REVIEW: Deluge

At the Friday gallery opening for Gideon Mendel’s Deluge, I had grabbed a seat in front awaiting the artist’s talk when the artist himself appeared and encouraged us to first go and watch his 14 minute piece in full before returning for his talk.

A full fourteen minutes would usually test my patience for any single video piece- but the alien, overwhelming imagery coupled with constantly changing scenes spread out across five screens made the piece seem much shorter. When the piece looped back around to the beginning, I was sadly not yet ready for it to be over.  There were scenes that were very human and intimate, with figures forlornly staring into the camera in the flooded remains of their house. Other scenes looked like something straight out of a post-apocalyptic film, featuring boats gliding through sunken cities. Still others were more purely visual, focusing on the way that reflection and the waterline changed the landscape on both large and small levels.

The artist’s talk following our viewing of the piece itself was quite enlightening about both Gideon Mendel’s process and personal reflections on the work. We learned that the project was over a decade in the making, and had originally been meant to cover all environmentally caused natural disasters, but then narrowed in focus. He also reminisced that he encountered an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction with the government and the status quo regardless of where he went, whether it be the most affluent or the poorest neighborhood imaginable. I was struck by the equalizing power of natural disasters, not caring about the color of your skin, or your background. Although, and Mendel made sure to note this, those previously mentioned factors made a world of difference when it came to an individual’s ability to recover from said disaster.

One of the things that I appreciated the most out of the entire event, was when the artist was prompted to answer where he felt his work best fit between the worlds of photojournalism, environmental activism, and fine art.  He instead insisted that his work not be pigeonholed into any one single realm, instead occupying a sort of middle ground. I could certainly see aspects of all three in his work, and agree that they were far more effective when used in harmony, rather than trying to merely fit only one category.

Another interesting element of this particular exposition was displayed in the utilization of the dual rooms.  The main gallery space was used to very effectively show the video, completely darkened with benches to allow viewers to sit and enjoy the entire 14 minutes of the piece.  The other room was used as a peek into Mendel’s behind the scenes process and organization of his material, with raw footage being played on projection and several wall installations on each of the walls.  Over the course of the two weeks that Mendel was to be staying at UM, he was challenged by the gallery curator to experiment in arranging, rearranging, and adding to the walls, so they might appear different in a week’s time than they were when I photographed them.  I was particularly inspired by the artfully arranged collection of photographs. The other wall was a play on the square format that is currently so ubiquitous due to influences such as Instagram.

Deluge will be displayed at the Institute for the Humanities Gallery right inside the entrance of the South Thayer Building until the end of the semester, December 18th.  The gallery is only open from 9am-5pm M-F, so be sure to stop by in between classes and experience Gideon Mendel’s provoking piece for yourself. Also if your interest was piqued by this piece, definitely check out Gideon Mendel’s website (http://gideonmendel.com/) or check out his instagram @gideonmendel .

 

REVIEW: Thus Spoke AnnArbor Fall 2018 Performance

I had been made extremely curious about this semester’s performance by “安娜说 / Thus spoke Ann Arbor” from viewing the gorgeously illustrated posters brightening up campus in the weeks leading up to the show.  While I had been aware of the group for several years now, I finally decided to attend their performance for the first time, and after seeing it I can confidently say that I couldn’t have made a better decision.  After arriving early to make sure to get seats near the front of Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, we were informed that it would be a full house, which hardly came as a surprise at that point due to the fact there was only a few empty seats in sight and the noise level had grown to a nonstop roar.

One of the elements I appreciated the most about the show was the choice to divide the performance up into three shorter plays. It gave many more of the club’s members time to shine in a leading role than if they had just done one play, and the group was also able to challenge themselves to perform three distinctly different styles of play, suiting different members individual strengths.

The first play was a comedic romp titled “黑暗中的喜剧 / Comedy in the Dark.”  The play used physical and situational comedy as characters unveiled hidden secrets in a darkened apartment after a freak power outage. The second play, “人质 / Hostage“ was the shortest of the three, and featured a very limited cast and set. Instead it was more figurative dark comedy to the first play’s quite literal one, with two thieves mistakenly taking a suicidal girl hostage in an attempt to escape the police hot on their trail, and the intense interplay that followed.  The third and last play was “立秋 / The Start of Autumn” set around a century ago in China.  This was by far the most serious of the lot, and told the story of several families internal drama as well a competition between tradition and newly adopted Western ideals.  

The transitions from play to play were quick and painless, with crew members scurrying about to clear the relatively complex set up of the first play for the instead very minimal one of the second.  Considering how long the night was already, nearly reaching a full three hours, I appreciate the brevity in these areas.

The one drawback to the set up was that by the time the third play began most of the audience, myself included, seemed to be getting restless.  With no intermission, the last play with its distinct five chapters and several scenes basically revolving around intense discussions about banking and finance, I’m not proud to say that I was more than a little glazed over myself.  But the fact that the group did manage to hold the audience in rapt attention for the nearly two and a half hour run of the show is impressive in and of itself. 

Additionally, while there were undoubtedly a few intentionally humorous moments in the second two plays, especially the second one, because the audience had been primed to laugh in the over-the-top comedy of the first play, I noticed that the audience, myself included, began to burst into laughter even in otherwise inappropriate moments.  

While the group could have easily put on the play without adding subtitles on projections on either side of the stage for the very small percentage of the audience with less than fluent Mandarin, I appreciated the extra effort put in to make the performances accessible. As a member of that small percentage myself, I definitely found myself referring to to the subtitles frequently throughout the night, especially if a character was talking quietly and I was struggling to hear what they were saying in the first place.

That being said, with so much physical comedy getting the most laughs in the first play, and the more subtle acting in the second two, the experience was definitely better when ignoring the subtitles and instead focusing on all that activity on stage. The actors and actresses couldn’t have done a finer job, and I didn’t catch a single slip up as they all seemed to have prepared their lines to perfection. There was one humorous moment in the first play, however, when one of the sofas being used as props collapsed to the floor.  But like true professionals the actors and actresses continued undeterred, even finding time to prop the sofa back up, resulting in another wave of laughter. I was impressed by the professionalism of cast and crew alike, with the obvious hard work preparing for the show paying off.  I definitely plan on keeping an eye out for their performances in the future, and attending all that I can.

PREVIEW: VOTE! 2018 Fashion Show at the Museum of Art

Where- UMMA

When- November 5th, 6-8PM

 

While my own absentee ballot has long been sealed, stamped and sent off, seeing how much fervor is building across campus for the upcoming election warms my heart in the chilly autumn weather. Whether it be posters, short comedic videos, or social media advertisements it seems like reminders are becoming a daily if not hourly occurrence, and for good cause.

Despite the ever-increasingly creative ways that I’ve seen companies and various organizations alike spreading the voting fervor, the last thing I expected to touch down on our campus was a fashion show dedicated to “what to wear to the polls” and how to exert your political influence through fashion. If you’re feeling a little uninformed on the eve of the election the Ginsberg center will be present to help talk through this year’s ballot as well. The project is a collaboration between various creative organizations and groups on campus such as SHEI Magazine, Bronze Elegance Fashion Show, NOiR Runway Fashion, enspiRED, Stamps School of Art & Design #VotingisSexy class, and the Ginsberg Center/U-M Big Ten Voter Challenge, so you know you’re in for a treat.

So if you’re passionate about fashion, exercising your right to vote, or just want some tips on how to roll up to the polls in absolute style, make sure to check out “Vote!” at the Umma November 6th.  The event will be free of charge and food will be provided so be sure to swing on by!

 

REVIEW: Blue moon over Memphis

The Power Center is one of my favorite venues on campus, With the steep incline of it’s auditorium, floor to ceiling windows, and grey concrete staircases lifting off of the lobby floor I always feel like I’m stepping into the Senate Rotunda from Star Wars when attending an event there. The uniquely sci-fi setting proved to be yet another simultaneously clashing and complementary element in the night’s unique performance, a hybrid of American pop culture featuring the myth around “the king” himself, and Japanese traditional Noh theater, the most ancient theater practice in the world that is still being regularly performed today.  

After spotting flyers for the performance scattered across practically every free space on campus, I was curious as to how many people would actually show for the unique event.  When I first arrived a half and hour early I was surprised and slightly disheartened to see only a scattering of people in the section of the audience left open for the show, to say nothing of the empty seats above and to either side. Thankfully, as the show’s start time drew nearer more and more people trickled in until before I knew it, the crowd was sizably filled out.  Before the performance we had several esteemed guests including the head of UM’s Center for Japanese Studies warmly introduce the nights performance as well as acknowledge the Toyota Visiting Professor program that made the entire event possible.

As someone with little-to-no experience in… well… noh, I only had a vague idea of what we were about to witness.  I knew that noh involved slow methodic movement, painstakingly crafted masks, and very little else. Thankfully Theater Ongaku, the troupe that would be treating us to the performance that night first showed off two segments of other performances that they do, to give the audience a sort of “warm up.”  I also found it fascinating when they explained that the troupe had members flying in from quite literally all across the world to be there in person, and had done most of their rehearsing in the last few days leading up to the performance, although their polished performance certainly didn’t give the impression of being rushed.

 

Much to my expectation, the performance was very purposeful and deliberate, which some might also describe as painstakingly slow if they are used to the high energy plays and musicals so popular these days.  Additionally, there is no other way to word it, but several of the moments in the performance seemed to be unintentionally comical, with the dissonance between the subject matter and the art itself feeling slightly awkward and the intense acting on the part of the actors far from what most Americans are used to. I certainly spotted a few other audience members in the crowd trying to stifle their laugher as I was myself out of respect for the performers and the art form itself.  However it wasn’t until near the end of the performance when the groundskeeper character launched into his lengthy monologue that easily made up a quarter of the script that I realized that many of these moments were intentionally meant to be funny, as the groundskeeper himself acted like a jester, dancing around stage whirling about a pair of women’s panties as a prop.

My personal favorite element of the performance was not even the performance itself, but the beautiful and uniquely crafted garments made for it.  The main character of Judy was wearing what appeared to be a traditional Japanese garment sewn out of patched-together denim scraps, combining the American and Japanese elements quite literally.  The costumes worn by Elvis were striking as well, especially the enormous gilded cream outfit that he wore, subtly decorated by an elegant feather motif. The photo below, while not taken at the local performance, shows the interesting design of these two garments, especially in contrast with the plain black clothes most of the other performers were wearing.

While I can’t exactly ascertain how faithful the play was to traditional noh theater, it was evident that the troupe had a deep love and appreciation of noh theater, as well as extensive knowledge and training in the subject, so I can only assume that they did it justice.  

REVIEW: The Draft

I was first introduced to The Draft exhibition by African-Canadian artist Esmaa Mohamoud just around a year ago.  I was far from the familiar, quaint Ann Arbor, in the bustling international hub entirely different country to be precise!  While that statement exaggerates what was essentially a weekend jaunt to Toronto, there is no exaggeration when describing how impressive this series of work was when I first saw it.  Thankfully our campus was bestowed the privilege earlier this fall to host Mohamoud’s amazing series of work, and I was eager to compare my experience viewing it in a local setting to how it was displayed at the prestigious AGO in Toronto.

When I first arrived, although the gallery door was firmly locked, I was officially within the 10am-5pm time period that the gallery should be open to the public.  Thankfully after quickly asking the front office about gallery they were more than willing to unlock it for me, so don’t be discouraged if you find yourself in a similar position.

The pieces were spread out between two rooms, with the first room being a dedicated space to show the exhibit, complete with both  various sculptures and photographs. The second being a conference room with three of the large scale photographs hanging on the wall. The space in the first room was very well utilized, with a low sculpture placed in the middle activating and working in harmony with the pieces around the room. On the other hand, while the large-scale photography works certainly elevated the conference room they were hanging in, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed at how these meaningful photographs felt relegated to the same level as the generic abstract paintings used to spice up mid-tier hotels.

 

While I wouldn’t have guessed many of Mohamoud’s intentions with each piece without reading the description, her passion for basketball shines through in the way she handles this series.  As for what I did glean from the description posted outside, the series meant to explore themes of “gender, race, empowerment and disillusionment” within the world of basketball. The white, deflated basketballs in the main sculpture are meant to represent the 30 NBA draft picks every year and the rusted chain hoop is meant to “suggest the weird allure and enmeshment of the past.”  The photos of men in basketball jerseys and large ballroom-esque hoop skirts is a representation of Mohamoud’s complex feelings growing up as a girl immersed and in love with what was considered a “men’s sport,” and I also argue could be a statement on perceived masculinity in today’s sports world as well.

When the work was displayed in the AGO in Toronto, Mohamoud had the original models from the photographs in the series wear the same outfits and perform in the space.  While I was not able to attend the performance itself, I did get a chance to see the dress in person, which we were not able to display here at UM. I found this to be truly unfortunate as the dress was, by far my favorite part of her work.  It’s sheer size and volume are unable to be captured by the cropped photographs shown in the exhibit. Below is an image of the models wearing the dresses so viewers can get an idea of what they were like. While I would have loved to see one of the dresses on display in conjunction with the other pieces, I know that there were probably a long list of complications that kept from UM being able to do so, and the gallery space itself would have nearly been dominated by the dress’s physical size and presence even if it was somehow able to be displayed.

The Gallery is often rotating new and exciting exhibits, available right on campus free to students and the general public alike. The exhibit is the first door to your left upon entering the South Thayer building, and the building itself is directly across the street from the MLB and North Quad. Be sure to check out the upcoming exhibition as well, as the gallery is constantly rotating shows. I highly recommend taking the five to ten minutes that it takes to hop into the gallery any any day you need a quick artistic pick-me-up or shot of inspiration while walking around campus. 

PREVIEW: Blue Moon over Memphis

Friday the 12th of October, the Univeristy of Michigan will be treated to to a unique take on Japanese Noh Theater, with a performance of Blue Moon over Memphis by the English speaking noh-drama troupe THEATER NOHGAKU.  It will be at the Power Center located right off central campus and completely free to the public. This unique east-meets-west theater experience explores one of the most revered and influential figures in American pop-culture history, through the unexpected lens of a several century-old form of Japanese theater.

This event is a part of the Toyota Visiting Professor 30th Anniversary Special Lecture Series and made possible by the Japanese Studies Department. The play itself  will explore one woman’s haunting loneliness as she makes a pilgrimage to Graceland on the anniversary of Elvis’s death, where she has an otherworldly encounter with the spirit world .

If you plan on attending, please head over to Eventbrite and RSVP for Blue Moon Over Memphis here.   The event is entirely free, but space is limited so don’t forget to RSVP and check for an email confirmation.

Additionally, if your interest has been thoroughly piqued as mine has, definitely check out the play’s brief promotional video bellow to get an idea what’s in store!