Pulp Bits: A Roundup of Washtenaw County Arts & Culture Stories

Pulp Bits

A round-up of arts and culture stories featuring people, places, and things in Washtenaw County, whether they're just passing through or Townies for life. Coverage includes music, visual art, film & video, theater & dance, written word, and Pulp life (food, fairs, and more). Sources this time are:

➥ a2books.org
➥ All About Ann Arbor
➥ Ann Arbor Observer
➥ Concentrate
➥ CTN Ann Arbor
➥ Current
➥ Detroit Free Press
➥ Detroit Metro Times
➥ Detroit News
➥ Encore Michigan
➥ Life in Michigan
➥ Lifting Up A2 Jazz
➥ MLive
➥ The Michigan Daily
➥ The Saline Post
➥ WCBN Local Music Show
➥ We Love Ann Arbor

Bloodstained Economics: "Wang Qingsong / Detroit / Beijing" at UMMA explores class conflict in China and the U.S.

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Wang Qingsong, The Bloodstained Shirt

Wang Qingsong, The Bloodstained Shirt, 2018. Courtesy the artist. © Wang Qingsong.

Wang Qingsong is interested in the effects of “rapid change in contemporary Chinese society.” He also sees a parallel in U.S. society, especially when it comes to the discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots, which is made clear in Wang Qingsong/Detroit/Beijing, his new exhibit at the University of Michigan Museum of Art,

Wang Qingsong restages the large-scale drawing The Bloodstained Shirt (1959) by Wang Shikuo, an iconic work of Socialist Realist art and one that celebrates land reforms in China after Communist victory in 1949. The original drawing depicts the peasant uprising against their cruel landlord and the subsequent reclaiming of the land.

In Wang Qingsong/Detroit/Beijing, Wang Shikuo's drawing forms the basis for a photo reenactment, shot in front of an abandoned Sanders candy factory in Highland Park, a city in Detroit. Wang Qingsong’s February 2018 restaging in Detroit raises questions about land use in the city while simultaneously commenting on current issues in China, which UMMA's curators note have shifted dramatically since the idealistic Wang Shikuo image was made. The curators also write that the artist originally intended to work in Beijing, where land redistribution suffers in favor of real estate developers’ interests.

Similarly, Wang Qingsong noticed that Southeast Michigan is driven by “private speculation on and the rebuilding of abandoned properties in Detroit and Highland Park that ignore the needs of most residents.” UMMA curators also note that the re-enacted The Bloodstained Shirt (2018) was intended by the artist to be shown both in China and the United States, but it is banned in China.

Across the Campus-verse: U-M's "Bookmarks: Speculating the Futures of the Book and Library" exhibit takes viewers on a trip

VISUAL ART REVIEW

In Search of Pale Blue Spin and Scheherazade

Left: Image representing In Search of the Pale Blue Spin, an audiowalk by Stephanie Rowden and Jennifer Metsker.
Right: Scheherazade 2.0 (prototype) by Osman Khan

The ambitious, expansive, multi-venue exhibition Bookmarks: Speculating the Futures of the Book and Library is currently displayed in three libraries across the University of Michigan’s campus. If you plan to see everything, expect to spend the day tracking them down through various academic libraries in Ann Arbor.

Many of the installations are true “pop-up” style, with the spaces being utilized by busy students. The exhibition, curated by Guna Nadarajan, dean of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, includes work by University students, faculty, and staff. The work can be viewed in three places: Hatcher Graduate Library, Art, Architecture & Engineering Library, and Shapiro Undergraduate Library.

The Bookmarks exhibition addresses two questions. First, many works engage with the shift from printed books to digital formats, the displacement of the book as a form, and shifting functions and perceptions of functions of the library.  Second, artists question what these shifts in form mean for the institutions housing information. The exhibition asks: “What is the future of the library? What is the future of the book?” Each performance piece, artwork, or installation comment on speculative futures for books, libraries, or shifting technologies in unique ways.

In all, there are 14 site-specific installations and exhibits. Two of these require a cell phone or electronic device in order to experience the entire work.

Below, each work is listed under the library it is shown in, with specific instructions to find it.

D.C.-area rapper Joey Blanco makes his Michigan debut at AADL

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Joey Blanco

Northern Virginia rapper Joey Blanco been called a modern Big Pun or Noreaga because of his suave vocal style and Latin heritage.

And when asked about his influences, Blanco admits that Pun, along with Jay-Z, Big L, Nas, and Biggie, is one of his favorites.

But Blanco has his own cadence and tone, marked by assertive vocals rapping English lyrics peppered with colorful Spanish ad-libs.

"I think it’s doing great," Blanco said of Latino hip-hop, "I just feel as though there’s no artists that perform in English and that are killing it with the Spanish ad-libs. I feel like I’m bringing that to the game. I’m just trying to bring something new to the Spanish culture."

“Ecologies braid into the everyday" for Leslie Carol Roberts, author of "Here Is Where I Walk"

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Leslie Carol Roberts by Mara Holt Skov

Leslie Carol Roberts photo by Mara Holt Skov.

Walking in a place can be a way to become more intimately connected to it. That is just what author Leslie Carol Roberts does at the Presidio National Park in San Francisco, California, where she lives. She wrote about these walks and places, including the Presidio, in her new nonfiction book, Here Is Where I Walk: Episodes From a Life in the Forest.

“For what is a walk in the forest if not a chance to fully and deeply celebrate the sauntering and reflective mind?” she asks in the introduction.

Through her walks and the months of the year, which structure the book, she reflects on ecology, experiences from her life, and stories and research on places, including California, Iowa, Maryland, and Tasmania. Through these reflections, she contemplates what nature and wild places are and what humans’ relationship with them is.

Formerly of Michigan, Roberts has covered news around the world as a journalist. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program and teaches and chairs the MFA Writing Program at California College of the Arts. Her first book, The Entire Earth and Sky: Views on Antarctica, discusses Antarctica and New Zealand.

Roberts will read at Literati Bookstore Monday, May 6, at 7 pm and at Source Booksellers in Detroit on Wednesday, May 8. Here, she shares about her experiences in Michigan, her new book, and her own reading.

Chronicle of a Phenomenal Night: Martha Graham Dance Company at the Power Center

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Martha Graham Dance Company

Photo by Hubbard Nash

I went to the Martha Graham Dance Company's April 26 performance at the Power Center and was blown away. (The troupe also performed April 27.)

I’ve seen the Martha Graham Dance Company (MGDC) on several occasions before, as well as many of the endless companies the group's namesake has inspired, but never before have I loved them so much. The dancers performed four pieces: Secular Games (Martha Graham), Deo (Maxine Doyle & Bobbi Jene Smith), Lamentation Variations (Aszure Barton/Nicolas Paul/Larry Keigwin), and Chronicle (Graham). Each piece was emotional, wholly different, and an example of ferocious physical ability.

MGDC is in its 93rd season, which makes it the oldest dance company in the United States; they first appeared in Ann Arbor in 1932. Watching on Friday night, I was struck by how fresh Graham's choreography feels, even almost a century later. Graham is credited with the creation of a new American art form in modern dance. Her movements use sharp angles and the pull of gravity, both of which set her apart from ballet. Her work is also unbelievably difficult. There are moments in her choreography where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: for example, one dancer did a series of split leaps into the air from a standing position across the length of the entire stage. Even the onstage pauses in movement, which are usually put into a piece to give the audience a moment of stillness and the dancers a moment to breathe, are angular and uncomfortable.

There is no rest for a Martha Graham dancer. 

Keep Talking: Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama, expressed optimism at The Michigan Theater

WRITTEN WORD REVIEW

Valerie Jarrett

If I had been paying as much attention to national politics in 2009 as I do now, maybe I would have been more familiar with Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama. But her visit to the Michigan Theater on Monday, April 22, gave me the chance to learn more about her story.

I am so glad that I took that chance.

“You never know what can happen with a Michigan Law degree.” --Broderick Johnson

As part of her book took for Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward, Jarrett was in conversation with Broderick Johnson, an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Maybe Johnson and Jarrett appeared to be so comfortable on stage because of their work together as advisors in the Obama administration. Maybe it was because their friendship was palpable. Maybe it was because they’re both University of Michigan Law School alumni and this felt like a homecoming of sorts. In any case, it was a pleasure to behold.

Distilling the Process: Ann Arbor creatives R.J. Fox and Heidi Philipsen are working to bring "Love & Vodka" to the big screen

Love and Vodka

R.J. Fox doesn’t wait around for something to happen -- the Ann Arbor author goes out and creates his own opportunities.

Filmmaker Heidi Philipsen likewise makes things happen for herself. So perhaps it is kismet that these two talented and hardworking artists found each other and are making art together as they turn Fox’s book Love & Vodka into an independent film. 

Fox knew he wanted to be involved in filmmaking since he was in high school, and he currently teaches English and video production at Huron High School. “Everyone tells you that the odds are stacked against you, that it’s like making it to the NBA … so you have to have a mindset that you will find a way and get your work in the right hands of someone who wants to make your movie.”

Fox knew he found that person when he met Philipsen.

Fangs and Twang celebrate a monster of a new album at Ziggy’s

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Fangs & Twangs

The local band Fangs and Twang may have started out as a joke, but it’s turned out to be a really good one. 

Combining a rootsy, country-rock sound -- that’s the “twang” -- with songs about monsters and other scary things -- that’s the “fangs” -- the band has been sharpening its sound for the past four years, releasing three albums along the way. 

The core band consists of Joe Bertoletti on bass, Andy Benes on guitar and mandolin, and Billy LaLonde on drums. All three contribute vocals, and the band's sound is augmented by keyboards and fiddle on the album. “This band is all about collaboration and I'm really proud that this collaboration also extends to vocal duties,” Benes says.

Their latest album, the just-released Spirits and Chasers, perfectly balances Fangs and Twang’s offbeat outlook with the members’ first-rate musical chops. The band will celebrate the new album with a record-release show April 27 at Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti.

The title track on the new album is a standout, featuring some clever lyrics over a gritty roots-rock sound. “The Ballad of the Legend of the Saga of Swamp Thing” encapsulates the band’s goofy sense of humor. The infectious “Ogo Pogo” sounds like straightforward country, with a long instrumental intro that showcases the band’s instrumental abilities. The album’s six original songs are rounded out by a perfectly-on-point cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.”

The band members jointly answered a few questions via email:

The ManosBuckius Cooperative explore gender politics and the future of libraries in "TheMBC@TheLibrary"

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

MBC Cooperative

Photos by Brenna K. Murphy (left) and Nick Beardslee (right).

The ManosBuckius Cooperative (The MBC) says the aim of its performance pieces is to “embrace purposelessness!”

Artists Melanie Manos and Sarah Buckius say this half-facetiously since their absurd performative art explores humanity’s relationship with technology: “Our aim is to energize a space with our activities, and suggest new interpretations for existing structures both in the social/political and environmental/architectural sense.”

The MBC's most recent collaboration, TheMBC@TheLibrary, took on the future of libraries and explored gender politics by disrupting the space in University of Michigan’s Art, Architecture & Engineering Library on Friday, April 12. The performance resulted in an installation that will remain on view until May 26 as part of the Bookmarks: Speculating the Futures of the Book and Library, a “multi-venue exhibition” curated by Guna Nadarajan of University of Michigan’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.

The performance will also be made available in the form of a final, edited video that compiles footage from the multiple cameras that recorded the bi-level performance piece. In general, the artists work in various media as part of The MBC, including “photography, mediated performances (live-feed to video monitor or projector), live performance with projections, videos, video installation with projections, and video installation with sculpture.”