REVIEW: Digital Engrams by Gabriela Ruiz

L.A. artist Gabriela Ruiz is a self-taught multimedia artist whose sculptural pieces blur the line between the virtual and the real. I watched Gabriela talk at the Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series earlier this month and I was immediately captivated by her distinctly Gen Z artistic voice. Ruiz is unafraid to confront questions that are still emerging in our culture, such as: what does identity look like for digital natives? Decorated in vibrant colors, lush textures, and a tangle of animated pixels, her art captures the experience of being online, particularly the struggle of navigating memories and identity amidst virtual chaos.

An engram is a trace of memory; a digital engram, then, is a memory stored in an artificial code. Digital Engrams is an exhibition tucked into the Institute for the Humanities Gallery, occupying one beautiful room. Red walls drench the space in color, contrasting against the bright greens and psychedelic lights of Ruiz’ geometric sculptures. Built into and around the sculptures are swirls, soft grassy forms, collages of screens, and interactive audio-visual tools, forming an immersive experience that teeters between the natural and unnatural. Not only is her work multimedia, but it is multidimensional— it is in two, three, and four dimensions, containing everything from time-based media to stationery sculptures. It’s a satisfying installation because of the sheer variety of forms Gabriela Ruiz incorporates into the space.

 

As I walked around the space, watching the screens’ surreal montages and cryptic messages, I felt immersed in the hypnotism and strangeness of Ruiz’ digital world. The colors, textures, and sounds were overstimulating in a way that was familiar, echoing the feeling of everything happening all at once in digital space. The decontextualized montages and projections lend the exhibition a feeling of absurdity and disorientation. Still, these feelings are overwhelmed by fascination; I resonate with the organic, grassy forms lying near the digital structures because I am always trying to reconcile my “organic” identity with my digital identity; I resonate with the confused chaos and ephemerality of the mosaics of screens, representing moments passed and immediately forgotten but always preserved in a web of data; really, I resonate with Ruiz’ ever-changing sense of belonging in a world of overstimulation and non-stop movement.

My only complaint about this exhibition is that it isn’t bigger— I would have loved to explore an even larger room, a maze full of abstract structures and glitchy footage, as if exploring the depths of Gabriela Ruiz’ mind. I personally believe it is hard to make art about the digital world without the vastness and clutter of it drowning out the meaning; Gabriela Ruiz, on the other hand, approaches the subject beautifully. Her art is abstracted enough to be open-ended, simple enough to be digestible, and just colorful enough to be entrancing without being nauseating. She finds the balance between the tangible and the digital, creating a physical map of a futuristic generational struggle.

Digital Engrams by Gabriela Ruiz is a free exhibition at the Institute for the Humanities Gallery at 202 S. Thayer. It can be seen through December 8th and is open 9-5 on weekdays.

REVIEW: girlmuseum

On September 21st, from 4:30 to 7 p.m., the Stamps Gallery on Division St. hosted a student-led exhibition called “girlmuseum”.  The exhibition is part of a class led by Andrew Thompson called “Gallery As Site for Social Change”, in which students collaborated to make multimedia projects for a temporary gallery space. Although many Stamps classes are collaboration-based and place emphasis on the power of interweaving imaginations and different perspectives, it’s not common to see these collaborations outside of the Stamps building. This work was also advertised a bit better than other Stamps exhibitions I’ve seen, as I received emails from faculty members and gathered flyers that showed off the exhibition’s nostalgic and girlish themes.

girlmuseum was located in the atrium of the Stamps Gallery; the small glass room created an atmosphere of openness and warmth, as the evening light bathed the pieces in color and enhanced details like dazzling embellishments and silky textures. The first thing I noticed was the coherent theme connecting all the pieces, all contained in a manageable space, while each piece still retained its own individuality and personal message. All the multimedia pieces acted as artifacts from girlhood, showcasing mementos from the pains, joys, and imaginative flairs of femininity. Bubbly pop music from the 2000s played as you walked through the gallery, creating a multisensory experience, and pieces were draped across the ceiling and tucked into corners to create a highly engaging space.

Two pieces that represented shrines of some sort flanked the entryway, and I found myself absorbed in the objects they held. Hannah Montana and One Direction CDs spoke to the nostalgia of my earliest childhood obsessions, and handmade wallets and beaded necklaces brought me back to a time of uninhibited creation when arts and crafts were ruled by bright colors and exploration instead of self-scrutiny. Some objects are seemingly more humorous or abstract in meaning than others, like a packet of silica gel hanging next to a patterned headband, and some carry dark or mature connotations, like objects referring to pregnancy and sexuality. I found myself connected to all of it, weaving together vague memories and nostalgic girlhood to create a full understanding of this somewhat universal experience for femme-presenting people.

Other pieces were more focused on modern social commentary, but their structure was still undeniably playful. A silk slip dress was bedazzled with cursive letters that read “I am made & remade continuously”, investigating the turbulence of having a feminine identity; multiple sculptural pieces were made from combinations of children’s figurines, fabrics, and found items, presenting miniature scenes that appear playfully absurd yet speak to age-old or brand-new ideas of gender. A banner draped across the ceiling— requiring that you crane your neck to even realize its presence— contrasts against the frills and fun of everything else, covered in all-too-common sayings that degrade, underestimate, or deny the worth and strength of girls.

girlmuseum was a testament to girlhood in all its glory and its suffering— from its excesses of glitter and playful creation to its paralyzing self-doubt. I was amazed by how interconnected the pieces were, all different enough to contribute a new dimension to the overall theme. This exhibition made me so much more excited for future Stamps exhibitions, and I especially hope to see more collaborative exhibitions in the near future. I recommend checking out the Stamps Gallery on Division St. whenever you are able— regardless of what they’re showing, it is always incredible to see the diverse talent of students, faculty, and professional artists.

REVIEW: Figment/Fragment: 2023 Stamps Senior Exhibition

The annual Stamps senior exhibition, Figment/Fragment, is a showcase of the year-long work of seniors at the Stamps School of Art & Design— “Art & Design” encompassing just about anything and everything you could imagine within those spheres, from 4D installations to traditional painting to wood-cut prints to dirt collections. The exhibition is arranged within a massive maze of large cubicles, each cubicle holding the work of one student, arranged neatly and creatively within a few square feet. As you could imagine, the experience of the exhibition is just as diverse as it is impressive. The work is symbolic and experimental, often exploring aspects of the artist’s identity in an unconventional process and molding together multiple mediums. The space echoes with the sounds, lights, and moods of each work, waiting to be explored.

I was particularly captured by the work of Alyss Munson, titled Dreams Ashore. Their surreal work draws together the concepts of the human experience and technology, through overlapping mediums of printmaking, weaving, and oil painting. The multimedia work explores the complications of modern identity through oceanography and marine life motifs, situating the subject in vast open water and ocean-floor ecosystems. It may sound like a lot, but like the work of countless other Stamps seniors, Alyss Munson has a way of expertly tying together far-reaching concepts, forming a beautiful and comprehensive mosaic of their artistic identity.

Another work that struck me was Multifaceted by William Mizer. He explores trauma and healing through these layered, transparent film photographs, portraying black-and-white portraiture and abstract scenes as narratives building on each other. I found this medium to be completely new to me, and I was intrigued by the way the layers of film interacted with each other, forming a narrative— and also intrigued by how he had reached this medium as the most ideal mode of expression. I was blown away by the creativity within each space.

Michelle Knappe’s Will You Sleep With Me? took the form of a life-like bedroom, complete with a bed, nightstand, and miscellaneous objects. The artist encourages the audience to walk through the space and interact with the bed and hand-made quilt; themes of isolation and human connection are communicated through the audience’s interaction with and perception of the quilt, which reveals delicate motifs sewn into its underside. I found that exhibitions like this, which encourage the audience to immerse themselves and explore, caught my attention the most.

Figment/Fragment was a beautiful display of the diversity within Stamps— the diversity of stories, of identities, but also of creative modes. I left the exhibition feeling more inspired to experiment and express myself without the bounds of genre or medium.

The exhibition is free to attend and easily accessible within the Stamps building! Figment/Fragment runs through the end of the month, so be sure to stop by and browse the student work if only for a few minutes! I especially encourage U-M students who haven’t seen Stamps artwork in person to attend— there is so much talent within this school, and it gives me so much pride to see it on display. 

Featured image: I’m Home Here by Caitlin Martens

PREVIEW: Figment/Fragment: The 2023 Stamps School Senior Exhibition

Last year at this time, I attended the 2022 Stamps Senior Exhibition. The range of mediums, subjects, and talents was astounding— there was every kind of artwork imaginable, from paintings to animation to interactive 4D exhibits. The Stamps school, in my personal opinion, does a subpar job of promoting student work; the walls and display cases are often empty, and the senior exhibition feels hidden away and not adequately promoted despite being held in the largest room in the middle of the Stamps building. As a Stamps student, too, I’m excited to attend student work exhibitions, but fellow students often either don’t attend or aren’t aware of the exhibition.

Last year’s exhibition blew me away— the exhibition space was an endless maze of large cubicles, each displaying the refined and deeply personal work of Stamps seniors. I loved how each student presented wildly different ideas, in wildly different forms— from found-object sculptures, to video game designs, to walls covered with curated images and sketches, sometimes incorporating sound or touch, or video. It was inspiring to see each personality shine through the work.

This year’s exhibition, titled Figment/Fragment, is bound to be just as exciting! It’s open from 11am-5pm on weekdays, and it runs through the end of April. There is also a closing ceremony at the end of the month— but, really, if you could stop by any time before it closes, it’s sure to be a worthwhile experience. It’s also a great way to connect with fellow U-M students and appreciate the endless talent of our campus community, which deserves a spotlight.

PREVIEW: Survivors Saving Survivors: Photographing the Ukrainian Refugee Experience in Poland

In 2022, photographer Chuck Fishman traveled to Poland to photograph the influx of refugees from Ukraine. He wasn’t capturing the devastation and agony of the war, but rather something optimistic: the power of humanity in healing and uplifting communities and the ability for different groups to band together in times of exhaustion and pain. The Copernicus Center for Polish Studies, or CCPS, is holding an exhibition of Fishman’s work, titled Survivors Saving Survivors: Photographing the Ukrainian Refugee Experience in Poland. Surprisingly accessible at 547 Weiser Hall, which is right next to the Central Campus Transit Center, this exhibition is a great opportunity for students to learn about global current events, empathize with victims of crisis and war, and view the extraordinary work of an acclaimed photographer.

As a traditional artist, photography hasn’t been within my range of intense interests, but recent coursework and experimentation has led me deeper into the realm of reportage photography. I find photojournalism that has an empathetic and humanitarian approach fascinating— when the photographer strives to portray the complicated humanity within global crises, the audience is shown something emotionally important that is not typically portrayed through unbiased journalism. Chuck Fishman is noted— and has received awards— for his often black-and-white portrait photography of social and political issues in particular. He initially photographed Jewish life in Poland since 1975, and has traveled around the world to capture everything from the energy of political figures to joyous cultural moments in jazz clubs. His photographs have appeared on the covers of Time, Life, Fortune, Newsweek, The London Sunday Times, The Economist, and many others. I am intrigued to see how Fishman has portrayed the current crisis. and what kind of narratives can be brought to the surface.

The exhibition runs through April 28th, and it’s smack in the middle of central campus, tucked where you wouldn’t even notice it. Head to the International Institute Gallery at 547 Weiser anytime between 8am and 5pm to see some incredible work from an experienced artist and learn more about the Ukrainian refugee experience in Poland.

REVIEW: 27th Annual Exhibition of Artists in Michigan Prisons

Each year, the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) at the University of Michigan organizes an annual exhibition to celebrate the 2D and 3D artwork of incarcerated individuals across the state. This year, the exhibition features works from 360 artists from 25 prisons, forming a stunning mosaic of 625 works— all with different stories to tell and drastically different mediums, but sharing a common passion for art as a mode of self-expression.

The work in the gallery is as diverse as you could imagine within a single gallery space, and far more diverse than you would expect from within prison walls. In terms of incarcerated artists’ resources, few are available; their small budget, when it fails, must be supplemented by any disposable material or item allotted to prisoners, such as toothpicks, tissue paper, ramen, and even blood, which are all used as mediums within this exhibition. The fragility of their resources doesn’t dampen the quality of the artwork but  rather imbues it with tenacity as well as a sense of masterful resourcefulness. This exhibition feels alive and buzzing with deep tension, each piece attesting to an emotionality that begs to be expressed even within despair and scarcity.

Condemned by M.J. Van Meter

When I stepped closer to a painting of a skeletal figure, one of many finely detailed works on a gallery wall, I realized that it was not a painting, but delicately carved bar soap with a layer of acrylic paint on top. I imagined all of the hours put into the construction of its curves, likely with a subpar or illegitimate carving tool. This painstaking work stands as evidence of the indomitable desire to create, and its transcendence beyond physical restraints; for incarcerated artists, art is both a beacon of hope and a weapon to break down the dehumanizing stereotypes surrounding imprisonment, rarely just a hobby.

Institutional Lobotomy by LIAM

Much of the art depicts the cruelties of the prison system— the separation of families, the bitter absence of human necessities, and the burden of emotional trauma. Many of the artists work in paint on canvas, although the two-dimensional art ranges from pen drawings to multimedia collages. The pieces most directly confronting incarceration are particularly colorful in their variety of expressions. Some artists took a surreal or even abstract route, inventing grotesque characters to represent their psyche; others pulled striking scenes straight out of reality, painting haunting memories with vivid oils. By contrast, a large portion of the works present placid and euphoric scenes— flowers pressed into ornate designs, loved ones with the sun beaming on their faces, three-dimensional log cabins made from scavenged materials— also expertly crafted. The passion poured into the more joyful work is just as evident as the passion put into the grim work, because, as a typical human response, hope is an essential component of resistance. By depicting some simple yet so out of reach, artists are reminiscing, or dreaming, or simply reclaiming their happiness from the oppressive grip of incarceration. Their labor-intensive work, done purely for the sake of it, is a slap in the face to a system that promotes and thrives off of the squashing of the human spirit. Art is resistance.


A Patient Man by Albert Krakosky

Much of the art is for sale, and some pieces cost as little as $10! The proceeds for sales will return to the artists so they may be used to purchase higher quality art materials. To learn more about PCAP, their mission, and to see (or buy!) the beautiful works of art in the exhibition, visit the gallery in the Duderstadt sometime before April 4th! The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm, and Saturday to Monday from 12pm to 6pm.

Featured Image: Portrait of Kamilla by Willie Anderson