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October 11, 2015

Metabolism: Cristin Richard, Detroit Design Festival, 25-Sep-2015

by Jim Welke

Metabolism / Cristin Richard photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard
photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Invited to participate in Detroit Design Festival 2015 (September 22-26, 2015), Detroit artist Cristin Richard presented her one night installation, Metabolism, in the c.1927 Detroit Savings Bank building at 5001 Grand River (near Warren; formerly occupied by Kunsthalle). In addition, she collaborated with Simone Else to create delicate bondage implements overlaid with intestines shown in the bank vault. (More about that follows.)

Metabolism comprised the main attraction for this ambitious, moody, soulful, one-night show. The installation consisted of a video projected large–twelve feet or so high–on the rear wall of the bank building main floor. As you entered the darkened room, illuminated only by the projected imagery of the video, you found yourself confronted by a languid, nubile siren (Emilee Burnadette Austin) tearing diaphanous bits of yellow, green, and ochre colored pig intestine from her otherwise nude body. In accompaniment you heard an eerie, raspy soundtrack by Detroit musician/composer Nate Czarling (info on him here & here) that emits scratched phonograph record sounds mixed with a repeating strings riff, alongside a Morse-code-like percussion on a cowbell-ish device.

Metabolism (intro) by TT Moross
The repetition, phonograph-record-skip-like, over and over, hypnotizes the listener, draws them into a receptive, passive, yet enervated state while the girl on the screen peels off the detritus of civilization–her clothing–clothing shattered, extraneous and superfluous. Ms. Richard constructed that clothing, as translucent and feathery as bits of sloughed sunburned skin, from the flotsam of mass-slaughter in our invisible industrial abattoirs. But you might not know this yet–that the enigmatic being on the screen peels off bits of animal offal–as you observe, transfixed, submerged in the cabin pressure of Mr. Czarling’s audio ecosystem. You watch: peel-peel-peel. You hear: skip-skip-skip. And then your eyes adjust to your tenebrous surroundings, someone else occupies the room: a girl, youthful, and naked but for wisps of that translucent intestinal fabric settled on the landscape of her lithe body, dead and laid out in a coffin. At least, she’s dead to you. You feel disoriented, in another country, a strange land with strange customs.

Metabolism / Cristin Richard photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Richard, on her website, describes her work this way:

…It transforms and regenerates in poetic and unpredictable ways.  In the majority of her work, she reconstructs animal intestines into tangible objects. Playing on the ambiguity, created by the presence of this material, she develops metaphors loaded with complexities.

…With the idea of fashion as sculpture, Cristin Richard blurs the line between fine art and fashion.  She believes that fashion allows one to create a second skin.  It provides an escape that is rooted in the truth to one’s own identity.

Yoko Ono expressed thoughts on feminism, fashion, and subjugation of women when she created her performance “Cut Piece” in 1964 (excerpt here). While distinctly different in form and intent–Ono performed the piece, with audience participation–Richard’s work does follow from it in the sense that it puts the female form on a stage, not for entertainment as we have done at the expense of women for centuries, but more so as trial evidence. And then Richard brings in the added dilemma of our obsession in Western Civilization with mass-marketed, mechanistic consumerism, in this case our often callous consumption of animals bred, raised, and killed solely for us to devour in a frenzy of overfed fast-food surfeit. Cristin Richard, in “Metabolism” seems to ask that we run the film of our existence in reverse; in fact, that we imagine a reversion to a more primal past when clothing served more for protection against cold and predators. The animals we pursued then sometimes pursued us. And consumed us. Animals provoked us to respect them as physical and intellectual forces. Most pre-historic and modern aboriginal cultures harbor reverence for animals they hunt. They recognize in them spirits to honor. And they squander very little of the animals they fell. They never take them for granted, and they never hunt beyond the needs of subsistence. To do so would imperil the existence of both them and their prey.

But we, in our mechanized, me-first civilization stray from our ancestral roots. We treat animals as lifeless commodities and rather than public reverence we hide away from view the animals we kill in “meat processing plants.” We deny these living, breathing beings the honor they deserve while we dump their flesh wrapped in plastic in supermarket refrigerator bins or Styrofoam take-away packages.

Richard seems to want to slap us upside the head for our arrogance and hubris; to remind us that we share much in common with the animals we consume, that we consume too much, and that we need to peel away, layer by layer, the excesses of our culture. One solution is to regress like Ms. Austin in the video toward innocent disavowal of unneeded attire, toward a less self-absorbed, self-conscious perspective. But between the observer and the projected video, that enigmatic corpse lies in state. Is the video projected here like those melancholy videos created by suicide bombers prior to self-destruction?

Is the girl in the casket the girl in the video? Did she shed her corporeal connection to civilization at the expense of her life? Is Richard telling us that our modern, cultivated entanglements–our overly elaborate food, clothing, shelter, and transportation–imperil us even if we back away from them? Have our material entanglements embedded themselves in our psyches so deeply that to eschew them is the equivalent of suicide? Is it really impossible to get back to the Garden and a place of simplicity and authenticity?

That, at least, is what this writer saw projected on the screen and lying in the casket in that old bank building. Once you removed yourself from the enveloping video with funeral casket and soundscape that Richard and Czarling parachute you into, you moved into a room that housed the Detroit Savings Bank vault. This room presented a soundtrack different from the track in the lobby: Metabolism II. (VAULT) by TT Moross

photo: Jim Welke

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Jim Welke

Arrayed on two tables in this unventilated crypt-like room Richard and fellow artist Simone Else present their collaborative effort: a collection of everyday, and not so everyday objects, that when observed collectively suggest sexual bondage, or at least sex with a spicy flavor. But these objects take on a more complex meaning, here in this savings bank vault. (Savings bank vault, epicenter of white bread American delusions of permanent security!) What might otherwise offhandedly be construed as sex toys, here appear wrapped ever so delicately, precisely, and carefully in a patina of that same animal intestine that decorates the dead and living women in the grand but decrepit bank lobby. Again, you may not know at first that what decorates, surrounds, and subsumes these objects is in fact that same pellucid membrane adorning those women in the funereal lobby. But you read the text that accompanies the show, and you learn and consider this.

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else photo: Jim Welke

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Jim Welke

Else and Richard might suggest with their work here that those things we consume, those beings that we presume to dominate, in fact dominate us. That we become embedded in our excesses, and by allowing that to happen, we allow ourselves to be altered, controlled by our appetites that ultimately circle back and consume us, like the self-consuming snake, or ouroboros, of which Carl Jung suggests:

This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which [...] unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.

The self-consuming snake implies renewal, or a nagging desire for it; but a renewal preceded by self-destruction. So following this paradigm, we have a future: a future that does not include us.

Overall, the narrative of Richard’s “Metabolism”–lobby and vault–might be a cautionary tale, a looking outward by this artist who seems to see peril on the horizon of our human political and cultural landscape. Like most hegemonic civilizations, our global, interconnected, technology-empowered, overfed society, with so many pushed to the margins by relentless poverty, will likely founder as our Sumerian, Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec, Chinese, Greek and Roman predecessors did.

At a more basic level, as most top of the food chain mammals go, one million years seems to be about the limit before extinction unceremoniously knocks them from the tree of life. We humans, at least as a genus, are these days at about 2.5 million years–a bit past our prime. Then again, humans anatomically and behaviorally identical to us have been around for only about 200,000 years. So statistically, we may have a while to go. Still, there’s nothing to say we moderns don’t break out of the rut of tradition and statistics and extinct ourselves much sooner than our mammalian brethren.

So, if you cast your interpretive net wide, as this writer does, you see that the work shown in the old Detroit Savings Bank by Ms. Richard and her able collaborators, Else, Czarling, and Austin, takes on, if not kicks out, the very underpinnings of modern consumerist society. For that, the artist deserves an extra accolade: she looks inward first, but then outward at the cultural milieu that created her. Rather than being self-absorbed, she presents socially aware work. She offers an indictment of us all for blithely perpetuating the self-destructive world we live in. A slick attorney could submit numerous defenses to this indictment–it’s not a conviction after all–but Ms. Richard demands reflection followed by answers from all of us. And that takes courage on both a personal and professional level.

We might slip through on the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, but unless greater society pays more attention to the evidence that such insightful artists and scientists present, and then change our self-destructive ways, the art and science may survive, locked away in vaults, but we humans will not.

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

 

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism / Cristin Richard & Simone Else
photo: Bruno Vanzieleghem

Metabolism: Cristin Richard, Detroit Design Festival, 25-Sep-2015

 

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March 4, 2014

‘Do The Yale Thing’ at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art Detroit

by Jim Welke

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Do The Yale Thing: An Exhibition of Exceptional Artwork by Recent Yale MFA Graduates, Curated by Dexter Wimberly, at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, Detroit

Do The Yale Thing shows the work of eighteen artists with one thing in common: they did “the Yale thing.” That is, they managed — with no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears — to be accepted and ultimately graduated from the famed Master of Fine Arts program at Yale in New Haven Connecticut.

Dexter Wimberly curated the group show to offer an engaging mix of art where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts — no small feat when you consider the deep pool of artists and work he drew from. Narrowing the selection to these eighteen artists with about forty works in the show surely did not come without a struggle. The art he chose rambles through an eclectic range of topics and styles that manage to find among themselves something to talk about, a reflection of disparate life experience, but glued together by, if not common, then parallel perceptions of the world. These artists, it seems, felt the same forces emanating from the zeitgeist, yet produced widely divergent commentary on it through their artwork. Through this divergence and the bright contrasts of individuality it engenders you appreciate more what each artist achieves as they bend to common external forces yet snap back with a unique expression of those forces. You leave the room feeling the effects of a singular, cohesive experience like it were a voyage through a strange land that turns out in the end to be your own land seen through new eyes.

Caroline Wells Chandler

Bear Culture (top), Power Lines (bottom) / hand-crocheted assorted wool, polyfil / 2012-2013 / Caroline Wells Chandler

Bear Culture  and Power Lines might be the first works you encounter. Crocheted sculptures from Caroline Wells Chandler, they recline on the floor and against the wall in two clusters. A stack long of tubes with dendritic fingers at one end comprises Power Lines. Beyond, a group of crocheted bears recline against the wall. You notice some of the bears have “tubes with dendritic fingers” for legs, If we associate the works, do we witness a stylized act of violence? The crocheted bears embody sweetness and light: they smile and clutch one another. Yet those same bears might have assembled this heap of limbs nearby; the aftermath of a savage massacre. Bear culture, perhaps, shares aspects of our own. Or, not. You need to contemplate this scenario for yourself–therein lies the fun.

Lucia Hierro

YOLO: In Memoriam / digital on jacquard tricot fabric, felt, industrial felt / Lucia Hierro

YOLO: In Memoriam, by Lucia Hierro, offers a quirky but arresting assemblage of objects, imagery, and text that evidently pay homage to the expression “you only live once” — the meaning of the acronym in the title. The centerpiece, a page from a New Yorker short story with selected words highlighted, presents in first person a description of the exploration of another woman’s apartment while the narrator suffers existential angst and regret for her “unlived” life. A cartoon captioned with the eponymous acronym “YOLO” presents the grim reaper knocking at an old man’s door. The artist pinned this page to a felt backing decorated on top with felt flowers, and on the bottom by a felt mockup of a Yankees cap — like a memorial to the dead. Despite the narrative elements, the work remains cryptic and unresolved, pressing us to embrace mystery and get on with life. YOLO.

Micah Ganske

Bethlehem Steel: The Yard / acrylic on muslin / Micah Ganske

Micah Ganske offers three paintings with outsized shadows looming across each. Somehow these shadows — of airplanes in one, the others less clearly defined — produce an ominous effect on these otherwise benign pictures of landscapes seen from above. One, a steel mill (Bethlehem Steel: The Yard), almost seems to celebrate its huffing monstrous achievement, except for that shadow that weighs on the celebration.

Mario Moore

Herstory / oil on copper / 2013 / Mario Moore

Three portraits by Mario Moore project moody introspection. Herstory he painted on copper, and used the metallic sheen to form a glowing frame for his subject, integrated into the room painted behind her. You might think that effect would feel forced, but somehow the artist lets the copper melt into the scene as though a perfectly natural component of a room. Another portrait comes set behind a translucent screen with clear text like bars, “I REALLY DO LIKE COPS I THINK THEY DO A GREAT JOB TEACHING ME HOW TO POLICE MYSELF” — a riff on the police state we find ourselves in, and the especially profound implications a police state has for black men.

Amy Rinaldi

Untitled #3 / rubber, wood, concrete, enamel, acrylic, plastic on panel / 2013 / Amy Rinaldi

Amy Rinaldi’s four wall sculptures with their raw, glossy, rumpled surfaces dare you to react with distaste, but before you know it you move closer and dig in to their varied forms and textures. You find yourself charmed by these warped and stretched rubbery sheets that suggest something precious within.

Thomas Gardiner

Untitled #1 / photo print on paper / Thomas Gardiner

Thomas Gardiner shows three large prints of photographs, each a portrait of decisively different circumstances, but each leaves you wondering how much he staged, and how much he chanced upon. Untitled #1 shows a young black man in a rundown neighborhood poised either to flee or dance. His neutral expression reveals little of his intention, but through sharp focus of the subject, magical lighting, and limited depth of field, the man seems to project from the surface of the image as though animated by the tension contained therein.

Nicole Maloof

The Woods / oil on canvas / 2013 / Nicole Maloof

Nicole Maloof’s three paintings make good use of lighting and feathery brush strokes to produce snapshot like imagery of unforeseen moments. One of her portraits, The Woods, seems at first lighthearted, but the radiant glow of sunlight behind the nude figure, and the figure’s slightly averted face, imbues the picture with a reverent, contemplative aura that grips you unexpectedly.

Gabriela Collins-Fernandez

YOU BOO / oil and glitter on crushed velvet and plastic / Gabriela Collins-Fernandez

Gabriela Collins-Fernandez shows two abstract paintings, each overlaid with assertive text, the third a mixed-media work titled YOU BOO — the letters of which peer out through a gap in some noisy orange crushed velvet. The effect feels playful, but also like an un-deciphered artifact.

Sol Sax

Masqueraders Are The Ancestors of Protestors, The Exclamation Print: From the Dog On Protestor series / digital print / 2013 / Sol Sax

Sol Sax shows a tall, composite photograph, Masqueraders Are The Ancestors of Protestors, The Exclamation Print: From the Dog On Protestor series. The image shows a cop setting a dog on a masquerader in a parade — this suggests the establishment attacking and oppressing “the other” as we so famously have and do in the United States to woeful effect.

Mark Thomas Gibson

Gluttony / acrylic, glitter, ink on paper / Mark Thomas Gibson

Mark Thomas Gibson’s Gluttony presents a mad collage assemblage of toothy maws dripping with purplish slop and spattered with bluish detritus. A funhouse feeling pervades this work, yet the message in the mayhem condemns with unsettling certainty our tendency toward boundless excess.

Rushern Baker IV

Indented Figure / mixed-media on canvas / 2013 / Rushern Baker IV

Rushern Baker IV offers three abstract works, one of which, Indented Figure implies a man merging with his background, sublimated into a hollow schematic of the original being. Seeing this, you can not help thinking of those ghostly profiles left on walls in Hiroshima.

Pao Houa Her

Mom shirtless in bedroom (Desire series) / digital inkjet print / 2012 / Pao Houa Her

Pao Houa Her’s three intimate photographic portraits from her Desire series dispense with flattery. Instead, Lucian Freud like, they invite a cringe; almost urge you to avert your eyes. But from either curiosity or schadenfreude, you stick with these images until you’ve knocked around in their complexity long enough to feel at home in the world therein; a world that offers comfort to the imperfect.

Kenny Rivero

Lady Dancing / oil, acrylic, enamel on canvas / 2012 / Kenny Rivero

The paintings of Kenny Rivero feel reductive, defined as much by what he leaves out as what he includes. But the pictures do not lack for visual interest. While The Water By My House feels vibrant, even (forgive the term) splashy, Lady Dancing induces a sense of stylistic vertigo with a faceless figure as the main subject. Your brain searches to resolve detail that will never appear, but the exercise feels refreshing.

Richard Lewis

Tracy Wearing A Hat / oil on canvas / 2011 / Richard Lewis

Richard Lewis brings two thoughtful portraits. Both present the subject straight on with seemingly objective clarity, but both — like good portraits do — induce an ineffable flash of emotion. Tracy Wearing A Hat, although diminutive, forces its way off the canvas and into your consciousness before you have time to react and get your defenses up.

Doron Langberg

Three Lovers / oil on linen / 2013 / Doron Langberg

Doron Langberg’s work feels ghostly. Figures distort and blend with their background, as though seen through a murky state of consciousness. Three Lovers might be the most extreme example of that deliberate haziness. Glance at the painting and you pick out a figure, but then you see that the shape represents a hole in layered canvas, a void. The effect plays with the contradiction between what you desire to see — three lovers — versus what you do see.

Wayde McIntosh

Hold / oil on canvas / 2012 / Wayde McIntosh

Wayde McIntosh shows three evocative portraits, two of which show a man’s face pressed against glass; violently one assumes. In the third a woman reclines inverted and half off a sofa, her head just touching the floor, feet up on cushions. Wrapped in a red sheet, she appears like an inverted classical Greek statue. In all of these, the state of the subject feels ambiguous: are they alive or dead?

Endia Beal

Ellen / pigment print / 2013 / Endia Beal

Endia Beal’s two photographic portraits feel — in this show — like two forgotten relatives. The pictures each show a precisely dressed and coiffed woman. They wear nearly identical clothes, and their hair follows similar patterns. They look directly at the viewer with mildly amused expressions. They seem like women that inhabit a rigid social structure with conservative restrictions on behavior — sort of what you might imagine for the British aristocracy, but applies equally (or did once) to the upper east side of Manhattan and other east coast bastions of affluence. These women project authority, and you might find yourself standing a bit straighter in front of them despite your will to the contrary.

video installation, Philip Seymour Hoffman clips

Same Voices, Different Rooms / video installation / Tommy Kha

Same Voices, Different Rooms by Tommy Kha occupies one wall (about eight feet wide, the title is a play on a Truman Capote book title). A video projected in a continuous loop shows Philip Seymour Hoffman in various scenes from the movie Capote (possibly other films too?). The scenes feel detached, as though hijacked from the feature film and waiting to go back where they belong. But like video anywhere, you feel yourself pulled toward the lively tension in this one, with Mr. Hoffman intoning in that squeaky, abrasive voice. The effect of the video seems to be to leave the viewer feeling as detached as the scenes, disengaged from the real world. The real world of the gallery, that is. The work picks up added poignancy after Mr. Hoffman’s sudden premature death.

Do The Yale Thing runs through 21-March-2014 — you would do well not to miss it. George N’Namdi brings exhibitions to his gallery with a precise eye toward Detroit sensibilities both past and present. His artists capture the zeitgeist and creative essence of Detroit with rare refinement. Visit N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art often. You won’t be disappointed.

Worth a review in its own right was a show up during this writer’s visit of work by local high school students from a contest sponsored by Detroit-area McDonald’s owners called Black History Moments on Canvas. The show ran through Black History month. You can see the work here: BLACKMOMENTSONCANVAS.COM

Please have a look at our site, artifizz.org, and check out our other reviews.

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February 28, 2014

UNBOUND: WSU MFA 2 Thesis Exhibition–Wayne State University–Detroit

by Jim Welke

UNBOUND: WSU MFA 2 Thesis Exhibition–Wayne State University–Detroit thru 7-Mar with work by: Laurie D’Alessandro, Kyle Dill, Ani Garabedian, and Hiroko Lancour

“Unbound” forms the theme for this master’s thesis show. Despite that thread running through, the personality and outlook of each artist indisputably surfaces — bound as it were to their masterful work. As you might expect from students about to receive a master of fine arts degree, they delivered with meticulous attention to detail. In the gallery, you can almost sense how taught such a high stake show must stretch out the nerves of the artist — the intensity therein warms you on entering.

Laurie D’Alessandro offers works with a distilled, ethereal, denatured quality. She teases the essential elements from everyday things, leaving behind a vaporous residue of the original object almost like holographic projections of their souls.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt / tarlatan, cotton thread, buttons / 2013 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt / tarlatan, cotton thread, buttons / 2013 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

White Shirt Deconstructed / 2013 / tarlatan, cotton thread / Laurie D’Alessandro

Brother’s Shirt and White Shirt Deconstructed demonstrate this effect with startling clarity. The originals are there, but not there and you find yourself wondering what “there” really means.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Pine on Mulberry #2 (triptych) / graphite frottage on Mulberry paper / 2014 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Pine on Mulberry #2 (detail) / graphite frottage on Mulberry paper / 2014 / Laurie D’Alessandro

With a frottage triptych, Pine on Mulberry #2, Ms. D’Alessandro once again dissolves the source object to reveal its textural essence, its interface to our vision. The tree evaporates, but the impression of it persists.

Laurie D’Alessandro

Polar Ice Cap / fiber, scoring out on silk / 2012 / Laurie D’Alessandro

Laurie D’Alessandro

Polar Ice Cap / fiber, scoring out on silk / 2012 / Laurie D’Alessandro

In Polar Ice Cap, Ms. D’Alessandro plays with time as well as content. Using diaphanous silk, she represents phases of Arctic ice cap melting (either seasonally, or through years of irreversible global warming, the likelier explanation). This work departs from her previous pieces by visualizing for us something usually out of reach and out of mind (but not inconsequential). By abstracting the ice to ghostly overlays, she brings our focus to altered dimensions of the ice as time progresses through layered cloth. With inconceivably precise execution and eloquent selection of subject matter, Ms. D’Alessandro brings her viewer in touch with her unique vision of things we know of, but through familiarity (or possibly willful omission in the case of the ice) we no longer really see. She puts us back in the head of a child, seeing a world with layer upon layer of complexity revealed incrementally.

Kyle Dill also repositions everyday flotsam and jetsam to emphasize the elemental form that comprises it. Most of the works he presents refer to the ubiquitous packaging (specifically, cardboard boxes) we encounter like cocoons enveloping our consumer purchases. This packaging isolates and presents an obstacle to the thing we desire within — like gulls fishing for crabs we snatch up the package and burrow through the carapace for the meat inside, heedless of the exterior. But, Mr. Dill tosses out the precious insides, and hands us back the shell, re-worked and re-formulated so that we encounter it as a substantial creation in its own right. That’s not a trivial accomplishment considering our saturation in this stuff that represents nothing but friction in our existence. We want so much to ignore it, to dispatch it, to be done with it once and for all. But there it is, Mr. Dill seems to say. Look at it. Appreciate it. Even admire it.

Kyle Dill

Waffle Box / copper, wood, paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Easy Vender (Fridge Mate) / copper / 2013 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Lift to Open / drywall paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Kyle Dill

Lift to Open / drywall paint / 2014 / Kyle Dill

Starting with Waffle Box, Mr. Dill takes us through a progression from the effectively two-dimensional source material, flat and unfolded, to the nearly realized but still nascent Easy Vender, to the monumental and complete Lift to Open where he converts an entire wall into concealing refuse. With these works, and numerous others throughout the show, Mr. Dill brings both skill and vision to bear, and takes us on a journey inside the box… so to speak.

Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami 3-11-2011 / silkscreen on hand-dyed linen / 2012 / Hiroko Lancour

Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami 3-11-2011 (detail) / silkscreen on hand-dyed linen / 2012 / Hiroko Lancour

Tsunami, by Hiroko Lancour, signals what seems to be a persistent theme in her work — perception, or possibly misperception. She seems to toy with visual as well as emotional cues to force us to re-see the subjects of her work. Tsunami gives us an elegant linen print enlivened with delicate geometric patterns. But at the center of each swirl we find a date printed: 3.11.2011 — the day the tsunami hit northeastern Japan with devastating effects. Enjoy the pretty, but memorialize this day. Nothing comes without a price she seems to say.

Hiroko Lancour

Curved but Straight: Seeing With Detached Retinas 1 / acrylic on canvas / 2013 / Hiroko Lancour

With Curved but Straight: Seeing With Detached Retinas 1, Ms. Lancour gives us a view of uniform, equidistant squares that should form a graph-paper grid of geometric perfection — but don’t. The contrasting colors and outlines put the grid in topsy-turvy motion to induce an unnerving vertigo in the viewer. This picture, like all good op art, takes control of your optical sensory hardware — eyes and brain — and dissolves what you thought were immutable, Euclidean constants.

Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso / Japanese Hosho paper, sumi ink, vermillion ink, vellum paper, pencil / 2014 / Hiroko Lancour

Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso / Japanese Hosho paper, sumi ink, vermillion ink, vellum paper, pencil / 2014 / Hiroko Lancour

Chance Operations: Enso, according to an explanatory video that accompanies the work, takes its inspiration from John Cage and his use of chance (via the I Ching) to formulate music. Here, Ms. Lancour used dice to fix the color and orientation of her symbols. This work feels a bit less visceral and immediate than Ms. Lancour’s other work in the show. The adjacent charts and tables detach the viewer further from the visual impressions inherent in the prints. Still, this work offers a useful window into the sometimes arbitrary process of art making and for that, if no other reason, it is worth a close look. But there is another reason to look: the images offer Ellsworth Kelly-like simplicity of form and color, and possess esthetic quality that stands firm with no prior knowledge of the process. So take them both ways: process and picture; intellectual and emotional. (Gerhard Richter made interesting use of chance too, in his color chart paintings — the element of chance in art recurs.)

Ani Garabedian

Stripes / oil on canvas / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian

Stripes (detail) / oil on canvas / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian works with paint, or in her mixed-media work: colored pencil, oil pastel, graphite and charcoal. All of her work shows a kinetic quality, mindful of time flickering by; of light perpetually evolving and transforming the scene at hand. In her painting, usually figurative, her markings come soft and quick, with not a lot of thick layers to force a sense of depth. For depth she relies on light and shade, in seeming motion as you gaze into her work. Stripes feels like a good example of where she captures the intensity and fragility of the moment like a snapshot. Here and there thinned paint runs down the canvas, compelled by gravity to do its own thing — in the moment — unbound as the show theme suggests.

Ani Garabedian

The Beginning of a New Beginning (Hubbard Lake) / oil on canvas / 2014 / Ani Garabedian

The Beginning of a New Beginning (Hubbard Lake) evidences this seemingly rapid, documentary style further. In this work, fragmentary outlines hover adjacent to the subjects and imagery intersects; figures blur into the background. Light seems to move and shift. All this suggests haste in execution, but these works do not convey impatience so much as a meditation on the evanescent nature of our existence.

Ani Garabedian

Catamaran / mixed-media on paper / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

Ani Garabedian

Feed / mixed-media on paper / 2013 / Ani Garabedian

In Catamaran and Feed and other mixed-media works where paint and pencil merge, Ms. Garabedian further accentuates kineticism over realism and spatial accuracy. The figures in both these works focus on the business at hand. They do not pose for the artist. In fact, they seem indifferent to the artist; indifferent to portraiture vanity. These pictures exude liveliness, an unmoored vibrancy that leads the viewer to believe these scenes do change from one moment to the next. Blink your eye and you see the next frame on an endless reel. That reflects a masterful winnowing of detail and application of marks only where essential. One wonders with anticipation where Ms. Garabedian will take this already acutely evolved style.

In fact, one wonders where every artist in this show will take their crisply defined style. They went all out and embraced risk as a friend. The risk-taking paid off, it seems. Cheers and congratulations to the artists in both the MFA1 & MFA2 shows. Cheers too, for the instructors who find the right mix of support and objective criticism to keep their students on track, yet fearless. Right on!

 

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January 24, 2014

Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition

by Jim Welke

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Raise your hand if you visited a student art exhibition in the last year. Well? Well, this writer might have kept his hands in his pockets, but for the MFA graduate show in the Wayne State Community Arts Art Department Gallery (Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition: part 1 of 2, part 2 opens 14-Feb).

The gallery extends long and narrow with a north-facing wall of glass that offers a first-class view of the McGregor Reflecting Pool (which appears as a scene from Dr. Zhivago this time of year). Most of the light in the gallery comes from that cool northern glow reflected off snow and flatters the work therein.

Clara W. DeGalan

Free Storm Hush in the Neighborhood II / Clara W. DeGalan

Clara W. DeGalan, a Detroit native, finesses large charcoal drawings with skill that astonishes. Charcoal can be messy, and to create large, detailed works that consist of more than a few broad sweeps must be a daunting task. But she does it over and over. Free Storm Hush in the Neighborhood II offers that sense of natural harmony and balance you might find in a pastoral landscape, but instead it shows a collection of buildings intersected by a chain link fence and overhead wires — it feels urban, but the buildings appear non-descript enough that they could be outbuildings on a farm. Snow covers the scene and no humans complicate the view with their tendency to obstruct serenity.

Passed This Way Before / Clara W. DeGalan

Passed This Way Before / Clara W. DeGalan

But there’s something else hovering in another dimension of Ms. DeGalan’s work. All her works here, at first glance, feel serene and the figurative pictures bring the warmth — or heat — you get from human close-ups. And then you sense an Edgar Allen Poe-esque, Gothic-novel, sinister presence. Her painting, Passed This Way Before, which appears to show a mirror standing in an sun-dappled alley way or street, surrounded by a lush growth of bushes and trees with a tall building in the distant background, and another building reflected in the mirror. The picture, executed in gentle, blurry brushstrokes and diluted colors, feels comforting. Yet, like a well-placed metaphor in a short story, that inexplicable reflection and the sharp angular washes of light and shadow somehow suggest either foreboding or a dark memory.

June 1982 (The Kiss) / Clara W. DeGalan

June 1982 (The Kiss) / Clara W. DeGalan

June 1982 (The Kiss) creates a similar baleful sense of mystery. Who kisses the girl in the pool? Why does the woman kissing the girl wear all white? What does she hold in her other hand, the one obscured by her uniform-like dress? Why does the girl have the pool all to herself? Aside from the girl and the woman, the scene fills with contrasting angles; a restrictive crosshatched wall behind them. The picture feels documentary, like a snapshot, a fleeting moment in time that leaves the viewer wondering about the prologue and epilogue. Or so this writer sees it. Maybe the dark is not there at all, but when you get up close to these works you sense complexity. That much is sure.

 

*******

Beard Triptych 2 / Alex Drummer

Beard Triptych 2 / Alex Drummer

Alex Drummer earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metalworking. For his master’s thesis show, he presents a series of knitted beard triptychs that surely set a mind to wondering. The knit work appears well made, and one needs to be impressed that a man who pursued metalworking with such assiduous application might as easily take up knitting. So there’s that.

Alex Drummer

Beard Triptych 4 / Alex Drummer

But why knitted beards? Well we all wear costumes and disguises to get through our difficult lives, and we change those costumes and disguises as circumstance requires. Flanking each of the five knitted beards mounted on boards, Mr. Drummer presents photographs of men and women wearing the beards, hence triptychs. The unnaturally colored beards, almost like witty commentary on the fashion of such beards in some circles, conceal the faces of the wearers to the point of obscuring their identifying features, even their sex — women wearing beards? Perhaps Mr. Drummer suggests more than mere social disguises here, but something of general utility to hide us from the Orwellian eyes of our burgeoning surveillance state? Perhaps a comment on controlling religious codes that require beards for men, or head coverings for women? As a playful nod to the inevitable question: What would I look like in one of those? Mr. Drummer offers Portrait Beard 2, which allow the visitor to prop themselves before a suspended knit beard and view themselves in a mirror. These are fun works, but not so lightly dismissed if you ponder the underlying motivation for their making.

 

Alex Drummer

Portrait Beard 2 / Alex Drummer

*******

Emilee Arter offers big, sculptural works formed of various natural and synthetic fabrics along with tape and other fasteners. These pieces will likely mystify the viewer on first approach — the drapes and folds confront the viewer with seemingly chaotic turmoil. Yet as one gazes into them, you sense harmony, a balance created by non-random forces, a stasis that which naturally occurs in ecological niches with their hard won, long-evolved symbiotic relationships. And then there are the titles, which for certain were labored over for precise tonal affect like spare lines in a poem.

Emilee Arter

His Prediction was a Question, Not a Statement / Emilee Arter

His Prediction was a Question, Not a Statement is a title the visitor can sink their teeth into. And the work offers the least cohesive assembly of the collection from Ms. Arter, as though the work were something else once, and now represents the aftermath of the prediction misinterpreted, an explosion with woeful consequences of lost opportunity.

I’ll Never Forget Last September / Emilee Arter

I’ll Never Forget Last September / Emilee Arter

I’ll Never Forget Last September inevitably forces the visitor to contemplate their own Septembers. This writer immediately remembered a camping trip on the shore of Lake Superior and a night deluged by rain that left belongings floating in the old tent. One can see this work as that tent, dashed asunder. Or not. The plastics and dark, almost internal organ-like colors will elicit a multitude of reactions. But the September that it will most universally summons is that infamous September day, the eleventh of 2001.

Conquest / Emilee Arter

Conquest / Emilee Arter

Conquest, oddly, given its title, feels like the gentlest work presented by Ms. Arter. Burlap sacks with various printed source and content declarations fold and drape to reach an off-center pinnacle with a banner-like strand extending outward like those colorful banners atop medieval circus tents. Shredded and tumultuous toward the interior, the burlap at the boundaries forms flowing arcs that feel almost musical, thus perhaps that sensation of a caress rather than a slap. This works also seems to offer commentary on global consumerist trade and the piles of detritus it creates, detritus that often ends up floating on the surface of oceans, swirled and nudged into forms echoing those here. Find your own path into this work, but give it time. Abstraction provokes unique associations in every viewer. That’s the fun — and challenge — of it. Treat yourself. Go see these and the other works in the show.

Wayne State University MFA 1 Thesis Exhibition runs through 7 February. The second half opens 14-February.

 

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July 30, 2013

muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint @ Butter Projects

by Jim Welke

muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint -- project concept by Alison Wong

muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint — project concept by Alison Wong

Not every gallery group show springs from a gallery operator’s urge to shower accolades on the artists invited. Sometimes the gallery takes a little more capricious approach when formulating a show. As evidence, consider muslin.charcoal.brick.sticks.rope.paint at Butter Projects in Royal Oak MI (opened 26-July, runs thru 30-Aug-2013).

Alison Wong, the director and co-founder of Butter Projects (recently joined by her partner, John Charnota, who will develop additional programming: workshops, publications, and other one-offs), premised this show on the requirement that the artists create works using only the materials indicated in the title of the show. Further, Ms. Wong apportioned those materials equally to each artist. So, participants were faced with the challenge of creating an artwork in a limited period, using a limited set of media.

The artists are: Laura Beyer, Brittany Campbell, Andy Krieger, Sarah Lapinksi, Ash Nowak, and Bailey Scieszka.

The outcome proved engaging. Participants created artwork that reflected their predilections, but all of the works shared the provided common elements: muslin, charcoal (roughly 1/2” thick, 6” sticks), brick (red, with three perforations), sticks (plain, old Michigan branches — maple, oak, whatever), rope (that cheesy yellow nylon, about 3/8”), paint (kind of a grayish, cornflower blue).

To see the ensuing creations felt sort of like watching a bunch of recruits go through induction into the military. All the distinguishing characteristics they show up with are stripped away, and from the other end of the tunnel emerges the same crew, but with more in common than vice versa. That’s a complicated way of saying the artists imbued these works with their personalities, but the materials also imposed themselves on the artists. Factor in the stakes — at least a bit of the artists’ credibility and reputation — along with some inevitable competitiveness, and out of the sausage machine comes some rare specimens.

On one wall of the gallery, near the back, near the administrative/wine-and-cheese-cube section, there hangs a sheet of white sheetrock with samples of the apportioned materials affixed in orderly rows and columns like you might see products proudly arrayed in the lobby of a widget factory. This board represents the starting point for the artists, their mission if they choose to accept it. And their mission was not a nice, linear, point-A-to-point-B kind of assignment, like build a picnic table or leisure suit from these materials. All they got were the materials and no other guidance. Take the stuff and go. And don’t come back until you’ve got something you’re willing to hang on the wall (or stand on the floor) and point to it, and say to the world, “That’s my creation.”

Yes. I do think it took courage for these artists to accept this mission. Not art school, classroom, what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas courage, but real world, no one forgets, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately-courage.

But for visitors to the gallery the experience was all fun and games, either from now thru the end of August, or at the opening, which was probably the most fun because all the artists where there, and at openings you get to toss out ill-considered observations and the poor folks who struggled to lay gifts at your feet must politely listen and respond enthusiastically. That takes courage, too.

Fun and games with an edge might describe it more accurately. Art never comes devoid of an edge. At least not art worth mentioning. If it lacks edge, then it might be pure craft — even high-quality, worth-owning craft — but not art. So as the visitor moves through the gallery, she observes the works created from these six not entirely complementary materials and wonders what she’s looking at. Is it as simple as it seems?

If you enter through the front door (as you should), a creation by Laura Byer titled Curtain might be the first thing you see. She calls it a window treatment, which sounds too pedestrian for what she did to the windows. She applied bushels of sticks, some painted, some au naturel, all bound into loose, cable and wing-like constructs. Some sticks wrapped in muslin, some loosely bound by muslin so that the muslin becomes sort of a tendon that pulls the bones together. Nylon rope, stripped into its constituent fibers, formed the more structural ligaments along the vertical, supporting columns of sticks. The final element, bricks, formed a foundation line along the bottom of the windows, which the whole affair framed with dramatic effect. Looking through the gallery windows framed with this “treatment,” you feel yourself transported backward into a pre-industrial world of thatch and twine, bones and sinew, rough-hewn existence where you became what you made with your hands. Nothing else, beyond your natural unsympathetic surroundings existed. Curtain doesn’t dress up a window, it creates one — a big one.

Curtain / Laura Byer

Curtain / Laura Byer

Curtain / Laura Byer

Curtain / Laura Byer

Next, on your right, you might spot a smaller-scaled installation, Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts, by Ash Nowak: a series of three banner-like swaths of muslin, about the size of place mats, suspended from sticks threaded through sleeves sewn in the top — sewn with strands of yellow nylon rope fiber. The sticks, in turn, were attached to the wall by lengths of that yellow rope tied to each end of the stick, and elevated in the center to form a triangle. On the muslin, near the bottom, are marks made with the requisite charcoal stick; marks applied as obtuse-angled hatch marks that take on the appearance of a field of grain, perhaps. Or, the evaporating surface of a fermenting corn mash if you’re into bourbon, which this writer is. Together, the banners, each similarly marked, form a triptych that somehow calms the viewer’s mind (this viewer at least) with its constancy, balance, and gentle assertion.

 

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Signals, Shorthand, and other Alerts / Ash Nowak

Moving counter-clockwise, the next object one encounters will be a mixed-media sculpture/installation that should dispel some of the calm found in the previous work. Brick Face Rope Lips, created by Bailey Scieszka, captures an enervating presence. Comprised of a suit of clothing constructed of linen (muslin, with poetic license), the pants adorned with words scrawled on them in charcoal, the jacket painted with a brick-like pattern of muslin-beige and that grayish, cornflower blue. Enshrouded by the jacket, forming the trunk of a headless being, a video monitor plays an endless loop showing a masked, brick-patterned face with lips of yellow rope against a brick-ish background field similar in color and pattern to that painted on the jacket. One hand of a person — a spirit — holds the mask in place, while the other continuously reapplies lip-gloss to the rope lips. Headphones continuously emit a musical beat — a slowed down version of the early 90′s group Ace of Base “all that she wants” (see video). The effect, after donning the headphones, feels sort of disturbing in a voyeuristic way. You can’t be sure what to make of this creature, neither alive nor dead. Zombie-like perhaps. But the sculpture snares you with its disarming, rag-tag uniform, technological spectacle, and ritual-like lip-gloss application to a lifeless mask. You feel sort of ripped out of the moment, whatever moment you were in, and dropped on a remote island where the native non-human beings do strange things for unknown but important reasons.

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Brick Face Rope Lips / Bailey Scieszka

Next, you will encounter Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine, an installation by Brittany Campbell with a more direct application of video — at least in the sense we usually think of video: to present an evolving story or documentary. Here, a flat monitor dominates a dividing wall of the gallery. Elements of the project, and constituents of the video — sticks, charcoal, a brick — surround the monitor, protruding mysteriously from the wall as though transposed there by a quantum anomaly. Cornstalks painted blue, with roots wrapped in muslin and bound with yellow rope, spread out into the gallery and extend the field of this work beyond that one wall where they overtake the room like overfed GMO crops gone astray. In the video, we see hands resting on crossed legs that incrementally carve a point onto a charcoal stick; cut to the hand tracing a delicate outline on a bicep, followed by a series of cuts to bucolic outdoor scenes: the rope as a jump rope, the corn as it is painted blue, a sun-dappled patch of lush grass, a face seen through one of those brick perforations as fingertips apply charcoal to the inner surface, sticks laid down and set alight, sticks propped vertically and set alight (to create charcoal). Here, another ritual, more familiar than that in the previous work, but equally enigmatic — perhaps more enigmatic in its deeper complexity and longer series of unexplained events. You don’t know what you are witnessing, but you know it holds significance for the participant, like a prelude to tragic journey, or the beginning of a momentous, irreversible act.

 

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Cornfields Smell Better In Sunshine / Brittany Campbell

Next a work by Sarah Lapinski, You Have to Earn the Yes, suspended from ductwork near the ceiling via diaphanous threads, a ladder made of that yellow rope binding together rungs of sticks. Hovering there in space, suspended by all but invisible threads, this ladder does not appear to be for the here and now, for flesh and blood beings of ponderous substance. Children perhaps could ascend it if it were securely suspended. But it’s not. It hangs there, provoking you to wonder if it’s purely a representation of a ladder; a ladder as symbol for some other act or force; a ladder to Heaven or from Hell. Given the latter option, one feels a bit deflated at finding oneself already down here. Given the former, one feels a bit discouraged by the impossibility of safe ascent. Either way you lose. C’est la vie, mes copains. But, on the wall just behind the ladder you find a sort of shrine to hope: a collection of muslin swatches, about the size of handkerchiefs folded in half, pinned to the wall. Adjacent, another bit reads, “Put on this hook.” And adjacent to that, a hook for pieces from the first set, but inscribed with charcoal by gallery visitors. On the right side, you only read the top leaf, unless you’re particularly assertive and lift each one to reveal those underneath. But that would be an infraction. As you pencil in your words with the earthy charcoal stick (coloring your fingers with carbon black) you add a line to a poem or a prayer in progress for which you might not know the preceding lines and certainly don’t know the following. This work presents endless collaborative possibility — at least until the swatches run out. Then one faces a decision: replenish the blanks, or do laundry and wash away the past. Either way, the ladder waits, so write well.

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

You Have to Earn the Yes / Sarah Lapinski

Finally, you come to an installation by Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon, comprised of a painting on a concave, conic-section of arcing wood overstretched with canvas. A blue moon emerges from a forest of inky, charcoal black branches interlocked as a screen penetrable only by light (and dark). Like a provocative sentinel, a column topped with a miniature catapult (trebuchet, if you’re into Medieval French, we’re told) and a pile of brick fragments stands before the painting. The catapult, constructed of sticks and rope, aims at the center of that gorgeous, ominous werewolf moon. The execution of these constituent elements is so sublime, the moon and trees rendered so lush, you take it all for granted. “Mad At The Moon,” you are invited to launch brick shards into the lunar surface. “Of course,” you say to yourself as you wind up and let fly.

During the run of the exhibition the gallery is open on Friday from 1-5, Saturday 1-3, and by appointment. Closing reception on August 30th at 7pm — get out and see the show, it’s worth it.

 

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

 

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Andy Krieger, Mad at the Moon

Alison Wong getting it together...

Alison Wong getting it together…

 

October 2, 2009

textiles

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