Outrage

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An assortment of artifacts from various political demonstrations, by Susan Fecteau

In this age of politics as warfare by other means,  16 contemporary Michigan artists have joined together to engage the enemy in Outrage, an exhibition of political art at 22 North Gallery in Ypsilanti from October 6 – 27.  The views expressed in this polemic exhibit go from left-of-center to far-far-left, and the mood ranges from existential dread to red-eyed anger to comic despair.

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World’s Smallest Man by Terri Sarris

Outrage was organized and curated by 3 like-minded artists, Susan Fecteau, John Gutoskey and Leslie Sobel, all of them politically active. Fecteau is noted in the area for her humorous but pointed political comments chalked on sidewalks outside the Ann Arbor residence of Governor Rick Snyder. Leslie Sobel is a longtime climate change artist-activist and John Gutoskey is a painter and printmaker whose focus is LGBT rights.  “The three of us met together with other artists in January, [2017] to talk about what we …could do in response to what seemed like the coming apocalypse,” says Sobel. “We weren’t really sure what we would get,” adds Gutoskey.

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Mother Fucking Assholes, box by John Gutoskey

Sobel comments about the work in the gallery, “It’s an interesting mix because there are artists in this room… who don’t normally do political work, and who have felt moved to do political work and there are some of us who have done political work as the subtext but not necessarily overtly in-your-face all of the time and some of it is very much in-your-face all of the time.”

Susan Fecteau’s art practice reflects her strong and ongoing activism, and goes from the nuts-and-bolts creation of signs for demonstrations to more object-driven expressions of her political views. She describes her ongoing sign-making project: “As artists, we felt we could really help people make effective signs, and probably the best thing we did was provide materials.  I scrounged a couple of truck loads of card board and we got sticks and paint… so we invited people to come over prior to any significant local protests, [and] we have continued that work.”

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How to Find your Spine, poster  by John Gutoskey

Humor is employed throughout the exhibit in the service of  political protest. Margaret Parker’s t-shirt design delivers a hilarious primal scream –or maybe a shout-out –for those of us who just can’t take it any more. Wooden boxes by John Gutoskey are well crafted, icy satire, and his posters are equally pointed and funny. Sam G. Fecteau Brown’s graffiti-encrusted toy trains and Val Mann’s embroidered vintage baby clothes are a softer, but no less urgent, expression of disquiet at this political moment. The sculpted head of Joan Painter Jones’ Martyr 4 has the horrified gaze of someone who’s seen way too much, and Terri Sarris’s freak show-inspired box  World’s Smallest Man effectively skewers its ridicule-worthy target. Jack Summers’s collage practically jumps off the wall, spitting and screaming.

Throughout history, artists from Goya to Picasso to Leon Golub and many more have used  art to make political points, even though doubts linger about its effectiveness in changing attitudes or affecting political outcomes. Art like the work in Outrage may serve more as encouragement to like-minded viewers, and to reinforce the values of fellow liberals without reaching or influencing political opponents, which makes it no less valid.  Leslie Sobel sums it up: “I think it matters.  I think expressing [our political beliefs]  in more ways than just showing up to demonstrations and picketing and voting is important. I think it makes a difference and it’s certainly the skill set that many of us in this room have. I do hope it’s effective in keeping the issues in the front of peoples’ minds.”

The artists in Outrage are: Sam G. Fecteau Brown, Alejandro Chinchilla, Liz Davis, Susan Fecteau, John Gutoskey, Joan Painter Jones, Esther Kirschenbaum, K.A. Letts, Val Mann, Brenda Miller, Margaret  Parker, Christine Valentine Reising, Theresa Rosado, Terri Sarris, Leslie Sobel, Jack Summers.

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Susan Aaron Taylor at NCRC Galleries

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Guide,  cholla cactus, shells, handmade felt, petrified wood, animal skull, agate and banded iron. 12″ x 29″ x 14″

Attractive and repellant, humorous, tragic and tortured,  the otherworldly figures created by visionary artist Susan Aaron-Taylor live on the shadowy boundaries between what we know and what we imagine. In her solo exhibition Strata, now on view in the Connections Gallery of the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Center, the artist pulls 14 individual figures from her unconscious mind and presents them to us, hoping to awaken the sense of a shared, but often unseen, emotional and spiritual reality.

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Unplugged, handmade felt, shells, electrical plug, 17″ x 18″ x 10″

Made of felt and found objects, the sculptures in this exhibition blend alchemy, dreams, rituals, mythology, and shamanism with the detritus of matter to create a persuasive but disquieting world suggestive of malevolent fairy tales or ambiguous dreams.  Aaron-Taylor claims to appropriate the power of what she calls the “shadow side”, a term of Jungian psychology referring to a “composite of personal characteristics and potentialities that have been repressed and underdeveloped in our conscious lives.” Her creatures are fetishistic archetypes, stand-ins for the unconscious, and spirit guides to unexplored psychological regions. In their combination of fabric wrapping over found natural armatures and amulet-like appliques, they strongly resemble  the mummified animals of ancient Egyptian tombs.

The figures often seem to be in pain.  In Polar Bear, the armless animal snarls as it tries usuccessfully to free its head from the rungs of a ladder. Winter Rat‘s paws are extended upward, as if to escape the implied danger of the surrounding pool. The eyes of the creatures are often hazed, and bones, claws and teeth protrude.

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Polar Bear, wood, handmade felt, geodes, porcupine quills, cabochon and beads, 19″ x 17″ x 13″

Aaron-Taylor describes her art practice: “My intense exploration of mediums and techniques over the year’s gives me the freedom to incorporate a wide range of materials.  Found wood, fleece, minerals, cactus, porcupine quills, beads, shells, bones, and kozo fiber have all been appropriated.  Blending the accumulated strata creates autobiographical narratives where rhythm, balance, and harmony invite the viewer’s participation.  My intention is to connect the spiritual and the physical worlds.”

One might wonder at the selection of this artist’s work for  a venue that is devoted to science and the pursuit of the quantifiable, but bringing provocative and thoughtful art to the NCRC’s campus is part of the gallery’s mission as described by NCRC Art Coordinator Grace Serra.  “What  I want to happen here is … not just a nice  enhancement of quality of life [or to] offer an environment that is stimulating,” she says “…but maybe some of these shows can be the catalyst for thinking differently about the problems [researchers and scientists] are solving in their labs.”  She envisions additional events relevant to the NCRC exhibition schedule and says, “I’d like a little more programming around the exhibits, so maybe we can get people thinking about what’s going on here and how it can relate [to their research].” She points out that linking the arts with the sciences is very much part of the University of Michigan’s mission. She adds, “It can help people to become global thinkers.”

Strata, located in Connections Gallery on the lower level of Building 18 of the North Campus Research Center, 2800 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor,  will be open to visitors until December 12, 2017.  The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information about the NCRC Art Program go here

Once Upon A Place Comes to Toledo

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The world of immigration is calling from a phone booth in Toledo.

When was the last time you found yourself in a phone booth? I don’t remember, and I bet you don’t either. These little, closet-like structures used to dot the urban landscape, providing points of tinny contact with far away people and places. The internet and cell phones have changed all that, and now the lowly phone booth is a seldom-seen and even more seldom operated relic of the analog era.  But global citizen and Afghan American artist Aman Mojadidi wants you to pick up the phone right now, and reconnect with the outside world via 3 re-furbished and re-purposed phone booths installed in downtown Toledo until October 22.

Born in 1971 to a prominent Afghani family (his uncle is a former president of Afghanistan), Mojadidi grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where he learned to navigate the psychological contradictions and similarities between his family’s traditional Afghani culture and the values of the American south. From his unique cultural vantage point, Mojadidi drew satirical comparisons between the macho culture of the Afghan mujahedeen fighters and American “gangsta” culture in staged photos such as “A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster After a Long Day’s Work (2010) and made pointedly humorous artworks like his fashionable suicide vest,  Conflict Chic.

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A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster After A Long Day’s Work

The phone booths Mojadidi recently designed for Once Upon a Place move away from satire and toward a more journalistic approach to the subject of immigration. As part of his Times Square Arts residency, Mojadidi was drawn to the phone booth as a perfect vehicle from which to tell the immigrant story.  “I learned that phone booths were being removed from the streets… the idea immediately hit me. The fact that so many people have used these booths in the past… made them a natural way to present new stories.”

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Conflic Chic Suicide Vest

He researched the full variety of immigrant experience by studying census  records, articles and reports on immigration and then went out into the community to contact immigrants directly in community centers, mosques and temples.  There, he admits, his interest was suspect, “… there was a lot of suspicion from them, which added an extra barrier to reaching people. They wanted to know why I was collecting information on immigrants. Many people who spoke with me were illegal and stayed anonymous.” Rather than a scripted interview, Mojadidi’s methods were open-ended. He asked his subjects to tell him anything they wanted to share, such as, “why they left home… [or] why they came to NYC. Was there something unique that happened on the journey?”  In the end, he collected over 70 stories of immigrants from 26 countries.

When I visited Once Upon a Place in Promenade Park recently, Mojadidi’s skill in putting together a moving collection of stories was apparent. As I listened to the interviews in the phone booth, I often couldn’t understand the language that was being spoken (I’ll admit here that my Urdu is weak). It gave me a sense, though, of how large and interconnected the world is, and amplified the emotional impact of the interviews. Whether the speaker was a young man carried over the Mexican border by his mom when he was three years old, or a man from Yemen whose attitude about politics was completely changed by 9/11, or a Puerto Rican woman who came to New York to make a change in her life, each story was deeply personal and unique.  Or as Mojadidi said in an interview, “Picking up that phone and listening to someone’s voice is an intimate experience; it’s different from hearing someone’s story on the news or through some other medium. In a way, the project just cuts out the politics; the person just tells their story.”

Local arts organizartions sponsoring Once Upon a Place’s Toledo residency include Contemporary Art Toledo, River House Arts, the Arts Commission and the Toledo Museum of Art. Next, Mojadidi’s phone booths are headed for Miami, before returning home to New York. The artist told me that he is working on plans for a European variation of Once Upon a Place for Paris and beyond. He also plans to begin “working on a commissioned project related to notions of Home within the context of conflict, at the Imperial War Museum in London early in 2018.”

When asked about his experience as a visiting artist in Toledo, Mojadidi replied, “I was very touched by the warmth and enthusiasm of folks… both those who helped bring Once Upon a Place there, and … the engagement of students during talks I gave at different Universities.”

This post is reprinted from The Toledo City Paper.

Welcome to My Planet: Deborah Maris Lader

It’s a given that an artist’s solo show will reveal to public view some previously hidden connections and influences in her creative life.  In the case of Deborah Maris Lader, accomplished artist and printmaker, musician and member of the well-known folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong,  founder/director of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, those expectations are met and exceeded by her exhibit Welcome to My Planet at Firecat Projects, on view from September 22 through October 14.

Lader considers herself primarily a printmaker (she earned an MFA in printmaking from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1987 and recently received the 2016 Mid America Print Council Outstanding Printmaker Award). But she is, in fact, much more than that, and each facet of her diverse resume informs and amplifies the others. Stan Klein of Firecat Projects actively encouraged Lader to show her work in all its diversity, so in Welcome to my Planet, her figurative etchings, collages, paintings, hand-painted narrative maps and three-dimensional objects will be on display and in dialog.   Lader says “I usually show my paintings separately from my prints…it makes me a little nervous because even though I do all of these things simultaneously, I don’t usually get the opportunity to [show them together.]”

Lader’s artistic practice can be hard to describe, as it depends on a free associational dialectic of image and narrative that coalesces during her process into a finished composition. Lader maintains that she often doesn’t realize these connections until after she has created an artwork.  “I don’t always know why I’m doing things… so  I’m working [on a piece] and suddenly [when I’m finished] I think, ‘Oh my God, that’s why I’m doing this!’“ But what her work  lacks in everyday linear logic it more than makes up for in poetic resonance. Lader seems to be mining a rich vein of sub-conscious visual gold, which she intuitively combines into a non-specific narrative that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. In scale and tone, her work slightly resembles the work of Eleanor Spiess Ferris,  but is more varied in format and relates specifically to people and events in her own life.

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Masked by Deborah Maris Lader

Her etching The Heron and the Fish is exemplative of her intuitive interweaving of printmaking, performance and her personal connections. The heron is a recurring image in her work, and after speaking in only a general way to her son Evan Silver about a theater project called The Heron and the Fish that he was working on in Bali, she created a visual scenario based on the subject. She realized only later how closely it was related to the Asian fable.  The image ended up on the poster for the show, even though it hadn’t been created for that specific purpose. Lader says of her interaction with her son,   “Sometimes we unknowingly collaborate because we are on the same wave length.”

In contrast to the veiled content of The Heron and the Fish, Lader gets more specific in her group of three 12” x 12” hand painted etchings humorously called “Too Much Stuff: The Ongoing Movie in My Head.”  These small map-like compositions actively illustrate events in her life, and form meaning-laden visual pictographs.

 

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Work in Progress by Deborah Maris Lader

 
The artist is particularly excited to show the beginnings of a new body of work in Welcome to My Planet.  Using the technique of etching, she engraves images on glass objects–vintage spectacles, glass fragments and the like– then tints them with ink to make them visible.  These small-scale glass artworks are carefully displayed, using metal and wood supports; each is one-of-a-kind.  She says, “I started working on the glass etchings and really the idea so intrigued me because I work on them like I work on etchings, but they’re not meant to be multiples… they break easily, they’re ethereal things.”  She has completed one glass-etched object, a 2” x 2” lens, that points the way to future work.  The tiny etching of a heron is not inked, but instead the light shines through it and the shadow of the bird appears on the wall behind.

Welcome to My Planet provides a rich overview of work by this multi-talented artist, almost a kind of mini-retrospective. The wide array of approaches, subject matter and media represented in Deborah Maris Lader’s  etchings, collages, paintings and three-dimensional objects shows a busy creator at work, and points the way to her future path. To read more about Deborah Maris Lader, go here. To find out more about programming and future exhibits at Firecat Projects go here
 

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You Can’t Buy Babies or Body Parts at Costco by Deborah Maris Lader

 

In Transit

Flower of Life by Misty Lyn Bergeron

I recently wrote a review of In Transit for Pulp.  Over 70 photographs by current and former students in the Photo Technology Department of Washtenaw County Community College are on display in Gallery 117 at the Ann Arbor Art Center through September 30. To read the full review go here 

In Otherworlds

Massecre at intelari Chapel
Tower of Babble by Dan Hernandez

In Otherworlds, a 2-man exhibit of paintings and prints by painter-digital collagist Dan Hernandez and master draftsman-printmaker Craig Fisher, is on display now through September 30 at 20 North Gallery in downtown Toledo. These two Toledo art visionaries allow imagination to take them—and us—to places that seem at once familiar and uncanny. The source materials for each artist, along with differences in technique and material, result in two very different, but complementary, bodies of work.

Craig Fisher, who works as a designer of business-to-business learning tools in addition to his prolific artistic output, works within the confines of traditional fine art printmaking. For this exhibit, he has created worlds that incorporate recognizable elements in improbable ways, transforming and recombining features  from renaissance landscapes, natural history illustration, classical architectural drawings and more, into intriguing and often surreal scenarios.

The print Astronomie Nova illustrates Fisher’s method: He juxtaposes an aerial view of a gothic church ruin with a schematic drawing of a complex geometric form, setting up a complex tension between physical environment and the unseen— but just as real– universe.  One of his most satisfying pieces, Tower of Babble combines an over-scale rotary phone in the foreground with a period illustration of the tower itself in the background, Communication technology-related superstructures surround and top it and it’s difficult to tell if the tower is being built or destroyed.

Sometimes less is more, and Fisher’s strengths as a draftsman can occasionally result in over-elaborate and confusing compositions. But it’s hard to argue with or second-guess the artist’s commitment to his vision and his single-minded pursuit of it.

Dan Hernandez, currently an Associate Professor of Art at University of Toledo, creates paintings where saints and angels mix freely with computer gaming figures. Elements of Persian miniatures, Renaissance urban landscapes and Chinese pavilions collide and morph into a persuasively imagined and often beautiful world. This oddly convincing pastiche of styles and periods is the product of Hernandez’ youthful gaming hobby and his studies in art history, which included a trip to Italy as a college student, where he was captivated by the ancient frescos of Pompeii.

Hernandez maintains a large archive of online images, from haloed renaissance saints to invading space ships, which he repeats and re-combines imaginatively in his world-building endeavors. He uses photo transfers of these seemingly incompatible images to create realities that have internal consistency  and project a mood that is both comic and mysterious. In The Annunciation, he has imagined a funny and improbable street rumble between the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel in a medieval Italian town. In another artwork, The Massacre at Intelari Chapel, a battle between computer gaming figures and renaissance-era characters rages across the bottom of the composition, while above, three levels of coins similar to those in a computer game imply ample rewards for the victors, and saints look on from the heavens while consulting a Super Mario map.

In Otherworlds provides a provocative look at imaginative visual storytelling by two talented Toledo artists and is well worth a visit. 20 North Art Director Condessa Croninger comments, “Despite the dramatic differences in media, visual style and subject matter, the works of these two distinguished area artists juxtapose like themes of science & technology with spirituality, as well as the combination of old and new media, to explore the metaphysical concept of the ‘otherworld’—the varying layers of existence between humankind’s experience of the “real” world and the world of belief. This combination creates an intriguing, thought-provoking and unquestionably beautiful exhibit.”

Gallery hours are Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 4p.m. Patrons also have extended opportunities to enjoy the exhibition during after-gallery hours at Venue, 20 North Gallery’s cocktail lounge, which is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4:30 to 9 p.m. (This review is re-posted from the August 15th edition of the Toledo City Paper.)

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Tower of Babble by Craig Fisher

Joanna Manousis at River House Arts

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Pears in Bottles

I recently reviewed Nature Morte by conceptual glass artist Joanna Manousis for the Toledo City Paper.  The exhibit is on view until June 17th at River House Arts in Toledo.  This is the artist’s largest exhibition to date and includes pieces made during her residencies at The Toledo Museum of Art in January, 2017 and Alfred University in March, 2017. Read more here

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Reaching an Ulterior Realm

Text/Media

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Underdog by Christopher Schneider

We live in a hyper-literate age of endless imagery and short attention spans.

We seldom pause–and really, when do we have time?–to consider the process by which we create meaning for ourselves from the constant  interaction of  words and pictures in books, magazines, on television and the web, on our phones.

In Text/Image, now on view until June 3 in  Ann Arbor Art Center’s Gallery 117,  Detroit-based artist/curator Jack O. Summers has thoughtfully collected for our consideration some  artworks that refer to everyday objects whose meanings “are enhanced or subverted by the multi-dimensional interplay of text and images.” The exhibit concentrates on still imagery, leaving aside the more kinetic treatments of text and image interaction such as  video and animation.

There are several artists represented  in Text/Image who are well known in Detroit for their absurdist take on the news and pop culture, using the vocabulary of comics and newspaper to communicate their point of view.  Ryan Standfest, gifted printmaker, founder of the Rotland Press and trickster artist, composes headlines for his imaginary tabloid newspaper the Modern Vulgarian (#1) that raise more questions than they answer and classified ads that go gleefully off the rails.

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The Modern Vulgarian #1 by Ryan Standfest

William Schudlich, illustrator and self-proclaimed “social zoologist” is clearly a kindred spirit.  Schudlich’s images  employ the visual vocabulary of disposable print media  such as comic strips and have the look of early to mid-20th century comics.  He approaches  visual challenges, he says, “with a dark sense of humor whenever possible.”  Tom Carey’s large relief prints, while ostensibly mining the same classic content as Schudlich and Standfest, project a more modern effect with their vivid colors and lively compositions. The small wooden mutoscopes (flipbooks in wooden boxes operated by pushbutton) created by Andy Malone also fit comfortably with the sensibilities of Schudlich and Standfest by appropriating of a vintage craft and  re-purposing it to make a modern statement.

Two notable Detroit photographers, Christopher Schneider and Bruce Giffen, appear in Text/Image. In Schneider’s Underdog, the word “Hamtramck” printed on the young football player’s jersey adds context and pathos to the inward-looking figure, isolated as his teammate looks away toward the light and movement of the game. His fellow photographer Bruce Giffen, whose sharp and poetic eye is trained on Detroit at all times and in all seasons,  juxtaposes text with context for special resonance in his photo Stay In School.

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Whole Foods by Jaye Schlesinger

Taurus Burns, Dencel Deneau,  Jaye Schlesinger  and Amy Fell all engage in the reification of the ordinary, each one observing with care and archiving with skill the unglamorous objects and often unsightly minutiae of the urban landscape.  Deneau’s small glass mosaics, in particular, are improbably lovely memorials to fleeting moments in the life of a city.

Moving from the grittily observational to the poetic,  Scott Northrup’s gauzy collages are cinematic and  nostalgia-soaked. Self-Portrait with Fruit by John Gutoskey is somehow both cheerful and sad,  and  recalls the innocence and the pain of a young boy growing up gay in the Midwest. Like Gutoskey’s quasi-installation, Believers by Catherine Peet hardly needs text to make its point, harking back to medieval altars of a pre-literate age.

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School Bus by Dencel Deneau

Before the printing press and universal literacy, the visual impact of letters was as important as the narrative meaning.  Randy Asplund creates contemporary works using the same methods as medieval illuminators;  the pigments, grounds,  text and image are all carefully chosen for their symbolic resonance, each re-enforcing the meaning of the other elements. Taking the opposite tack, Alvey Jones subverts the meaning of text in Language Text and Circuit Board. Each element of the artwork is designed to be unintelligible–the book is (literally) Greek to us, the circuit board holds its meaning in a code we are unable to penetrate.

Barbara Brown, eminent Ann Arbor book artist and curator of a yearly survey of all things art and book-related, entitled Beyond Words, here uses her collection of handmade building blocks, Metropolis, to think playfully about the way reordering words or letters can alter narrative.

Text/Image can be understood best as a survey featuring a cast of accomplished artists, any one of whom could fill the gallery with well-crafted and well-thought-out work. The art in this exhibit thoughtfully uses language and image together to address  a variety of themes  from autobiography to social commentary, and while curator Jack O. Summers has put together an interesting and beautiful exhibit, the subject is far from exhausted and possibly never can be.

For more information about Text/Image go here