me chuckle. I like 6. In my notebook I write â€œmy favâ€ next to 6.
7. Man holding ice pack on head, sitting on bed. Monkey/animal noises. Then a close-up of a woman in curlers making loud scary monkey/animal noises.
Iâ€™m legitimately frightened by the woman in curlers.
8. Woman in bed w/ black phone on bedside table. Slow sad music. Then thereâ€™s a naked man sitting by a fire. (Is this supposed to be the adult content? Noâ€¦partsâ€¦are being shown.)
At this point Iâ€™ve missed an episode or two and my episode-numbering in my notes is basically arbitrary. My wrist is hurting from trying to make notes as fast as the episodes change. It occurs to me that Iâ€™m still alone in the room, and I wonder when/if other museum patrons will enter.
9. Chair floating in an orange-pink sky. Classical piano music. Chair rotates back and forth slightly.
10. White door slowly closing by itself. A second after it closes, a hand juts into the frame, as if it just closed the door.
10 makes me laugh. I donâ€™t know why. I guess the handâ€™s jutting into the frame was unexpected and funny.
In general I donâ€™t know how Video 50 is supposed to make me feel. I feel itâ€™s entertaining because I never know what the next episode will be, so itâ€™s sort of suspenseful. But I donâ€™t feel too much else about it.
I never really know how to take avant-garde art. But I guess itâ€™s sort of the point of avant-garde art to make the audience feel uncertain about how to take it?
In any case I deicide I more or less like this Video 50 thing, even if only because itâ€™s â€˜differentâ€™ and Iâ€™ve never really sat through anything like it.
11. A man sleeping during a thunderstorm. He snores in a cartoony, ZZZZzzzzZZZ manner.
12. Close-up of a glasses-, mustache-faced man rhythmically touching his temple and grimacing and groaning ad nauseam.
13. A back view of a man wearing a safari hat and looking out at a still seascape. The man makes noises like â€œhruumph hruumph hruumphâ€ metronomically ad nasuseam.
Even though the episodes are only like 30 sec. long, their repetitiveness and â€œmesmerizingly slow paceâ€ induce me to write notes like â€œad nauseam.â€
14. Floating chair in an orange-pink sky (again). Classical piano music.
For some reason I like the floating chair. The floating chair calms me down, especially after having been made antsy by the men making groaning noises ad nauseam in the immediately preceding episodes. I wonder if a lot of thought was put into arranging the episodes in a specific way for effects such as the floating chairâ€™s calming me down after Iâ€™ve been emotionally primed by the groaning men, or something.
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I decide itâ€™s true what the description posted at the entrance said, that Video 50 â€œis immersive and experiential, seductively dissolving the distance between viewer and subject.â€ While being sucked into the experience, Iâ€™ve even almost forgotten that itâ€™s Valentineâ€™s Day.
Upon realizing that Iâ€™ve almost forgotten that itâ€™s Valentineâ€™s Day, I remember that itâ€™s Valentineâ€™s Day. I take out my phone to see if a certain girl has texted me.
15. Red hammer silently hammering a blue back ground. Then the blue background shatters like glass.
16. Close-up of a large-foreheaded baby crying.
The close-up of the big-headed baby startles me, especially after the preceding shattering.
I write â€œencephaliticâ€ in my notebook.
For about 10 episodes I sort of lose myself. I get â€œsucked inâ€ or â€œimmersedâ€ or â€œmesmerizedâ€ or whatever you want to call it. In any case, itâ€™s basically the effect I was looking for when I decided to come to the UMMA.
I come to the UMMA when Iâ€™m thinking too much about something, like Valentineâ€™s Day, so I can try to â€˜lose myselfâ€™ in pieces of art.
What Video 50 seems to want to do is make you â€˜lose yourself.â€™ It short-circuits your brainâ€”you canâ€™t really actually make sense of the conglomeration of floating chairs and encephalitic babies and business men standing near waterfalls, but your brain nevertheless tries to and in trying gets confused and before long youâ€™re entranced and donâ€™t even remember that youâ€™re worried about a certain girl texting you or something.
Unfortunately, my Video 50 dream is broken when an old couple walks into the room and sits down next to me. I wonder if theyâ€™re on some sort of Valentineâ€™s DayÂ date. Maybe thatâ€™s what older couples do on Valentineâ€™s Day: watch avant-garde film in museums.
Now because Iâ€™m not alone, Iâ€™m immediately aware of myself, my surroundingsâ€”Video 50 is no longer able to suck me in. I shoot sideways glances at the old couple. I start writing notes about them instead of the artwork taking place in front of me.
I write things like, â€œThe husband is â€˜paunchy.â€™â€
I consider leaving. I wanted to watch Video 50 all the way through, but the experience basically seems over for me now. My wrist hurts carpal-tunnelishly from writing frantically. The edge of my right hand is completely covered in ink. Iâ€™ve made it to 30 in my notebook.
A lot of the episodes repeat themselves. For example right now the safari-hatted man staring at a seascape and going â€œhruumph hruumph hruumphâ€ has returned.