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In the Neighborhood: Arts & Culture in Washtenaw County

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Over the summer I was contacted by Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and my friend Decky Alexander, Director of Engage at EMU to participate as a Navigator for In the Neighborhood, a new initiative to gather answers from residents about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. My role was to identify two artists who would facilitate an event, culling answers from ten attendees while creating art in tandem with conversation. Priority was given to getting to the root of what our neighborhoods feel like, how they do or don't function, who was making art, who was being heard and who wasn't. It was a tall order to fill. 

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A while back Nick and I had worked on this idea to bring students and professionals to prepare and share meals together. The idea was not funded but I thought this was an opportunity to build a "safe" environment while enjoying in food. It was also a chance to build an ephemeral art happening where we had no clue what the outcome would be. 

The first artist I called upon was Marisa Dluge. As a performer with a effervescent presence, I knew she would be phenomenal at harnessing the energy of a group. She came up with the brilliant idea to include Elize Jekabson, chef and sculptor. As we started brainstorming, it was evident Elize's contribution would be key to the art building process and reflection aspect of the project. One of our planning meetings took place at Hyperion Coffee. It wasn't until I counted the chairs at the beautiful wood surface that I realized there were 10 chairs.  We were sitting at the surface our evening would take place at. Eric Mullins, one of the proprietors (and dinner guests) was generous in his time and effort and quickly agreed to let us hold the dinner there. Nick documented the evening, of course. 

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We invited guests based on who we thought would have a valuable voice but may not have the platform to share these ideas regularly. The group included artists, a musician, belly dancer, event planner, and three high school students very involved in The Learning Studio

We centered our courses around key questions the AAACF was seeking responses to. We pared them down to five courses. 

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Course 1: Building | Salad: How do you define your neighborhood? 

Course 2: Drawing | Sauces: What does the arts and cultural landscape look like? Feel like in your neighborhood?

Course 3: Deconstruction | Rice Rolls: What's missing from your neighborhood?

Course 4: Dialogue | Lasagna

Course 5: Closing | Ice cream

 

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Over the course of the evening we realized our goal to serve, document, and capture five courses was a bit lofty. (In the interest of time, we skipped the Deconstruction course. By then everyone was hungry after an hour of conversation and building). The conversation between strangers was flowing and organic, unearthing more pondering. It's difficult to convey how rich the conversation was but a few key lines resonated with me. 

What builds your neighborhood isn’t just your neighbors…it could be the way the air smells. 

It has potential but it’s just not used. The people there can be something or someone but they choose to involve themselves in the streets. There’s a lot of athletes where I live but they involve themselves in the wrong crowd, messing them over. 

I’m an outcast, I’ve been in Ypsi for the last 10 years or so. Now I live in College Heights and there’s me driving down the road in a rusty ass truck. And they’re all with their kids and strollers and I’m like “never”. 

I don’t interact with my neighbors too much. We live in an apartment complex. I recognize a good chunk of you from being around Ypsi. It’s an abstract idea, but I know a group of people around Ypsi I have things in common with. 

So maybe neighborhood is more in the people you know. 

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After building the first course:

We were trying to create the Water Tower - something that everyone identifies with as a landmark. My north star. 

This is the best representation of a neighborhood because we all did our own thing. We blended. We didn’t discuss but we worked well together and that shows how a neighborhood works. 

There’s a lot of connections and overlaps in pockets of art. I think it’s organic. 

Classes around neighborhoods. Upper class is sitting on green, they have a lot of “cheese”. This is some hurdles to jump over in order to move up. We were looking at different lines of watermelon. Some are rich, clean, better off than the ones down here…the ones are chewed up, spit out. 

The streets are messed up with a lot of construction. I used balsamic to show the streets are messed up. 

There’s a real class divided in the way arts and culture lives here. 

I disagree that there are a lot of places to play music. 

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After the second drawing course:

Isolation, I drew an art community, isolated because people usually don’t see the actual value of art. People who see art can acknowledge what’s happening but others see it as another painting, it’s isolated to the world of the artists, whether it’s photography or painting. 

An Ypsi Mandala. It represents myself in the middle. This represents the growth I’ve experienced since I’ve moved here. Lines of connection, it is in who you know. 

My art world is so cool…and no one judges me for it. 

I’m a white dude, it’s easy for me to have access to all that stuff. I come from a family with means…not everybody can do that. I’m not always sure what to do about that. 

There’s still a need for spaces that are not downtown or in Depot Town. 

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As I was listening to the conversation I heard yearning for inclusion, more spaces for performative work (including spoken word, theater, music) and a general wish to have high quality programs that are affordable or free. Ypsilanti is chock full of talent and opportunity, it's a matter of converging resources and distributing information so it reaches everyone. 

Access was also a factor which could prohibit students and adults from consuming arts and culture in the county. Whether it's transportation, social familiarity or cultural access, there are barriers which keep people from enjoying an event. The students came up with especially thoughtful points on how one person's art could be mean something else altogether to someone else. We were the first of the In the Neighborhood events produced, there will one more in Ypsilanti and another in Ann Arbor soon. I'm hopeful for the outcome of these productions and what will be created as a result of these meaningful conversations. I'll end with my favorite quote of the evening. 

I feel like art can connect all of us. 

 

 

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The Transported Man at Broad Art Museum

Yesterday was a picturesque fall day, blue skies, brisk wind, warm and full sunshine. I was in East Lansing meeting a dear friend for lunch. Afterwards we decided to head to Broad Art Museum. If you've never been to the namesake museum of husband and wife contemporary collectors, Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with "road"), it's worth the effort. The exhibits are easily accessible and you can spend an afternoon or a few minutes taking in a gallery or two. We bypassed the basement galleries in the interest of time. The jutting lines of the museum are quite beautiful against the pomp and circumstance of MSU's classical buildings. 

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We entered through the west side of the building where we were met with some full-on floor to ceiling trippy, Dada-esque imagery. The exhibit was titled TOILETPAPER.

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 Maurizio Cattelan, TOILETPAPER

Maurizio Cattelan, TOILETPAPER

The current main exhibit, The Transported Man, is group exhibition with a number of effective and jaw-dropping works. Inspired by the 1995 novel (and a movie that I will actually watch more than once), The Prestige, asks viewers to suspend their notion of what is reality and believe in the trickery in front of them. 

"The Transported Man exemplifies the three phases of a magic trick, wherein a magician appears onstage (the Pledge), disappears through a door (the Turn), and reappears immediately through another door (the Prestige)."

 Ugo Rondinone,  Clockwork for Oracles I , 2008

Ugo Rondinone, Clockwork for Oracles I, 2008

I took a number of awful photos on my phone. Hence, the limited number of images. But I couldn't help but stop in my tracks when I saw Daniel Firman's elephant in the room. 

 Daniel Firman,  Loxodont , 2017, resin 

Daniel Firman, Loxodont, 2017, resin 

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I'm not typically one for "bigger is better" but this is one of those pieces you have to see to believe. Known for suspension and balance, Firman's work since 2008 has centered around life size elephants (at one time models of taxidermy) installed in precarious moments. Only after I had referred to the wall and saw that it was "resin", could I circle around the Goliath. I had a visceral response to not only the massiveness, but I was also holding on to the belief that at any moment, the grip of the trunk could be compromised and the 900 pound elephant would come crashing down. (The installation came in three pieces and barely fit through the freight elevator). 

You can feel the desperateness, a pull of falling yet holding on, that moment before the fibers give way, and the inevitable may happen. It's quite delightful and horrifying at the same time. 

There are some other delightful elements of the show, a rumbling intermittent "thunder" produced by instruments. And there's a sweet little Marcel Duchamp tucked upstairs. I also thoroughly enjoyed Ryan Gander's Nathaniel Knows, an installation piece in a quiet room of its own, drywall pulled away to reveal an otherworldly outdoors through a small opening in the floor. It's eerie effect is given even more power as my friend and I got down on our hands and knees and peered in. 

Robin Meier and André Gwerder's piece, Synchronicity, is an immersive experience led by a docent. We walked into a tent (and then another) and entered a world of red glowing outdoors. Inside you hear white noise, buzzing, you see dry brush, bushes, record players, a metronome-pendulum swinging. As the docent stops it, she explains there are crickets chirping as they've assimilated to the artificial noise created. There were lightning bugs glowing to the environmental lights but they sadly succumbed after an arduous trip from Thailand and then being on display for so long...

See a slideshow of some of the pieces mentioned here

The Transported Man is only showing through October 22nd, 2017. If you have an opportunity, I highly recommend a visit to give yourself a moment away from reality. 

Broad Art Museum | Michigan State University, 547 East Circle Drive | $10 suggested donation | Open Tuesday through Sunday, 12-7 pm

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Murakami at MCA

We had the opportunity to stroll through the Takashi Murakami show at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago recently and it was a treat. The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, as its aptly called is just as queer as it is enchanting. I've been following his work since the onslaught of contemporary works took over in the early 2000s at auction. I consider Murakami in the same vein of notoriety as Jeff Koons, Ai Wei Wei, Yayoi Kusama, but even more commercial. His collaboration with Louis Vuitton and Kanye West covers prove that.

Because I love illustration and graphic novels, his anime and pop creatures have always spoken to my love of heavy linework and flat color. In his early work you can see undulating lines and texture forming a foundation for the heavily layered later canvases.

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I particularly enjoyed the works around 2008 (above), where Murakami directed his works toward classical elements and figures. Japanese congi and motifs occupied much of the otherwise modern canvases. Demonic like monoliths were also a highlight with their larger-than-life presence, hovering over us like evil deities. Below, blacklights glowed a mystic light over long scroll paintings, reminiscent of Japanese decorative drawings.

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 Some of us enjoyed the show more than others.

Some of us enjoyed the show more than others.

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Murakami's latest works were gigantic genre paintings, capturing everyday imagery of life but hyper stylized to capture the advent of technological advances in paint, layering, digital illustration. They were a bit raucous, like Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights on LSD. The application of paint was overwrought for me but the video of the process and the sheer manpower it takes to produce his ideas is staggering. Not to mention the plethora of paint and the spectrum in his palette. It's quite impressive. 

The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg is runs through September 11th and is included with regular admission. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago. 

 

 

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