Tag Archives: collage

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

 

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Girlfriend Material

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Installation components from A Sucker for Jewelry

In Girlfriend Material, multimedia artist, writer and thinker Sarah Rose Sharp examines  the reductive archetypes that provide a distorting lens through which women are often viewed in American popular culture. She has gathered a small universe of cartoon females and set them up to play with and against each other, teasing out from these one-dimensional characters some three-dimensional thoughts on women and their place in the world.

A millennial feminist, Sharp is  aware that a multiplicity of roles are available to women but she also knows that female complexity and nuance are routinely flattened out and simplified in the popular imagination, the more easily to be consumed and digested.  And with the election of a known sexual predator and his cast of sexist cronies to the incoming U.S. administration, it looks as if Sharp’s observations are well calibrated to remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

“This show is a continuation of themes and ideas I’ve worked on for a very long time, but it’s been very much influenced by the recent climate surrounding the presidential election…we must really hate women for someone like Donald Trump to even have a chance, ” says Sharp in a recent Detroit Metro Times interview.

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The Bitch is [IN]
The artworks and installations in Girlfriend Material seem to say that a woman can be a bitch or a doormat, a sexpot or a smart girl,  a princess or a goddess, as long as she doesn’t exhibit the complexity of a real woman. Modern society likes its female role models bite-size.

Sharp has elected to use only pop figures such as Wonder Woman, Betty Boop, Princess Leia, Lucy and Lisa Simpson in Girlfriend Material. She has limited her materials to mass marketed objects such as Pez dispensers, key chains, novelty fabrics and the like, altering and collaging them together to create imaginative games and transactional installations. While many of the artworks are playful, there is an unmistakable  undercurrent of frustration in this work, and an underlying question about how a woman’s life is defined by herself and by others.

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Miss Overachiever (detail)

Miss Overachiever, represented here by a manikin wearing a girl scout/Lisa Simpson beret and a comically over-loaded merit badge sash, is the good girl, the nerdy smart girl who gets all A’s, but is judged by the surrounding  culture in terms that value appearance and popularity over achievement. Or as Sharp says in her statement “Where is the line between smart and too-smart-for-your-own-good?”

The Betting Pool, a circular “game”  with no start and no end, continues the theme of cultural stasis. The glassy surface features bodiless characters in kiddie cars bumping and shuffling against each other, their movement controlled by an unseen motivator that flies  overhead. Who “wins” is determined not by the players but  by gallery visitors who bet on the character they “like” the best.

The sexy but infantilized  Betty Boop in  A Sucker for Jewelry illustrates yet another kind of game that women are sometimes called upon to play with mixed success. Her 1930’s persona has been lovingly updated with tattoos and bondage gear.  (Sharp found the keychain figures in an alley and has not altered them.) Why objects like this even exist is a mystery to the artist–and to us–but she suspects that Betty Boop’s  child-like head on her sexpot body still has plenty of cultural resonance. “I didn’t make this stuff up,” she says, laughing.

It didn’t escape my attention that many of the artworks in Girlfriend Material had a monetary component.  While Sharp may be complaining about the paucity of complex roles available to women, she seems also to imply that any choice a woman makes  is likely to be poorly compensated. Women still earn only 80 cents on the dollar in 2015 as compared to men, and women in the arts are not doing any better (and possibly worse). To cite a common art world benchmark, in 2015 only 8% of the contemporary art for sale at auction was by women. It should be no surprise, then, that Princess Leia is crowdfunding her rescue at 25 cents a pop and Lucy is willing to empathize for a nickel. It’s the going rate.

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Double Wedding Ring

 

In Double Wedding Ring, Sharp finally attempts to synthesize all of the oversimplified traits displayed by her characters into a more  complex picture. The kaleidoscopic collection of images in the quilt, meeting and circling each other, insists that a woman can be sweet and bitchy, strong, smart and sexy and quite a few other things if the surrounding society will only give her a shot. And in other corners of the culture, especially in film and television, there seems to be some movement toward more complex female characters.  Television shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls and movies like In  A World (directed by Lake Bell)  and the recently released Certain Women (directed by Kelly Reichardt) are carving out cultural space for actual women telling actual stories. Comedians like Amy Schumer and Samantha Bee bring humor to the public discussion of feminism.

So there’s hope, even if recent political events might indicate otherwise. It should be noted that all of the films and television shows I listed above are written and/or directed by women. Maybe by the time women reach wage parity with men (in 2152 at current rates!) we can look forward to equal rights  in gender roles too.

Girlfriend Material is on view at Public Pool, in Hamtramck until December 17, 2016.  For more information go here