Welcome to [art]seen!

Our [art]seen bloggers are University of Michigan students who review arts events on and near campus, sharing their thoughts and experiences on live music, film screenings, dance performances, theatre productions and art exhibitions.
If you’re a U-M student interested in becoming a regular blogger, there may be a position available to get paid for your writing! Read more about Blogging Opportunities here… We review applications and hire twice a year, in September and January.
Email us at arts@umich.edu with any questions.

PREVIEW: Value the Voice

Value the Voice is a moth-style story-telling event series on campus that has been going on since Fall of 2017. The event is co-sponsored by the Department of African and Afro-American Studies and the Comprehensive Studies Program and draws on the long and significant history of story telling stemming from West African culture. Each event features a different focus and students, faculty, alumni, and community members are welcome to come share their stories. This week Value the Voice is focusing on the theme of The Shoulders of Giants. The event will take place in the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art basement auditorium at 7pm and is open to all. I’m curious to see how the nature of the sponsoring programs will influence the nature of the stories shared and the audience at the event, also how its location in the UMMA might influence the ambiance of the event. I’m excited for this event as I have been interested in attending Moth events in the past but never been to one. I once attended a podcast recording which featured individuals in the STEM community sharing their experiences with the intersection of the STEM field and their personal lives. After attending this event I’m excited to see how Value the Voice and see how the stories of people in my community will resonate with me and teach me about those associated with my school

PREVIEW: Sounds from the East to West

This is a Chinese piano concert featuring Oliver Jia & Jiyuan Grace Zhang. It is Saturday, Mach 30, 2019 from 12:30 – 2 pm at the Britton Recital Hall in E.V. Moore Building. FREE concert, so definitely check it out. Also, this piano concert will be very different from what you are used to hearing because the songs all have an East influence, hence the name of the concert. This concert is guaranteed to relieve your stress.

Oliver Jia is a music professor at The University of Texas Rio Grand Valley, with degrees from Yale, Julliard and U of M.
Jiyuan Grace Zhang is a U of M graduate.
These are the songs they will be playing:
Man Jiang Hong – Prelude (2002), composed by Chu Wang-Hua
Jasmine Flower Fantasia (2003), composed by Chu Wang-Hua
Liu Tianhua Impromptus (1998), composed by Cui Shi Guang
Longing for my love (1991), composed by Dan Zhao-Yi
Pi Huang (1995), composed by Zhang Zhao
(Intermission)
Yellow River Concerto, composed by Xian Xianghai

REVIEW: Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)

On Friday and Saturday night, Ann Arbor had the privilege of experiencing a radical new work, the culmination of a massive collaboration drawing on the talents of composer Bryce Dessner and vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, to theatrically mount the photography of the late and highly influential 20th century photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. “Mapplethorpe produced images that simultaneously challenged and adhered to classical aesthetic standards: stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lives, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities.” Using original music coming from 10 voices and a chamber orchestra, projected poetry from a wide array of sources, including librettist Korde Arrington Tuttle and Mapplethorpe’s contemporaries, fluid staging, and excellent lighting design, the performance was unapologetically arresting and provocative.

“Triptych (Eye of One on Another)” explores the incredibly complicated web of emotions, relationships, and politics surrounding Mapplethorpe’s time, as his career had begun to take off in conjunction with his AIDS diagnosis in 1986 at the young age of 23. In navigating such a complicated and weighty chapter of American history, there was no singular emotional direction a work of this scope could portray, and composer Bryce Dessner fluidly swept us from the awe-inspiring cathedral, to the cold and calculating courtroom, to the intimate bedroom with a score that surged with electricity, sparkling clarity, and biting poignancy. Juxtaposed against huge projections of Mapplethorpe’s arrestingly beautiful and often disturbing photography, Dessner created a space for us to take in this controversial work, almost as if installing a very slow moving sidewalk for us to stand on while pensively moving through an art museum.

A vocal ensemble that is “dedicated to reimagining the expressive potential of the human voice, Roomful of Teeth showcased their signature, vast timbral palette alongside singers Alicia Hall Moran and Isaiah Robinson. Over the course of the 70-minute performance, they transported us through time and space singing with the lightness of the baroque era, Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, folk singing, and other extended techniques including overtone singing. The chamber orchestra was made up largely of U-M SMTD students and alumni, who were able to pack a punch just as powerfully as they laid down immersive droning textures for the singers explore.

The experience was similar to a vivid slideshow, a shimmering tapestry of sounds, striking images, and jarring poetry. The text (and its translations, when applicable) was projected onto the stage and served as a sort of “set” for the singers to inhabit. Scrims and curtains flew in and above the stage, sometimes shrouding the instrumentalists and singers in obscurity, and other times exposing them with a rudeness or glorification befitting of the particular musical moment, even leaving the entire backstage area exposed at times. The lighting design could be equally abrasive and in-your-face, but the more abstract light cues (an extremely bright, descending horizontal line) moved with a solemnity and assuredness that reminded me of Philip Glass’ opera “Einstein on the Beach.”

I found that “Triptych” was a work that demanded the full attention of the audience. It put hard-edged words, music, and images front and center for all to see, without apology. Personally, I experienced an amount of discomfort in not knowing what striking or difficult image would emerge next. I longed for justice and love for people of color and people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, and I appreciated the opportunity to be immersed in this difficult but important narrative. Roomful of Teeth will continue to take “Triptych” all around the world in their upcoming season, encouraging us all to take a moment to stop and fix our eyes on one another.

Final bow.

PREVIEW: Legally Blonde

Everyone’s favorite Harvard lawyer is coming to the Power Center with MUSKET’s production of Legally Blonde: The Musical. The story of our beloved blonde, Elle Woods, has taken the stage all over the country, and Ann Arbor will get to enjoy this fun, upbeat musical and follow her journey of self-discovery on March 22-24. Tickets can be bought at www.ummusket.org or at the MUTO in the League Underground.

REVIEW: Art in the Age of the Internet

Walking into the UMMA’s Art in the Age of the Internet exhibit is an assault to the senses. Before you enter the gallery you can hear the art as a cacophony of deep booms, high pitched squeals, and slightly disturbing sounds weaving between them. This is the experience the curator wants you to have in this exhibit because the Internet is an assault to the senses. Everywhere you turn in this relatively small exhibit space there is bright and often disturbing art surrounding you. This exhibit is more than just a few dozen paintings or sculptures, it is an interactive experience which requires you to engage it. Some pieces engage you in very literal ways, requiring you to put on headphones to listen to videos, tracking your movements, or requiring you to interact with their piece to experience the art. The gallery was organized into sections with themes. One corner focused on surveillance and the dangers it holds. This section included a digital eye with an infrared sensor which followed you across the room. Another piece was a router in a thick plexiglass box which allowed you to browse the internet anonymously. Another section focused on video games. This portion of the exhibit showed the various applications of video games with one piece using old fashioned video games on multiple screens to create a landscape while another piece exhibited the simulation video games the military uses to train soldiers. My two favorite pieces were very different in nature. The first was a video which played in a dark room in the corner and was responsible for the thrumming bass that shook the room. This video featured a desktop screen with hundreds of different pages being pulled up featuring videos and images explaining the origin of the universe while a piece of music composed in conjunction with the piece played. The piece continuously returned to video footage of a man with taxidermy birds of various breeds and a woman drawing circles. The video was mesmerizing in a way that felt slightly off and even a bit disturbing. The other piece that I felt most drawn to was a 3-D printed sculpture of an artist whose work was featured alongside it. The sculpture featured an iridescent, greenish, female-presenting, naked person lounging on their side with long hair. On closer inspection, the figure was hiding male genitals behind a bent knee. The sculpture was meant to draw from the artists self-portrait which was featured in my preview. In this image the artist is painted a bright green with yellow box braids, kneeling on the ground. I still have many questions about these two pieces. I would highly suggest that any and everyone catch this exhibit before it leaves April 8th.

Image courtesy of Observer.com

REVIEW: Captain Marvel

This article alludes to minor spoilers.

In a beautifully shot debut, Captain Marvel cultivates a mythological (and exciting and godly) character, rightfully cementing her as one of the most anticipated heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Best known for her Oscar-winning role in Room, Brie Larson plays a Kree warrior referred to as Veers (the reason why is nicely revealed later on). Kree warriors has a single mission to uplift the universe: defeat an alien race called Skrulls who are hellbent on infiltrating and destroying civilizations through shapeshifting. She is often encouraged to suppress her curiosity regarding her lost memories in order to embrace their mission for the better of the Kree army. However, after a failed assignment, she is knocked down into Earth— where she finds out that she might once have had a life on this planet.

Veers — also known as Carol Danvers — has a particularly unordinary origin story. She’s a little difficult to adapt to the big screen, considering she is unknown to the greater public and has a less consistent comic book history. But the movie packs her distinct story in the runtime, establishing the world and moving dynamics within it.

The loss of memory is a major theme— and point of confusion for Veers. However, it never seems to be her main goal to find out who she is, as pointed out by this piece in The Atlantic.

However, I interpreted this as the Kree’s obsession of suppressing emotion and embracing a militaristic way of life— something Veers was (fruitlessly) trying to adopt. I will say, the movie could have expanded the Kree way of living and its operatives a bit more (and more subtly). To delve into the world that adopted her and how they effectively shaped her into being their warrior would have allowed us to understand our amnesic hero more.

But the movie is a lot easier to handle once you realize that Veers is approaching her time on Earth as a single-minded soldier. She is not impressed with what she sees on our planet at all. But there is a break once she realizes that Earth is a lot more personal than she had thought. Larson was given a very confused person to portray, but her cadence and gait throughout carried the character. The movie approached the “obligatory origin story movie” by working backwards, which I believe is ultimately more beneficial to Carol and the audience.  

I thought it was rather effective to leave her emotional Earth connections to past friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch, Still Star-Crossed) and her daughter Monica Rambeau (Akira Akbar), rather than her clearly unhappy upbringing. Veers seems to be cemented in the connections she chooses to make, rather than ones forced upon her. There is something poetic to leave much of her past in flashes, mysterious glimpses, as it allows as to see Veers as the person she currently is— a Carol Danvers who has changed, who has experienced a world bigger than hers. I hope dearly we can see the Rambeau family again, as they were darling in every way.

I am especially glad Maria was on board for the climax as well— her relationship to Carol was especially complex, full of distinct grief and care. Lynch gave a performance that balanced the quick-pace of a fun Marvel movie with the underlying yearning of the character. 

The most expected comment of the film will be that Carol is too powerful— and logically, I can see that. But I had a smile on my face throughout the climatic sequence. It’s not subtle, but it’s not distracting. It’s not bad. The movie is just fun, alleviating and paced in ways that a viewer needs.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury was an absolute delight as the deuteragonist. Jackson’s character has been flitting in and out of the franchise for a while now, so seeing him as an unabashedly enthusiastic fan of Veers and her world gave a lot of endearing insight as to why he would create The Avengers in the first place.

It was wonderful to see Fury as wide-eyed, less brittle man who is open to trust people. It explains a lot about Fury in the present timeline— why he isn’t as wary of these powerful superheroes as one would think he would be. It’s because he can sense the good in them— he’s seen it before in Carol. Jackson was consistently uplifting in every scene he was and continues to be a highlight in the Marvel universe. I also hope we can see their dynamic (and the cat) again. 

One of my biggest disappointments definitely stems from the larger problem that the MCU tends to adopt: they hire really fantastic actors, hide them under voice changers and armor, and have them appear essentially as background characters. Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians) and Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies, Guardians of the Galaxy) were just a few examples in Captain Marvel— both dynamic and beloved actors but barely used.

Annette Bening (20th Century Woman, one of my favorite movies) played a larger role and even then, I felt like she could have been allowed to chew up the scenery a bit more. However, she was deeply engaging on the screen— a relaxed, cool presence and the key to the story’s mystery.

And if I can take a moment to say— I deeply enjoyed the look of the female characters in this movie. I wouldn’t say I have an eye for fashion sense/aesthetics, but they were all framed in the way that felt deeply different. Maybe it was the absence of a male gaze. Maybe it was the grunge look.

Captain Marvel’s arc wraps up in a satisfactory way, concluding a piece of the larger intergalactic Marvel story. It pumped me up for Infinity War and what our new player can bring as a superhero and as a reassured Carol Danvers.