Review: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's The Planets was Out of this World

REVIEW VISUAL ART MUSIC

Review: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's The Planets was Out of this World

A2SO's The Planets revolved around music that celebrates our solar system.

Last Saturday, April 9th, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra presented an excellent selection of music to a sold out Michigan Theater.

The evening opened with "The Tall-Eared Fox and the Wild-Eyed Man," a piece written by Ann Arbor composer Evan Chambers. Inspired by traditional jigs, the strings section started with a jaunty tone and then transitioned into different breakdowns of the music, ending with an experimental section that pushed the boundaries of the jig into a more traditional and modern place.

A2SO's The Planets.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, featuring guest violinist Jinjoo Cho, was the second entry in the night’s concert. I was completely caught off guard by Cho’s tremendous performance, which was both technically complex but also emotionally packed. Her playing was simply astounding, breathtaking in the depth of emotion conveyed even as control of the instrument was maintained. I honestly don’t have the words to convey how absolutely delightful and absorbing Cho’s playing was. If Cho ever happens to visit Ann Arbor again, I would highly recommend attending. I will certainly be following her career with avid interest.

Jinjoo Cho

Jinjoo Cho (left) takes a bow.

After a short intermission, the orchestra returned to perform Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Composed in 1917, this piece explores the character of each of the planets of the solar system, excluding Earth. Each character sketch is relatively quick, resulting in a piece that progresses quickly and holds the interest of even those unfamiliar with classical music. Even if you’ve never heard of The Planets, you’ve probably heard some clip of this influential and popular composition playing in the background of some piece of media.

A2SO's The Planets.

The performance by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra was a joy to attend. The Planets is a fun suite of music to start with, and the orchestra was clearly up to the challenges presented by the piece. Since the character of each planet is so distinct, I can only praise the A2 Orchestra for conveying a spectrum of emotions and concepts. From the jaunty "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity," to the strident and somehow playful "Uranus, the Magician," the A2 Orchestra rose to the occasion and delivered an exceptional range of musical experiences. I was familiar with The Planets going into the concert, and I was surprised at how much of a difference there was between the recordings I’ve listened to and hearing the music in person. There’s a bit of personality or a depth of emotion that recordings just can’t capture. The journey the music takes you on through the solar system seems somehow more real when you’re sitting in the same room as the musicians.

The visualizations paired with the music made for an interesting experience, slightly reminiscent of Disney’s Fantasia. Visual artist Adrian M Wyard created the accompaniment using both NASA images and digital recreations of the planets. Pairing the music with images added a layer to the performance that certainly captured your attention, but that could sometimes border on distracting. I was surprised at how well Holst managed to capture the essence of the planets, particularly those closer to Earth, in 1917, when our knowledge of the solar system was so much more limited than it is today.


Audrey Huggett is a Public Library Associate at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Review: Winteractive: The Art of Video Games

REVIEW VISUAL ART

Winteractive exhibition logo

Winteractive: The Art of Video Games is on display in the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery through Friday, April 15. Image on the left is from Proteus, on the right is from Ballpoint Universe

Despite what Roger Ebert once said, video games can be art. Art is anything that conveys a universal truth and, as psychologist Daniel J. Levity says, “if successful, will continue to move and to touch people even as contexts, societies, and cultures change.” The exhibit Winteractive: The Art of Video Games, currently on display in the University of Michigan Hatcher Gallery, has some great examples of games that do just that.

Flower

Flower is a video game developed by Thatgamecompany and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.

In Flower, you are the wind, controlling the movement of a single flower petal through the air. Though no words are involved, the game follows a narrative arc that explores finding balance between nature and a constructed environment.

The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan was developed by Giant Sparrow for the PlayStation 3, released in October 2012 through the PlayStation Network.

The Unfinished Swan is an existential exploration into the equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. You, as the player, are a young boy chasing after a swan who has wandered out of a painting and into a surreal, unfinished kingdom. The game begins in a completely white space where you get to throw paint to reveal the world around you and venture into the unknown.

Passage

Passage is a 2007 experimental video game developed by Jason Rohrer.

Passage is a metaphor for the human condition that explores the poetry of experiences and consequences. Each play-through is a five minute "poem" in which you get to experience an entire human lifespan. Passage asks you to choose which goals are most important and demonstrates how pursuing one goal can make the pursuit of others more difficult. Do you seek companionship, treasure, distance? It's up to you, and your early choices alter your eventual experience.

Winteractive is a hands-on exhibition. Eight games in total are set up for you to play at demo stations throughout the Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery.

Video games, just like writing and painting, are a creative medium. Early language existed as a means to communicate danger. Writing originated as bookkeeping. Painting began as an attempt to capture the reality of nature as seen by the human eye. It takes time to change the perception of an audience – sometimes many generations' worth.

Games can educate and often provide a means to escape your reality, but some can also touch your heart and connect you to the universe. Some games are art, as this exhibition clearly demonstrates.


Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at AADL.


Winteractive: The Art of Video Games is on display through Friday, April 15 at the University of Michigan Hatcher Graduate Library Gallery, located at 913 S. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. This exhibit was a collaboration between the Ann Arbor District Library and the University of Michigan Library Computer & Video Game Archive.

Preview: Triumph of the Wool - Ann Arbor's Fiber Expo

PREVIEW VISUAL ART

The Imaginary Invalid presented by the U-M SMTD Dept. of Theatre & Drama.

This expo is sure to be stringy, but full of fiber.

For anyone in Ann Arbor who likes to work with yarn, the Fiber Expo is a highlight to the year. The Fiber Expo brings together local artisans, shopkeepers, and farmers. Walking through the expo can bring you into contact with anything from angora rabbits to hand dyed yarn to looms and spinning wheels. The expo always bustles with life and energy as friends move from stall to stall, looking at different yarns and shawl pins, envisioning what they can make with the wealth of raw materials before them.

Though vendors are a major offering of the Fiber Expo, it’s not just about buying yarn and roving (unspun wool). The expo is about meeting other fiber enthusiasts from the area, meeting the people who are growing their own fiber, and seeing what other people are creating with fiber. Each expo also features a strong offering of classes that cover a range of skills. The goals of the Fiber Expo are to get natural fibers into people’s hands and to spread knowledge about how to work with fiber. Ultimately, the Fiber Expo is a place for discovery and creativity for anyone who works with or has an interest in fiber.


Audrey Huggett is a Public Library Associate at AADL and can't get enough wool.


The Fiber Expo is April 9th and 10th, at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds on Ann Arbor Saline Road. Tickets are $4 for one day or $6 for the weekend.

Review: Larry Cressman's Land Lines

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Shift by Larry Cressman [daylily stalks, graphite, matte medium, glue]

Shift by Larry Cressman [daylily stalks, graphite, matte medium, glue]. Image courtesy of the artist through the U-M North Campus Research Complex.

There’s not much question that someday University of Michigan's emeritus art professor Larry Cressman is going to have his requisite career retrospective—many of them, in fact. But Land Lines at the University of Michigan's Rotunda Gallery is going to have to serve this purpose in the short term.

In this last decade Cressman has held only three local exhibits: Installation Drawings: Dogbane at the U-M East Quad Art Gallery in October 2016; Material Matters in conjunction with ceramicist Susan Crowell at Chelsea’s River Gallery in November 2009; and his Ground Cover/Covering Ground Drawings at the River Gallery in April 2014.

Yet through this period, he’s also had exhibits at the Dennos Museum in Traverse City; the Detroit Institute of Arts; the Hewlett Gallery in Pennsylvania; the Nelson Gallery at the University of California-Davis; the Hill Gallery in Birmingham, MI; and the Richard M. Ross Museum in Ohio.

What these far-flung locales have seen is Cressman’s remarkable work at its minimalist best. His work is comprised of the patient accumulation of hundreds of sticks and twigs in intricate patterns that both delight and defy the viewer’s eye.

It’s one of those modernist artforms that some might say is common enough for anyone to produce—until one actually tries. It becomes apparent soon enough that it takes a thoroughly uncommon attention to detail and a patient aesthetic to piece these works together in their exceptional equilibrium.

These “line drawings” sit somewhere between the three-dimensional form and the nearly infinitesimal two-dimensional line. It is, of course, merely the coarseness of our vision that insists on differentiating between these two dimensions because they are ultimately only a matter of physical degree.

As Cressman says in his artist’s statement to the exhibit:

“A line drawing released from the flatness of paper can exist anywhere. It can venture into our space. It can be kinetic. It can cast its own shadow. The scale of the drawing is only restricted by the architectural space in which it is placed. Work that is temporary allows an additional freedom—any ephemeral material is possible—glass, rubber, electrical wire, plastic, sound, sticks—all materials I have used in my installations over time.

"Most recently I have focused on the use of sticks and twigs—specifically raspberry cane, dogbane, daylily and prairie dock. Gathering this material from fields near my home has become a part of the drawing process. The gestural quality of each plant and the physical nature of the material (density, weight and brittleness) all play a role in my installation drawings as I explore work that is reflective of both the structure and randomness of the environment.”

It’s this drawing with physical form that makes Cressman’s art so uncommonly compelling. The variable line of shadow in conjunction with the often nearly imperceptible flow of air coursing through the site cause the twigs and sticks to sway against the gallery wall—and these investigations into almost indiscernible elevated space make the installation’s stunning forays into multiple dimensionality all the more marvelous.

It’s possible—and indeed preferable—to spend an extended period of time visually tracing Cressman’s line through his varied stems and twigs. Each work features a strikingly different configuration and pattern. What they do share is a focus that makes them readily recognizable as Cressman’s handiwork.

Perhaps the signal artwork of the Rotunda Gallery exhibit is 2015’s magnificently oversized eleven by six by three foot “Shift” installation. This daylily stalk, graphite, matte medium and glue tour de force is an unquestionable masterwork that illustrates Cressman’s art at its most accomplished.

His three-dimensional etched line has been released from its flat surface as modulated diagonal stems protrude from the work’s vertical limbs crafting a heady, disruptive spur to its otherwise sublime symmetry. Each horizontally mounted twig has its own distinct integrity as no two stems exactly resemble each other, even as each has the same individuating appearance.

There is, therefore, an internal harmony to the stray disorderly offshoots in “Shift” that most certainly highlights the similarities and differences of Cressman’s artistry. And it’s this keenly rendered gestalt that rewards our attention.

Centerline by Larry Cressman [raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium, pins]

Centerline by Larry Cressman [raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium, pins]. Image courtesy of the artist through the U-M North Campus Research Complex.

Among other Cressman works, 2015’s “Centerline I” carries this theme with its binary horizontal rows of raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium, and pins hovering against the gallery wall—as opposed to the similar yet overlapping rows of raspberry cane, graphite, matte medium and pins in 2015’s “Centerline.” Cressman carries his folding of materials together in the latter work with as much regularity as in the former strictly constructed drawing.

Each of the 15 Cressman artworks in this exhibit traverses this intricate divide between dimensions—abiding silently both trace and shadow—to draw our attention to the world that lies in-between. His subtle asymmetry keeps us off balance even as the artwork's paradoxical equilibrium holds our attention in balance.


John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.


University of Michigan North Campus Research Complex: "Larry Cressman: Land Lines" will run through April 29, 2016. The NCRC Building 18 Rotunda Gallery is located at 2800 Plymouth Road. The NCRC is open Monday-Friday 8 am–6 pm For information, call 734-936-3326.

Preview: FoolMoon and Festifools

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Festifools is sure to be a wonderfool time again this year.

Festifools is sure to be a wonderfool time again this year.

Every spring in Ann Arbor, there are telltale signs that things are going to change, bloom, and get warmer: dirty piles of snow & leftover grit, giant potholes, crocuses poking from the soil, Hash Bash attendees filling the Diag with plumes of smoke, and a weekend of April Fools fun! Mark your calendars for Friday, April 1 and Sunday, April 3 for two of the most anticipated, dynamic, and artful events in town: FoolMoon and Festifools!

Friday’s FoolMoon is the newer of the two events with a slightly edgier feel, if only because it happens at night and beer can be consumed. The fun starts at three gathering places (Kerrytown Farmers Market, University of Michigan Art Museum, and Slauson Middle School) where revelers can assemble with their carefully crafted illuminated sculptures. The crowds at each stop march through town, proudly displaying their handiwork, to gather at Washington St. & Ashley St. for a lighted street party with a beer tent, music, glowing puppets, wild and luminous costumes, movies & images projected on buildings and moonlit, shining sights. From dusk 'til midnight, people of all ages dance, play, and marvel at all of the illuminated art. This year’s theme is Metamor-FOOL-sis!

AADL always has a tent at FoolMoon and we’ll be hosting rousing games of Johann Sebastian Joust, an all ages, no-graphics, digitally enabled playground game using illuminated motion-sensitive controllers. Attendees can play with our lighted hula-hoops and other fun digital instruments and tools that can be checked out from the library.

FoolMoon is always an illuminating experience!

FoolMoon is always an illuminating experience!

Festifools is celebrating 10 years of foolishness this year with the annual event happening on Sunday from 4-5 pm on Main St. between William St. and Washington St. - parking is free on Sundays! This year’s theme is Rev-FOOL-ution! Community members and U-M students work for months to create the large, wild, colorful, and frequently topical papier-mâché puppets that will be marched, pranced, danced, and displayed during Festifools. In addition to the puppets there's music, joyful noise, drumming, and an enthusiastic crowd of all ages!

As has also become tradition, the library hosts an annual Robot Making event on Saturday, April 2 from 2-3:30 pm for families to come and make their own robot costume to wear and then march in during the Festifools parade on Sunday!

Festifools puppets and people engage in some good old-fashioned tomfoolery.

Festifools puppets and people engage in some good old-fashioned tomfoolery.

The origins of these special events start with Mark Tucker, Arts Director at the University of Michigan Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, who began his professional artistic career as Art Director for the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade. While in this role, Mark traveled to Europe to learn the fine art of cartapesta (papier mâché) from esteemed float builders in Viareggio, Italy. If you’re familiar with New York City's Superior Concept Monsters, then you may have an inkling of the FestiFools vibe.

Inspired by the magnificent, huge, bizarre, politically incorrect, human-powered, and fully animated floats, Mark decided to see if this kind of creative energy could find an audience back home.

FoolMoon and Festifools are produced by WonderFool Productions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging communities in dynamic, educational, collaborative and entertaining public art experiences.


Erin Helmrich is a librarian at AADL, and she'll be smothering her sadness at missing this year's festivities with margaritas in Mexico.


FoolMoon is Friday, April 1, from dusk 'til midnight in downtown Ann Arbor (Washington & Ashley) and Festifools is Sunday, April 3 from 4-5 pm in downtown Ann Arbor on Main St. between William and Washington.

Preview: Threads All Arts Festival - April 1-2

The first Threads Festival looms.

The first Threads Festival looms.

The Threads All Arts Festival is a new cross-disciplinary arts festival that’ll take place in the Yellow Barn in Ann Arbor on April 1-2, 2016. It’s two days packed with music, dance, poetry, film, theater, and visual art, and the two-day pass to the festival costs $5.

The festival came together after six students at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance thought up the idea, and then U-M’s EXCEL program funded the project.

Launched in September 2015, EXCEL stands for Excellence in Entrepreneurship, Career Empowerment. Jonathan Kuuskoski, Assistant Director of Entrepreneurship and Career Services at U-M SMTD, says that the goal of the program is to catalyze success for all of U-M SMTD students and alumni through curricular and co-curricular programming and ongoing mentorship. The Threads festival is one of twelve projects funded by the Performing Arts EXCELerator program.

Kuuskoski says he’s proud of the work that the Threads team has done so far. He says the project was selected and funded at the highest level because it is “a very audacious idea, but one that seemed to be rooted in a very present community need.”

I met Meri Bobber, one of the students on the Threads team, through my work as the manager of digital media at the University Musical Society - you'll catch several UMS Artists in Residence participating in the festival.

Through Bobber, I connected with the full Threads team (Nicole Patrick, Meri Bobber, Sam Schaefer, Peter Littlejohn, Lang DeLancey, and Karen Toomasian) to chat about what’s exciting about the project and what we can expect in the future.

Q: How did the festival first come together?
A: Sam and Nicole were sitting together dreaming of attending the Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin. They realized that if they were dreaming this hard about attending, they should also probably put together their own festival. At first it was a joke, but then they won a grant. The festival had to happen.

Sam and Nicole quickly realized the festival was in no way possible with just the two of them, and they reached out to four people that seemed to fill every role possible. This team has been digging deep to put together the Threads Festival. We have all helped each other develop ideas, compromise on our way-too-ridiculous ambitions, and organize an event that represents the amazing, unique town that is Ann Arbor.

Q: You talk about how it’s important to you that both students and Ann Arbor community participate. Why is this important to you?
A: The purpose of all of our work is to make something great for Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor, in its awesome uniqueness, is not JUST a college town and not JUST a little city. Its special blend of communities, artistic and otherwise, is what makes it different from any other place in the world. To celebrate the city’s whole artistic community through this festival, we strive to bring students and non-students together.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at the festival?
A: WE CAN HARDLY WAIT FOR ALL OF IT. We are looking forward to seeing all of the tiny pieces that we have thought about as independent or abstract come together into one coherent thing. We can't wait to feel the sense of unity and action that we hope this festival will create. We’ll consider this year a success if people walk out smiling, or rather, thinking. We're such dorks about everything...we were stoked to order porta-potties. It's just amazing. All of it.

Q: You’re aiming to make this an annual festival. That’s an ambitious goal. What do you hope for the festival in the coming years?
A: We want Threads to help expose budding artists in this area. They are working their butts off, but in a town where there are (thankfully) a ton of live performances, many don’t have a large turnout. Simply put, we want people to look forward to this festival as a way to discover artists, so that they can look for these artists around town and see/hear/interact with them beyond just this one day.

We would also love to find a way for the festival to feature a larger outdoor presence in the future. We want guests to be able to leave behind the distractions of daily life, and experience a multi-stage festival event for a few days in an open and peaceful outdoor environment where the music and the river, or wind, or even the sound of crickets can exist in a way that allows a unique experience to emerge.

We want this festival to find longevity far beyond this season so that there is just one more GREAT thing about Ann Arbor.


Anna Prushinskaya is a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


The Threads All Arts Festival is takes place in the Yellow Barn in Ann Arbor on April 1-2, 2016.

Review: Alvin Lucier: I am sitting in a room

REVIEW VISUAL ART MUSIC

Alvin Lucier sitting in a room.

Alvin Lucier sitting in a room.

Some might say Alvin Lucier: I am sitting in a room is not art by any means. But it is certainly right to say that it’s art by other means.

The Connecticut-based Lucier’s uncanny project—in the cutting-edge UMMA Irving Stenn, Jr., Family Project Gallery at the University of Michigan Museum of Art—is likely to be as underwhelming in its appearance as it is overwhelming in its accumulative cacophony.

The Stenn Project Gallery space has been stripped of everything except a few panels of soundproof insulation against its walls and armless couches for listeners to sit upon. Standing aside in the dimly lit gallery—and standing alone on a strategically placed black pedestal—is a single audio speaker. The only other thing left—as is sometimes said—is art.

Well, that’s to say, what’s left is a particular application of 20th century modernism because I am sitting in a room is as much creativity for the mind as it is an increasingly out-of-tune artful melody for the ear.

Lucier’s artistry—as minimalist in its execution as it is complex in its single-minded commitment—is analogous in spirit (though differing in execution) from the ambient replication of Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and La Monte Young. It’s an enigmatic industrial drone that has as much of an equal footing in proto-electronica as it does abstract conceptualism.

Originally crafted in 1969 at Brandeis University’s Electronic Music Studio as an experimental echo installation, Lucier’s intent was— and still is through its systematized multiplication—to scramble the physical property of soundwaves through the interrelationship of automated media and our human ear.

Composed in such a way as to make stumbling upon it a matter of chance, Lucier’s words unfold repeatedly upon themselves until their recurrence becomes indistinct. Increasingly incomprehensible as a verbal congruence steadily replicating itself, the result is a sonic environment whose totality is the aggregate of its texture.

Lucier narrates the following text:

“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”

That’s it, folks. Could anything be any simpler than this?

Well … the difference is in the details. After all, the Brandeis’ Music Studio in 1969 is not the same place as the UMMA Stenn Project Gallery today. And this means the work’s resonance will differ from the recording’s original acoustic setting.

Just as likewise, the sound of the recording will differ ever so slightly from the center and corners of the gallery depending on where you listen. There will therefore always be a subtle differentiation between each recipient of the source, the source of the transmission, and the transmission of the text itself.

An existential soundscape conditioned by its increasingly blurred repetition, the milieu plays a major part in the art itself. Lucier’s fragile reading—he has a discernible stutter—becomes progressively indistinct as his utterances are gradually blurred beyond recognition. But the cadence of his discourse also creates a peculiarly boisterous harmony through its replicated duplication.

It’ll admittedly take a bit of patience to sit through this masterwork, yet the experience is also going to be singular. Hovering uneasily somewhere between real-time and canned reiteration, I am sitting in a room is phenomenology as art gone nearly amok.


John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.


University of Michigan Museum of Art: “Alvin Lucier: I am sitting in a room” will run through May 22, 2016. The UMMA is located at 525 S. State Street. The Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 11 am–5 pm; and Sunday 12–5 pm. For information, call 734-764-0395.

Review: Mid-West Furniture Zoku

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Mid-West Furniture Zoku at the Ann Arbor Art Center's 117 Gallery

Mid-West Furniture Zoku at the Ann Arbor Art Center's 117 Gallery. Photo by Terry Soave.

If you enjoy challenging your notions of what is functional, what is craft, and what is art then you’ll find the Ann Arbor Art Center’s latest exhibition, Mid-West Furniture Zoku, especially engaging. While it is rare to view the collective works of local art furniture designers, do not doubt that this type of talent exists all around us. A deeply rooted and growing community, these are artists that earn their living either by making or teaching furniture design – or both. Once you learn about local modern masters such as these, you can further support them with your interest and by visiting their sites, both virtual and physical (really, call them up, plan a field trip, or just stop on by).

Exhibit co-curators and art professors John DeHoog, of Eastern Michigan University, and Ray Wetzel, of the College for Creative Studies, did an exceptional job selecting this concentrated, yet highly diverse grouping of artists and arts educators to represent “our regional clan of furniture makers, designers, and educators”, or our “Furniture Zoku”, to challenge preconceived notions. According to DeHoog:

“As educators we always look at exhibitions as having an educational role for students and for the public, so Ray and I wanted to collect work that was thoughtful, challenging, and in some cases provocative. The result is a group of objects that in my mind fall into the following categories: 1 – practical/functional, 2 – art furniture, 3 – sculpture that happens to use furniture, and 4 – conceptual.

While the viewers may not consciously pick up on the distinctions, I think they understand that there are makers working in certain common veins. Ray and I also made deliberate efforts to show ranges in scale (from miniatures to the very tall sculpture), ranges in material (wood, metals, fabric…) and ranges of mood (playful to serious). In all cases though, the level of craft is very high, and the love/respect for materials evident.”

In some cases, an artist’s work may be easily placed neatly in a single category. Others’ work may fall into two, three, or even all four of the categories mentioned by DeHoog.

Detroit artist Marco Terenzi, a graduate of the Art Furniture program at the College for Creative Studies, creates work that defies categorization. His fully functional replicas of woodworking hand tools are impeccably articulated in quarter-scale miniature. Functional, though not practical, these pieces are becoming highly sought-after collectibles. The precision necessary to successfully accomplish this type of construction and functionality is mind-boggling, but Terenzi is intensely disciplined. He’s even replicated his workshop in fully functional quarter scale. And, at 25 years old, he’s only just getting started.

Safe and Tools by Marco Terenzi

Safe [brass and steel] and Tools [brass, steel, bronze and rosewood] by Marco Terenzi. Photo by Terry Soave.

Detroit-based functional furniture and object designer, Andy Kem's Rand Table, made from American ash and molded cork, holds center stage in the main room of the exhibit. Kem has this to say about his approach to creating functional objects:

“Using wood, man-made wood products, and rapid prototyping, my work delves into two directions: on one hand more traditional craft techniques—but interpreted in nontraditional ways—and on the other, the use of digital tools to enable and realize new interactions amongst the parts that constitute the objects I create. In the merging of my different investigations, my work transcends function to arrive at a unique aesthetic language.”

Curator Ray Wetzel said about inviting Andy Kem:

“I wanted to bring the product design approach to furniture design and manufacture into the conversation. Andy has done quite a bit of work with c-n-c cut parts and manufactured raw materials. I've always liked Andy's work and his approach to design and maintaining craftsmanship. His work is formal, subtle and detailed.”

Rand Table by Andy Kem

Rand Table [American ash and molded cork] by Andy Kem. Photo by Terry Soave.

Also falling into the category of practical/functional, is the work of Ann Arbor-based furniture designer, John Baird. You may have interacted with his work if you’ve frequented local establishments like the AUT Bar or Salon 344. Reminiscent of old wooden classroom desks that conjure feelings of familiarity and durability, but with a modern and elegant edginess, Baird has on exhibit a prototype and finished version of the short-run, custom-fabricated stools he designed and produced for Comet Coffee.

Comet Stool Prototype and Comet Stool by John Baird.

Comet Stool Prototype [oriented stand board] and Comet Stool [fin-ply] by John Baird. Photo by Terry Soave.

On the subject of art furniture, it would be impossible for me not to mention the work of Maxwell Davis, Professor and Head of the Art Furniture Area at the College for Creative Studies, I mention it not only because (full disclosure) he’s my partner, but because he has also served as instructor and mentor to several of the other artists in this exhibit. More than his artwork, this to me is his most poignant contribution here.

One of the two works on exhibit by Davis is Chair #13, a glass and stainless steel chair that defies all intellectual, tactile, and functional logic. I love to see viewers reach out and run their fingers along this chair’s jagged-cut spine. The thick, raw edges of cut glass with their reflective waves and promise of danger, visually sewn together with rounded hot glass stitches, are near impossible to resist! The chair’s seat, back, and legs are all made from various forms of hot and cold glass, inviting the assumption that it doesn’t actually function as a chair. It does.

Presenting a temptation greater than touching the edges of broken glass, the most irresistible pieces in this exhibit to me, are those made by Aaron Blendowski. Blendowski is a Detroit-based furniture and object designer, who also works as Fabrications Coordinator at Cranbrook Academy of Art, and Co-Founder of OmniCorpDetroit. His Moderondack Chairs, made from natural and stained cypress, are joyfully oversized, simple and shapely; but not quite flawless. Their voluptuous seats are swimming with the natural detail of the textured wood grain that has been intentionally alternated during the process of gluing together the thick strips from which the chairs are constructed. The occasional knothole or indentation in the wood are left in plain sight. Finely-shaped and sanded to a smooth and shiny finish, I will neither confirm nor deny having broken a 117 Gallery rule while viewing these pieces.

Nicholas Stawinski may be the most unexpected furniture maker to fall into the category of art furniture, based on what we usually think of when thinking about upholstered furniture. A native of Detroit, Stawinski is an artist, furniture designer, and fourth-generation upholsterer who uses the post-industrial landscape of Detroit as his inspiration. Stawinski says:

“My work pays homage to the ottoman and footstool forms that I helped my father create in the back of our upholstery shop. Through recognizable shapes and the motifs of furniture, my ottomans contort and connect in ways that make the forms new and unfamiliar. Some of the fabrics I use reference specific interiors—such as my grandmother's living room in Michigan, where I would spend time while my father and grandfather worked in the shop downstairs— while others recall the endless parade of floral armchairs that marched through our door. Other shapes and patterns draw from memories of riding across Detroit in our delivery van, going to help little old ladies in retirement homes select fabric for their favorite chair, the one—they say—that will be passed on to their children and grandchildren. In this way, my ottomans are a celebration of the work ethic and skilled trade of upholstery, taught to me by my father and grandfather, as well as the way interior spaces shape our memories.”

Left: Moderondack Chair, detail by Aaron Blendowski. Right: Aunt Pat’s Living Room  and Charlie’s House by Nicholas Stawinski.

Left: Moderondack Chair, detail [cypress] by Aaron Blendowski. Right: Aunt Pat’s Living Room [upholstery and maple] and Charlie’s House [upholstery and maple] by Nicholas Stawinski.Photo by Terry Soave.

I must also acknowledge my appreciation for the multi-faceted perspective on functional and conceptual furniture design of Detroit-based artist Colin Tury. While the highly graphic conceptual piece "Remember me…" made from ash and steel, is representative of Tury’s general aesthetic, it is but an ever so small glimpse of his overall talent as a furniture designer. Tury’s work easily traverses all categories from practical and functional to conceptual. It manages to be lanky yet graceful, and cautiously modest, while also conveying balance and confidence. Tury states:

“To me, craft is an important factor to our culture because it provides us a reminder that we are all still human and that we make things for a reason, not just to look at. Furniture specifically shares importance in that we are all unconsciously intimate with it throughout our day. Modern furniture has become a game of geometry in which designers compositionally arrange basic shapes and colors, and eliminate any feature beyond its basic function. We have lost all sense of material in a sea of powder-coated aluminum and veneered particleboard. I want to present material in furniture for its true nature, and highlight human error because it is a reminder that someone consciously created it. I strive to create conceptual meaning to all my pieces so that it can tell a story beyond its own physical existence. Materials play a big role in this because they have unique, yet specific, physical attributes that we can obey or abstract. A story can exist just in bringing two materials together in an interesting way.”

“Remember me…

“Remember me…” [ash and steel] by Colin Tury. Photo by Terry Soave.

In my mind, the only truly disappointing aspect of this exhibit are the posted signs constantly reminding visitors not to touch the artwork, when the very nature of the work evokes the desire to touch and interact with it.

Because, after all, it is furniture.


Terry Soave is Manager of Outreach & Neighborhood Services and also coordinates exhibits at the Ann Arbor District Library.


"Mid-West Furniture Zoku" will run through March 5, 2016, at 117 Gallery at the Ann Arbor Art Center, 117 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 10 am-7 pm, Saturday 10 am-6 pm, and Sunday 12-5 pm. Artist and Curator Talk: Thursday, February 18, 6-8 pm. Co-curators John DeHoog and Ray Wetzel, along with some of the artists of Zoku, will talk about their processes and artworks from the exhibition.

Review: New Technologies and Victorian Society

REVIEW VISUAL ART

The Kiss of Peace, circa 1865 [albumen print on paper] by Julia Cameron. Loch Katrine, from Sun Pictures in Scotland, 1844 [calotype on paper] by William Henry Fox Talbot. Images courtesy of the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

The Kiss of Peace, circa 1865 [albumen print on paper] by Julia Cameron. Museum purchase 1975/1.63 // Loch Katrine, from Sun Pictures in Scotland, 1844 [calotype on paper] by William Henry Fox Talbot. Museum purchase made possible by the Friends of the Museum of Art 1980/1.144. Images courtesy of the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

It perhaps isn’t too ironic that Charles Dickens’ opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities can also serve as a vivid motif for the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s New Technologies and Victorian Society: Early British Photographs from the UMMA Collection.

As Dickens writes in his 1859 novel contrasting two opposed worldviews of late 18th century Industrial-era European culture: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

As he himself notes, Dickens might as well have been writing of his own time. And as illustrated in UMMA Curator Emerita Carole McNamara’s selection of some of this museum’s most significant photographic holdings, mid-19th century England would have indeed been among the best and worst of times. As the exhibit shows us by example (and McNamara’s choices are certainly peerless), England was undergoing rapid transitions in both technology and society that would affect and influence the world.

The Victorian era—measured by the 63 year reign of Queen Victoria of the House of Hanover; dated 1837 (on her assumption of the British throne) to precisely the turn of the 20th century—was a paradoxical period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities, and highly moralistic national self-confidence often described as Pax Britannica because of the progressive rise of British prosperity fostered by the nation’s worldwide empire.

But it was also a time of sometimes brutal industrial consolidation coupled with an unprecedented population growth as millions of British subjects continued their equally unprecedented migration around the country as well as around the world—and particularly from the British countryside to the country’s urban centers. London especially swelled from one and a half million inhabitants at the beginning of the Victorian era to more than triple that number by the end of the century.

There to capture this extraordinary social, political, economic, and cultural transition was a technological marvel that would reshape the history of art as well as how we see the world. For, prior to the innovation of the photographic camera in the early decades of the 19th century, draughtsmanship and painting had always vacillated between impulses of realism and fancy. And although various forms of pre-camera photographic equipment go as far back as ancient China and ancient Greece, the notion of photography as a practical technology was spurred in the early-19th century through the development of chemical photographic processes.

As McNamara says in her introduction to New Technologies of this era:

“The first half-century of British photography charts the journey of a new medium with distinct expressive and artistic potentials. Although photography served as an aid to science and exploration, it captured aspects of British society in ways that are poetic and artistic. Early photographers exploited existing pictorial conventions and their subject matter is often derived from painting traditions—portraits of family members and friends, still-lifes of household objects, and landscapes.”

In short, spreading quickly around the world, mid-19th century photography emancipated art from its dependence on subjective creativity by giving photographers the ability to capture images drawn directly from life. And these pioneers were quick to explore the new technology with increasing alacrity.

Some of the earliest images on display—three 1844 salted paper prints from calotype negatives: “Part of Queen’s College, Oxford”, “Loch Katrine” (from the “Sun Pictures of Scotland”), and “Bust of Patroclus” (plate five from “The Pencil of Nature”)—reflect the range of British photography at this seminal period as crafted in what can only be described as an inspired creativity by William Henry Fox Talbot.

Fox, one of England’s foremost photographic technologists of the time, invented a photographic procedure through his silver salt and nitrate process that made it possible to produce as many positive prints as anyone would wish of any image. And Fox’s forays into what is now called contact printing fostered the development of landscape photography and artful photojournalism with a zestful fidelity that’s still breathtaking today.

Among the socially-oriented documentary works on display are David Octavious Hill’s circa 1840s carbon print “St. Andrews, Baiting the Lines” drawn from his “A Series of Calotype Views of St. Andrews” and John Thomson’s equally penetrating 1876-77 Woodbury type “The Crawlers” drawn from his “Street Life in London” series; both works where the emphasis is to give viewers a sense of what life would have been like for the 19th century British working class.

This is surely among the worst of times as the photographs clearly show us a society caught on the moorings of seriously pressed workers (in Hill’s photo) and a thoroughly economically depressed mother with child on her lap (in Thomson’s photo) even as the country was itself among the more enlightened polities in the world at that time.

Likewise, as we see in New Technologies, portraiture would be slow, but steady in evolving. Largely because of the length of time necessary to develop negative plates through bulky equipment, the posture of early portraiture sitters is far more formal than what we’re used to seeing. As such, John Adamson and Robert Adamson’s circa 1841 salted paper print from calotype negative “Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)” is a decidedly straight-forward no nonsense visage.

Yet even as a palpable steely discomfort renders Brewster’s portrait rather starched, this famed Scottish scientist, mathematician, and editor of the influential 18-volume Edinburgh Encyclopedia (as well, coincidently, inventor of the first three-dimensional lenticular stereoscope camera) poses patiently for the brother Adamsons. Focusing on the seated Brewster’s white hair as well as left-hand crossed on his waist; “Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)” crafts a decorous ceremonial portraiture that’s common to this day.

Technology itself is best represented by Scotsman James Stewart’s 1878 albumen print, “No. 247.” This seemingly simple profile of a steam locomotive is actually handsomely pregnant in both its photographic and technical articulation. Certainly one of the most important inventions prior to the Victorian era, and also a technology that was relentlessly worked upon through this period, the external combustion engine was of as much fascination to the Victorians as rockets still are to us in our time.

Stewart’s composition is flawless. The steam locomotive is depicted squarely in the center of the photograph with remarkable attention paid to its sleek design. A concise masterwork, Stewart pays attention to the locomotive from its striking forward smoke box to its perched cab with the photo being crafted sufficiently to scale as to accent its curvilinear brake shoes in contrast to its horizontal air brake pump. “No. 247” is a fastidious rendering of this marvel of 19th century machinery.

But perhaps the most stunning composition in New Technologies is Julia Margret Cameron’s circa 1865 “The Kiss of Peace” albumen print. Cameron, a deeply religious woman who only began photography at middle age, most often photographed her family. Yet in this inspired composition of friend and domestic depicting the Christian tradition of “the kiss of peace” practiced as a gesture of friendly acceptance, Cameron’s “The Kiss of Peace” is also a keenly observed proto-feminist mediation on the status of women in Victorian society.

The photograph’s mood is reminiscent of the distinctive British Pre-Raphaelite art that had a uniquely influential popularity only shortly before the advent of photography. As such, the models’ wind-blown hair, simple cloth drape, and their languid diagonal gaze mirror an inward melancholy that in turn suggests that period’s conception of the supposed innocence of femininity—but Cameron clearly knows better. As knowingly heartfelt as it is aesthetically accomplished, her “Kiss of Peace”—certainly one of the most famed photographs of the 19th century—is a profound mediation on the paradoxical symbolic and heightened dramatic sensibility of the Victorian era.


John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.


University of Michigan Museum of Art: “New Technologies and Victorian Society: Early British Photographs from the UMMA Collection” will run through May 8, 2016. The UMMA is located at 525 S. State Street. The Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 11 am–5 pm; and Sunday 12–5 pm. For information, call 734-764-0395.

Review: Gifts of Art Presents A Walk Along the Shore: Digital Imaging by Robert deJonge

REVIEW VISUAL ART

Lights and Love by Robert de Jonge [digitally-modified color photography]

Lights and Love by Robert deJonge [digitally-modified color photography]

Working at the intersection of art and technology, Petoskey-based artist Robert deJonge crafts digitally-manipulated photography designed to sharpen his viewer’s view of the world around us. The understated embellishment isn’t so much modified landscape photography as it is an attempt to create a sort of restrained hyperrealism.

A particularly nuanced miniaturist, deJonge’s keenly realized photographs make us see the world as we would like to see it. And as such, his exhibit for the University of Michigan Health System’s Gifts of Art, A Walk Along the Shore, is a technological homage to such photographic landscape greats as Ansel Adams and Michigan’s own master landscape photographer, Howard Bond.

Yet unlike Adams or Bond—both of whom grapple with nature as it presents itself through their photographic technology—deJonge goes the additional step of attenuating our perception of the external world through digital means. So while Adams and Bond found ways of sharpening our perception of the natural world from within their photographic frame, deJonge chooses instead to selectively modify his landscapes with minute attention that heightens the appearance of his world.

In an earlier era, these modifications would have been color-tinted by hand. And this touch-up, so to speak, created drama through the selective addition of pigments, thereby adding one layer of articulation upon the initial photographic base. But by utilizing digital modification, deJonge instead imperceptibly shifts the emotional tension of his composition from outside to inside the frame. The manipulation of the materials therefore differs from one sort of art to another, even if the intent itself remains roughly the same.

In his Gift of Art gallery statement, deJonge explains this in more detail:

Art is worship. Using a camera and computer, I try to build images that express a spirit of wonder and playfulness.

I also enjoy drawing from the deep well of art history. I’m inspired by the magical world of Paul Klee; the lyrical world of (Marc) Chagall; and the natural connections of the (Canadian) Group of Seven (also known as the 1920s Algonquin School).

As an artist, I embrace the entire gamut of possibilities within the digital imaging world. When I capture images with my camera, I create a mental list of what the images can become through the manipulation of computer processing.

Capturing images is like collecting found objects to create an assemblage. Individual frames in the camera will most likely be combined with other frames to ‘build’ a new image. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, and it’s fun to have a digital palette to work with.

Fun is certainly the word. His signature photograph, amongst the dozen pieces that make up A Walk Along the Shore, is a memorable artwork entitled “Lights and Love.” This oversized horizontal masterpiece is ostensibly a visage of a north-looking Michigan aurora borealis. Yet where these broad bands of light that have a magnetic and electrical source are intrinsically dramatic, deJonge uses them as a mere platform for his art.

The photo features two broad strips of yellow light straddling a distant inlet at night with bookend stripes of attenuated pink bands. But while these lights alone would dominate the composition, deJonge paints mitigated shafts of green grass whose vertical placement creates an internal tension in the photograph—essentially a curvilinear belt of primary pigments braced by a horizontal secondary plume.

What’s left is a neutral-enough shoreline and darkened sky. And this shift of emphasis in turn creates a new dimension in art that doesn’t rely on the modernist objective mingling of artforms. Rather, deJonge’s union of photographic composition to the digital domain creates an expanded palette whose modification is quite nearly infinite.

The wonder of “Lights and Love” is not that the photograph has been digitally enhanced—after all, this is effectively true of virtually every professional image we now see in print or online. Rather, deJonge’s restricted discipline in creating his digitally enhanced art creates modifications that will only be noticed with the closest inspection. And, for most of us, that’s enough to satisfy both the eye and the mind.


John Carlos Cantú has written extensively on our community's visual arts in a number of different periodicals.


“A Walk Along the Shore: Digital Imaging” will run through March 13 at the University of Michigan Health System (Main Corridor, Floor 2, Gifts of Art Gallery - 1500 E. Medical Center Dr). Gallery hours are 8 am to 8 pm, daily. For information, call 734-936-ARTS.