People sometimes struggle with how to refer to the first 10 years of the 21st century. The zeros? The aughts? Ypsilanti playwright A.M. Dean has put forth his own nickname for these transformative years in our nation’s history: The Dumb Decade.
Neighborhood Theatre Group’s original pop/rock musical Dispatches From the Dumb Decade follows its characters as they come of age in the age of 9/11, George W., Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Axis of Evil, "strategery," and the birth of fake news. All these things that I had put behind me were brought alive again through music and song. We were so innocent back then.
“Sometimes we remodel because we’ve been left out.” --Carrie Mae Weems
I guess I would call myself superstitious. At least that’s how I think about it in those moments when I feel like the universe is pushing me in one direction or another.
I went to see Carrie Mae Weems speak on February 14 as a part of the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series. This was my second time in the Michigan Theater in the space of one week and for someone who sees herself as a person of somewhat nerdily pedestrian interests, I find myself off-kilter when I frequent what I think of as a higher-brow spot. I’m more Netflix than Michigan Theater.
Weems, though, is a name that I have come to know through encountering her work here and there -- and then having an I-have-to-know-more-about-this-artist moment, finding again, I am looking at Weems’ work.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
(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.