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 Player’s Marie Antoinette

While delving into the world of American playwright David Ajmi’s Marie Antoinette, it is evident this revisionist history comes from the growing oeuvre of theater-meets-pop-culture. Labeled a “tragicomic satire”, it turns its French Revolution-era subject into a mirror for today’s political climate. Put on by the RC Players, I am interested to see how they will take Ajmi’s work and run with it, not only with the script, but with any potential set and costumes (though that’s possibly due to the cotton-candy spectrum of the Sofia Coppola film coming to mind). With the potential to invigorate (or infect, depending on your historical tastes) the continually-analyzed figure of Marie Antoinette with the self-absorbed pop culture of today, I’m excited to see how vain and indulgent their Marie can become to create the biting satire that humbly reminds us we haven’t distanced ourselves too much from the past two-hundred-fifty years.

March 17 & 18, 8pm

Keene Theater, East Quad


Image c/o the American Repertory Theater’s 2012 production of Marie Antoinette

PREVIEW: A Dangerous Experiment

This play takes us back to 1871, to U-M’s first class of female students to enter into the exclusively-male student body. Written and directed by current U-M students, the play is based on both historical and fictional accounts of five female students as they work their way through the world attempting to assert themselves to their male counterparts, faculty, and the city of Ann Arbor itself.

The issue of women in male-dominated spheres remains an issue almost 150 years later. While U-M looks very different today, it’s revealing to look back at its origins to see how far we’ve come, as well as the bounds the University has left to make.

February 10 and 11 at 8 pm, and February 12 at 2 pm

Keene Theater, East Quad


PREVIEW: Voices of the Middle West

Image courtesy of Midwestern Gothic

Calling all book lovers, readers, publishers, bagel eaters, robots, Midwesterners4Life…whoever you are, you have a VOICE! And we want to hear it!

One year later after its debut, the Voices of the Middle West Literary Festival is a new annual event, created in partnership by local literary mag Midwestern Gothic and UM’s Residential College. From the Midwestern Gothic website, Voices of the Middle West is “a festival celebrating writers from all walks of life as well as independent presses and journals that consider the Midwestern United States their home.”

The event, set up in the East Quad Main Concourse, will be all day starting at 10 am-6pm, available for you to wend your way through tables of books to buy (including ones from Literati Bookstore), freshly-printed campus publications to peruse, publishers and editors and visionary students to chat about the future of the industry in an electronic world, and some very famous authors to brush shoulders with!

Throughout the day will be many panels featuring authors such as Matt Bell, Alissa Nutting, and Anne Valente, on different topics about the Midwest. There’s a chance to hear (or perform) poems and prose at the Open Mic, a great way to support your fellow writers on campus. And don’t miss the very special keynote speaker, Stuart Dybek, who will discuss his own take on publishing, writing, being successful, and of course, living in the Midwest.

I believe everyday should be a day to celebrate books! But Midwestern Gothic and the Residential College have put their heads together to make Voices of the Middle West a celebration that immerses you in Midwestern pride and literary splendor. Indeed- Voices is a unique “book holiday” that is too good to pass up. (Party hats optional. Love of books required)

What: Voices of the Middle West

Where: East Quad, University of Michigan Central Campus

When: Saturday, March 21 from 10-6

How Much?: FREE!!! … unless you choose to buy a book! Which I mean, how could you not??? 🙂

For more information on the schedule of events, check out




PREVIEW: RC Players presents Breaking News

Image created by Manami Maxted

We interrupt your daily routine of papers, Starbucks runs, naps, and Facebooking for this special report: The sleepy town of Hiddlesville is rocked with explosions, and everybody’s got something to say about it. And that’s just what the bombers want…

Skyler Tarnas, a junior in the RC, has written and directed a “tragedy-comedy about the comedy of tragedy” in order to comment on the ridiculously frivolous arguments made by television broadcasters in the face of tragedy. Watch as East Quad becomes the battle field for CNN-inspired brawls, laugh until you cry, and let emotions tangle and twist in this satirical genre-bending production.

What: RC Players Presents: Breaking News

When: November 21-23 (Friday and Saturday @ 8:00 pm, Sunday @ 2:00 pm)

Where: Keene Theater in East Quad

How Much?: Free!!!

REVIEW: Friday Night’s Alright for Reading

Elton John may prefer Saturdays, but the Residential College calls dibs on Friday. Yesterday, storytellers, logophiles, and those who just really love homemade brownies gathered in East Quad’s Benzinger Library for a live reading event hosted by Midwestern Gothic, a literary journal based in Ann Arbor. Established in Spring 2011 by Rob James Russell and Jeff Pfaller, the publication sets out to debunk the common perception that the Midwest is simply a sweet, innocent, ‘flyover’ region. We all know that this myth is far from the truth.

In order to showcase the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Midwest, Midwestern Gothic, which last year hosted a Midwestern literary festival in East Quad’s concourse, returned to the Residential College’s home for a live reading by Midwestern writers themselves. Contributors included U of M professor Julie Babcock; Ann Arbor News crime reporter John Counts; RC Creative Writing Professor Laura Thomas; Jared Yates Sexton, a Midwestern-turned-Georgia Southern University professor; and Rob James Russell, one half of Midwestern Gothic‘s team. Each read short excerpts of their own work that highlighted both the unusual and the everyday of Midwestern life.

John Counts kicked off the event with his piece found in Midwestern Gothic’s Summer Issue 14, a unique piece entitled “The Skull House,” that explores a girl’s unusual habit of collecting animal skulls. It ponders the existence of “roadside attractions” and the exploitation of individual lifestyles and quirks. His visceral language of “boiling the animal flesh” and the processes of cleaning the skulls was scientific to the bone, and yet made me twinge uncomfortably in my seat. A good storyteller, in my opinion, can utilize his/her words in such a way to make you squeamish at one moment, full of remorse the next, and lift you up with hope. Counts fits the category perfectly.

Next, Laura Thomas claimed that she “normally doesn’t steal story ideas from the newspaper headlines.” But one story from a year or two ago was stuck in her head, and she had to write a story about it. Her story, printed in Midwestern Gothic’s latest Issue 15, is called “Sole Suspect.” The plot follows a father whose daughter has been missing for 20 years, and he is the only one to have seen her the night she went missing. The mystery/crime short story, Thomas explained, was based on a story in South Dakota, where two girls, who had been missing for 20 years, were discovered in their submerged car after driving off a bridge. I was particularly interested in hearing Thomas read, as I have taken Creative Writing classes with her, and was curious if she uses her own helpful advice in her work. I was very satisfied to know that she loves a good adverb and extended metaphor as much as I do. Although she only read an excerpt of the short story, it was beautifully constructed and makes me want to read the rest!

Rob Russell followed up with a story from his forthcoming collection about “relationship, love, family and all that jazz.” His smart and nostalgic piece, “Rough and Tumble Sorts,” examined family dynamics in a small-rural Missouri setting, while walking his audience back in time with the memory of AOL chatrooms. “But how do you know that who you’re talking to is really the person you’re talking to?” one character asks, skeptically. “Why wouldn’t they be?” the other responds. “I don’t know.” (Oh, the innocence of the ’90’s.)  Preceding his reading, Russell played the clamor of the AOL Dial-Up sound from his iPhone in the ultimate visual of clashing decades, “in case you young’ins in the audience have never heard it before.”

Julie Babcock, whose poetry collection “Autoplay” is forthcoming this month from MG Press, read her lyrical snapshots of youthfulness and Ohio-love. Each were beautiful on the surface, but their real beauty comes when you peel up the outer layer and delve into the “deeper meaning.” What I love about live readings is that you get to hear the story that inspired the author/poet to write that particular piece. Instead of just reading a poem out of context, we understand how Babcock came to title this one “Astronaut, Ohio” and that one “Pregnant Chad” and suddenly, the seams of the story come together a bit more.

Likewise, Jared Yates Sexton prefaced his reading with an in-depth story about his cat who drinks his water so vigorously that he instantly gets sick afterwards. Although irrelevant to his short story, it somehow drew me closer to the reading, like I shared this quirky piece of knowledge that only “insiders” would know about the author. Also, the short story that Sexton read would be a totally different piece if not read aloud by Sexton himself. The story was based on a true event with people from Sexton’s past. Therefore, with much dialogue, only Sexton could imitate the exact inflections of the character’s voice, pairing the words with their corresponding gestures that were not written in the story.

Just like a CD cannot do justice to the energy and spirit of a live performance, nor can reading a story in private provide the same experience as hearing the story as the author intended. I recommend to keep an eye and an ear out for author readings. If nothing else, you’ll probably hear a good cat story or two.

For more information on Midwestern Gothic, check out their website: