Unmasking Herstory: Nastassja E. Swift's "she was here, once" at U-M's Lane Hall

VISUAL ART REVIEW

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Nastassja E. Swift wants to know what's behind the mask. 

The Virginia-based artist's exhibit at Lane Hall, the home of the LSA Women’s Studies program at the University of Michigan, is part of a larger performance piece, titled she was here, once. Swift, in her artist statement, expands upon the intent behind her work:

Circling within conversations of marginalization, use of the black body and otherness, my work incorporates the idea of masking as a metaphorical tool to explore what it means to cover one’s face with another, questioning who’s being hidden and who’s being amplified. The mask themselves often acting as vessels of stories told through movement and in form, depicting the faces of our ancestral mothers as a way of demanding space for her and retrieving her power in the form of visibility of homage. Through fusing these larger-than-life size felted wool portraits with dance, I am able to shape experiences through storytelling and articulate self-identities in relation to ancestry.

 

Lane Hall’s gallery space is filled with various components of the project. Originally enacted by Swift and a group of eight women in the summer of 2018. The performance took place in Swift’s home city, Richmond, Virginia. First, the artist has suspended three of the large sculptural, white fiber masks worn and made by the women in the project from the ceiling in the main hall. Second, photographic stills from the initial performance line the walls of the gallery space. Finally, two television screens play both a mini-documentary and short film about Swift’s project on a loop.

A Night of Fiction: Bookbound Bookstore hosts Elizabeth Ellen, Juliet Escoria, and Mary Miller

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

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Left to right: Juliet Escoria, Elizabeth Ellen, and Mary Miller.

While other towns struggle to maintain bookstores and aren’t able to host author events, Ann Arbor hosts myriad events featuring the writers behind the pages.

Bookbound Bookstore is hosting a night of fiction on July 10. But what isn't fictional is Ann Arbor's dedication to independent bookstores and author events.

“We are very lucky to be in a city with so many avid readers and folks who make an effort to shop local," says Bookbound co-owner Megan Blackshear. "Each local bookstore has their own areas of specialty and programming, so we complement one another to provide something for everyone. After the loss of Borders, Shaman Drum, and plenty of other great shops, we are grateful that Ann Arbor is proving that it is still Booktown.”

Bookbound's triple bill of celebrated authors on Wednesday evening features Elizabeth Ellen, Juliet Escoria, and Mary Miller

Nevertheless Film Festival persists to show that female-identifying moviemakers are making great cinema

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Nevertheless Film Festival director Meredith Finch

Meredith Finch, founder and director of the Nevertheless Film Festival.

The film industry does not celebrate women as it should.

Only five women have ever been nominated for an Academy Award for directing. Less than a quarter of the top 100 grossing films have sole female protagonists. And way too many movies still don’t pass the Bechdel test.

But as a balm for these grim figures, we have the Nevertheless Film Festival, which runs July 11-14 at the Michigan Theater and is named after the feminist rallying cry “nevertheless, she persisted."

“Statistics are widely available about the lack of representation in the entertainment industry,” says festival director and U-M grad Meredith Finch. “But what I think is even more important than talking about the disparity in opportunities between men and women in Hollywood is saying, 'Women are out here making incredible work all the time.'”

Painting the Everyday: Sarah Innes' "Around the Table" at Ann Arbor Art Center focuses on the small moments in life

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sarah Innes' painting Duncan and Arlo

Duncan and Arlo by Sarah Innes, watercolor on paper.

Ann Arbor artist Sarah Innes is a radical.

The fashion of the day in contemporary art is that we concern ourselves with the Big Issues: gender equality, climate change, gun violence, and the like.

Instead, Innes commits to painting only what she knows, deep in her bones.

She knows that life is precious and brief and consists of moments strung together like pearls on a necklace.  She knows that children are born, make fun and mischief, move away. Parents, friends, colleagues, and significant others visit and dine, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Pets appear under the table and nestled in arms. Sometimes there is a death.

Around the Table, a small selection of her intimate paintings, is on view now at the Ann Arbor Art Center through July 23. Innes employs the image of the dining table, both as an organizing compositional device and as a metaphor for her life. Minute changes in the menu, changing seasons and an ever-mutating cast of characters provide a travelogue of her journey through time. 

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

Christopher Jemison of Strange Flavors playing Fuzz Fest 6 at The Bling Pig. Photo by Chuck Marshall/Life in Michigan.

Christopher Jemison of Strange Flavors playing Fuzz Fest 6 at The Bling Pig. Photo by Chuck Marshall/Life in Michigan

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). If you're reading this in the future and a story link is dead, look up the URL on web.archive.org; we've cached every post there.

This is a music-crazy post. We have 28 links to various new albums, singles, videos, interviews, and more. Plus, several Ann Arbor Art Fair previews and stories about Washtenaw Dairy turning 85.

Chloe Gray’s Fun Girl dance company blends quirky movement with thoughtful activism in “Girlfriend”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW INTERVIEW

Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray photo by Erika Ruch.

On June 22 at Riverside Arts Center, I had the pleasure of attending the first show presented by Fun Girl, a new Ypsilanti-based contemporary dance company created and run by Artistic Director Chloe Gray.  The company offers paid rehearsals and performances to their dancers, as well as apprenticeships, and acts as a platform for technically based dancers to explore quirky movement while applying thoughtful activism.  

Artistic Director Chloe Gray’s credentials are extensive, with her training beginning at the age of 6 with the Toledo Ballet and continuing at the Toledo School for the Arts throughout her high school years.  She graduated from Eastern Michigan University where she double majored in Dance Performance and Women’s and Gender Studies, and her choreography and dancing have been featured in performance opportunities through Kristi Faulkner Dance (Detroit), ARTLAB J Dance (Detroit), Koresh Dance Company (Philadelphia), and Side Street Art Studio (Chicago).

“I always thought that I was going to wait until I was older to start my own company,” says Gray.  “My plan was to graduate from college, move to a big city to dance, and then eventually come back to Ypsi to plant some roots. Through careful consideration and after falling in love with a Michigander, I decided to stay in Ypsi and go for it. We have to create in places and spaces where the art we want to see does not exist. If we all take off to big cities, how will art exist in our community?”

The show, entitled Girlfriend, featured four original pieces choreographed by Gray and performed by Fun Girl, as well as four pieces that were chosen through the Ypsi Dance Swap organized by Gray in January, in which choreographers from across the state could submit their work to be performed in a show at Riverside Arts Center.  Several of the choreographer’s pieces would then be chosen by a jury to be presented at Fun Girl’s Girlfriend recital in June. 

What's Love Got to Do With It: The Purple Rose's comedy "Welcome to Paradise" offers a dreamlike romance -- or is it real at all?

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

The Purple Rose Theatre's Welcome to Paradise

Rory (Ryan Black) and Evelyn (Ruth Crawford) trip the light fandango in The Purple Rose Theatre's production of Julie Marino’s Welcome to Paradise. Photo by Sean Carter Photography.

In Julie Marino’s play Welcome to Paradise, a young man who has been backpacking through Europe helps an elderly woman who is having difficulty at the airport. Rory doesn’t just help Evelyn to her cab. He accompanies her to her beach house on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Sebastian, a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere. Exhausted, he tries to find an inexpensive place to spend the night, but accommodations are costly in paradise. She invites him for the night.

He stays a good deal longer. He rearranges her flowers. He rearranges her furniture to better see the sunset from the couch.  And just by being there, he rearranges her life. 

In a detailed and nuanced performance, Ruth Crawford embodies Evelyn, at turns feisty and flirtatious, basking in the attention of an attractive fellow as young as her grandson who caters to her needs before she knows she has them. Ryan Black is a fine Rory, thoroughly at home in Evelyn’s home and life.

A Brief History of "Hawking": The latest science graphic novel by Ann Arbor's Jim Ottaviani profiles the legendary theoretical physicist

WRITTEN WORD PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Jim Ottaviani and his book Hawking

The subject of the book was a scientist who was also a New York Times bestselling author and affiliated with a renowned university. And the writer of this book ... was also a scientist, a New York Times bestselling author, and affiliated with a renowned university. It's only fitting that Jim Ottaviani -- preeminent writer of science comics, former nuclear engineer, and current librarian at the University of Michigan -- wrote a book about Stephen Hawking, the preeminent theoretical physicist and cosmologist.

Illustrated by Leland MyrickHawking traces the legendary scientist's life, from his groundbreaking work in theoretical physics to his best-selling book A Brief History of Time to his advocacy for rights for people with disabilities. 

To familiarize themselves with the source material, Ottaviani and Myrick combed through pages and pages of notes and references, dozens of books, and numerous print, audio, and video interviews. “We also spent a fair amount of time at Cambridge,” Ottaviani adds. “We visited Hawking’s offices, his environment … talked to his friends and coworkers” to get the best possible picture of the late scientist.

Art and "Soul": Honey Monsoon's new album looks for the light within

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Honey Monsoon by Miles Marie

Photo by Miles Marie

For local band Honey Monsoon, music and art spring from the same well of creativity. 

That dedication to artistic exploration comes through clearly on the band’s second album, Opal Soul, which offers an engaging, irresistible mix of neo-soul and jazz with some world-music elements neatly woven in. For the album, Honey Monsoon's core musicians -- Ana Gomulka, guitar, vocals, keyboards, music, and lyrics; Taylor Greenshields, drums, percussion, recording, and mixing; Sam Naples, guitar, vocals, and mixing; and Binho “Alex” Manenti, bass and keyboards -- are augmented by a horn section and other musicians for a full, layered sound.

Opal Soul is very much about reflection and finding the light within,” Gomulka said. “I'm madly in love with exploration, healing, and the journey back to my higher self. Listening to this music is an invitation for all to make the journey with me.”

Both music and lyrics on Opal Soul reward a close listen. One of the album’s highlights, “Sign of Life,” starts out as fairly straightforward pop, then the horns jump into an avant-jazz groove, followed by an acid rock guitar solo, with all the elements ultimately mixing into a cohesive whole. 

Gomulka sings: 
“Looking for a sign, looking for a sign of life / Looking for a way, looking for my way out / Looking for a sign, looking for a sign of life / Looking for a place, looking for a place where my roots can sprout.”

All the songs on the album deserve attention, but two other particular highlights are “Cloud,” an irresistible, neo-soul single full of gorgeous hooks; and “Clarity,” a compelling song about finding that precious concept and learning to let go of the past that builds to a rich, extended groove.

Gomulka took the time to answer a few questions about the new album via email.

Minimalism & Maximalism: The National and Courtney Barnett at Hill Auditorium

MUSIC REVIEW

The National at Hill Auditorium

The National at Hill Auditorium. Photo by Christopher Porter.

"How does it feel to be the king of sad-dad rock?" shouted a fan last night at The National's lead singer, Matt Berninger, as he entered the Bell Tower Hotel in Ann Arbor.

The band had just finished a 25-song, two-hour set at the venue across the street, Hill Auditorium, which was filled to its 3,538 person capacity with sad dads (and moms) -- heretofore collectively known as SAD-D.A.M.

Berninger was joined by an augmented version of The National that added four additional musicians to the core quintet and they filled Hill with a massive wall of sound.

But the opening act, Courtney Barnett, achieved a similar feat with just herself on guitar plus a bassist and drummer -- and it was her second performance in Ann Arbor that day: at 12 noon, Barnett recorded an episode of the syndicated radio show Acoustic Cafe at The Leon Loft. (Check out a clip here.)