Variety Show: STAMPS's alumni exhibition "Ambiguities/Innuendoes? Go Fish"


Disney Room

A still from Alisa Yang's award-winning short film Please Come Again.

The 2017 University of Michigan Alumni Exhibition Ambiguities/Innuendoes? Go Fish features an eclectic collection of alumni works that engage, in varying capacities, with the terms “ambiguity” and “innuendo.” The annual exhibition allows STAMPS alumni to show their work. This year, work represented over 70 years of alumni from 1955 to 2016. This year, the exhibition featured juror Brian Kennedy, the president, director, and CEO of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Photography, mixed media, painting, fiber arts, pencil, graphite, crayon, woodblock print, video, animation, and collage are among the media that can be found in the STAMPS Gallery through August 19. Over 65 unique works are on display, and with diverse approaches, the artists engage the exhibition's themes to their own ends. Numerous pieces engage with political questions, while others question gender, identity, and embodied experience. Some works are introspective, while others address broad questions. Many works engage with aesthetic and form, asking the viewer to question the ambiguity or innuendo of the art object rather than ideas associated with the object.

As the juror, Brian Kennedy selected three grand prize winners and 10 additional works received honorable mentions.

Grieg, Swale

Left to right: Cynthia Greig's Representation No. 65 and Katie St. Clair's Swale.

Grand Prize Recipients

Cynthia Greig, Representation No. 65 (chromogenic print)
At first glance, Cynthia Greig’s photographic print does not appear to be a photograph at all. In her statement, she states that her images “examine the illusory nature of photographic truth and its correspondence to perceived reality.” This work is part of a larger series, Representations, which explores how everyday objects from the “recent past” can be employed in minimalistic compositions. These compositions not only address the ever-present question in photography, “Can a photography a purveyor of reality?” but simultaneously explore questions of abstraction, line, dimension, and illusion. Greig creates the images in this series by manipulating the objects before they are photographed, rather than through digital means. Greig states that through this process, her images facilitate the denial of “aesthetic expectations and assumptions” and “reveal the photograph as if seen for the first time.”

Katie St. Clair, Swale (acrylic, collage, and an assortment of experimental techniques with dye, graphite, spray paint, gesso and rice paper on canvas)
Katie St. Clair’s Swale is a large-scale mixed-media work influenced by her time spent living on the West coast of Ireland. Inspired by the landscape, her works are meditations on geological formations, particularly rocks. She states: “I started painting by questioning what I knew of rocks as being heavy, inert, ancient, and lifeless, forgoing their likeness to capture their essence. A sense of dichotomy was building on the painting surface, that rocks could be simultaneously stationary yet seemingly fleeting, or indestructible yet delicate like a butterfly wing.”

The result of this experimentation is a beautiful, rich, multi-layered canvas.

Alisa Yang, Please Come Again (video)
Alisa Yang’s video addresses controversial subject matter, looking into the lives of women in Japanese “love hotel.” The film consists of personal narratives from three generations of women that have been involved in the love hotels in Kyoto and Osaka, where the artist visited in 2015. Please Come Again won an award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Grand Jury Prize/Golden Reel award for short documentary.

In her statement, Yang addresses the themes of the video, stating: “Exploring these spaces as a metaphor for the female body. Please come again is a poetic contemplation in one’s sexuality, femininity, and cultural identity. It represents an important departure from the traditional patriarchy, one that demands the role of women to ignore their own desires and pleasures in order to serve their husband, family, and society.”

In addition to the three grand prize recipients, 10 additional works received honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Zoë Widmer, Myself in a Series (photography)
The large photographic work by Zoë Widmer immediately caught my attention and became one of my favorite pieces in the show. It is a large-scale series of eight side-by-side photographs and features vibrant, colored backdrops that create a pastel rainbow from left to right. Her use of costume, props, and self-portraiture recalls the work of Cindy Sherman and the like. Additionally, the solid, colorful backdrops and subject matter recall early works by artist Catherine Opie.

Widmer included a brief description of the work: “My body is trans and therefore interpreted as unusual, interesting, and shameful. It is something I more often than not choose to hide. In these images I express myself through my body with an emphasis on showing it off.”

The artist dons various outfits and costumes in the images. The poses are dynamic and include humorous and playful connotations. Engaging in the tradition of self-portraiture, the artist challenges us to reconsider the conventional portrait and to reconsider what subjects viewers see in a gallery setting. Widmer states that the trans body is interpreted as unusual and interesting, which the images celebrate. However, the third suggestion that the trans body is shameful is challenged in these images, representing the body as a subject worth documenting, viewing, and celebrating.

The following nine works were also honored:

Kelly Hartigan Goldstein, but…it’s a banana
Lenea Howe, Norm Walker
Leisa Rich, Disco Metastasis
Robert Sedestrom, Chaulk Talk
Michelle Sider, One the Side of the Road
Mark Sisson, Portrait of Emma Shore: What Price Education?
Russell Thayer, Wind Rapids
Marjorie Tomchuk, Confluence II
Robin Wilt, Fish & Unfish & still FIO

With such a variety of media and subjects, this is an exhibition to see before it ends on August 19!

Elizabeth Smith is an AADL staff member and is interested in art history and visual culture.

"Ambiguities/Innuendos? Go Fish" is on display at the STAMPS Gallery, 201 S Division St, through August 19. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday 12-7 pm.