PREVIEW: Radical Acts: A Conversation with Sheryl Oring and Sherrill Roland

American systems of justice and incarceration have a disturbing past and present, rife with injustice. Speakers Oring and Roland have worked in performance/social art surrounding the place of art in social change. Over the past few decades, the two have worked together and individually on projects like I Wish To Say and The Jumpsuit Project.

In a conversation put on by STAMPS, the two will discuss the importance of making this kind of art in today’s intense social climate. Join the discussion Thursday, February 25th at 1pm. Register here and you’ll be sent an email with the link to join the meeting.

REVIEW: Real and Imagined: Fabric Works and Video Animations by Heidi Kumao

I walked into the gallery with a stomach ache, and walked out with an even bigger knot.

Heidi Kumao has put together an excellent portrayal of the gaps in justice systems in cases of sexual violence. It is often characterized as a short list of events, identifiable with clear beginnings and ends. We know who the players are (we call them aggressors, rapists, victims) and what should happen to each party after the event has occurred (getting fired, jail time, police report, testifying). We know what counts and what doesn’t, and what responses are valid. Of course, none of this is actually true; there are countless ways in which someone can be affected by sexual violence, and to reduce such experiences down to more easily digestible stories is a powerful insult, putting into question a violated person’s reality.

The layout of Kumao’s pieces is minimalistic on purpose, each stitch and fabric scrap made infinitely more intentional. And while the arrows on the floor (to direct single-direction traffic in the gallery, allowing for social distancing) were not a part of the exhibition, they fit the theme: there is one way to reconcile with and bring justice to sexual violence. It’s procedural.

A textile medium was an inspired choice: fabric is manufactured neat and orderly, but on close inspection it has a propensity to unravel, to knot, to incorporate impurities, to lasso in sharp burrs, to tangle. It has holes in it, all over the place, it’s easily pierceable, complicated, diverse in stitch and texture. Lint and fuzz make abrasion evident, stains remain embedded. It calls up thoughts of bedding and thus the fiction of dreams, as the exhibition title suggests. It’s also representative of traditional womens’ work: sewing, mending, weaving, embroidering.

Her motifs capture well the double-edged properties of gaining a platform for self-advocation. Thechair is a seeming promise of a seat at the table, but it always comes paired with a spotlight, and an audience (the Langston Hughes reference is intentional, given the added layer of opposition  that women of color face in their search for justice). Connections are tenuous threads, which grow into chaotic knots and simplify into lines, noting the difference between reality (complex stories, lasting results, diverse reactions) and the imagined (straightforward descriptions, single narratives).

The most poignant piece to me was one called “Reluctant Narrator,” a little square scrap of felt maybe six inches wide. One chair sits with another, a tangle of thread upon it, which the other chair is pulling into a thick, straight line. 

It’s become the norm to accept heroism only in those able and willing to share their trauma with strangers, putting themselves on a stage and accepting skepticism and hatred in exchange for benefitting the good of others. We welcome the poised, and lack respect for the silent.

The exhibition will be on display until December 4th. The gallery is open 2-7pm Tuesdays and Fridays to anyone with an Mcard; unfortunately, they’re not presently able to open to the public. However, they have a wealth of online resources like discussions with their featured artists and news about goings-on in the Ann Arbor art scene on their website,

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: 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: 2017 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition.

Student galleries feel variegated, if there’s a single word for it. Like leaves that grow into different colours and shapes, it’s an exhibition that doesn’t know what it wants to be yet, a showcase that simply brings the best of undergraduate work into the spotlight.

With whatever two cents I have on institutional theories of art and the artworld – I like these spaces, maybe more than museums because of the modernity, the messiness, the fact that I could probably say ten years down the line “oh yeah, I know that guy – we went to school together. I saw his early work way before he became famous.”

The Creative Body

This was the thought, the primary impression that reverberated while visiting the Stamps gallery downtown, the glowing letters looking sunny off South Division Street through the rain of an Ann Arbor November: this is the future of art right here, in progress, developing, new.

With expansive media use, the content of the artworks are even more diverse, with much of the form and the subject focused with a modern-day lens and astute freshness. Here, the exhibition highlights a kind of innovation in art by Stamps students, ideas shaped by a digital revolution and the shifting notation that this digitalization is beautiful. The interdisciplinary quality, refined by technology, is seen in Audio Reflection by Maddi Lelli, a sound installation coded in TouchDesigner that forms a hypnotic circle that moves with the inflection of a voice, and The Creative Body by Camille Johnson, a paper maché puppet that uses projections and soundscapes to tell its stories, exhibited before in Detroit and Ypsilanti events.

Glacial Archi-Structure

Glacial Archi-Structure by Juan Marco uses collections of data of topographical structures on glacial recession to create beautiful, geometric representations of information. And Lazy Susan by Rachel Krasnick is a laser-cut and digitally fabricated sculpture, forming a delicate spiral of plywood that doubles up as a turntable.

Glacial Archi-Structure

Many of the pieces also reflect current social climates and the stresses of a particular generation, including artworks such as Tortured Housewife by Beth Reeck, which digitally collages 50s advertisement-esque pictures to explore the constrictiveness of societal gender norms, and Finding Peace by Gillian Yerington, a landscape constructed out of recycled wrappers, so that the viewer is quite literally looking at nature that has been shaped by our waste.

Finding Peace

Conversely, much of the art also finds itself in organic expressions, universal sentiments. Others expand the limits of form and material. From Broken Compass by Kara Calvert, which opens up feelings of alienation and emptiness across a cotton fabric canvas of batik dye, to Fold and sew by Grace Guevara, folding and sewing copper metal like fabric, expanding the definition of what fiber could be.

Fold and sew

In the end, there’s a lot of interesting work in the exhibition by some incredible students (and many more not mentioned in the review) – innovative, smart, socially-conscious, or even terribly funny – variegated remains the only word I can think of to describe it, a gallery poised on the precipice of change, of what’s new and contemporary, of students still growing and creating. So be sure to check out the Undergraduate Juried Exhibition before December 16th!

PREVIEW: 2017 Undergraduate Juried Exhibition.

From November 10, 2017 to December 16, 2017 is Stamps’ annual Undergraduate Juried Exhibition, located at the new Stamps Gallery at 201 S. Division Street.

Featuring the exceptional work of Stamps students, jurors (Anne-Marie Kim, BFA 2004, Samara Pearlstein, BFA 2008, and Ron Watters, BFA 2001) have selected a showcase of the best works to be recognized. From sculpture honed with the eye of industrial design, to illustrations steeped in keen social commentary – the works present the possible beginnings of the next Picasso or Ansel Adams or Emily Carr (and so the list goes on). Go out there and support your fellow students; see the art of what’s happening now.

Free entry! Open from noon to 7pm, on Tuesdays to Saturdays.