REVIEW: Medium Rare – 2015 IP Exhibition

The openings for the seniors Integrative Projects (IP) at the Stamps school featured a wide variety of works from paintings to installations of around 85 student’s work. They were located at three different locations around Ann Arbor, creating the feel of an Ann Arbor art walk as people were walking between the Work Gallery on State Street to the Argus Building a few blocks down on Fourth Street. The other location was on North Campus at the Slusser Gallery.

The Work Gallery featured mostly 2-dimensional pieces. The walls were sectioned off to display each artist. On the first floor there was the work of one student where they used a 3-D printer to make these white organic forms with deep cuts and grooves in the surface. Inside the grooves sat a bright orange nondescript pill. The work invited viewers to examine more closely these manufactured sculptures not just to admire them as sculptures but, because of the placement of the pill, as containers for something. It reminds the viewer that medicine is a manufactured good and how sometimes medication and pharmaceutical companies can be an unquestioned authority when it comes to our health. A thing sometimes need to be explained more than as what it is as such but as what it is made for, how it is made, and with what goal in mind is it made. Some of these questions too can be applied to the making of the the sterile 3-D shapes that initially inspire a sense of aesthetic interest in the shape but then upon closer viewing, they inspire questions of ‘for what purpose was this sculpture made?’

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Other works that were on display at the Work Gallery included a set of clutch purses inspired by the question: what do you clutch?  She had made a large quantity of those clutch purses for her project, inviting the sharing of personal stories to coincide with her art-making process.  Another piece was a sculpture with a physical human making the art in the gallery.  What appeared to be a sculpture of a head on a pedestal also had a person sitting crouched behind the pedestal with a laptop.  As he typed away searches onto his computer, information documenting those searches was transcribed on a receipt that was printed underneath the pedestal for viewers to read.  Simultaneously, water was sprayed on the relief sculpture of a head causing the head to slowly disintegrate.  It was a clear commentary on the visibility of our internet presence to others we are unaware of, and how the internet is shaping our identity.


The subject of internet presence is very relevant to today’s culture and other pieces in the exhibition also dealt with this issue.   At the Argus Building one person created an installation of video, booklets, and USB drives.  The viewer entered a partitioned area of the gallery, to a video of someone’s desktop.  The video looped footage of a user opening files of different typefaces and trying out those typefaces, all of which were illegible and looked more like a seismograph readout than a written language.  The booklets featured black and white images of distorted web browsers and a sign was posted above saying that it is hard to know who reads what you write on the internet and to take a USB with a custom typeface on it.  Small USB’s were hung on the wall by pins and people were cautiously removing them and taking them home.  The artist invites the user to take precautions against those trying to invade ones privacy.  There is also a sense of appreciation for this anonymous gift.  The viewer is able to not only connect with the artist through the subject matter but also by physically taking a physical part of the artwork with them.

Physically removing parts of a piece was also encouraged in another exhibit where the artist had set up tables filled with odds and ends: anything from oversized boxing gloves and a kid’s cassette player, to clay mugs and Jedi swords.  A sign on the first table encouraged people to look around and if they found something they liked, the price was listed on the item, and to place the cash in the cash box.  Paper bags were located under the tables for buyer’s convenience.  I found the pop-up garage sale style shop in the gallery to be disorienting at first but harkening back to the removal idea from the other piece, I found that this to be another angle at tangibly connecting artist to audience.

Other pieces at the Argus Building was a large scale installation of a technicolor painted wall of an artist studio.  Paintbrushes, unfinished canvases, paint cans, and other equipment, were scattered and hung on the wall and on the floor in front of the wall and all of it was colored solid with paint.  The emphasis on explosions of paint and the covering up of the tools involved in painting examined the great importance of paint to the artist of the piece.  Another installation was a partitioned room that was barricaded by large plant fronds.  Looking through the leaves into the room, there were other plants inside, a video of a girl watering plants, pieces of roots hanging from walls.  In addition, a small crane machine was placed on a pedestal right in front of the install, begging users to come try their luck at fishing for a packet of flowers the artist had made.  The limited accessibility of the majority of the exhibit, except through visual perception, made the plant life seem all the more valuable.  Recognizing not only the limited nature of the piece, there was also the limited use of any sort of material other than plant material in the actual piece, creating a stark contrast with the white walls of the gallery and making nature the intruder and us the outsider, as opposed to the more commonly seen dichotomy of humans as the intruder into nature.

To see these pieces and others in person, stop by the Work Gallery, Slusser Gallery, or Argus Building during open hours.  The exhibition will be up from April 17- May 2.

(An aside: the catering at the galleries was amazing.)

PREVIEW: Medium Rare – 2015 IP Exhibition 85 Undergraduate seniors in the Stamps BFA program

What: The IP (Integrative Project) Course Exhibition featuring art work in a variety of media made over the course of a year.

When: April 16- May 2, 2014

Where: Three different locations:
Slusser Gallery, Art & Architecture Building, U-M North Campus
Opening Reception: Friday, April 17, 6 – 9 pm
Gallery hours: Monday through Friday 9 am – 5 pm, Saturday 12 – 5 pm

Work Gallery, 306 S. State Street, Ann Arbor
Opening Reception: Friday, April 17, 6 – 9 pm
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12 – 7 pm

Argus II Building, 400 4th Street, Ann Arbor
Opening Reception: Friday, April 17, 7 – 10 pm
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12 – 7 pm

REVIEW: The Prison Creative Arts Project Gallery Show

The Duderstadt Gallery on North campus recently featured the art of prisoners from around the area who engaged in 2D work in pencil, paints, and other mixed media, to even 3D sculpture work. The art show itself is an annual event recognized nationally. The show has featured in the past over 500 pieces of art and around 250 participating artists. The art work features those both in and out of the prison system, or those who have connections to the prison or criminal justice system.

This year’s art show was up from March 25-April 8. The work was on a more prolific scale than I thought coming in. Art work was installed from floor to ceiling, and skill levels were on a similarly large scale. Something that stood out to me was that members of PCAP would come and engage in workshops with prisoners but all supplies for the art had to come from the artist themselves. Without any precedent except for a call for submissions, the content of the art ranged from scenes of prison life, to more abstract images, to mythologically-based images. Many of the 2D works featured faces, either portraits or faces of other people.

I was also surprised that most of the art had the little red dot sticker indicating that the piece had sold. Prices ranged anywhere from in the $40 range to $400. Not only was there a red sticker, but a yellow sticker indicated a communication or letter had been written to the artist by someone either interested in purchasing the art or simply interested in giving feedback on the work. I thought that this was the most unique part of the show. It opened a form of communication between artist and viewer that normally doesn’t occur, in a gallery setting but also between prisoner and non-prisoner.

Leaving the event I looked up more information on the PCAP website. As a result of this engagement with prisoners, the amount of art made in Michigan prisons has greatly increased, and sometimes prisoners are engaging with fellow inmates to encourage art-making. I found the show to be a really eye-opening experience to just how much talent there is outside of formal art education, and how great an opportunity something like the PCAP art show provides for viewers but also the artists as well.

REVIEW: The Cherry Orchard

The Cherry Orchard was the last play written by 19th century writer Anton Chekhov. Chekhov, famous for his short stories on the day to day life of Russian’s upper middle class, is today considered to be an influential figure on short story form. His writing focuses on individual’s responses and behaviors to quotidian life in Russia, with an emphasis on how their views of reality change responses.

The Cherry Orchard revolves around one family in Russia returning to their estate in the country after a hiatus to Paris. The estate features an idyllic orchard, which is beautiful but holds tragic memories and not known for producing a crop that can turn a profit. There are many people living in the house now, the many daughters of the mistress of the estate, as well as servants, and suitors too. When the family returns to the estate, it is evident that the estate must be sold. Not only does the plot concern the selling of the estate, but the more relevant focus is on how each character responds to the debt and the necessary auctioning of the estate. The mother, or mistress of the estate, is the most shaken by the selling of the estate. Amongst all the characters, she is the most oblivious to the dilemma and the direness of the situation, and this causes all the other characters to constantly reflect back on the mother and her denial of the situation.

In the performance at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, put on by the cast of the Rude Mechanicals, a student acting organization, the text was realized more fully as the intimate lens into human character that Chekhov’s work seeks to create. The play begins in an abstract manner. While audience members still chat, the cast starts to enter stage one by one. After five minutes had past, maybe five or six characters had taken the stage, engaging with the set or with each other in silence. The audience had hushed now, and a low humming sound was playing from the stage. As the whole cast took the stage, each seemed to be trying to embody the personality of their character through different positions and in silence. I thought the approach of not officially having a curtain open was an interesting way to initiate the beginning of the play, but I was confused by what happened next. As all the members lined up at the front of the stage and stared motionless into the audience, suddenly the music cut and they all screamed in a sort of joyful shriek and proceeded to run about the stage. Some people took apart some of the set, running around with it. Others leaped in the air, shouted, overall making the stage into a questionable space. It made me think about whether this was to be part of the play, and what the purpose of the initial solemn introduction was.

Eventually the cast quieted down and resumed their characters. It was a distinct transition and made the beginning of the play that more striking. No one had said anything yet, the characters will still anonymous, and yet the audience had been shocked and silenced into paying attention. If there is any critique to be made of the way this play started, it would be that the personalities of the many different characters are hard to really make distinct in a way that makes the contrast with the loss of in-character acting not as successful to the audience.

As there were many characters, each was introduced through scenes with only a few of the characters present. The pay did a good job of contextualizing the characters and their identities from the start. Scenes felt like they spent a lot of time in one moment, almost as if trying to mimic real time. A conversation would take place in what appeared to be a living room and it felt like so much was said, and each of the characters on their own had so much to say, that the scene was to last the length of a five hour long fire-side chat, though this was not actually the case. This is the same feeling felt while reading Chekhov’s work. He details conversations with so much information and naturalness of character that scenes feel very much like a conversation taking place in real life. Often times even going beyond what might be expected in a normal conversation, the dialogue between characters expanding to make up for any lack of context an audience or reader might feel.

The play overall was an interesting experience for me personally. I had never read this play before, but I am familiar with Chekhov’s work. I found that actors taking on the roles of characters in a Chekhov play, and probably one of his novels as well, is a laborious task. Dialogues are lengthy and to keep engaged with the spoken word requires a lot of emotion. I left the play feeling glad to have finally gotten to see a Chekhov play.

PREVIEW: The Cherry Orchard

“The Cherry Orchard” is the last play written by Russian playwrite, Anton Chekhov, at the end of the 19th century. It follows the story of an aristocratic family who needs to seek their estate in order to pay off debts. Accounts of each of the family members presents their own way of coping with the reality of their situation and sets out a tragic and somewhat comedic storyline.

Who: Performed by the Rude Mechanicals
What: The Cherry Orchard
When: Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Sunday at 2 pm.
Price: $8 regular/$5 students

REVIEW: Horse Feathers at the Blind Pig


Last night I attended the Horse Feathers concert at the Blind Pig, featuring opening band River Whyless.  Both bands have a similar folksy, indie sound.  River Whyless I was less familiar with.  In one of the last songs, one of the violinists took her bow in her mouth so that she could knock on the wood of her violin to the beat.  Their songs were upbeat and a nice opener.

At one point, someone from the audience shouted, “Killer Jam!” and one of the band members responded with a laugh.  “Killer Jam?  That has to be a first.”  “Maybe ‘gentle jam’ but never ‘killer jam’.”  Gentle jam is an accurate description of the type of music Horse Feathers make.  Two of the band members kept interchanging between different instruments from acoustic guitar to banjo to instruments I am not knowledgeable enough to name (small banjo perhaps?).  One of the parts I was looking forward to most was listening to the fiddle music live.  Watching them dance and move around stage with their instruments made for a fun experience.  It thought it was really great how thankful the lead vocalist was during the show.  All the songs were very familiar to me, so I enjoyed staying for the whole performance.  It was a nice way to unwind at the end a day with listless vocals and tender tunes from Horse Feathers.  Their music always makes me feel really comfortable with life.

If you pay attention to the lyrics I often mind the tone of the words to be more somber than expected, only to be lulled by the gentleness of the sound.  One of my favorite songs:

Lover of things,
won’t you agree
how the winter could bring
the darkest spring?

With hell on your face,
dirt on the walls
in the back of the place,
you grew and complained.

Father of three,
won’t you believe,
that the ones in between,
the ones that are blamed.

Of fickle faith,
cynics that seethe,
how their children are cursed,
cursed to believe.

It’s like marrow without bone.
To live in a house with no home.
Where the son is the darkest seed.
He crawls with the curs in the weeds.

Where had you been son?
Not in the street, not in the yard.

Only once, I’ll call off the dogs, if you call off your guard.

Where had you gone?
Where had you been?

Lyrics credit to Horse Feathers.

Link to the video for their song ‘Curs in the Weeds’: