REVIEW: The Future Is With Our People: Sustainability Art Exhibition

On the first floor of the Michigan Union there is a showcase full of stories, small moments captured in time that discuss the complex, yet integral, relationship between students and the environment. Amidst a time of climate crisis, this exhibition aims to remind us of the essential ways that we can heal through community, culture, and relationships, and how through these experiences we may discover paths to a better future. “The Future is With Our People” is an art exhibition created by the Student Life Sustainability Cultural Organizers and I cannot recommend it enough. Seriously. Go spend time with it. While you are at it, check out the Cultural Organizers and get familiar with who they are and what they do here — you will not want to miss out. 

The opening ceremony of the art installation, held in the South Lounge of the Union last Monday, was filled with music, storytelling, laughter and community. A group of ~10 students and members of the UM community, called to share stories of strength and creativity in a changing climate, came together to share these pieces of themselves. It was the perfect extension of the exhibit itself, allowing the flow of stories to seep into the audience through different forms of performing arts. 

“Labu Sayong” and “Peanut” by Shiryn Anissa Noor Affendi

The exhibit, on display until February 24th, is a collection of art through a variety of mediums that showcase the artistic ways we can have a conversation about climate and our place within it. The driving question behind the work is this: What about your culture sustains you, your community, and your environment? It is a beautiful web to weave between the shared sustainability between peoples and their environment, each being essential to the other. The artists that are featured allow the audience to look into what this relationship looks like for them. Although I wish the exhibit was given a larger space, its impact cannot be understated; I guarantee that each piece will make you think differently about how people connect with the environment, and the importance of culture and community within that. 

“N’Zaagidiwin biish” by Zoi Crampton

Each participating artist had their own unique piece of art and story to tell. Artist Shiryn Anissa Noor Affendi used clay to sculpt one of her pieces, “Labu Sayong,” representing a traditional Malaysian method of using a hollowed out gourd as a water container. She discussed the ways she must find connections between her heritage and her experience at Michigan in order to stay centered. Another artist, Zoi Crampton, collected plastic from the Great Lakes and threaded them together with intention to make a jingle dress, a teaching rooted in Crampton’s Anishinaabe culture, to send prayers toward healing community. Crampton ties this form of art to the healing of the Great Lakes.

I could go on and on about these artists and their stories, but it would make much more sense for you to go see it yourself. This exhibition deserves more time and space at our University, but I am glad to see it for the time that it is here. Thank you to the Cultural Organizers and every artists that participated and created this absolutely beautiful space on our campus.  

REVIEW: Dopamine Dressing

I am a sucker for bright colors and fun shapes, who isn’t? When I noticed Dopamine Dressing being set up through the windows of the UMMA, I knew that I was going to adore this exhibit. Artist YehRim Lee specializes in the use of ceramics and glazes, and the skill shines in her work that dives into the essence of Dopamine Dressing: the idea that bright colors and fun textures can act as a mood enhancer, triggering the release of neurotransmitters that create feelings of pleasure and reward. This idea that stemmed out of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown is most commonly taken on in the fashion world, but Lee explores it in her sculptures as well. Dopamine Dressing is Lee’s first museum exhibition in the United States. 

The textures of Lee’s work stood out the most to me. The shapes of each sculpture were abstract and unique, being almost flower-like in appearance and blooming out of the bright pink walls of the space. Some pieces resembled snow, or frosting on a cake; others reminded me of fungi or coral. I had the strange feeling that the sculptures were some sort of candy to bite into…I felt as though I was looking at the world’s most intensely crafted gingerbread house. The work is often described as “decadent” and gives off all things over-indulgent! Lee’s method of refining her pieces with new layers of clay and multiple rounds of firing creates an interesting finish with many warps and cracks. Lee notes that this is to remind the audience that “dopamine bursts that come from sensual pleasure or excessive consumption perhaps provide only temporary relief from the cares of the world.” It gives the audience something to think about when walking through the exhibit; I like to think of it as beauty that can come from a temporary fix. 

Overall, I found the experience to be enjoyable and the indulgence of it all very refreshing, especially in this art medium. Days before visiting Dopamine Dressing, I coincidentally read J De Leon’s piece, “Calling Self-Indulgence,” a piece that focuses on the idea of self-indulgence as a form of self preservation that, in some cases, allows us to care for ourselves and others. I couldn’t help but think back to it as I walked through Lee’s work, allowing myself to slip into the extravagance of it all.

REVIEW: The Plastic Bag Store

I had no idea what to expect when going into the Plastic Bag Store. Literally. After seeing marketing for it, I had been asked to go and said yes to see what it was all about; I can very honestly say that it was not at all what I expected. The installation that is the Plastic Bag Store is a mix of art installation and immersive puppet play – unlike anything I had seen before. 

The installation, a grocery store filled with foods made entirely of plastic, was surreal to step into. The resemblance to any other grocery store was striking, and at first glance you wouldn’t think twice that that is exactly what it was. However, upon further inspection you will start to notice… the spinach is made of green plastic bags from Earthbag Farm. What you may have thought was a box of Lucky Charms cereal was actually Yucky Shards cereal with the mascot of a sea turtle holding a six-pack plastic soda ring. Right before you start getting used to it all is when the next phase of the event begins and you are asked to take your seat on the cardboard boxes that have been placed in the center of the store. Cue the puppet show.

Artist Robin Frohardt specializes in her puppeteering art form and the medium shines in The Plastic Bag Store. A stunning and interactive story unfolds from the beginning of single use vases in Act I, to the modern day plastic bag in Act II. Act III of the play is held through the doors of the frozen food aisle and plastic snow is rained on you from above. The third and final part of the play takes place in the far off future and centers around a scientist finding relics of the past in all kinds of plastic held under the sea: plastic bags, tooth brushes, bottles, and straws. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is unnerving to say the least; to return to your world and realize that the grocery store full of plastic was not a far off recreation of our own world is eye-opening. 

While the art and storytelling was undoubtedly phenomenal, I found the message of the piece to be a bit lacking and even misinformed. There was little to no actual discussion on the harmful effect of plastic remains, just the plastic was to seemingly last forever on Earth and that was a bad thing (even coming to that conclusion feels like a stretch). The reality of the plastic issue is far more complex than this and I personally would’ve loved to see this expanded beyond the simplicity of plastic being bad. In a Q&A following the event, Frohardt mentioned that she intentionally did not want to sway the piece to say anything specific about the environmental issue, but instead wanted the piece to simply make the audience think and reflect on the consumerist world we live in today. I think in that sense, the exhibit is a success. 

REVIEW: Lily Talmers at The Ark

Classic folk music venue, The Ark, welcomed Lily Talmers and friends to the stage this past Sunday for a performance that was all I expected it to be and more. Their Midwest tour had three earlier shows in Michigan before landing here in Ann Arbor, and will continue on with six more shows, eventually ending in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Opener John Cushing started the night off beautifully, gathering the larger band, including Talmers, on stage in just his second song. Not only was this a group of talented musicians, but also clearly a group of friends who loved and supported one another. Together, the band cultivated a space of comfort and familiarity that the audience easily leaned into.

Talmers and Cushing brought along with them from Brooklyn Aidan Scrimgeour on the keys and Aiden Cafferty on bass. With them joined Ann Arbor’s David Ward (drums), Ben Green (trumpet), and string quartet of Lauren Pulcipher (violin), Julia Knowles (Cello), Courtney Lubin (violin), and Madeline Warner (viola). The group was in constant conversation with each other and the audience, both in words and in the music they played. Talmers’s voice floated through the space in that haunting and clear tone that we know and love about her, making sure to give space and credit where it was due to each one of her bandmates. Her family, old classmates, students, and some people who she had never met had come together to cultivate this space; it is not an overstatement to say each person felt essential to the experience. 

As someone who loves Talmers’s music, I had to bring something physical home with me a double CD with her latest two albums: Hope is the Whore I Go To and My Mortal Wound. I feel so fortunate to have seen this group live; as much as I love listening to her music on Spotify, there is something so grand about seeing Talmers and the full band of strings and horns all in the same space. Each instrument seem to transform the music in a new way. The simplicity of just Talmers and her guitar felt extremely vulnerable and delicate; as more instruments joined, there was a soothing strength in the culmination of sound.

It would be a mistake not to go listen to Talmers if given the chance — her kindness, passion, and love is as breathtaking as her music. I also highly recommend going to see a show at The Ark it is an intimate space here in Ann Arbor and completely non-profit. Words do not do either justice so, please please please, go immerse yourself in this experience in any way you can.

Picture of Lily Talmers

PREVIEW: Lily Talmers at The Ark

University of Michigan Alumnus Lily Talmers is coming to local music venue, The Ark, on January 8th at 7:30 PM. Tickets are available for purchase on The Ark’s website for $20 each. The Ark never fails to host the most intimate and beautiful performances, and so I am beyond excited to return for this show in particular. Talmers will be joined by trombonist, singer, and composer John Cushing and others on this tour. 

Talmers just released her second full length album, “Hope is the Whore I Go To”, on July 29th of this year and it has been an absolute joy to listen to. It was followed up by “My Mortal Wound,” what Talmers has described on her Instagram page as an “inseparable” piece to the former album. The music is both haunting and healing, creating a unique atmosphere worth diving headfirst into. If you haven’t already, go listen to this music; better yet, go see her perform live at The Ark. I have no doubt it will be an experience you won’t regret having.

REVIEW: Tiny Expo Indie Art & Craft Fair

The Ann Arbor District Library held its Tiny Expo Indie Art and Craft Fair this past Saturday, December 10th, and it was everything you would expect and more! Held in the lobby of the library’s downtown location, the art fair was packed with local artists with a variety of art mediums from fiber arts to woodworking. This event is typically held annually during December; however, this year’s fair was especially anticipated due to the 2021 expo being canceled. 

I was shocked at the amount of people I saw in that first floor lobby of the library. I enjoy my regular trips to the library for book browsing and studying, but have never in my life seen more people in a library than I did at the art fair. What a beautiful culmination of community! Everyone was engaged in conversation either with their friends, discussing how wonderful the art was and which they planned on taking home, or with vendors, asking about their creations and their journey as artists. I picked up almost every artist’s card and brought home a series of whimsical prints from Arsenal Handicraft LLC. You can see a list of vendors here, but some others that stuck out to me were Science Bee, who had jewelry made out of old medical slides, WoolyMammothDesign with their 3D fiber arts, and the adorable designs of White Bird Pins, an artist that I have had the pleasure of working with in the past during the What the F Art Fair that you can read more about on our blog here! Candance’s designs amaze me constantly.

While the first floor lobby was buzzing with excitement, the basement was also a world of fun. Craft tables were full of attendees as well as free, on-site, screen printed tote bags! As someone who is studying the environment, I was so happy to see the screen printing station a sustainable alternative to regular printing and way more fun if you ask me! 

Art from Black Artist Showcase by Cheyenne Fletcher

This event was such a beautiful and important showcase for local artists and I was touched by the turnout. I found myself staying long after the group I came in with had left to look at the Black Artist Showcase that was up in the library as well a beautifully curated exhibit in the midst of the expo. The space was set up perfectly for the flow and exchange of people, conversations, and excitement. I could not imagine a more intentionally and beautifully designed event! I absolutely cannot wait for next year’s Tiny Expo, or any other library events for that matter.