REVIEW: Deluge

At the Friday gallery opening for Gideon Mendel’s Deluge, I had grabbed a seat in front awaiting the artist’s talk when the artist himself appeared and encouraged us to first go and watch his 14 minute piece in full before returning for his talk.

A full fourteen minutes would usually test my patience for any single video piece- but the alien, overwhelming imagery coupled with constantly changing scenes spread out across five screens made the piece seem much shorter. When the piece looped back around to the beginning, I was sadly not yet ready for it to be over.  There were scenes that were very human and intimate, with figures forlornly staring into the camera in the flooded remains of their house. Other scenes looked like something straight out of a post-apocalyptic film, featuring boats gliding through sunken cities. Still others were more purely visual, focusing on the way that reflection and the waterline changed the landscape on both large and small levels.

The artist’s talk following our viewing of the piece itself was quite enlightening about both Gideon Mendel’s process and personal reflections on the work. We learned that the project was over a decade in the making, and had originally been meant to cover all environmentally caused natural disasters, but then narrowed in focus. He also reminisced that he encountered an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction with the government and the status quo regardless of where he went, whether it be the most affluent or the poorest neighborhood imaginable. I was struck by the equalizing power of natural disasters, not caring about the color of your skin, or your background. Although, and Mendel made sure to note this, those previously mentioned factors made a world of difference when it came to an individual’s ability to recover from said disaster.

One of the things that I appreciated the most out of the entire event, was when the artist was prompted to answer where he felt his work best fit between the worlds of photojournalism, environmental activism, and fine art.  He instead insisted that his work not be pigeonholed into any one single realm, instead occupying a sort of middle ground. I could certainly see aspects of all three in his work, and agree that they were far more effective when used in harmony, rather than trying to merely fit only one category.

Another interesting element of this particular exposition was displayed in the utilization of the dual rooms.  The main gallery space was used to very effectively show the video, completely darkened with benches to allow viewers to sit and enjoy the entire 14 minutes of the piece.  The other room was used as a peek into Mendel’s behind the scenes process and organization of his material, with raw footage being played on projection and several wall installations on each of the walls.  Over the course of the two weeks that Mendel was to be staying at UM, he was challenged by the gallery curator to experiment in arranging, rearranging, and adding to the walls, so they might appear different in a week’s time than they were when I photographed them.  I was particularly inspired by the artfully arranged collection of photographs. The other wall was a play on the square format that is currently so ubiquitous due to influences such as Instagram.

Deluge will be displayed at the Institute for the Humanities Gallery right inside the entrance of the South Thayer Building until the end of the semester, December 18th.  The gallery is only open from 9am-5pm M-F, so be sure to stop by in between classes and experience Gideon Mendel’s provoking piece for yourself. Also if your interest was piqued by this piece, definitely check out Gideon Mendel’s website ( or check out his instagram @gideonmendel .


REVIEW: State of Exception

State of Exception

Just inside the double doors of the Institute for Humanities is a small, discreet passage leading to a far away place  beyond Ann Arbor: the US/Mexican border. I see “gallery” and I  imagine photographs hanging on walls or statues on pedestals- not dizzying videos, dialogue about border control, and images of tactile, human  belongings staring me in the face.

As part of the Race Theme Semester, the Humanities Institute is featuring a striking exhibit about the immigration journey across the Mexico-Arizona border.  Anthropology professor Jason De Léon’s four year old “Undocumented Migration Project” is the organization behind this emotive installation. In collaboration with world renowned photographer Bill Barnes and curator Amanda Krugliak, the two created the ethnographic story of unauthorized migration through dangerous southern  border territory. Using techniques such as forensics and  archeology, the “Project” curated abandoned vestiges of migrant workers, such as backpacks, dirt encrusted toothbrushes, forgotten bottles, salvaging rosaries, Mother Mary’s, orphaned shoes and more.

As you enter the gallery, the space is dark and crowded. Disorienting videos of a rocky pathways project onto the floor as the viewer progresses through a dark tunneled entrance. She  follows the sounds of pensive, recorded voices speaking over each other repeatedly. Once inside, the viewer  sees two video projections playing simultaneously: one of six faces looking into  the camera and speaking their concerns, fears, and curiosities about illegal immigration; one with pastures, rough hills, and jagged fences rushing outside a moving car window. Opposite the running films, a wall of about one hundred crusty, recovered back packs blanket the walls, making the viewer appear  diminutive in their presence.

This instillation is intriguing because of its collaboration between academics and fine arts. The content of the “Project” clearly addresses issues of policy, social (in)justice, and race, while the imagery is skilled, creative, and artfully executed. This combination of disciplines “considers the complexities and ambiguities of found objects and what they may or may not reveal in terms of transition, human experience, culture, violence, and accountability.” The piece did a thorough job of emoting the urgency of these conflicts, especially by incorporating  lost baby shoes and tiny pony tale holders fit for toddler sized children. I wondered about the people who carried  those objects, wondered who struggled against all odds to cross suc treacherous barriers.

Skimming the guest book near the entrance, I noticed a variety of responses to the exhibit. Most were positive, conveying a sense of appreciation for the severity of the work. Some comments, however, conveyed a less than delighted reaction to the piece. One claimed it was an expression of “white guilt” and did nothing to transcend the issue of race and racism. Perhaps this reaction was because the voices in the film were mostly “white”. That was a very interesting, strategic choice on behalf of the artists to choose white, American voices to address these issues. I wondered whether it was intentional or whether it happened by default. It had a curious affect on the purpose of the piece and left me uncertain about how well  it affected me in the end. You’ll have to see and decide for yourself.

For more on State of Exception, click here. Click here for an LSA review of the event and here to see images and texts from the artists themselves. An most informative of all, click here to see a video of Prof. De Léon describe the details of his project and hear from his students. The gallery is located in the lobby of the Institute for Humanities. It is open 8:00 am to 5:00 pm through the end of Spring Break. Definitely relevant to this semester’s theme-  check it out!