The theme of the 2016-2017 UMS Artists in Residence program is "renegade art-making and art-makers" and the artists have just been announced. According to the announcement, the "five artists (including visual, literary, and performing artists) have been selected to use UMS performance experiences as a resource to support the creation of new work or to fuel an artistic journey."
The artists for 2016-2017 are:
Simon Alexander-Adams - a Detroit-based multimedia artist, musician, and designer working within the intersection of art and technology.
Ash Arder - a Detroit-based visual artist who creates installations and sculptural objects using a combination of found and self-made materials.
Nicole Patrick - a musician and percussionist who performs regularly with her band, Rooms, and other indie, improvisation, and performance art groups around southeastern Michigan.
Qiana Towns - a Flint-based poet whose work has appeared in Harvard Review Online, Crab Orchard Review, and Reverie, and is author of the chapbook This is Not the Exit (Aquarius Press, 2015).
Barbara Tozier - a photographer who works in digital, analog, and hybrid — with forays into video and multimedia.
Congratulations to these artists - and look for blog posts and engagement with the artists throughout their term on the UMS site.
Nights at the Museum, the University of Michigan Museum of Art's exterior media arts initiative, will illuminate the museum's facade with artwork, performances, and family-friendly movies from September 2 - 9.
Events are open to the public and will run each night from 8:30 pm to dawn along its State Street-side facade, on the west side of the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing.
A digital art installation by Quayola titled "Pleasant Places" will be projected overnight, from dusk to dawn, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. From Tuesday through Thursday, UMMA will collaborate with U-M arts partners, including the University Musical Society, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, and School of Music, Theatre & Dance, with each organization showcasing a related video performance or art installation.
Here's the full schedule:
Saturday, Sept. 3
8:30 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola
Sunday, Sept. 4
8:30 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola
Monday, Sept. 5:
8:30 - 10 pm: Family-friendly movie night with a screening of Toy Story
10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola
Tuesday, Sept. 6
8:30 - 10 pm: Performances by U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance students and faculty, including the Men's Glee Club, University Symphony Band, University Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir. Love, Life & Loss, a 30-minute film featuring the Michigan Men's Glee Club performing "The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed," will kick off the performances.
10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola
Wednesday, Sept. 7
8:30 - 10 pm: Short art films created by U-M Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design faculty and students, including:
Zoe Anderson (BFA 2007): "Little Luminaries"
Ashley Bock (BFA 2018): "Fission"
Alexa Borromeo (BFA 2016): "Stay Out of the Sun"
Shane Darwent (MFA 2018): "Orquesta de las Calles"
Niki Horowitz (BFA 2016): "Personal Projections"
Carol Jacobsen (Stamps professor): "Prison Diary"
Andy Kirshner (Stamps associate professor): "Liberty's Secret" (segment)
Rebekah Modrak (Stamps associate professor): "Re Made Best Made Echo"
Zoe Brendan Widmer (BFA 2016): "Does My Undercut Make Me Look Queer?"
Niki Williams (BFA 2016): "Grimestone"
10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola
Thursday, Sept. 8
8:30 - 10 pm: Screening of Snarky Puppy's Family Dinner-Volume Two in collaboration with UMS. (Snarky Puppy is a Grammy Award-winning "quasi-collective" that will perform at Hill Auditorium March 17, 2017.)
10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola
Friday, Sept. 9
7 - 10 pm: UMMA After Hours
10:15 pm - 7 am: "Pleasant Places" installation by artist Quayola
Creativity and passion hit the Ark stage last Friday and Saturday and impressed the value of hard work and following your dreams upon the completely engaged and enthusiastic attendees of the first ever (and soon to be annual – please!) Intermitten Technology and Arts Conference. The primary goal, as stated in their press release, was “to explore ways in which creativity has an ever-expanding role in our increasingly-connected world.” And they totally hit it out of the ballpark with a diverse and impressive mix of artists, musicians, filmmakers, startup founders, and techies of all sorts who came together to inspire us all to change the world with creativity, perseverance, and a little bit of business knowledge shared from those who went down that path before us.
So, what is Intermitten and where did it come from? Founded by a handful of Ann Arbor startup employees in the fall of 2015, it’s two days packed full of talks and social/networking mixers (at Rush, the Pretzel Bell, and the Hands-On Museum). There are also a few specially curated events and carefully selected stops to take in even more of what makes Ann Arbor such a great place to be – a guided bike tour by Nancy Shore of AAATA, a lithography workshop at AADL with local printmaker Jess Richard, a Pop-In at the Ann Arbor Art Center , and drinks at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company, to name a few.
And WOW. Just, WOW. I was blown away and left with my mind reeling with ideas and plans for where to take the creative energy that was absorbed by being in the presence of so many generous and wonderful folks. What I liked best about this conference was the small-town Midwestern friendliness buttered upon the toast of a technology and arts conference. I can’t wait to see what collaborations come from the connections made at Intermitten and – even more so – what they’ll come up with for next year. I don’t know how they’ll top this one!
It’s impossible to pack all of the excitement and enthusiasm of Intermitten into a few words, but here are a few highlights from two AADL staffers who attended:
Sean Hoskins is a choreographer and performer and is the dance technology coordinator and production assistant at the University of Michigan. His passionate talk focused on having the willingness to incorporate technology into your art form. He states that creativity happens through work and that it’s important to “notice what you notice and trust that what you notice matters.”
Kendall Burke is a customer happiness specialist at Acuity Scheduling and offered an energetic and hilarious talk comparing finding the perfect job to finding the perfect mate, and yes, she referenced Tinder and Beyoncé. Burke talked about first loves in the job world, as well as toxic relationships with jobs, and eventually… one true love – that job you were truly made for. She encouraged that one should feel comfortable, confident, and empowered when walking into one’s job, and if that isn’t happening something needs to change. Her talk also included a slide with a video of baby goats in pajamas, which delighted the audience.
Sarah Hatter is the founder and CEO of CoSupport, which offers customer support coaching, among other things. In her words, “we teach companies how to kick ass and survive.” Her inspiring talk went through her version of ten steps to running your own business. She quoted Walt Disney when saying “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young.” In short, she encourages emerging entrepreneurs to get out there and try and fail and try again. Learn in freefall.
Jon Sulkow of ICON Interactive, a digital marketing agency, spoke about some of the projects he’s worked on. One of the Intermitten Conference evening events included the POP-IN at the Ann Arbor Art Center, where Sulkow and electronic musician Shigeto created a live audio-visual experience involving virtual reality. In his talk he discussed how the project came to be and how they created the visual images viewed through the HTC Vive headset.
Jesse Vollmar and Qasar Younis spoke together in the afternoon. Vollmar is the CEO and co-founder of FarmLogs, which helps growers use technology to create a better future for their farms. Younis is the COO of the Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator. Keeping in line with similar themes from the conference, they spoke about using your passion to start a company, but also discussed how passion isn’t enough, and that it’s necessary but not sufficient. Know what drives you and stick with it, but also be honest about it.
Joe Malcoun and Guy Suter: Who wants a little bit of the Google Campus lifestyle in their work? Joe Malcoun, CEO of Nutshell, and Guy Suter, developer behind the email management app Notion, presented In Cahoots: Getting Creative With Tech Space, a talk on the upcoming workspace Cahoots, scheduled to open in 2017. They’re planning to create a space where passionate and focused creatives can work along side motivated members of the tech community in a sustainable environment. It will be more than a tech campus co-op, though—Cahoots also promises an event space to serve as a destination for anyone in Ann Arbor with an interest in art and technology.
Beth Johnson: If you ask a person to tell you a story, most of the time they’ll stammer as they try to think something up. But if you ask them to tell you a story about their worst birthday party, they’ll leap right in and start. It seems counterintuitive, but limitations breed creativity, which was one of the themes of origami artist Beth Johnson's talk. In Creativity Through Constraints, Johnson revealed how working with an arbitrary set of parameters and presenting one’s self with a problem actually unlocks creativity. Your engagement within those parameters and the solving of the problem can reveal the art. Johnson also demonstrated how folding can be applied to engineering problems as well. From folding proteins to foldable structures to solar arrays, the art of folding can be used to solve a variety of technical challenges!
Shigeto: Part of the life cycle in making things is getting a reaction from a user or audience. So it’s natural that you might begin to anticipate their response before you’re finished with the making part. Zach Saginaw's (Ghostly International’s Shigeto) talk, The Pursuit of Passion, was a refreshing splash of water in the face, reminding us that one should make the work first to make ourselves happy. The monetary and service aspects of the artifact can be worked out later! He also delivered another useful reminder, especially to those of us just starting on our creative journeys: one should work with what one has, rather than waiting until one has acquired the right tools. The pursuit of passion must begin with the pursuit!
Leslie Raymond and Jason Jay Stevens: When we think of “Artist with a Capital ‘A’,” many of us imagine dour, serious, or inscrutable characters who defy us to understand or appreciate them. But sometimes artists can be mischievous experimenters who treat their work like structured play. Leslie Raymond and Jason Jay Stevens are definitely in the latter camp. Their talk. “Set the Moving Image Free,” was an exploration of the wide array of “collaborations, experimentations, curations & presentations” they create, such as animated GIF collages or mixing audio and video live in their Black Box Theater presentations at the Duderstadt. Their Peep Holes pieces present the viewer with an out-of-body experience by inviting your mind to exist in another space by virtue of the eye-sized portal. The most inspiring aspect of their talk, however, was the notion of collaboration between artists and between artists and their audience. They explored principles of UX design, which asks the artist to empathize with the recipient of the art and asks the recipient to act as a collaborator in the full expression of the piece. This was exactly what needed to be said at an event emphasizing crossover and collaboration between the arts and tech scenes!
Anne Drozd is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library. Amanda Schott is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library and definitely notices what she notices.
The Ann Arbor Art Center held their third and final Pop-In event of the summer last Friday, in collaboration with the Intermitten conference. The conference, which focused on creativity and innovation, took place in Ann Arbor on August 5-6. Curated by Intermitten, this Pop-In event, like the two before it, featured unique art focusing on creating an immersive experience for attendees.
Immediately upon entering the Art Center, the loose, electronic, trippy music of Shigeto enveloped the senses. A large screen showed sporadic movement around an orange-tinted landscape that coordinated with the music. It took a moment to realize that individuals participating in the ICON Interactive virtual reality experience beyond Shigeto’s DJ table were controlling the movement on the screen, and the music itself to a certain extent. Wearing virtual reality goggles and holding a remote-like device that allowed users to “move,” ICON Interactive was definitely a favorite part of the show for many. One young boy became progressively more amazed as he went deeper into the VR world, and volunteers had to stand against the walls near him to protect the art as he jumped around waving the remote wildly.
After ascending the stairs to the Art Center's second floor, visitors were greeted by a large, gray phone booth-like structure with a curtain hanging down from the front side. This installation was Switch Flip, created by Anna Nuxoll and Chris Czub. Described as a “hacked phone booth,” the setting of the piece is the year 2056. As explained by Nuxoll, she and Czub imagined an astronaut who has travelled beyond the solar system, only to realize that someone has been there before. The astronaut finds a series of communications booths, and Switch Flip is meant to be one of them. Inside the booth, along with lights and eerie plants, a telephone sits on a stand with a note inviting users to “dial Earth.” Apparently, upon picking up the phone one would hear an old-fashioned dial up tone, and then could push different buttons to hear up to 30 sound samples, but the Raspberry Pi computer running the exhibit broke just 45 minutes before the show began. The concept and the booth itself were cool, but the piece was marred by the technology failure.
Also on the second floor was the live screen dance piece iSelf, created and performed by Sean Hoskins. The gorgeous space that the Art Center had for this performance added to it immensely; the white walls and hardwood floors offered no distractions from Hoskins, who was framed by the sunlight filtering in through the trees outside the floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side of the building. A white linen cloth cut into three strips hung from the Art Center ceiling and after the lights were dimmed Hoskins stepped forward from a corner of the room saying, “I’d like to start off by introducing myself: me, myself, iSelf,” and commenced his dance. His image was also projected into the strips of cloth using Isadora software. Later in the performance, the images on the screen doubled and viewers saw the differences in the visual field from one frame to the next, and eventually saw Hoskins’ dance on a three second and seven second delay. The entire effect was of multiple dancers that had all choreographed a complicated performance together although it was really just Hoskins, essentially dancing with himself.
The third floor of the Art Center featured very different displays. In one studio, A2ESK8’s electronic skateboard display took up the entire room. Sadly for some, attendees weren’t allowed to actually try out the electronic boards, but there was a video, directed by Rik Cordero, playing continuously showing people riding them. There were five electronic skateboards on display, and they apparently have a top speed of 35-38 miles per hour and a range of 10 miles.
The room across the hall from A2ESK8 featured an origami exhibition by Beth Johnson, along with a demonstration and hands-on opportunity to make one’s own origami creation. Johnson’s origami is not of the usual type. She creates amazing flora and fauna out of earth-toned paper with exquisite detail. This Pulp writer was particularly intrigued by the origami sunflower and the jellyfish that Johnson managed to construct out of paper. Her designs have a distinctly geometric look, giving them all a modern feel that traditional origami lacks. The room was filled with eager amateur origami artists spread out across several tables constructing designs with the aid of books and Johnson herself.
I was delighted by the contrast of Johnson’s origami with the art exhibition by Jeremy Wheeler, which shared the same studio space. Wheeler’s posters often advertise local events past and present—some more obscure than others—and feature big words, bright colors, and eye-catching images. My personal favorite piece was the Boss Hog 2016 tour poster, depicting various people running away from a giant crustacean-like beetle. “17 years in the making! Now they emerge!” cries the poster. “Nothing can prepare you for… BOSS HOG.”
Overall, there cannot be any doubt that the Art Center’s Pop-In series this summer was a success. The diversity of the artists featured, the welcoming and accessible atmosphere that greeted attendees, and the Art Center’s ability to offer it all for free made this event and the two prior a truly special addition to summer in Ann Arbor.
Elizabeth Pearce is a library technician at the Ann Arbor District Library. She has no desire to travel 38 miles per hour on a skateboard but commends those who do.
The University Musical Society (UMS) is seeking applicants for their Wallace Blogging Fellowships. This recently-announced opportunity aims to promote cultural events taking place throughout southeast Michigan, and includes a stipend and special access to UMS events and guests.
So, know anyone in the area who is over 21 and loves the arts? Send the application their way! The deadline to apply is July 15, so get those writing samples ready!
Don’t miss the 26th annual Ann Arbor Jaycees 4th of July parade. Featuring musical groups, floats, and a bicycle-decorating contest, the parade starts at William and State St. at 10 am.
Cobblestone Farm is also celebrating Independence Day - 19th century style - with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, patriotic songs, kids games and farm activities, from noon - 4 pm at Cobblestone Farm, 2781 Packard Rd.
Veterans and active duty military members can enjoy a free screening of the classic World War II film The Dirty Dozen at the Michigan Theater at 1:30 pm. All others pay admission.
Capitol Steps, America’s premier satire group performing political parodies since 1981, is back in town this evening for two concerts at the Power Center, 4pm and 7pm. Tickets are $20 for students, $35, $40, $45.
And if you need an extra dose of patriotism, your local public library has a couple special Independence Day-related collections: First, a Star-Spangled Bannercast, featuring U-M Professor Mark Clague talking about the musical heritage and cultural history of our national anthem; and second, our OldNews local history site has a feature of past Tree Town 4th of July celebrations with photographs and articles from the Ann Arbor News.
Happy Fourth, Ann Arbor!
The Michigan Theater is presenting the "Kerrytown Market & Shops Summer Classic Film series" – and it’s a great way to beat the summer heat with fresh popcorn, the theater’s classic Barton Organ pre-show serenade, as well as unarguable film classics in an equally classic historic auditorium. I’ve seen every one of these films (more than once) and they’re all worth seeing again—especially on the big screen. Here’s the list, and my take on the best reason to see them (again and again):
Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Sunday July 3 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday July 5 at 7:00 pm)
Peter Sellers’ wonderfully weird three-part performance is reason enough. But nothing quite captures our country’s freewheeling Cold War paranoia—or ever ended a movie—like cowboy star Slim Pickens’ yahoo down memory lane: “We’ll meet again, don’t know how, don’t know when….”
The Dirty Dozen (Monday, July 4 at 1:30 pm; free admission for Veterans and Active Duty Military)
Hmm, Lee Marvin in one of his best tough guy roles? Donald Sutherland in his breakout role? John Cassavetes playing the godfather before becoming the Godfather of American Independent Cinema? Nah, see it because dirty rotten American psycho killer bad guys on a suicide mission to beat the real bad guys never grows old.
A Streetcar Named Desire (Sunday, July 10 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, July 12 at 7:00 pm)
Marlon Brando’s tour de force performance volcanically transcends everything else already great about this movie, including its source material (Tennessee Williams), direction (Elia Kazan), and the tragically spot-on fate of Blanche DuBois (played by Vivien Leigh).
Monty Python & The Holy Grail (Sunday, July 17 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, July 19 at 7:00 pm)
“Bring out your dead!” “Here’s one.” “I’m not dead.” “Er, he says he’s not dead.” “Yes he is.” Or “That’s no ordinary rabbit.” “That’s the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!” Or “Ni!” “We are no longer the Knights who say Ni.” (I could go on, but actually my favorite thing about this screening is that it’s sponsored by Knight’s Downtown restaurant.)
Funny Face (Sunday, July 24 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, July 26 at 7:00 pm)
You can never go wrong watching Fred Astaire dance (as well as act and sing a little) or Audrey Hepburn in trademark pedal pushers. Not enough? Try direction by Stanley Donen with music by George and Ira Gershwin. That’s Entertainment!
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sunday, July 31 at 1:30; Tuesday, August 2 at 7:00 pm)
A serious serial toss up: The score, Eli Wallach, the Mexican standoff in Cinemascope, or Clint Eastwood finally pulling out his trademark cheroot. Sergio Leone set the bar so high in making this one, the tumbleweed genre might as well be retired. They just don’t make westerns like this anymore.
Horse Feathers (Sunday, August 7 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, August 9 at 7:00 pm)
Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo: The Marx Brothers + football. ‘Nuff said.
Fargo (Sunday, August 14 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday August 16 at 7:00 pm)
Arguably the Coen brothers’ best: A pregnant cop utterly unafraid of both killers and the harsh Minnesota landscape? You betcha! Oh…and you’ll never look at a wood chipper quite the same way again.
Sing-A-Long Sound of Music (Sunday, August 21 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, August 23 at 7:00 pm)
Julie Andrews. Check. “Doe—a deer, a female deer.” Check. Christopher Plummer. Check. “Climb ev’ry mountain…” Check. Aw, what the heck, just go again because singing along with the Von Trapp Family to beat the real bad guys never grows old.
Metropolis (Sunday, August 28 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, August 30 at 7:00 pm)
Fritz Lang’s pioneering sci-fi silent feature, with its Art Deco- and German Expressionist-inspired cityscapes is the only movie to out Blade Runner “Blade Runner”; and wow, is that she-bot still intense even after all these years.
To Catch A Thief (Sunday, September 4 at 1:30 pm; Tuesday, September 6 at 7:00 pm)
Easily one of the classiest of the master of suspense: Monte Carlo in the 1950s is divine. But go to watch Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in incandescent Technicolor. It’s a good movie, and it’s Hitchcock and all, but it’s really about Grant and Kelly’s unparalleled luminosity on screen.
Casablanca (Monday, September 5 at 7:00; free admission for students with valid ID)
Let’s not kid ourselves: “A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh….” but not when Bogie and Bergman smolder as time goes by. The Michigan Theater’s annual Fall kick-off (and for good reason), is ... er, reason enough. But see it because watching true love outwit really, really bad guys never, ever grows old. Strike up “La Marseillaise!”
Amy Cantú is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library where she enthusiastically selects classic movies for the DVD and Blu-ray collections.
The Kerrytown Market & Shops Summer Classic Film Series runs all summer long, on Sundays at 1:30 pm and Tuesdays at 7 pm at the Michigan Theater.
Fans of Roald Dahl's 1982 children's book The BFG will find that source text replicated lovingly in Steven Spielberg's new film adaptation–occasionally perhaps with even more detail than they wanted.
Spielberg restages Dahl's tale almost beat for beat, as the stubborn orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is swept away from her orphanage one night by a big friendly giant, or "BFG" (Mark Rylance). The BFG makes an occupation for himself capturing dreams and redistributing them into "human beans'" heads by night, and he takes Sophie back to Giant Country with him for fear she'll expose him to the world. Sophie warms quickly to the plight of the loving but somewhat dimwitted BFG, who is harassed constantly by nine man-eating and considerably larger giants (a voice cast led by Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader). As the giants devour humans by night and plague the BFG by day, Sophie hatches a plan to stop them, requiring the assistance of no less than the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) herself.
It's a common complaint that cinematic adaptations of books deviate too much from their source material, but there are pitfalls in holding too much reverence for the original text as well. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who penned classic family flicks including The Black Stallion, E.T., and The Indian in the Cupboard before her death last year, translates Dahl's material to the screen almost directly. The film thankfully wastes no time revealing its title character and whisking Sophie away with him, but from there it occasionally bogs down. Mathison and Spielberg place Dahl's material on a pedestal and just leave it there to be admired at unnecessary length.
This tendency is persistent throughout the first two-thirds of the movie, most noticeably in an initially lovely but ultimately overlong scene in which the BFG and Sophie collect dreams. The film develops some momentum, and some of its greatest comic energy, when Sophie and the BFG take off for Buckingham Palace, but it takes quite a while to get there.
The two leads are so excellent throughout that you'll wish one of them were more physically present. Barnhill, whose previous filmography includes just six episodes of a British children's TV series, comes off very well here. Not just your average precocious young lead, she plays Sophie with a mature self-assuredness that still has just the right undercurrent of childish vulnerability. Rylance, coming off a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar win for Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, makes an extremely endearing BFG, gently enunciating the character's goofy malapropisms.
How unfortunate, then, that Rylance's performance is motion-captured and his BFG entirely computer-generated. The character is convincing in certain moments–particularly in close-ups, where the effects team appears to have smartly concentrated its efforts–but surprisingly wooden in others. Given Rylance's physical resemblance to illustrator Quentin Blake's original rendition of the giant, which the film closely mimics, Spielberg's decision to create a CGI giant instead of using more practical filmmaking magic to put Rylance onscreen in the flesh is rather perplexing.
Ultimately, Spielberg and Mathison's heads are basically in the right place when it comes to this material. They understand Dahl's sense of humor and his essential warmth, although they also don't shy away from the brutality that underlies much of his work. They just make the mistake of putting too much effort into bringing Dahl's simple but vibrant story to life, whether lingering too long over minor details or throwing millions of dollars in effects money at creating CGI giants where practical effects would have worked better. In the end, The BFG is certainly not a bad movie; it's often charming and sometimes even delightful in its own right. But its humbler source material tops it in both those departments–and you can probably read it in less time.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Pulp, the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. If he were a giant, he would certainly choose to eat snozzcumbers rather than small children.
The BFG opens in theaters on July 1 .
All three floors of the Ann Arbor Art Center pulsed with energy Friday night for this summer's inaugural Pop-In event. While the center's programming is generally eclectic on the whole, the free Pop-In series presents a particularly diverse assortment of art and entertainment in a single night, suitable for all ages but particularly aimed at young adults. This Friday's event, curated by Charlie Reischl, was billed as a "digital takeover" of the art center with a variety of offerings related to electronic arts. While some attractions adhered to that theme more than others, the evening was nonetheless consistently stimulating and entertaining in unexpected ways.
Upon entering the art center, DJ Scout set the mood on the first floor with some laid-back electronic grooves. Ascending to the second floor, attendees were welcomed by members of Kickshaw Theatre, who were recruiting "test subjects" for a short theater piece entitled Technology, In the Flesh. The 15-minute play repeated numerous times throughout the night, as Dr. Tina Burglorgler (Alysia Kolascz) and her assistant Quatthew (Aral Gribble) led audiences through a series of comical "experiments" exploring the differences between our reactions to analog and digital stimuli. In the most entertaining bit, Burglorgler showed the audience several slapstick YouTube videos and then replicated them on Quatthew in some cannily executed bits of stage violence. The differences in audience reaction were striking, as attendees remained mostly straight-faced during the videos but laughed or gasped openly as Burglorgler slammed Quatthew's head into a table and whacked him in the crotch with a baseball bat. The show oversold its point a bit–real-life experiences are consistently more stimulating than digital ones. But it was an amusing, creative second effort from the extremely promising new Kickshaw company, which produced the extraordinary The Electric Baby earlier this year.
Moving up to the third floor, attendees had a wide variety of attractions to explore. Attendees could have a hands-on experience with new technology by experimenting with a sampling of instruments from AADL's music tools collection or with a Wacom digital drawing tablet (under the able guidance of cartoonist Jerzy Drozd). Wandering into an adjacent darkened room, visitors could also take in a variety of unique musical performances, like the improv duo and art project Efflux. Efflux percussionist Jon Taylor and keyboardist Simon Alexander-Adam riffed wildly on their respective instruments while a custom-built program responded to their music in real time with abstract digital images projected on several small cube-shaped screens. Between the duo's inventive improvisation and the hypnotic digital imagery, Efflux presented a surprisingly spellbinding experience.
The highlight of the evening, however, was a concluding musical performance by members of the unconventional international rap performance collective known as the Black Opera. Ann Arbor rapper Jamall Bufford and Detroit rapper Magestik Legend kicked things off with what they described as an "opening set" for the Black Opera, energetically encouraging audience participation throughout. The two departed the stage but then returned, clad in oversized masks, to perform as the Black Opera themselves. The duo blasted through an impassioned set of songs with topics ranging from police violence to overuse of social media to the Flint water crisis. Bufford and Legend changed costumes for each song, ranging from dashikis to ski masks, with striking music videos projected behind them. At the conclusion of their performance, the duo announced that they and their entire audience were now part of the Black Opera. While the audience seemed equally divided between those who were previously aware of the Black Opera and those who were initially puzzled by what they were seeing, by the show's end Bufford and Legend had thoroughly accomplished their goal: drawing the crowd into a kind of critical, but positive, musical social movement.
Pop-In will continue this summer with events on July 22 and August 5. The July event will feature an inversion of this past Friday's theme, with an emphasis on analog music, tools, and art. The August installment will split the difference, focusing on the intersection of technology and creativity in a partnership with the new conference Intermitten. If Friday's Pop-In is any indication, attendees of the two coming events are in for an eye-opening, thought-provoking, and thoroughly entertaining experience.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Pulp, the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He would prefer that you neither slam his head into a table nor whack him in the crotch with a baseball bat, even if it would be funnier than watching a YouTube video.
Pop-In will continue this summer with events on July 22 and August 5.
Along with being an EMMY® Award-winning documentary filmmaker whose films have been screened all over the country, Ann Arbor native Sophia Kruz is using her directing skills to shed light on global gender inequity in her forthcoming documentary Little Stones . The documentary is currently in post-production under the working title Creating4Change.
Kruz, along with Little Stones cinematographer Meena Singh, is a co-founder of the non-profit Driftseed, an organization that "seeks to empower women and girls through the art of documentary storytelling." United through a mission to use art for social good, the women in Kruz’s Little Stones range across continent and industry: American fashion designer Anna Taylor empowers impoverished Kenyan women; Indian dance therapist Sohini Chakraborty helps heal survivors of sexual abuse; graffiti artist Panmela Castro uses her art to advocate for survivors of domestic abuses; and Senegalese musician Sister Fa challenges female genital mutilation. Behind the telling of these narratives of empowered women is Kruz’s own artistic vision. I asked Kruz about her motivation for the film, the process of making an international documentary, and how members of Ann Arbor’s community can follow in her footsteps to foster positive change locally.
Q: Your early work as a filmmaker focuses on immediate stories in the Ann Arbor community as well as within your family. What drew you into these initial subjects?
A: My first documentary, Time Dances On tells the story of my parents, how they fell in love, how their marriage slowly dissolved, and ultimately, how my dad decided to come out as a gay man because of the love and friendship he felt towards my mom. It's a story that I felt really compelled to tell throughout college, first as a fun get-to-know-you fact in my freshman dorm, then sophomore year as a short fictional essay in an intro to creative writing course, then junior year as the premise of a fictional screenplay, and finally senior year in documentary form. I suppose in some ways I needed to work through that story first to be able to move onto other projects, but it was also the story that allowed me to discover my passion for documentary.
Q: Little Stones is a study of human rights issues all around the world, jumping between several countries and cultures. Was there a common thread you found within the people you interviewed?
A: Little Stones follows four women in India, Brazil, Senegal, and Kenya who are using dance, graffiti, music, and fashion to create positive change for women and girls. There were certainly a lot of themes and similarities between the four artists that I started to see when we went to visit the women in their home countries, the most prominent of which was self-sacrifice. All four women have given up something to be an artist and activist. Sister Fa perhaps says it best: "If you just come close to most of the activists, we try to find solutions for the world, but we don’t have solutions for our own lives.”
Q: What is the function of art in changing norms and attitudes?
A: I think art is hugely important in changing culture. Often, artists are also activists, on the front lines of social change movements. Art can ignite an idea in the collective consciousness, rally a community around an issue, and provide healing for those in need. I do think art is undervalued in American culture and that just saying, as a community, "art is important," really isn't enough—we need to invest in the arts as well.
That said, I think some of the best forms of problem solving come about when artists and creative minds are paired with activists, lawyers, law enforcement, government agencies, philanthropy, and everything in between. The challenges and barriers women around the world face are great, and they take many forms. Our approach to problem solving needs to be equally great and all-encompassing.
Q: Why does the film matter to those living in the Ann Arbor area?
A: I would quote Alyse Nelson, Executive Director of Vital Voices, who said in an interview for the film:
"If you look around the world with all the issues women face, the one thing that unites us is that there is not a single culture, community, country, religion that can say violence against women, domestic violence, culturally harmful practices, trafficking, rape does not exist. It exists everywhere. It is that thing that all of us face. And really the heart of it is how we value women in our societies, and in our communities, and our cultures, and if culture and values are a barrier, couldn’t we also look at how to use culture, to use the arts, and innovative creative means, and brains, to combat the negative influences of culture?"
That quote certainly rings true in Ann Arbor, where we have a human trafficking clinic run by the University of Michigan Law School dedicated to seeking justice for sex and labor trafficking victims in our own communities, local women's shelters in constant need of resources to support survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence, local law enforcement dealing with cases of sexual assault on U-M and EMU campuses, and lower rates of female executives and board members in local businesses and non-profit organizations. Everyone in this community, not just artists, but women and men, can volunteer at these organizations, fight for gender equity in their workplace, and be an agent of change.
Q: In addition to the local issues affecting gender equity in Ann Arbor, what will be unique about screening the film in your hometown?
A: We're planning a sneak preview screening of Little Stones at the Michigan Theater this October, in part because Ann Arbor has played a huge role in making this film possible. I say that for two reasons. First, I'm from Ann Arbor, and I think the values that launched this film—that art can create social change, and we all have a role to play—are a product of growing up in a community that values the arts and gender equity.
Second, this film literally would not have been possible without the moral and financial support I've received from my friends, family, mentors, colleagues, local artists, women's organizations, business leaders, state government, and the University of Michigan. I want Ann Arbor to get a sneak peek of Little Stones as a way to say thank you to everyone who's believed in the film from the beginning, and all the new allies we've made along the way.
Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications.
Little Stones is currently in post-production. You can stay up to date with Sophia Kruz’s work and future screenings on her website.