Articles by

Rosie Sharp

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    Above: George N’Namdi introduces the artists for a full house at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art. Photos by Rosie Sharp. An engaged crowd was on hand at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit on June 11, for an artist talk between veteran artist Carole Harris, whose multi-layered fiber works are on display in the Rose Gallery through June 25th, and Ash Arder, who brings youthful energy and a hunger for history to her practice of contemporary fiber and found object art. The conversation took place before a full house at N’Namdi, a Knight Arts Challenge winner, and demonstrated the kind of legacy-building that is possible when we look to our human resources for direction and inspiration. “I’m an old-school fiber artist; Ashley is the new school,” said Harris, by way of introduction. “She came up with the Internet; I came up at my mother’s knee.” Carole Harris poses in front of one of her fiber art pieces, currently on display at N’Namdi.
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    Above: Two oil pastel works on paper by Bailey Scieszka. Photo by Rosie Sharp. What Pipeline, a small gallery space on Detroit’s Southwest side, has made its reputation with strong curatorial vision, presenting a mix of local and non-local artists. While many galleries either represent Detroit Metro artists in their own environment, or else exclusively bring outside perspectives to town, What Pipeline is facilitating a healthy exchange of ideas, interspersing local talent with a wider set of interlocutors, as well as “expanding the narrative of the city’s creative talent by publishing a series of art books on Detroit-based artists past and present,” with the support of a $15,000 Knight Arts grant. After a vibrant series of recent installations by New York-based Olivia Erlanger and artist Paul Pascal Theriault, respectively, What Pipeline included a local cohort with its latest offering: a group show featuring Metro Detroit notables like Bailey Scieszka, Dylan Spaysky and Leif Ritchey. The show, titled “Ever get the feeling we’re not alone in this world?,” opened on Friday, June 3, with a massive crowd spilling over into the surrounding parking lot—which is certainly one answer to the show’s eponymous question.
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    There is nothing like the spring-to-summer transition in Detroit to watch the art scene explode in a flurry of activity. The unseasonably warm and humid temperatures that scorched the Detroit Metro area over Memorial Day weekend did nothing to hamper the various official and unofficial throwdowns associated with the 2016 Movement Festival—a longstanding celebration of Detroit’s history with electronic music, which has become, in recent years, more expensive, more regulated and more targeted international visitors and tourists—and less accessible overall to actual Detroiters.
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    Above: The Green Living Science classroom at Lincoln Street Art Park. Photos by Rosie Sharp. Have you been feeling a “freaky” but palpable urge to explore the no-man’s-land between Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood and the area surrounding Henry Ford Hospital? It may be that you are answering the invisible call of the newly-minted, 75-foot Freak Beacon, a fresh addition to the Lincoln Street Art Park. Funding for the project came from a Knight Foundation placemaking grant to Green Living Science, in support of the Activi-Tree project at the Lincoln Street Art Park. Knight has supported both the Activi-Tree container (phase 1) and the Freak Beacon (phase 2) through grants in both 2014 and 2015. Fabrication of the tower and ball began on February 1 of this year, and all components were completed on April 18. The sculpture weighs over 9,000 lbs., including a 6-foot-square poured concrete base, giving it monumental power to draw “freaks” from all corners of the city, and perhaps even the nation. The Freak Beacon.
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    Above: The workshop at Spread Art, with participants working alone or in couples to create their linguaphones. How do you experience intimacy? Is it something you can get better at with practice? Artist and Eastern Michigan University professor Chris Reilly would like you to consider your relationship with intimacy, and to this end, facilitates workshops that invite participants to assemble and play an instrument of his own devising, called the “Linguaphone of Tremulous Communion.” On Saturday, May 14th, Reilly held one of these Intimate Instrument Workshops, which is the culmination of his recent residency at Spread Art in Detroit–part of a residency program that recently received Knight support. During the workshop, participants are provided with a kit that includes all the necessary components for constructing one of Reilly’s proprietary instruments. The finished product has some conceptual overlap with a thumb harp or kalimba, but the spring steel keys and frets are mounted on a dense bar of hickory, rather than a vessel, which would amplify the sound for an audience. In fact, the linguaphone has an audience of two—the two players, who activate the instrument by biting down on either side of the wooden bar, which enables the vibration caused by playing the instrument to be heard almost entirely within their skull cavities. The result is a very personal and private exchange between two people, facing each other from several inches away, and joined at the mouth by a communication device that sends vibrations directly through the teeth and into the bones. It is intimate, to say the least.
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    Above: “A Meeting Place and Time” by Logan Hamilton Acton at CAVE Gallery. Photo by Rosie Sharp. Spring has come, and with it, a fresh crop of hopeful art school graduates prepare to take on the world. But first, the final hurdle—graduate shows. There’s still one week to catch the graduate show at Cranbrook Art Museum, which features the work of more than 80 graduates across 10 departments. Cranbrook, the recipient of multiple Knight Arts grants, is making efforts to bring groundbreaking work to metro Detroit. Aiming to encourage dialogue between the historically divided suburban and inner-city communities, it is a fitting venue for presenting the art academy’s most recent cohort of graduates, who are about to leave the nest and take up their own efforts to engage in the wider conversation between art and society. The show’s opening was a riot of activity, with works and participants too numerous to mention—in a survey of so many artists, it is challenging to focus on individual works. Patrick McGuan dealt with vulnerability in a photograph series that featured the artist exposing his stomach amid industrial landscapes. Benjamin Santiago turned in a high-energy multimedia performance piece during the opening. Every gallery was a riot of colors, methods and materials.
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    Above: A scene from Michelle Andonian's reading at Pages Bookshop. All photos by Rosie Sharp. Funded through the Knight Arts Challenge Detroit, “This Picture I Gift” is a book of exquisite photographs by Michelle Andonian, with images captured in her grandmother’s forfeited Armenian homeland. By way of introducing readings from the book, which took place at Pages Bookshop on Saturday, April 23—just one day before the 101th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide—Andonian acknowledged the inherent awkwardness in trying to talk about a book of images. Photographs, after all, are doing the work of telling stories all on their own; to add a layer of text is to compound the so-called 1,000 words each image is worth. However, words are sometimes necessary for context in dealing with a subject as dense and emotional as the fraught political history of Armenia. Andonian managed to get into the Sebastia region (now called Sivas), from which her grandmother was forced to emigrate in the wake of the targeting and mass execution of the Middle Eastern Christian minorities by Turkish armed forces, beginning in the spring of 1915. Michelle Andonian. Andonian has a gift for catching things before they slip away forever—including many iterations of Detroit’s dying industry—and back in 2014, with the impending 100-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide as a call to action, she felt compelled to attempt an image-gathering foray into Armenia. Fates aligned, opening a region that has been extremely unstable, due to a contemporary conflict between Turkish and Kurdish populations—the Kurds, who once abetted Turkey in the ethnic cleansing of Armenians, now find themselves on the receiving end of military aggression. Together with a close friend within the Armenian-American community, Andonian embarked on journey through Armenia, capturing images and visiting places that are unlikely to be open to travelers again within her lifetime.
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    Above: “The Radicalization Process” crescendos into a rally. All photos by Alverno Presents/Kat Schleicher Photography, courtesy of The Hinterlands. It would be impossible to boil down the astonishing complexity of “The Radicalization Process”–a new work by experimental theater ensemble The Hinterlands, made possible with support from Knight and other organizations–down into a single thesis. But if one were to try, it might be a statement oft-repeated throughout the course of the show: “The only war that matters is the war against the imagination; all other wars are subsumed in it.” The statement is made and revisited by the three-person cast that forms the permanent core of Hinterlands: Liza Bielby, Richard Newman and Dave Sanders. Past productions have seen others take the lead–for example, Newman as ringmaster of a vaudeville-based walk through Detroit sub-culture, The Circuit (also funded by Knight)–but Bielby is the beating heart and commanding presence of this show, first greeting attendees in the basement of Play House, where she introduces us to a mysterious archive. We are informed that the archive was found when Hinterlands took control of the abandoned house, and through her obsession and subsequent organization of the water-damaged materials, Bielby sparked the impetus for the production about to take place. The theatrics included singing, dancing and much climbing on the table.
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    Above: Concept sketches of Chewbacca by Graem Whyte. Photos by Rosie Sharp. If you spend much time around the Hamtramck, Mich., art scene, you are sure to encounter Steve Hughes. Hughes is the director of the Public Pool art space, facilitator of the Knight Arts Challenge-winning Good Tyme Writer’s Buffet and, perhaps most famously, longtime writer and editor of Detroit’s longest-running zine, “Stupor.” Beginning in 1995, Hughes set out to create a guerilla publishing entity to creatively support his recent return to the Detroit area from New Orleans, collecting stories from his cohort of grad school friends, tapping the proto-punk zine format that is the archetypal form of DIY publishing. By his fifth issue, he had struck upon the winning formula that would carry him through the next 20 years of zine-making: Hughes tells bar stories, painstakingly collected over hours of dedicated patronage to Hamtramck and Detroit drinking establishments. “I love to hang out at bars–I love sitting next to people and having beers with them and listening to them. Usually people just start talking, and telling you stuff. When I first started doing it, it was because that’s where I was at nighttime, at the bar. And I guess I realized one day, when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for my next issue of “Stupor,” I was surrounded by all these stories, and I should just attempt to collect those, instead of bothering people to send me stories.”
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    Above: CCTV in Dessislava Terzieva’s installation, “Through the Glass Darkly” (2016). Female identity is often an exercise in duality. Women are largely encouraged to present a seamless and appealing surface to the world, which can serve to mask the trials and tribulations of being subjugated to a range of indignities–from lower wages, to social discrimination, to outright human rights abuses. “Doubly So” opened March 19th and runs through April 23rd at Center Galleries (part of the College for Creative Studies campus, which received funding from Knight Arts). Organized by guest curator Samantha “Banks” Schefman of Playground Detroit, the four-person show brings together a field of strong emerging female artists, who individually and collectively present powerful imagery around the subject of double identities. Molly Soda, “cater 2 u” (2016), single channel video, and Molly Soda, “Mary Kate” (2015), printed fleece blanket. For many of these women, as is the case for young people in general, technology and social media play a major role in their interface with society and their audience–which presents another interpretation of the show’s “double” moniker. Platforms such as Instagram have enabled young women to seize the means of their own objectification, racking up masses of followers for their highly curated, highly performative web content.
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    Above: One of Erlanger’s rafts. “I had been looking around these ideas of systemic crisis, global financial crisis, which is what I came of age in,” said artist Olivia Erlanger during a conversation about “The Oily Actor.” This new body of work was presented at What Pipeline, a Knight Arts grantee in Detroit. “It was the most prominent dialogue in the house that I grew up in... Every dinner table conversation was about the economy, money and how everything is an illusion.” “The Oily Actor,” which was on display through March 26 at What Pipeline’s unassuming gallery space off Vernor Highway, included an ambient sound piece and a floor installation, but focused primarily on three wall pieces that Erlanger refers to as “rafts.” Erlanger’s work draws together an incredibly dense array of source material, processing a prodigious reading list that includes Karl Marx, experimental science fiction writer Mark von Schlegell (“Raft for the Doll in Glass” is named for a character in his novel “Sundogz”) and philosopher Timothy Morton–as well as an equally vast range of physical materials.