REVIEW: RC Student Studio Arts Invitational Opening Reception

On a busy Friday the 13th, the Residential College’s art gallery opened its doors to show off several lucky students’ work. Granted, this exhibition is invitational and students were encouraged to drop off their works by their own hands, but we’re all pretty lucky to have this opportunity. All work from this exhibition is done by students taking RC studio arts courses and who have elected to show some of their work: ceramics, printmaking, sculpture, photography, and drawing. Individual works are not labeled, though a placard listing each contributing student rests among the artwork.

Even after four years at UM and several classes in East Quad, I’ve somehow never been inside this small gallery. It felt roomier than I expected, in a way that maximized the intimacy of the space. While I roamed around alongside a few other students, I still felt that I had plenty of time and space to admire the art on display.

Prints and drawings color the long wall and give it life. Several pieces were more political than others, though holistically mixing textures and adding to said life. A piece with a person stretching to reach their foot says “Let me live” beside a different piece shouting “The first pride was a riot” in stark contrast; a piece with an image of a gun and “Never again” sits above one of a mountain. I liked seeing how the creative minds of classmates look beside each other and how the individual pieces work into the whole. Despite so many different approaches, it all worked so well together.

From there, the gallery moves into sculpture and ceramics. A series of patterned blocks make a nice juxtaposition with a smooth and more organic-looking shape. Surrounding it, wire sculptures make shadows on the walls, reminding me of various works by Alexander Calder and their placements in other galleries. Mixed-media sculptures rest in the middle of the room: one being a sculpted human heart held up by wires attached to a three-dimensional frame.

Opposite the prints, ceramic vases and series give the walls texture among another color print and several black and white photos. I especially liked the glaze techniques on the smooth vases and the patterns that the artists were able to create — and I really loved the leaf patterns on one of them, with 3D ceramic leaves crawling around its rim. It was calming to view.

One of the walls of this gallery is a large window, so people can glance at art while walking past. Between that window and the rest of the gallery, exhibition space was definitely maximized by adding other walls. I liked this because of the chance given to see work during its closing hours: different types of work are displayed together, ceramic and photo in particular, giving passersby a glimpse into what the rest of the gallery has to offer.

My own work is on display as well (photos and poems teamed together). I’m taking the black and white photography course this semester, so I recognized some of the photos and series of photos from my peers. I haven’t been able to see the other section’s photos until this exhibit, and I enjoyed seeing what they’ve been coming up with for certain projects. Their displays both juxtaposed and mirrored the prints coloring the opposite wall: several different artists with different approaches/subjects adding to one array that still works holistically.

Part of me wished that each piece was individually labeled with titles and/or artist statements so I could see what some of the artists had conceptualized, but I also liked that they stood alone. This element truly added to the idea that art can have as many meanings as people who see it, and sometimes it’s fun to make your own thoughts separate from what the artist wants you to think.

This exhibition of student work is on display until the April 27th, so you have plenty of time to go see these wonderful pieces! The gallery is always free, and open M-F from 10am-5pm. If you’d like to one day have your work shown in an exhibit like this, consider taking an RC studio arts course. Some seats are open to non-RC students.

And, for those who also have their work exhibited — truly great work! I hope you’re as excited as I am to have something original shown in a nice gallery space.

PREVIEW: RC Student Studio Arts Invitational Opening Reception

Maybe you’ve been taking studio art classes in the Residential College, or maybe you have friends (such as yours truly) who have, or maybe you’ll be around East Quad at some point this month with art on the mind. Maybe you’ve been itching to see student photography, ceramics, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture all in the same little space.

Lucky for you, the RC Art Gallery will be full of student work from various RCARTS courses from the 13th-27th of April, completely free to browse. The gallery and student exhibition will open with a reception on Friday, the 13th of April from 4-6pm — also free and with refreshments! The gallery is just to the right of the East University entrance when you first walk in and is usually open M-F 10am-5pm, special exception for this event.

Date: Friday, April 13th, 2018
Time: 4-6pm
Location: East Quad’s RC Art Gallery

*Featured image credit: “Date Night” by Henry Schreibman

REVIEW: 12th Annual FestiFools

On Sunday afternoon, puppets came alive and fools came about.

It was another cold day, but luckily the sun came out to be foolish with everybody. I had been with the FestiFools class (housed by Lloyd Hall Scholars Program) earlier that day — so I rode from the studio to Main Street with the puppets and their makers and then helped them unload those massive papier-mache sculptures. Seeing all them all lining the side road gave them a new element of livelihood an hour later when they took to the stage.

Many puppets this year were politically-charged, which also added a layer of humor to the already-foolish theme. One such sculpture completed in part by the event’s founder, Mark Tucker, was a “scary go-round” featuring giant caricatures of Putin, Trump, and Kim Jong-un. Their realistic facial resemblances added to the scare factor of the piece. It was surrounded by several fish- and Nile-themed sculptures: fantastical underwater creatures, a jellyfish umbrella, a large pyramid, a Sphinx featuring another head of Trump as well as hieroglyph-esque political cartoons of his presidency, and more.

Scary Go-Round
Sphinx with head and presidency of Trump (one of its makers and director of LHSP pictured)

I’d like to think the politically-charged pieces were crowd favorites, given the laughs and supportive comments from onlookers around me. The mayor of Ann Arbor also had a puppet head resembling him, which another person wore while he escorted him around the stage (up and down Main Street).

Mayor of Ann Arbor next to mayor of Ann Arbor

Alongside puppets, marching bands (ones with real brass instruments and more FestiFools-esque ones with buckets as drums) add music to the scene; dance groups and jokesters perform and interact with the crowd. A group of belly dancers in particular were fascinating, especially when following a large praying mantis led by several people at once.

Maybe I’m biased after having seen several of these puppets in the studio the week before when they were unfinished, but they all turned out incredible. While yes, some parts fell off during the procession, that’s what they’re made to do.

Hundreds of Ann Arbor fools with and without families lined Main Street for that hour on Sunday afternoon. In fact, they gathered on the sidewalks at least a half-hour before it began and stuck around during the half-hour following, eager and excited for the foolish energy that lingered.

During the event, several puppets also interacted with the crowd — particularly children. I jumped in to assist a friend’s Lego Princess Leia puppet, which had a sad face on one side of the head and a happy face on the other. When Leia got high-fives from kids to her U-shaped lego hands, her happy face would greet them.

Princess Leia as a happy Lego

One of my favorite parts of FestiFools is the last five minutes: all of the puppets and their makers gather in the intersection nearest the trucks in which they came, dancing and smiling as though the catharsis of the event. If FestiFools was a musical, this would be the final number with all cast members present, where any plot issues get resolved. The drummers and musicians don’t necessarily battle but instead give the stage one last, large energetic push, and then the crowd parts to let them dance their way back to the side street.

I highly recommend going to the next FestiFools! It takes place right on Main Street once every April. While a great chance to be your true foolish selves, consider letting that foolishness shine other days of the year, too.

REVIEW: Play Structures: Yiu Keung Lee

In this collection, all of the eight individual structures are made from the same basic materials: terra cotta clay, house paint, platinum luster, latex tubing, and sometimes, salt. All of the different pieces are unified by the same basic artistic shapes, colors, and components as well. Each has a shiny silver ball or cone shape, terra cotta flowers, and either a spherical or oblong terra cotta centerpiece. All but one contain some form of what looks like the metal framework that you see in early stages of construction to support buildings. The artist’s short statement at the entrance of the gallery states that the collection is an autobiographical series composed of playful forms, which remind him of moments he treasures. As I was walking through the gallery, and soaking up the art, I was curious as to what memories inspired each piece. I really could not tell, and still don’t have any inkling of what the art means. Regardless, it was fun to ponder the way that our own memories work and invoke images in our minds, however indecipherable by others. The art was a reminder that we all have wonderful moments, gems of time in our lives that we will wear forever.

My favorite part of the collage of shapes that compose each structure is the array of flowers. They are bare clay, lovely and lively and natural additions to an otherwise quite abstract sculpture. The flowers are grounding in a way, and remind the viewer that the art is playful and inspired by goodness. Flowers are symbols of love–given on birthdays and celebrations of joy, and also commemorating loved ones who have passed. They are reminders of memories made and lives had.

In contrast to the plain terra cotta flowers are the glinting dashes of metallic paint, coating elegant spheres and spouts and cone shapes. These feel to me like the climax, the peak, of the memory–the shining moment that has really stuck in the artist’s mind. They are attention-capturing and bright.

Now the salt: a very interesting concept that also adds texture and movement to the sculptures. The salt and the metal-looking bar frames are what reminded me of the exhibit’s name: Play Structures. They look a little bit like playgrounds: the salt could be the sand or mulch on the ground, with flowers growing from the earth, and the metal clay bars are jungle gyms, monkey bars, to climb and to use for support.

Taking all components into account, this exhibit inspires my curiosity about the artist’s experiences and stories, it reminds me of my own memories, and all the conditions–people, places, lives, spontaneous happenings–that came together to create these moments.

REVIEW: The Bacchus Lady

“The Bacchus Lady” is a poignant film about senior citizen So-Young (Youn Yuh-Jung), which delves into the larger social problems at play for the senior citizens of South Korea. The movie focuses on So-Young to demonstrate how hundreds of elderly women make a living– by selling cheap sex in parks. Bacchus, an energy drink, has quickly become a pseudonym for her profession.

The film starts out with a bang: just having tested positive for an S.T.D, So-Young witnesses her doctor being stabbed with scissors by his Filipina girlfriend, leaving their illegitimate child Min-Ho stranded. So-Young rushes him home with her, leaving him in the care of her neighbors while she works during the day. So-Young’s two neighbors Tina, her transgender landlady, and amputee Do-Hoon quickly assimilate the child into their makeshift family. Their relationships were wonderfully portrayed. They clearly all had their problems and issues to take care, but none hesitate to help the others.

So-Young’s daily life is quickly disrupted as she reconnects with three of her older clients, who are all experiencing the indignity and stress of old age and poverty. The director uses a young man making a documentary about bacchus ladies to clue the audience into the sad state of the elderly in Korea, where nearly 65% live below the poverty line. This is neatly contrasted with Min-Ho, who receives an abundance of resources from the government as an abandoned child. The three men are portrayed realistically; they have been abandoned by a system they helped build after the Korean War and are now left adrift and neglected. So-Young’s relationship with them is understanding, however, they all rely on her to help end their struggles.

Through her interactions with them, So-Young recalls her past where she was an escort for American soldiers at a military base and had to give her child up for adoption. Although her path to becoming a bacchus lady is never completely revealed, one scene shows her watching another elderly women collecting trash on the street– the only other job she could have had. She reminisced that her dignity would not have let her live like that. Through So-Young’s life, director EJ-Young reveals the limited options available to the elderly and the lack of a comprehensive support program for them.

The majority of the film is shot in the parks of Korea, beautifully green and full of luscious trees. The screen time devoted to the sexual aspects of So-Young’s jobs is anything but intimate, showing her monotony but also the disrespect by some of her customers. Aesthetically pleasing, the film portrays the realities and hardships of Korean life. Although brutally honest, EJ-Young doesn’t forget to include some humor as well.

Image: Hello Asia

REVIEW: EMBODY 2018 MFA Thesis Exhibition.

During a gallery visit on a cool Friday, the exhibit was quiet, uninterrupted as a projected screen on the wall played the construction and deconstruction of bread against fragile grid paper. As a common theme, EMBODY is a refinement of material in each of the exhibiting works, a process of transformation that embodies a larger significance.

From the opening entrance into Stephanie Brown’s Am I Enough, the power of material is palpable. There’s a tactile installation in a palette of skin tones, like suits someone could wear on and off in a closet. Following this idea and framed by the poem typed on the wall, is a shirt display with no bleach symbols and an exhibition of different people of colour dressed in them. The meaning is clear: no whitewashing; please wash gently with unlike colours.

The idea of an identity is juxtaposed with clothes and fabrics, the same way we wear biases. But colourism, racism, and the weight of an identity – these are things that are less easily taken off than the way someone might take off a coat.

To a more abstract kind of expressionism with material, How to draw a line by the clenching of a fist by Brynn Higgins-Stirrup explores both the geometric and fluid, with images and sculptures that are inherently tactile, a history of molding folded into their form. It is work that is engaging and dynamic to look at, something that captures attention into the process like a manual of how to create.

There are some interesting, beautiful and abstract shapes, touchable and twisted, such as the grid upon paper like a map, a pathway of how things are created. It’s an exhibit that almost elicits a need to touch and explore the pieces from their nuanced, delicate complexity.

Crossing by Brenna K. Murphy utilizes the same kind of complexity. But it’s a labour of love, painstakingly slow and focused. Within the work, there’s an idea of reverence for the length of lace that looks so breakable and easily tangled. It’s solemn, the motions of deconstructing a sweater for the threads to create something new; deconstructing the old clothes in a process of grief.

It is there, coiled but unexpressed, and the creation of this lace over a long period of time, as if looking for all the time that heals, and creating a sadness that is now tangible – it is an art piece that spans long and delicate across an entire room.

Finally, the closet of the bedroom of / offscreen / by Robert J. Fitzgerald is located near the entrance of the gallery, while the rest is situated near the back, as if a teaser to the private life of a teenage boy. The exhibition uses personal materials, creating a sense of nostalgia as projections of old films play in the intimate corners of an adolescent’s bedroom – between the window shutters, underneath bed sheets, in a sock drawer.

There is definitely something secluded about a bedroom, now opening it up for a glimpse of someone’s individual life. It’s comfortable, excluded from the outside world save for the projections of films that have influence on this privacy.

Each work exploring material to embody a particular narrative, the MFA Thesis Exhibition is worth a trip to the Stamps Gallery.