Refuge and Isolation: Ypsi Alloy Studios' "Sanctuary" at Ann Arbor Art Center


Ann Arbor Art Center's app for Sanctuary

ICON Interactive's virtual reality app for Ann Arbor Art Center's Sanctuary exhibit.

Ann Arbor Art Center’s Sanctuary exhibition features some pieces that focus on the meditative aspect of the titular concept, but other works confront the “double-edged sword” of what "sanctuary" means, lending to the gallery’s successful interpretation of a broad theme. 

Featuring work from 15 artists from Ypsi Alloy Studios, the show is described by the gallery as:

Bring[ing] to mind a myriad of ideas -- both physical and spiritual … a place of refuge, a sacred space, a shrine, or an altar. A place for thoughts or ideas, hopes, and dreams -- or a form of comfort in times of trouble. … In contrast, the concept of sanctuary can be a double-edged sword. When something is isolated, even with the best of intentions, it can have a negative impact; isolation rather than shelter, seclusion instead of solace. Sanctuaries can divide those in it from others.

As with last year’s REMIX exhibit, the Ann Arbor Art Center collaborated with ICON Interactive to create an app that adds an “augmented reality experience” to Sanctuary. Once downloaded to your mobile device, the app allows you to interact with the space in a new way. You select an area of the gallery and open a portal; then, 10 orbs come on your phone screen and you must capture each one. But the goal isn't to speed through the orb hunt; inspired by mindfulness, the app suggests you count to 10 before you grab the next sphere. If you try to breeze through it, as I did, you will probably not succeed in your exercise of creating a sanctuary. The app reminds us to be mindful in our private space, but also in the gallery. Once you have experienced the app, it's time to look at the surrounding artwork.

Will Care's Three Aspects of Existence and White on White

Will Care's Three Aspects of Existence and White on White at Ann Arbor Art Center's Sanctuary.

Will Cares explores boundaries between painting and sculpture in his new works, offering a great example of the “double-edged sword” in the concept of sanctuary. In his artist statement, Cares explores not only his methods but the varied sources of inspiration for his new series, one of which makes use of the circle to address complex ideas. He states that the “main ‘subject’ of these works is the dialectic of seeming opposites … 2D/3D, white/black … clockwise/counter-clockwise, life/death, Western linear time/Eastern cyclical time, and future-focused/present focused.”

Of the two works in the show, Three Aspects of Existence most clearly articulates his interest in the form of the circle. The piece consists of three panels, each representing a circle on a small square. Cares says that this tryptic employs the circle because it's the “most ‘perfect’ shape as a symbol for existence itself.” The paint is applied in a counterclockwise motion, which Cares uses to reference the disparities in conceptions of time throughout culture and history. Cares also has “an acute sense of the tyranny of the clock,” particularly in relation to aging, life, and death. 

White on White, his other piece in Sanctuary, is a sculptural painting made from gessoed and draped linen. The piece appears as a ghostly figure hanging on the wall, its form speaking for itself while simultaneously implying something not quite articulated. The process by which canvas is made is clearly referenced here, and Cares also mentions that the linen is a recycled tablecloth, rather than the expensive linen in art historical works. He says, “This is a kind of contemporary post-minimalism that seems to ask: when is a painting actually a sculpture or vice versa?”

Cathy Jacobs' three works in Sanctuary engage in the exhibition's concept through the idea of memory. Two of the three pieces address the boundaries between material and concept, and are made of handwoven linen and copper. Blanket, 3D Sketch and Delicate Armor both appear to be the beginnings of a weaving project, left unfinished, rough around the edges. Her third piece Entry is a monoprint in which a light color slowly grows darker toward the corners. Jacobs is interested in memory, and her work engages with the intangibility of memory, “trying to reach for it is like reaching for the wind. It dissipates into atmosphere and cannot be grasped.” Like memory, her works are soft, shifting, and atmospheric. 

Another piece that engages with memory is a collaboration between Meagan Shein and Siobhan Arnold, known as SIEN Collective. Their Euphemisms “utilizes historic and new photographic processes, drawing, sewing, collage, and installation.” The work clearly represents the talents of both artists. Shein often works with paper, ink, and encaustic, while Arnold creates multimedia works and practices photography. Made from ink and beeswax on paper, the work was executed in encaustic but uses techniques of photography in rendering the imagery. In their statement, they describe the meaning behind the piece: 

Euphemisms is a carefully arranged still life comprised of objects depicting slang terms for female genitalia. The still life is influenced by Vanitas paintings from the Golden Age of Dutch painting which typically explores human mortality and the transience of earthly pleasures … by rendering these objects with overburdened meaning in careful, loving detail, we transform the ugliness and take ownership of the words.

At first glance, the finished work appears as any other still life might. But each object is placed on top of another, rendering the familiar objects strange and jumbled. Some nostalgic and recognizable images can be seen upon careful inspection: for example, a mini mouse peeks over some foliage. A turtle forms the base of the composition but appears larger than a barn next to it. Through these idiosyncratic inclusions, the notion that the still life is representing fact is diminished, drawing into question the meaning of each objects’ connotation. 

A Study in Nostalgia at Ann Arbor Art Center's Sanctuary exhibit
Kari Thurman’s A Study in Nostalgia at Ann Arbor Art Center's Sanctuary.

Sanctuary also includes intriguing installation works, one of which is Kari Thurman’s A Study in Nostalgia, a small suburb of sewn, tiny white structures, nestled in the corner of the gallery. Thurman explains that her work is inspired by her exploration of the “separation of the female and feminine” ideal. Thurman questions the historical conception of female identity, while also questioning what it means in contemporary society. She relies on materials, skills, and imagery traditionally or historically associated with women -- in this case, sewing. Then, the motif of the house or domestic structure is strongly associated with femininity, seen as being relegated to interior spaces. Thurman also explains that her process is repetitive, though the product is fragile, which she hopes will challenge the viewer “to question the fragility of work in question.” 

Fragility, memory, life, and death are just a few of the many concerns noted by Ypsi Alloy Studios artists in the impressive exhibition, curated by Ilana Houten, Elize Jekabson, and Jessica Tenbusch, who also have pieces in Sanctuary. The show also features the works by Sarah Buddendeck, Amber Harrison, Riva Jewell-Vitale, Jan Bogart, Lorraine Kolasa, Jogendro Kshetrimayum, Paloma Nunez-Reguerio, and Sarah Sandusky.

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

"Sanctuary" is on view until July 14 at the Ann Arbor Art Center.