REVIEW: GROW(ING): The 2022 Senior Exhibition

As a Stamps student eagerly stepping into my second year, I find that any glimpse I can get into the work of upperclassmen at Stamps is a treasure. The talent of Stamps students, refined by years of practice, discipline, and creative freedom, is manifested into varieties of works scattered throughout Stamps hallways. Although I enjoy the intricate jewelry and fiber sculptures put on display, many display cases remain empty; I often feel a disconnect from my fellow art students, constantly craving a more in-depth look at how Stamps allows ambition to blossom. The Grow(ing) exhibition was the first deep dive into Stamps work that I have experienced, and it was transformative.

Grow(ing) is a senior exhibition, showcasing the work of BA, BFA, and Interarts students at Stamps. The exhibition is arranged as a maze of large cubicles, each containing the work of one artist, accompanied by a plaque. Art across all mediums is included, from time-based art to wearable sculpture to projections on a floor. The variety is what immediately struck me the most— each artist was able to convey their personal message in truly whatever format they wanted, and this allowed them to communicate effectively, each work standing out from the rest. Three-dimensional art forms dominated two-dimensional, noninteractive art forms in this exhibition, which was shocking to me. I feel as if most Stamps students enter the curriculum with a focus on traditional two-dimensional forms— drawing, painting, et cetera— but Grow(ing) emphasizes the students’ capacity to expand their comfort zones. Stamps’ encouragement to explore creative possibilities paid off in the form of plant-adorned mirrors and enigmatic ceramic furniture sets. Even with limited time on my hands, I couldn’t help but stop at each and every cubicle to absorb the individuality of each space and how the artist’s energy dominates it.

Many artists combined mediums to create deeply layered works. One of my favorites at the exhibition was Silencio by Lissette Quintanilla, a collection of beadwork wearable sculptures that were both displayed on the wall and photographed. Lissette explores her heritage, upbringing, and the intersections of her identity through these delicate sculptures, portraying symbols of identity in a three-dimensional format. Although the sculptures are small, the obvious dedication behind them gave them an air of sophistication that demands your attention. I found that many smaller works throughout the exhibition were outstanding in the same way— although small, they are mighty, carrying a powerful message in a compact and detailed vessel.

Many of the exhibitions were larger sets, complete with instructions on how to interact with the work, lighting elements to boost the atmosphere, or sound elements. Each cubicle represented a fragment of an enigmatic world, a brief glimpse into the colorful mind of a creator. For non-art students and art students alike, the Stamps Senior Exhibition— and any Stamps exhibition at that— is a gift. Student exhibitions are a source of inspiration that naturally renews, encouraging its viewers to create more art, which will build future exhibitions, which will be viewed by more creatives searching for inspiration, and the cycle continues. Art is a beautiful thing, and fleeting moments to stop and appreciate it should be grasped. I look forward to future Stamps exhibitions and you should too!

REVIEW: Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs has Quentin Tarantino’s fingerprints all over it— or, rather, it is Tarantino’s fingerprint. The plot revolves around a group of laughably dysfunctional thieves that encounter trouble when an undercover cop joins their diamond heist. Obscenity-heavy dialogue bounces between twisted characters in a landscape so grim and hopeless that it borders on absurd. Morality is skewed in Tarantino’s world— one minute, the group is discussing the necessity of tipping waitresses, and the next minute a wailing bloodbath is dismissed as a careless blunder. As his writing and directing debut, Reservoir Dogs not-so-gracefully showcases Tarantino’s filmmaking and character-building style; he invalidates the idea that his characters can be redeemed but retains their humanity through witty conversations and vulnerable relationships. There are no villains, heroes, or even a plot structure that feels rewarding; everything is justified and so everything is disappointing. It’s a caricature of the consequences and tragedy of the real world, just framed in a more shocking and theatrical context, and with a lot more blood for a dramatic flourish.

Watching this movie in the Michigan Theatre felt like committing a sin. Reservoir Dogs felt too gritty and grotesque for the ornate and gilded antiquity of the theatre, creating this visceral irony. The experience itself was an oxymoron. Watching the film in such a comfortable space reminded me of the experience of watching Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a similarly gruesome tale of bloody stand-offs and unredeemable acts. There is no fitting place to watch these movies without feeling strangely guilty and disturbed, which I’m beginning to think is exactly the feeling Tarantino is trying to evoke. Reservoir Dogs is intended to make you squirm in your seat and want to avert your eyes but the magnetism of the characters won’t let you. This is bound to be a memorable experience regardless of whether you like the movie or not.

Being his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs isn’t without its flaws. I had predicted that there would be close-ups of some feminine feet in this film— a weird fetish of Tarantino’s— but there were not. I attribute this to the fact that there were zero women in this movie for more than a brief second. Whether or not this is a flaw is a complicated question, because Reservoir Dogs is mostly set in a claustrophobic space with just a few key characters and the film makes a point of subtly ridiculing the hypermasculinity of the group. Constantly screaming at each other, the group of thieves is everything but emotional apt and professional. The explicit racism in the dialogue also felt a bit too far at times, although it also functioned to deepen the immorality of the characters. The script’s edginess felt a little forceful and phony but retained its entertainment value overall.

The consensus is that Reservoir Dogs is a staple Tarantino, but that also means it isn’t for everyone. If you’re in the mood to laugh a little while feeling thoroughly disturbed, check it out at your own risk. Catch another movie at the Michigan Theatre before the year ends. Don’t miss out on the cheap student tickets!

PREVIEW: Reservoir Dogs

This Friday night, the Michigan Theatre is screening yet another cult classic— the grotesquely dramatic Reservoir Dogs, a 1992 Tarantino-directed tale of men committing bloody crimes in an experienced manner and turning on each other with machismo flair. I’ve never seen Reservoir Dogs, but judging from Quentin Tarantino’s typical style of writing and directing, I’m expecting dialogue ridden with deadpan jokes, bloody spurts of gunfire, and maybe a few close-up shots of manicured feet.

Reservoir Dogs is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year, so it comes as no surprise that the cult-classic-obsessed Michigan Theatre is giving the film a night to shine. The plot of Reservoir Dogs entails a diamond heist attempted by a group of thieves. One of the thieves tips off the police, unraveling a group investigation into which member of the group is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. My opinions on Tarantino’s works fall all across the spectrum— Kill Bill entranced me with its memorable characters and enthralling journey; Django: Unchained exhibited the thrill of revenge with beautiful violence; Pulp Fiction, however, fell short as an incohesive mess that tried to make up for its lack of plot with good chemistry and fresh edginess. Will Reservoir Dogs drone on aimlessly or reward itself with character arcs and a cleanly wrapped ending? My intuition leans toward the latter, taking the quiet cultural appreciation for the film as a positive sign. Regardless, it’s bound to be an adventure! I can’t say enough that student tickets are $8.50, so grab a ticket to a classic before the school year ends!

REVIEW: 60th Ann Arbor Film Festival

The 60th Ann Arbor Film Festival is a goldmine of ingenuity. Although I only experienced roughly two hours of the weeklong event, I left with a newfound sense of what film could be; film could be a series of ambient noises and fractal images, or a stop-motion documentary comprised completely of graphite drawings. It can be a scene of boredom, commonly overlooked but injected with life as soon as a filmmaker touches it. Held at the Michigan Theatre, which I’ve luckily been able to visit a few times for other movie screenings, the Ann Arbor Film Festival’s diverse crowd complimented the extravagance of the theatre’s gilded ceilings, the environment glowing with quiet excitement. Special screenings at the Michigan Theatre always bring a niche crowd of enthusiasts, but this mingling group of filmmakers and film-goers added another dimension of community.

Although I’d planned on seeing A Lantern Through Your Labyrinth: Out Histories of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, schedule changes led me to see the screening just afterward, Films in Competition 6. I entered the theatre with no expectations except to embrace the bizarre. The Films in Competition 6 didn’t seem to have any common theme or genre tying them together, and the variety was electrifying. About a dozen short films were screened one after the other, ranging from two to twenty minutes. They were tales of heartbreak, death, connection, and experimentation. Some were animated, others filmed in bizarre ways with extended shots and unconventional angles. I found that some of them were tediously drawn-out, while others were deeply moving and opened my eyes to new methods of storytelling.

My favorite short film of the night was Life is a Particle Time is a Wave by Daniel Zvereff. The stop-motion film is illustrated with what looks to be charcoal or graphite on white paper, dense lines telling the tale of a widowed old man floating through the rest of his repetitive and lonesome days. The clever sound design is entrancingly ambient, a steady ticking conveying a complicated relationship with time and the slow march toward death. The motif of time is symbolized in the minimal but effective illustrations— of the man repeatedly fixing his watch, of the ominous clock above him, and of his worn-down face. His brush with death sends the film into a fresh segment that is much more experimental. The screen explodes into surreal designs that flow into each other, smudging and warping to evoke the in-between feeling of a chaotic purgatory. The experience is heartwarming, saddening, and utterly human, masterfully speaking to fundamental human experiences in the span of a few minutes.

After the screenings, a few of the filmmakers took to the stage for a Q&A, allowing the community to connect on a personal level with passionate creators. The “festival” part of “film festival” revealed itself more through this degree of interactivity; it was a group celebration, each person a part of the joyous experience, whether they create or just observe. It is a wholly equal appreciation for art in every form.

Life is a Particle Time is a Wave is just one of the hundreds of mind-bending films in the competition. Knowing I can’t possibly see all of them is a bit saddening, but good news: the best of the best will be shown on Sunday! Award-winning films will be chosen by the jurors and screened to the Ann Arbor public, so grab an $8 student ticket and check it out!

PREVIEW: 60th Ann Arbor Film Festival

Nestled into the predictable hustle-and-bustle of a Midwest college town, nearly swallowed by the indifference of overworked students, March Madness, and the encroaching doom of finals, a week-long event brings a lucky glimpse of worldwide talent to Michigan Theatre. The Ann Arbor Film Festival is the oldest experimental and avant-garde film festival in North America, reaching all the way back to 1963.  Each year, thousands of film submissions compete for less than two hundred spots in the six-day event. As prestigious of an honor it is to even secure a spot in the lineup, AAFF competitors are even eligible to qualify for Academy Awards, illuminating a world of possibility beyond the big screens. This showcase of creative talent annually sets up shop in our own backyard at the Michigan Theatre, so why not make the walk to witness a couple of hours of rare genius? The week of film screenings extends from March 22nd to the 27th; each day features a schedule of special screenings and “Films in Competition” that compete for awards. The festival wraps up on Sunday with screenings of the winning films. Attendees can choose from a range of events to attend, from experimental shorts to animated features and grim documentaries. There’s something for everyone at AAFF.

I am attending the third night of film screenings on Thursday the 24th, specifically the special program titled A Lantern Through Your Labyrinth: Out Histories of the Ann Arbor Film Festival. This program focuses on experimental LGBTQ cinema throughout the film festival’s history; going into this with very little knowledge of the film festival or its queer artists, I hope to be enlightened about the intersectionality of film and its role in this distinguished event.

Student tickets are only $8 for any event of your choice! Find more information, buy tickets, and view the full schedule at https://www.aafilmfest.org/.

REVIEW: Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

If the music of Big Thief was a physical place, it would be a campfire nestled in a mossy forest, friends cozying up around the flame and reminiscing on bittersweet memories. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, the American band’s fifth studio album, is the same campfire at dawn while the world sleeps, embers flickering, the sky brightening over a peaceful horizon. After conjuring this mental image, I came to realize that the cover itself is a sketchy drawing of animals around a campfire— a pure reflection of the album’s commitment to simple and authentic emotion. As the nature imagery suggests, the sonic world of the indie-folk act is anything but industrial. Even their more experimental songs are rooted in traditional folk, avoiding the mass-produced synthetic sound of modern pop. This genuine touch is what brings Big Thief’s masterful work to life.

DNWMIBIY feels more in touch with the band’s true voice than Big Thief’s 2016 album Masterpiece. The folky guitar evokes images of my youth, of rainy-day hikes in little red rain boots and curiously watching bugs move across the ground. Big Thief explores themes of adolescence, particularly the growing pains of becoming older and finding yourself face-to-face with an emotional reality no longer shrouded by naivety. Adrianne Lenker— who released successful solo music that leans toward a more delicate feminine sound— pours her heart into the vocals, her wavering voice expressing rawness that doesn’t have to be screamed to be felt. “Change” is a particularly resonant track and one of the most popular on the album; lyrically, “Change” has the same transcendent feeling as classic poetry. Like a gentle lullaby, Lenker sings:

“Change like the sky, like the leaves, like a butterfly, death, like a door to a place we’ve never been before”.

The album dives fearlessly into experiments as the album progresses, with spunky lyrics and textured sounds that stray from the calm earthy feel but still stick to the sense of adolescence. Adrianne Lenker’s songwriting is similar to a child’s wild and carelessly joyous thought process. It feels loose, freeing, and successfully exploratory. “Spud Infinity” carries on nature imagery to shout a gleefully unified message:

“One peculiar organism aren’t we all together?
Everybody steps on ants
Everybody eats the plants
Everybody knows to dance, even with just one finger”

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You is an honest tale of unbridled feeling. Adrianne Lenker’s gentle voice echoes unconditional hope, admiration, and longing; it’s a love letter to the natural wonders of human existence and human expression, packaged in a homey atmosphere. If you’re an outdoorsy person, a folk-music-listener, an indie-music-enjoyer, or simply someone who wants to dig under the chaos of daily life to reconnect with your natural emotions, give this album a listen. Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You by Big Thief is available now on Spotify, Apple Music, or another music streaming platform of your choice.