REVIEW: Radical Acts: A conversation with Sheryl Oring and Sherrill Roland

While perhaps not as informative about their collaborative work as I had hoped, this discussion provided some valuable background and behind the scenes information on Oring and Roland’s individual projects.

Roland was more reserved in talking about The Jumpsuit Project than Oring about I Wish To Say, not surprising given the length of time Oring has spent developing and connecting with her work, which has required a different kind of personal conversation to its audience members. As Roland reflected, in-person commentary to his work has mostly involved either an effort to shape the design of the project (campus and local police, university faculty, professors) or a rather momentary response (students commenting on it while studying at the library, passersby snapping a quick photo). Starting as a thesis project for his MFA, it makes sense: he faced pressures to appeal to a great deal of people, or if not to appeal, then to specifically give a message to many, all at once. There were his thesis advisors, people on the street, people on his campus, the institution that had held him despite his innocence, the entire country’s network of incarceration and justice systems.

While also incredibly impactful, Oring’s project has something to say rather than something to prove. That’s an oversimplified statement, but it compares the current evolutionary state of the two projects in broad terms. Oring, in contrast, speaks to her audience one-on-one as well as peripheral members of her audience (observers by the typewriter stations, people reading about her work online), making space for the content of their letters in an overwhelmingly impersonal world. In the nearly two decades since she began the project (as well as her previous years as a journalist), she has honed her ability to speak simultaneously to an individual subject (an interviewee) and a wider audience (readers).

Both styles of performance art serve a purpose within the political moments in which they exist: Roland seeks to expose widespread flaws in the criminal justice system through bringing his own experience to many in a particularly conspicuous way, contrasting how systemic injustice is often kept away from the public eye. These systems are represented as old, unchangeable institutions central to the function of our society, despite the reality that prisons are an industry, a pipeline, a cyclical system with rehabilitation far from a main focus. Oring, by working one-and-one and over a long period, has allowed citizens to individually be vocal. It’s especially important as polarization and whipsawing between recent presidential administrations causes significant frustration and disillusionment amongst the public.

Future events put on by the Stamps Gallery can be found here, including episodes of the Penny Stamps speaker series and other talks with artists. There are also some upcoming gallery exhibitions as MFA students showcase their theses; do note that entrance into the gallery requires an Mcard.

REVIEW: Real and Imagined

Professor Heidi Kumao’s solo exhibition features fabric works and experimental animations that capture ordinary conversations and relationships. What sets Professor Kumao’s work apart from other artwork exploring a similar concept is not only the unique medium, but also the fact her work is told from a feminist perspective. She explores underlying emotions and tensions in everyday interactions by representing trauma and power imbalance. The title, Real and Imagined, reflects public support for and backlash towards women who have spoken up about assault, harassment, and misconduct. A woman’s experience can be believed to be an honest account but dismissed as wrongly remembered or entirely made up.

Professor Kumao’s work is minimalistic, but her work is far from lacking meaning or appearing overly simplistic and therefore unclear. Her work is almost playful or childlike – the style is reminiscent of something you’d see in a picture book. However, the seemingly innocent appearance of Professor Kumao’s artwork is sharply contrasted by how effectively she is able to convey emotion in her work.

For example, in the above piece titled “Consultation,” we see what is unmistakably a gynecologist’s office, with the door, chair, and the exam chair with stirrups. Although there are only really three focal points in the piece, with the background being all white, Professor Kumao was able to clearly set the scene, as well as create an atmosphere of unease with the vivid red. Red, as we all know, is often associated with danger or a warning, but Professor Kumao deliberately created a sense of discomfort rather than immediate danger. The scene can be interpreted as simply unsettling, but also preceding or directly following the suggested danger.

The jumble of thread sitting on the chair appears multiple times throughout the exhibition, including in the below piece titled “Reluctant Narrator.” In this piece, the thread is being pulled at, hinting at the unraveling of a narrative. She once again uses red, but the thread is in more disarray than the thread in “Consultation.” This seems to directly reference the “Reluctant” part of the title, again creating a sense of unease. On the other hand, in “Consultation,” the thread is still entirely intact, suggesting that perhaps there is something that happened around the time of the scene depicted.

Obviously, these are just my interpretations of some of Professor Kumao’s work, but I find it so impressive how effective her work is. There is always some blank space in each piece, but rather than leaving each piece seemingly unfinished, she is able to tell a story without overcrowding the felt canvas. Furthermore, I can only imagine how long it took to create this exhibition. The felt cutouts have a sense of depth, and you can always tell which way a chair or spotlight is facing. Her shapes are very distinct and it’s clear why she chose to include them – office chairs to represent power imbalances and spotlights to represent public scrutiny.

Overall, Professor Kumao’s exhibition is very strong and very impactful. It leaves room for interpretation, but it isn’t needlessly confusing. It’s clear that she put in a lot of time and care into this project, and I would encourage you to see it in person.

Real and Imagined is currently on display at the Stamps Gallery, which is open on Tuesdays and Fridays to visitors with an M-Card and a mask.

PREVIEW: Real and Imagined

Until December 4, Stamps Professor Heidi Kumao’s solo exhibition is on display at the Stamps Gallery. In this exhibition, Professor Kumao features narrative fabric works made from fabric cutouts and machine and hand stitching on felt. Professor Kumao uses these fabrics and experimental animations to visualize the psychological and emotional undertones behind everyday interactions and relationships. The title, “Real and Imagined,” is inspired by the backlash to the #MeToo movement, and how a woman’s testimony can be accepted as reality as dismissed as fiction at the same time.

I am very much looking forward to Professor Kumao’s exhibition. Her featured work has a very distinct and playful style, contrasted by the serious subject matter. I’m already impressed by how strong the message of each piece is despite how minimal the style is. I can only imagine how much care and time went into this exhibition, and I’m quite excited to see it in person.

The Stamps Gallery, located at 201 S. Division Street, is open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 2-7 to visitors with an M-Card and a mask.

PREVIEW: sometimes something

The  Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design will hold their 2020 MFA Thesis Exhibition, sometimes something, from March 13th – May 2nd at the Stamps Gallery at 201 South Division St in Ann Arbor.

sometimes something will showcase projects by Sally Clegg, Kim Karlsrud, Erin McKenna, and Abhishek Narula. The art projects feature themes such as social and urban ecosystems, privacy, self pleasure, creation, and our digital world.

I am excited to see the artistic works this cohort has created. The online exhibition preview features sneak-peak images from the projects, and each artist looks like they have created work that is both enticing and stimulating.

Coming out to support these graduate students in their MFA Thesis Exhibition is a perfect way to get out of the house and escape from the strange world we are currently experiencing!


REVIEW: 2019 Stamps Undergraduate Juried Exhibition

The 2019 Stamps Undergraduate Juried Exhibition opened amidst great excitement and contemplation on Friday, November 22nd, as most gallery receptions do. The exhibition consisted of over 50 Stamps undergraduate pieces, including both personal and course-related work, spread relatively evenly among each graduating class. I was pleasantly surprised with the diversity of subject matter, artistry, style, and media – which ranged from two-dimensional mediums like printmaking and collage work to three-dimensional and even four-dimensional mediums like embroidery, upcycled materials, and animation. Not only is the this annual Stamps Gallery tradition an excellent opportunity for students to showcase their work, but it additionally bridges the Stamps undergraduate community to Stamps alumni. All three of the visiting jurors, Parisa Ghaderi, Cynthia Greig, and Cosmo Whyte, are Stamps MFA graduates, as well as nationally and internationally recognized creatives.


Beyond the award-winning pieces, a couple of other works piqued my interest after after catching my eye for their emotionality and aesthetic appeal. Anna Cao’s Flowing Water and Falling Spring immediately stuck out for its vivacity, in both its rich imagery and allusions to Japanese aesthetics. From a distance, the serene scenery seems to surrealistically flow together in a seamless fashion, as if painted on one canvas. Yet as the viewer closes that distance, the rippling waters, snowy mountains, and familiar figures setting down water lanterns reveal to be collaged paper elements from different contexts – each vivid in their individuality yet still cohesively merged in dialogue with one another.



Gray Snyder’s Abstract Self Portrait, a monochrome, triptych timeline of the artist’s emotional growth and development, evoked within me a sense of peace yet empty solitude. I thought Snyder’s universally interpretable linear forms, spiraling shapes, splatters, and shadows that seemed to fall across the tapestry were ingeniously effective in portraying emotional transformation and the various stages of grief.



Another tapestry work imbued with the artist’s emotional histories, this one of embroidered, dyed, and woven cotton, was Brook Eisenbise’s Carrying All of This. Each aesthetic aspect of this work was carefully chosen by the artist to communicate her grandmother’s complex experience with her husband’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis. Even without reading the accompanying information about the piece, the tension created from Eisenbise’s graphic color scheme, typographic elements, and jostling French knots was highly evocative of stress and human experiences of pain.






This exhibition will be on view until December 15, 2019 at the Stamps Gallery on S Division – I highly recommend making a trip down to experience the diverse, exceptional talent and hard work concentrated in the Stamps student body!

PREVIEW: Stamps Undergraduate Juried Exhibition

This Friday is the opening of the 2019 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition for the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design.  The show will be featuring selected works from Art and Design students, and is sure to be an excellent showcase of the creative and innovative force found in our student body.


The show is on display at the Stamps Gallery on 201 S. Division through December 15th. Its opening reception will be from 6-8pm Friday. Saturday, students who have won awards for their work will be chatting about their work in the gallery from 2-4pm.


Go out and support students making excellent work!