Recombinant Tales: Ruth Crowe’s “Storytelling with Photo Infusion and Encaustic” at Gifts of Art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Ruth Crowe, Storytelling images

Ruth Crowe, clockwise from upper left: Notorious RBG, photo encaustic/image fusion; A Different Kind of Cowboy, encaustic/image fusion; Let's Ride Sister - Put the Fun Between Your Legs, encaustic/image transfer/plaster.

Taken separately, photo fusion and encaustic are interestingly differing forms of art. Taken together, they reflect local artist Ruth Crowe’s wry multimedia Storytelling with Photo Fusion and Encaustic exhibit at the Gifts of Art Gallery in the University of Michigan Hospital main corridor.

Crowe definitely has views she wants to communicate in her art, yet she’s not a polemicist. Rather, she allows for her work to speak for itself. It’s a brave strategy -- and it’s this subliminal perspective that speaks volumes of her views.

With Full CareForce: Marisa Morán Jahn's "The Mighty and the Mythic" at Stamps Gallery explores interactive, social-activist art

VISUAL ART REVIEW

The Driver by Marisa Moran

The Driver from MIRROR | MASK series, 2017. Photo by Marisa Morán Jahn featuring Darlyne Komukama, Uganda.

The Stamps Gallery's The Mighty and the Mythic is an interactive exhibit featuring the multi-faceted work of social activist and artist Marisa Morán Jahn. Curated by Srimoyee Mitra, this exhibition is an expansive collection with examples from three of Jahn’s ongoing projects. If you visit, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to view the many videos playing on TV screens around the gallery.

The three projects on display are CareForce (2012 to present), Biblobandido (2010 to present), and MIRROR | MASK (2017 to present). Though these are the artist’s solo projects, Jahn relies on the participation of her collaborators, who are often immigrants, domestic workers, and youths. Stamps Gallery notes that the work is infused with play and humor in order to portray her subjects’ lives with dignity, the ability to critique power, and to “build momentum within their communit[ies].” Jahn bases her practice on her own experiences as the child of first-generation Chinese and Ecuadorian immigrants.

All the World's a Stage: Madeleine Albright at The Michigan Theater

PULP LIFE REVIEW

Madeline Albright at the Michigan Theater

Madeline Albright photo by Timothy Greenfield Sanders/Harper Collins; Michigan Theater photo by Sherlonya Turner

Madeleine Albright is the former secretary of state I’d most love to have a drink with if given the chance. I learned this after seeing her speak about her book Fascism: A Warning at the Michigan Theater on February 2. Heck, I’d love to have a drink within eavesdropping distance from Secretary Albright.

“I’m an optimist who worries a lot.” --Secretary Madeleine Albright

I almost didn’t go. I was a grump that evening. It was cold, and I didn’t want to go outside and I had a series of other minor complaints competing for space in my head. But it feels very weird to skip a talk on fascism in order to wallow in a personal pool of whininess.

The theater took extra care with security that evening so for those of us at the back of the line, closer to Division St. than the Michigan Theater, it took a while to get out of the cold. By the time I made it into the theater, Secretary Albright was already into her conversation with University of Michigan professor Juan Cole.

I sat down just in time to hear Albright argue that fascist leaders capitalize on fear, use the media, don’t respect institutions, and are full of simple solutions for issues that actually require complex approaches and attention to nuance. Punctuated by bursts of applause, she continued, stating that according to her definition, North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un is currently the only leader who fits that description. However, many others have certain fascist tendencies.

It's a Family Affair: A mother-and-son creative partnership on exhibit at NCRC

VISUAL ART REVIEW INTERVIEW

Karen Anne Klein's Installation and Barrett Klein's Velvet Ant

Karen Anne Klein, Ecological Fiction installation, 2018; Barrett Klein, Velvet Ant, colored pencil on paper 2002

The spirit of the Renaissance's Cabinets of Curiosity is alive and well and on display in the University of Michigan’s NCRC galleries through May, courtesy of a mother-and-son artist duo. Two separate exhibits, Ecological Fiction by Karen Anne Klein and Hidden Ubiquity: Celebrating the Tiny Majority by Barrett Klein, delineate and illustrate nature’s inhabitants and habitats, from the cosmic to the minute.  

David Opdyke's "Paved With Good Intentions" uses nostalgic imagery to critique modern politics

VISUAL ART REVIEW

David Opdyke's Paved With Good Intentions

The Institute for Humanities at the University of Michigan launched its Year of Humanities and Environments with the exhibition Paved With Good Intentions by David Opdyke. The show consists of a full wall-sized installation of altered vintage postcards, two animated short videos, and two video channels rotating quotes by politicians. The three media serve to address similar subject matter: the current political climate in America. Climate is an operative word, as Opdyke’s work focuses in on the environment and climate change. His pieces criticize not only American culture but also inaction and stagnancy due to an unwillingness to find common ground. Using iconic, even nostalgic imagery on old postcards as a backdrop, our ideal of “America the Great” is challenged in numerous ways with Opdyke’s artistic interventions.

The gallery wall text, written by Institute for Humanities curator Amanda Krugliak, states, "David Opdyke’s installation Paved With Good Intentions up-ends any snapshots of family vacations, destination spots, and America the Beautiful still in our pockets.” Opdyke’s statement is printed below Krugliak’s and expands on the project. The massive work, titled This Land , was created with 528 postcards from “all across the United States" -- views of local and national parks, cities, rivers, bridges, lakes, landmarks, farms and wilderness -- assembled into a vast gridded landscape beset by environmental chaos.

The postcard collage creates an overall landscape, but upon close examination, there are many smaller dramas (or in this case, disasters) at play. As the grid reaches the bottom of the wall, postcards are falling in disarray, some having landed on the floor. Those that are on the floor reveal handwritten notes by their original owners, creating an eerie connection to people of the past, even as Opdyke’s overall project suggests a future plagued by increased disaster and chaos. 

Theatre Nova’s "The How and the Why" explores radical and exciting ideas

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Theatre Nova's production of The How and the Why

L to R: Diane Hill as Zelda and Sayre Fox as Rachel in The How and the Why by Sarah Treem at Theatre NOVA. Photography by Golden Record Media Company.

It’s a beautiful thing when a play not only passes the Bechdel test with flying colors but offers an intellectually satisfying evening of theater, too.

For Theatre Nova’s production of Sarah Treem’s The How and the Why focuses entirely on the charged conversations between two women: tenured evolutionary biologist Zelda Kahn (Diane Hill) and the daughter she gave up for adoption, post-doc student Rachel Hardemann (Sayre Fox). 

As they meet for the first time, Zelda’s department is preparing to host an important conference. When Rachel reveals the radical theory she’s developed concerning the “why” of human female menstruation -- that it acts as a kind of physiological defense mechanism -- Zelda offers her the chance to present her ideas at the conference. When things don’t go well, Rachel’s left to wonder: Did Zelda set her up to fail out of professional jealousy? Or did Zelda just naively give Rachel an opportunity that she and her theory weren’t quite ready for?

Encore Theatre presents an emotionally taut staging of “Next to Normal”

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Encore Theatre's Next to Normal

Bipolar disorder is not the usual musical fare. But the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal joins such recent topical musicals as Avenue Q, Rent, Dear Evan Hansen, and Hamilton as a forum for dealing with current issues using music and words to drive home tough lessons.

The Encore Theatre production of Next to Normal, with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, will not send you home whistling a tune, but it will leave you with a better understanding of the pain, confusion, and challenges faced by those with bipolar disorder and the family and friends around them.

Elizabeth Youngblood's "The Smell of Lint and Frost" evokes Midwestern winters

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Elizabeth Youngblood's The Smell of Lint and Frost

I was left in the cold the first time I viewed Elizabeth Youngblood's exhibition The Smell of Lint and Frost.

(I'll give you a second to recover from that high-end wordplay.) 

And it's not just because I trudged across the University of Michigan's campus through piles of snow in sub-20-degree weather to view the Detroit-based U-M grad's mixed-media sculptures and drawings at the East Quadrangle's RC Art Gallery.

(I'm really going in on the cold/frost thing here. Take a deep breath.)

Like having no ice cubes in the freezer, it felt like something was missing in this small gallery's exhibition. 

(Sorry, like you, I've been cooped up for days. I'm *this close* to reenacting Jack's death scene in The Shining. But I'll let it go, let it go, turn away and slam the door on all these chilly puns. The cold never bothered me anyway. .)

I'm not sure if it was the lack of an artist statement to contextualize the works or that there were no title cards giving some sense of the materials used and whether the pieces had names, but something about The Smell of Lint and Frost wasn't landing in my frozen brain.

Youngblood's work is minimalist and austere, and in this exhibition, the pieces range from monochromatic gestural paintings and fine-line drawings of spirals with accompanying complementary sculptures that appear to consist of wire and plaster.

It wasn't until I left the gallery and read a bit more about Youngblood's working methods and then went to see the exhibition again that The Smell of Lint and Frost made some sense to me.

Kerrytown Concert House’s “Winter Meditation” offers austere ambiance from Kirsten Lund, Ann and Fred Ringia

VISUAL ART REVIEW

Kirsten Lund's Untitled Silver Sequins

Kirsten Lund, Untitled (Silver Sequins)

It may initially seem surprising that winter can inspire artists. One would think the nippy climate would discourage creativity.

Yet it’s also fair to say that an austere contemplation can foster art during this most challenging time of the year. Given the ambiance, temperature, and the chilly weather conditions, it’s little wonder that mediation would be a key factor for many artists so inclined.

As the Kerrytown Concert House’s Winter Meditation exhibition shows us, three local artists -- textile artist Kirsten Lund and husband-wife photographers Ann and Fred Ringia -- have in particular found inspiration in this most meditative of seasons.

Chamber of Secrets: Purple Rose Theatre's "Never Not Once" pulls no punches as it explores a family's difficult history

THEATER & DANCE REVIEW

Never Not Once at Purple Rose Theatre

Michelle Mountain (Allison), Caitlin Cavannaugh (Eleanor), Jeremy Kucharek (Rob), and Casaundra Freeman (Nadine) star in Carey Crim’s grab-you-by-the-lapels drama Never Not Once. Photos by Sean Carter Photography.

We often hear that people shouldn’t be permanently defined by their worst decision or act. But on the other end of that equation, all too often, are men and women who are irrevocably shaped by the violence committed against them.

Carey Crim’s latest world premiere play at Chelsea’s Purple Rose Theatre, Never Not Once, directed by Guy Sanville, treads rather boldly across this ethical minefield. 

When Rutgers student Eleanor (Caitlin Cavannaugh) comes home unannounced, with boyfriend Rob (Jeremy Kucharek) in tow, and announces to her two moms that she aims to track down her biological father, her birth mother, Allison (Michelle Mountain), balks, insisting that the one night stand that left her pregnant in college was so inconsequential that she never even learned the man’s name. But when Eleanor’s other mom, Nadine (Casaundra Freeman), secretly supplies Eleanor with a possible clue regarding her father’s identity, the search narrows, and Allison is forced to revisit a trauma from her past.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but Never Not Once is an intense 90 minutes of live theater, despite some moments of levity in the early going. It tackles some tough stuff, and for the most part, it doesn’t pull its punches. But then, it can’t afford to. If you’re going to “go there,” as Crim has chosen to do, you’ve got to have the guts to go all in. So don’t go to the Rose expecting to passively sit back and be entertained by Never. It’s more a grab-you-by-the-lapels kind of show.