IS/LAND's "In Isolation Pt.1 - SYNODIC" performance video explores the subtleties of change

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

IS/LANDS, still from In Isolation Pt. 1 - SYNODIC

It's fitting that J. Amber Kao is listed as "mover" in the website bio section of IS/LAND, a performance collaborative comprised of Asian Pacific Islander American and Asian artists. Yes, she's a dancer, but as shown in the performance video "In Isolation Pt. 1 - SYNODIC," it's movement that matters most, not a prescribed notion of dance. 

Recorded last year in Saginaw Forest before the leaves changed, Kao and fellow Ann Arborite Chien-An Yuan (aka Jienan Yuan) created this video and soundtrack as a "meditation reflecting on both the passage of time and the nature of change—embodied in the dancer’s movement between, around, and within the changing sunlight."

Accompanied by Yuan's ghostly soundtrack, Kao cuts a hypnotizing figure among the tall trees, her movements so slow and controlled that you might think it's a camera trick. While the choreography is for a solo performer, Kao's active dress makes it a duet. The billowy garment almost looks like a special effect, with its horizontal lines implying a landscape, or even a face, its colors syncing with the washed-out greens and blown-out backlighting. But even when Kao bounces the dress, it looks like she has perfect dominion over the fabric's movement, leading the raiment through the dance like a patient teacher.

Over the course of nearly five minutes, it's easy to be transfixed by Kao and ignore her surroundings, but on subsequent viewings, you'll see how the video's contrast subtly changes. While Kao's movements stay in a tight radius, time slides up the path toward her as the colors move from pale to saturated, the backlight dimming with time, the foreground becoming more and more vibrant. Yuan's quivering drone accompaniment is occasionally punctured by a treated piano chord, which introduces a sharp video edit that indicates the next stage of the forest's evolving hues. 

It's the perfect video for January, when we're huddling inside our homes, hiding away from the season's browns and grays, waiting to glide in tandem with the verdant world once again.

Michigan Art Gallery's "Her Joyful Eye" is a calming exhibition of paintings by late U-M prof Mignonette Yin Cheng

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Mignonette Yin Cheng, #106 Landscape

Mignonette Yin Cheng, #106 Landscape, 40 1/4 x 30 1/4” acrylic and gouache on paper, undated.

If there's ever been a season that’s needed contemplative art, this is it.

Ypsilanti's Michigan Art Gallery has mounted an exhibit that's meant to give us this reflective opportunity.

Mignonette Yin Cheng: Her Joyful Eye, currently on display in-house at the Michigan Gallery—and accessible online—illustrates the fact that contemplation doesn't come by easily. It has to be earned.

As seen in this late University of Michigan art professor emerita's comprehensive retrospective, contemplation took Cheng a lifetime of effort. Based on the evidence at hand, not only was it a matter of artistic discipline but also an iron-clad disposition. There's a cool detachment to Chen's art that focuses her viewer’s eye on the minute observations she makes in her composition.

As the Michigan Gallery's gallery statement tells us, “Born in 1933 near Amoy, China, Cheng received her first training at the Russian Academy of Arts in Shanghai learning traditional Chinese drawing and painting techniques. Arriving in the United States in 1955, her style of painting evolved into a vibrant, gestural expression of her unique background and cultural influence.”

A guide to the Ann Arbor Art Center's Art in Public Places murals project

VISUAL ART REVIEW

A2AC Murals Map

Ann Arbor has innumerable large- and small-scale murals already, but they have new company as the result of a crowdfunded project to bring art to walls and alleys around town.

In July, the Ann Arbor Art Center (A2AC) raised more than $50,000 to commission 10 murals around the city. The fundraiser was through Patronicity, and once the goal was met, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) matched the donations to double the money available to the mural artists. At the onset of the project, 10 artists paired with local business owners on the sites of their future murals. In October, two additional murals were announced, raising the total to 12. This initiative is part of the ongoing A2AC Art in Public program that aims to make art “accessible and equitable to everyone,” relying on community-based donations.

Since the Art Center helped crowdfund two other public murals in the recent past, those have been added to the A2AC Murals Map, which features a walking tour of all the works. Currently, 13 murals are finished, with the 14th debuting sometime in 2021.

Here's a rundown of all A2AC's mural commissions, starting with the two that were preludes to the larger project.

Iggy Pop released the pandemic-themed song "Dirty Little Virus" (for better or worse)

MUSIC REVIEW

Iggy Pop, Dirty Little Virus

Iggy Pop doesn’t have anything to prove.

If he didn’t actually invent punk rock in 1969 with the Stooges, he served as its preening avatar and encouraged countless teenage maniacs to take to the stage, ability be damned. He gave the world “Lust For Life,” “I Got A Right” and “No Fun,” mutilated himself publicly for the elucidation of the audience, and introduced peanut butter as a stage prop.

The strength of Iggy’s work over the first decade of his career cannot be overstated—it’s some of the most vital, intense, and alive music ever recorded by humans. If only for the masterpiece that is Funhouse, Iggy Pop has served humanity well and his current comfortable retirement in Florida is richly deserved.

So when Iggy Pop decides to release a new song on his Bandcamp page, who are we to question its worth?

Zoom-o: Theatre Nova's "I’m Streaming of an Alright Christmas" brings panto to your screens

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

 

Theatre Nova's I'm Streaming of an Alright Christmas

Pantomime, or panto, is a form of audience participatory musical comedy theater developed in England that has become a beloved part of the Christmas and New Year season in many parts of the English-speaking world. There are songs, dances, and gags galore. Theatre NOVA proudly carries on this tradition right here in Ann Arbor. 

This year, however, things had to change a bit. How does one engage the assistance of an audience when theaters across Michigan have had to close? Through the magic of modern technology of course. Theatre NOVA had already experimented with theater over Zoom in October with its Zoom Play Series. Now Nova has applied Zoom to its 2020 panto I’m Streaming of an Alright Christmas by Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis.

The plot revolves around Santa and his team getting ready for their Christmas flight. But the reindeer have gone on strike, the elves haven’t made the toys, and the dreaded Rona Monster is on the loose in the North Pole. Can Christmas be saved? 

After I clicked the provided link and logged into Zoom, I was met by an animated red curtain. Holiday music played while a five-minute countdown popped up in the lower right corner of my screen along with a dancing Santa along with four guidelines for maximum enjoyment of the show: 

Raqs Media Collective's "The Pandemic Circle" explores how artists share and create during quarantine

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Stills from videos in The Pandemic Circle exhibit

Top: video still from Why do they call the answer to a question, a solution? (12 minutes, video, spoken word), 2020.
Bottom: video still from twentyfourbyseven (7 mins, video, calligraphy, text, animation), 2020.

On December 1, Raqs Media Collective premiered two new videos as part of an ongoing project titled The Pandemic Circle. This three-part series, curated by STAMPS Gallery’s Srimoyee Mitra, was commissioned by the University of Michigan Stamps Gallery and the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design as part of EXPO CHICAGO’s online adaptation of its previously in-person discussions and events series. The focus this time is on ways in which those working within the arts are changing and adapting their practices to continue making and sharing art amid the pandemic. 

The virtual exhibition includes three short films that explore themes of time, space, and routine, and, more. As described on the exhibition page, the works “grapple with the pervasive and dispersed impact on daily routines and relationships with one another, and beyond, in the age of the Coronavirus." The two new videos are paired with 31 Days, created earlier this summer, three months after the pandemic ushered in sweeping quarantines across the globe and changing the flow of daily life. The follow-up films expand upon the members of the Collective’s response to these changes, broader cultural events, and their own worlds. 

“No, not even for a picture”: Re-examining the Native Midwest and Tribes’ Relations to the History of Photography at U-M's Clements Library

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Medicine Bottle and Cut Nose by Joel E. Whitney, 1864

Wa-Kan-O-Zhan-Zhan (Medicine Bottle)
Joel E. Whitney
Carte de visite, 1864
Wa-Kan-O-Zhan-Zhan, or Medicine Bottle, was a Sioux wicasa wakan, or holy man, who stepped away from that role to defend the Dakota way of life in the rebellions. After the uprising, Congress called for the removal of all Sioux from Minnesota, leading Medicine Bottle to flee to Canada. Two years later, he was found, drugged, and brought as a prisoner to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, where he was tried for his participation in the 1862 uprisings. He was executed three years after the initial trial. This photo was taken shortly before his death.
Marpiya Okinajin (Cut Nose)
Joel E. Whitney
Carte de visite, 1862
Marpoya Okinajin (pronounced: Mar-piy-a O-kin-a-jin) was also known as Cut Nose or He Who Stands in the Clouds. His vibrant life was filled with stories of hunting, fighting, and womanizing. Cut Nose’s distinctive name is credited to John Other Day, who allegedly bit off a chunk of his nose during a fight. During the Dakota War, Cut Nose fought to restore Santee Dakota sovereignty in Minnesota and is remembered for his leadership and brutality in the uprisings at Fort Ridgely, Minnesota. He was ultimately executed for his violence against settlers on December 26, 1862. After his death, William Mayo, a founder of the Mayo Clinic, exhumed Cut Nose’s remains to use for science experiments, keeping his bones for over a century and a half. The eagle feathers appearing in this photo were likely retouched into the photo after it was taken.

As I look out over a pond that's rippling gently from snowfall, the pine trees and fields covered in white, I'm writing this post in my Christmas-light-bright house, which rests on Bodéwadmiké (Potawatomi) land ceded in a coercive treaty.

A version of the above sentence is also what begins “No, not even for a picture”: Re-examining the Native Midwest and Tribes’ Relations to the History of Photography, a new online exhibition produced by two University of Michigan students with Native American ancestry for the William L. Clements Library. Lindsey Willow Smith (undergraduate, History and Museum Studies; member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) and Veronica Cook Williamson (Ph.D. candidate, Germanic Languages and Literatures and Museum Studies; Choctaw ancestry, citizen of the Chickasaw Nation) used materials in the Richard Pohrt Jr. Collection of Native American Photography to explore ideas of consent, agency, and representation. 

Review: Wynton Marsalis with The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet: The Democracy! Suite

MUSIC REVIEW

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the University Musical Society released a digital presentation of jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet performing his new composition, "The Democracy! Suite," in a virtual concert filmed at the Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City.

Marsalis usually visits Ann Arbor every year and often brings special guests with him to play at Hill Auditorium, but this year’s concert was virtual due to the pandemic.

"The Democracy! Suite" is an eight-part response to the political, social, and public health crises we’re dealing with today. The swinging grooves and lyrical jazz was composed to uplift, inspire, and galvanize listeners to work together for a better future.

But what made "The Democracy! Suite" feel different was the commentary Marsalis gave behind it.

Map of the Interior: Sarah Rose Sharp’s "Results or Roses" at U-M Institute of the Humanities Gallery

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Sarah Rose Sharp's Hand of Fate
Hand of Fate, 2019, screen print by Too x Nail, fabric, embroidery thread, charms, beads, etc., 11.5” x 6” x 2.5

During these Covid times, visual artists’ exhibitions have migrated to online locations, with mixed results. For some whose work is photographic or text-based in nature, the effect is hardly noticeable. But for artists making very tactile or three-dimensional work, like the artworks in Detroit artist Sarah Rose Sharp’s Results or Roses at U-M Institute of the Humanities Gallery, much is lost in translation. I felt some guilty delight when the gallery curator, Amanda Krugliak, consented to open the gallery (now temporarily closed to the public during the pandemic) for my visit, but you can still view the exhibit online

Sharp employs traditional needlework and sewing techniques to create a diaristic map of her interior life. The intimately scaled artworks illustrate several different trains of the artist’s thought and share the walls of the gallery and an adjacent vitrine, providing a virtual tour of the artist’s memories, observations, and preoccupations. The overarching intention of the work seems to be located somewhere in the psychic territory between nostalgia and satire. 

Joni Mitchell's "Live at Canterbury House - 1967" gives us a peek into her post-Detroit, pre-superstardom career

MUSIC REVIEW

Joni Mitchell at Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, 1967. Photo by Al Blixt.

Joni Mitchell at Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, 1967. Photo by Al Blixt.

Two noteworthy events happened for Joni Mitchell over the past two weeks:

She turned 77 on November 7, and on October 30, the much-anticipated box set Archives - Volume One: The Early Years (1963-1967) came out.

Included in this collection are 24 songs recorded live over three sets on October 27, 1967, the first night of Mitchell's three-night residency at Ann Arbor's Canterbury House. The Ann Arbor portion of Archives is also available as a standalone three-LP set, and the performance features several songs that would later be considered classics after they appeared on Mitchell's studio albums such as her debut, Song to a Seagull (1968), as well as Clouds (1969) and Ladies of the Canyon (1970). 

Mitchell's Canterbury House recordings surfaced in July 2018 along with concert tapes of Tim Buckley, Dave Van Ronk, Odetta, and more, but hers are the first from this batch to find a commercial release. The concert was recorded through Canterbury's soundboard, and the audio is clean and clear, giving us a beautiful glimpse into the almost-24-year-old's musical life pre-superstardom.