Art Biz with Liz: A Final Semester and Farewell

I received the email from Joe on April 7th: “Wednesday, May 4th will be the official LAST DAY to post your column!”

No biggie, I thought at the time. May 4th was still nearly a month away. I had multiple weeks to write more posts about the arts before I graduated and went on my merry way. But life grew too busy. Finals season began at that same time future plans were being made, and there was no time to catch my breath before the series of graduation ceremonies hit. Before I knew it, I landed here, on May 4th, to say my goodbye to arts, ink. and a huge part of my life at Michigan.

I have a million things to say and one post to articulate them. Part of me isn’t ready to post this piece, either, because it’s the last one. The very end. When I told people about my writing endeavors here at the university, I used to refer to my writings with arts, ink. as “silly little blog posts about art,” which were in stark contrast to the seriousness of academic writing or my other work at the Michigan Daily and in literary magazines. But in a way, as discussed in a previous post, my work at arts, ink. has also been a time capsule. I didn’t always dedicate the amount of time and energy to them as I wish I had, but it’s neat to have been able to churn out weekly writings across the span of four school years. Looking back, it’s also been nice to become involved with the arts in numerous ways. I’ll spare you from the extensive trip down memory lane, but I’ll close out with some of the artistic feats I’ve been involved with this past semester.

Part I: Writing

I’ve always loved to write, but as time went on, I found it increasingly difficult to make myself sit down and write on my own accord. The University of Michigan has been a blessing in its plethora of opportunities in this sense, but as a creative writing & literature major, I found myself lacking in experience compared to my peers. I used to think it was a blessing to be “well-rounded” in interests and pursuits, but this proved to be challenging once I had to pick a major (and thus limit myself in what I learned from that point on). I can say, however, that as much as I’ve had doubts about my majors, my abilities, and myself throughout college, I’m proud of the work I’ve created in regard to my two senior honors theses, which earned high honors and highest honors.

If you’ve been reading my posts throughout the past year, you may have noticed my (potentially annoying) mentioning of my honors theses. This was never meant to be a brag or complaint but rather commentary on something that took up much of my time and focus the past year and a half. People often told me I was crazy for writing two theses (one for each of my majors), but doing so seemed like the natural culmination of my studies and time at U-M. They allowed me to challenge myself while narrowing in on specific subjects of interest. For my creative writing & literature major, specifically, I wanted to challenge myself in writing a longer piece of work. The disciplined yet supportive structure of writing an honors thesis allowed me to do so, and I ended up with a longer novella at 135 pages.

Since these posts are all about the arts, I’ll focus on my creative writing thesis. When I think about the sort of person I wanted to connect to my writing, why the story is important, and what I hoped people would get out of it, there are several things that came to mind. My novella is a coming-of-age story centered on complicated family dynamics, but it also speaks to culture and identity. The main character, Christi, is a mixed Chinese-Filipino American whose father is white and mother is an immigrant from the Philippines, which resembles my situation. Growing up, I loved the young adult genre, but I didn’t find many stories that included the main character with an identity like mine. There are many layers to being a mixed Asian American, and when Christi visits her mother’s homeland, she is challenged with all sorts of inner turmoil surrounding identity and culture that accompany the central storyline. Christi’s perspective when she visits the Philippines is often ignorant yet candid. The teenage viewpoint offers an interesting means to express culture shock and family conflict. Overall, I didn’t want to write a story simply for representation, but I am hoping that setting the story in the Philippines yet from the point of view of a young American can engage readers with a different place/culture in a way that’s accessible and relatable.

As previously mentioned, I’m interested in a variety of subjects, which is great in granting me different lenses, perspectives, and experiences to inform my writing. I’ll admit, however, that being stretched out across different academic disciplines means I don’t practice writing nearly as much as I should or as many of my peers do. I’ve struggled with writer’s block and self-discipline in the past, so it was interesting to approach a project with such high expectations for myself despite a limited timeframe. I consistently produced 5-10 pages of new content each week for a semester and a half, which I’ve never been able to do before. There was a lot of crappy writing, and much of it ended up being cut, but simply getting content on the page was the first step toward getting a whole draft together. In the past, I would always get bogged down with edits, whereas with my thesis I didn’t really have that option if I wanted to finish it in time. That would be my advice to others wanting to write a novella/novel – write! You can get trapped by constantly editing/revising, but you can always do that after you have more content to work on. There’s still a lot of work to be done on it, but it would be amazing if I could revise my thesis and turn it into a novel one day. Books have always served as an escape for me, and I hope that one day, my writing can have a positive impact on someone else.

Part II: Music

On the morning of April 30th, I strolled past the hoard of graduates lined up outside the Big House until I reached the designated “Glee Club Check-In” sign. Once inside Michigan Stadium, a select number of members from the Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs stood in the center of the field on a circular stage. Underneath a cloudy sky, our fingertips numbed in the cold as we waited for the agonizing ten minutes to pass before the opening procession and cue to sing occurred. As dreary as the atmosphere seemed, however, I’d do anything to go back in time to experience what came next.

Graduating was cool and all, but singing “The Star Spangled Banner” in the Big House and hearing the applause from thousands of people was magical. I already miss the “sisterhood” of “song and strength” I was once skeptical of, but I hope to always cherish the feelings of excitement and gratitude I had on graduation day. These emotions encompass how I feel about my time at U-M in general. I could make this post even longer by discussing the bell towers or concerts that have also contributed to my music experience here at the university, but I’ll leave it at that.

Part III: Sculpture

Even though my academic and career goals shifted away from the arts, I always made it a point to still keep them in my life. I never took fewer than 16 credits in a given semester, yet I still couldn’t take all the classes I wanted to or found interesting. There just wasn’t the time. I knew from the very start, however, that I wanted to take some sort of visual arts class during my senior year. I had already taken drama courses and music courses as electives, but I really wanted to learn more about painting or sculpture.

I am so, so happy I did. RCARTS 270 with Raymond Wetzel was one of the best classes I took at U-M. I learned a lot about working with different materials and tools while having tons of fun in the process (wow, homework in a college class can be enjoyable!). I worked with materials such as wood, cement, and clay to create a variety of mixed-media art works, and I learned different techniques for casting, constructing, and assembling sculptures. I’ll end this chaotic post with an equally jumbled collage of images featuring art pieces both in progress and completed. Oh, and I’ll throw in my artsy graduation cap, because why not.







Art Biz with Liz: UMMA Exhibition Spotlight

It’s quite amazing how, at the University of Michigan, we have several fantastic museums right on campus. One such museum is the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). I like going to the (free!) art museum every so often to see the rotating exhibits, but prior to last week, it had been over a year since I visited the UMMA in person. I had the opportunity to visit the museum with my art class last week, and I enjoyed my visit so much I went again today.

Walking into the Marvin H. Davidson Gallery, my initial impression was that much of the art seemed similar in style and focus. Variations of painted portraits featured a range of white, wealthy individuals staring back at me. The art was part of an exhibit called “Unsettling Histories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism.” One sculpture, Untitled (bird cage, re-lynching) by Tyree Guyton, diverged from the portraits surrounding it. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple birdcage, but the longer I stood in front of it, the more I took away from it.

According to the sculpture’s description, the artist, Tyree Guyton, “frequently uses found objects to explore social and political themes.” Standing on its own, the birdcage is covered in paint and contorted, the metal jutting inwards and outwards in several directions. The movement of the main birdcage is contrasted by the stillness of its stand. At first, I thought it represented being “trapped,” but there could be other interpretations on the use of a birdcage. For example, there is duality in thinking about who was likely to own birdcages and what they represented, such as wealth and aristocracy. I perceived the birdcage to reflect not only the potential wealth of such slaveowners, but their view of slaves as property and less than human. Although not exactly on the topic of lynching and castration, the metal bell, another found object inside the birdcage, again reminded me of slavery. According to sources such as the Louisiana Digital Library, collars with bells might have been used to deter slaves who had previously tried to run away from doing so again. The United States flag, the last object in the birdcage, links the abominable practice to our country and its origins.

While the piece itself is untitled, the description of the art provides context in that it was common to castrate the Black men being lynched. Lynching itself was a horrifying and despicable practice, and castration added a physical attack on Black masculinity. The sculpture’s label also noted that castration was particularly common for those accused of sexually assaulting a white woman, perpetuating stereotypes of Black men being predatory.

This piece isn’t quite as abstract or unclear in meaning as some of other works I saw at UMMA, but there are certain aspects that even after reading the description could be up to interpretation. The purpose of the splatter of colors, for example, is unclear. To me, they reflect a kind of chaotic energy, and the red reminds me of shed blood. Still, even without knowing the information on the sculpture’s label, it’s possible to infer similar symbolism given the exhibition title and the sculpture’s combination of a United States flag, metal bell, and replica human phallus all trapped within the birdcage surrounded by portraits of wealthy white individuals.

This piece is powerful in its reflection on historical events, especially those that pertain to dark parts of our country’s history. My identity has made me privileged in that I cannot even begin to fathom what it is like to experience or fully relate to the themes and history reflected by this art, but the sculpture attracted me to it from both an emotional and intellectual standpoint. One of my first thoughts seeing this piece was, quite honestly, “is that a penis?” I think provoking such responses works in the artist’s favor, engaging the viewer and being upfront with topics that some might consider difficult to acknowledge or discuss

I’m not the only one who was interested in the exhibit, and I won’t be the last. If you’re at all interested, I encourage you to visit the UMMA, whether online or in person, or read more about the “Unsettling Histories” exhibition here.

Art Biz with Liz: The Cube

This past week, I finally spun the “Cube,” a sculpture iconic to the University of Michigan. The Cube, I’ve recently learned, is officially titled “Endover.” It was a gift from UM’s class of 1965 and was installed on Regents’ Plaza in 1968. Throughout most of my first two years of university, cube-spinning was non-existent due to the 20-month renovation of the Michigan Union. During this time, Regents’ Plaza was closed for construction, which also included enclosing the Cube for protection. The reopening of the Michigan Union last January meant the return of the famous sculpture.

The Cube’s creator, Bernard (Tony) Rosenthal, was a University of Michigan Alumnus. After taking sculpture classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, Rosenthal attended UM and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1936. He was known for his public art sculptures, of which can be found in many of the United States’ largest cities.

Ann Arbor’s Cube is among Rosenthal’s numerous outdoor sculptures. The massive cube sculpture spins on its axis if nudged, contrasting its initial motionless appearance. It has clean corners and a geometrical aesthetic, but its faces aren’t entirely flat, as they are full of various shapes, planes, and indentations. The Cube, or Endover, is considered a version of the Alamo, a nearly identical sculpture located on Astor Place in New York City’s Manhattan. Both cubes are made of Corten steel and measure at 15 feet wide by 15 feet tall. There is a difference, however; while the Alamo rotates like Endover, its pivot is on a separate platform, whereas the Endover’s pivot is lowered into the ground.

I’m looking forward to stopping by the Cube whenever I visit the Michigan Union, though students aren’t the only ones who enjoy spinning the Cube. According to UM legend, the president is tasked with spinning the cube each morning on their way to the Fleming Building. While this might not be happening with COVID-19, current UM president Mark Schlissel was noted to give the Cube a push following his approval as U-M’s 14th president. His predecessor, Mary Sue Coleman, was even featured in a Youtube video enacting the UM tradition.

For more information:


Have You Seen This New Sculpture?


Has anyone seen this beautiful stain-glassed sculpture that was just recently put up by the Central Campus Transit Center??
As an architect, I am very intrigued by this structure. I have so many questions to ask about it!! But I guess that is the fun in creating and experiencing art in general… I’ll write my questions and attempt to give my own answer, so feel free to comment your thoughts, and ask more questions if you have any!! Also, give my instagram (@connecticuto8) a follow if you want to see more interesting views of our Michigan Campus!

Question #1: What’s with the shape?
Answer: Perhaps providing an interesting framed circular view (as depicted on the right), but not wanting to just use a basic circular frame for that view.

Question #2: Why all the colors?
Answer: Maybe a fun sort of way to symbolize the beauty of the ethnic diversity (like the diverse choice in colors in this sculpture) on our campus? And maybe experiment with lighting, in terms of how the different colored glass interacts with the sunlight to affect our perception of the framed view (shown on the right).

Question #3: Why glass, instead of other building materials?
Answer: If this project’s mission was to experiment with lighting, then this glassy material would definitely allow for that sort of interaction, since there would be light reflecting off of the metal framework of the sculpture, and glass would allow for the sunlight being absorbed by the glass to be refracted, thereby affecting the change in tints of the colors we perceive on the glass.

Question #4: Why this specific location?
Answer: Maybe administration finally found that grassy island across from the chemistry building as boring, so they decided to install this piecework there to add more character to central campus, after all, central campus is like the livelihood of Michigan’s campus, and it is in an almost introductory location (for anyone who just got off the bus from North Campus and was just now seeing Central Campus for the first time), so it would put a pleasant view to facilitate pleasant experiences on our campus.

The Singing Ringing Tree

There is a tree in a little town in Lancashire, England, but unlike the trees outside my window, this tree does not shed its leaves or sway with the breeze. This tree is made out of galvanized steel pipes that hum when wind flows through them. It is my new favorite piece of sculpture/experimental music and I constantly find myself captivated by its haunting sounds in videos like this:

What an absolutely incredible silhouette, and an amazing way to see the sun rise. As part of a project to rejuvenate the landscape of the area, artists Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu completed the Singing Ringing Tree in 2006, adding to a series of sculptures built along the countryside.

What I love about this sculpture is how it harnesses the natural energy of wind and translates it into sound. So many of the forces and phenomena of our world can be expressed creatively through sound, and in many cases these types of translations provide us with a new way to understand and experience the world. For instance, here is a talk by artist Robert Alexander in which he uses sound to represent data collected from space:


What he touches on that I find fascinating is how digital data sets translated into frequencies often sound like organically produced sound. How cool is it that all of the music that we listen to when we’re walking to and from class, when we’re trying to cram for an exam, or when we’re busting moves at a party, is a string of code that is translated into sound? I think that everything in the world can probably be sonified, and I think this would be such a cool way to experience the world. Who needs commodification….why should we monetarily quantify things when we can sonitize them?


Everything Old is Vogue Again

“The past is regarded as instrumental to the formation of modernity, of modern times, in the same way that (visual) quotes from the ancient account for the charm and potential of fashion.”

A Visit to the Gallery

 This quote from Ulrich Lehman underscores the UMMA painting A Visit to the Gallery by Pier Celestino Gilardi. In the painting, a group of clothed Victorian women look at a first century marble nude that stands elevated on a pedestal in an elaborately decorated space. The women sit on a couch looking up at the statue and pointing at it, but they do not approach it. In the eyes of the elaborately clothed women, the Venus is an idealized figure from the ambiguous age of antiquity. The deep space of the painting and the visual contrasts between the Victorian women and the Venus hint at a temporal and fashionable distance.

As viewers, we may be tempted to do the same when viewing classical statues. But underneath the obvious temporal, spatial, and nude-clothed differences between the Victorians and Venus there are also similarities. In 2012, the University of Modena carried out an investigation into the statue and uncovered her colorful past.

What they found has changed my view of pristine classical sculptures forever. Far from being a white-washed and bland conglomeration of classical eras, the Venus represents specific trends in fashions and aesthetics that may have produced a different reaction from the Victorian crowd, had they been able to see her in her original state. The University of Modena uncovered layers of makeup, gold hair paint, and earrings.

The gaudy accessories that the Venus sculpture once wore in her heyday would have been used for the same reason of the Victorian women or of any pop star today; namely to elevate her social status and call attention to certain areas of her body.

Kylie Minogue in concert, dressed as Venus emerging from the sea

The makeup of the Venus also once played a large part in her presentation and eroticism. The same scholars that uncovered her ancient jewelry also discovered a layer of bright red paint on her lips and gold paint on her hair. The gold and red would have drawn any viewer’s eye to her head (much like the ostrich feather on the hat of the women on the right).

Venus’s hands are placed on erogenous zones, including her breast and pubic area. In a seeming attempt to cover up her body, she only calls attention to the greatest points of visual impact.

The Victorian women of the Gilardi painting also call attention to evocative areas. With their erect postures (seen in both the seated and standing figures) the women make sure that the elaborate ruffles on their chest and buttocks can clearly be seen. One woman even crosses her legs while seated, enabling her to show a small portion of her ankle. Venus similarly uses her legs to create an exaggerated crook at her waist and reveal an enticing gap between her thighs.

It is always easy for us as modern spectators to perceive the white, podium-displayed visuals of an older era and immediately decide that it bears no connections to one’s own like the distanced women in Gilardi’s painting with their pointed fingers and sly smiles sent in the direction of Venus’s high podium.

But by automatically distancing ourselves from an era without considering its original context we limit ourselves to a singular idea of beauty from antiquity. If the group of Victorian women had seen Venus in her original fashionable state, they would most likely have different reactions to this goddess. I know I will every time I view white antique statues from now on.