At the Detroit Film Theater
(France/2007) Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
In French with English subtitles. (95 min.) Fri. at 7:00 and 9:30; Sat. at 4:00, 7:00 and 9:30; Sun. at 2:00, 4:00 and 7:00
“People are people so why should it be, you and I should get along so awfully.” – Depeche Mode
The film version of Persepolis and Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel that it is adapted from may not help us understand what makes a man hate another man, but it does paint a very human portrait of the Iranian people, and their struggles. The story chronicles her coming of age in Tehran during the Iranian revolution and subsequent war with Iraq, particularly timely at this moment when our government is threatening to enter into conflict with these people.
Visually, the film is absolutely stunning. Satrapi’s straightforward cartooning style is brought to life faithfully on the big screen. This simplified figuration mixed with her personal narrative brings the story close to home, as Scott McCloud writes in “Understanding Comics”, “when you enter the world of the cartoon you see yourself.” Where the spareness of imagery works perfectly in the tight panels of the comic book format, for the big screen, the animators have created a lush and textured environment for the characters to inhabit. It adds tremendous depth and visual interest to the film – often, single frames could stand by themselves as engaging compositions – they’re that strong. The filmmakers incorporate a number of different animation styles to capture different aspects of the narrative and continually draw the viewer into the world on the screen.
The film is quite funny and heartbreaking simultaneously. Satrapi’s character is sharp and outspoken in the serious world of adults even as a very young, extremely precocious child. Naturally inquisitive, she gathers information from adults, her own reading, and it is through her perspective that we learn about Iran’s history and political situation. Her outlook continues to shift as we see her adopt one philosophy, only to reject it in the face of some new experience. In this way, the audience is educated along with her and thus the film never comes across as preachy or political, just human. As a side note, in the graphic novel, we see her as a young child gaining a great deal of knowledge on politics and philosophy from comic books on the subject – as her work now does for another generation.
The film is incredibly layered and full as we watch her life unfold and Iran change around her, yet it never feels dense or static. The medium, whether film or comics, allow for the viewer or reader to absorb a lot through image and words all while moving along at the pace of entertainment. In trying to write about it, the list of scenes one would want to relate is too big, the film never quits. Perhaps one of the more startling overall aspects that comes through in the story, is the rapid transformation of Iran from a secular to Islamic society. We see her family, particularly the women, all more progressively educated and living a very Western lifestyle, having to start concealing themselves in veil, restrictions on parties, and other things. The contrast for them between life before and after is extremely unsettling, and also points to just how fragile the constructs of our society can be. Yet, even in the midst of revolution and war, we see life go on. The family goes to parties, we watch Satrapi buy a tape of Iron Maiden on the black market – they laugh, as do we. And this brings to mind how people in war-torn countries today – even as bombs explode around them, they struggle to make do. The needless loss of human potential is painfully sad, and as she writes in the graphic novel version, “When I think we could have avoided it all… it just makes me sick.”
It’s hard to not draw comparisons to Art Spiegelman’s holocaust tale told in comics form “Maus.” Like Spiegelman, Satrapi has crafted a tale that transcends cultures and mediums, which will continue to touch and educate people for generations. The film brings it to another audience in its own unique way, and gives the story even longer legs to reach people. It’s an important educational story, and one people need to experience so as not to make decisions out of ignorance and fear, but rather through understanding. Satrapi writes in her introduction to the Persepolis collection, “I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists.” One should hope that we will not be judged thus either. Go see it. – Nick Sousanis
This week, in order to try to keep pace just a little bit with the number of shows opening all at once in the Detroit area, we once again encapsulate a number of exhibitions in a single article. This by no means signals an abandonment of our single, in depth arts coverage (as witnessed in Dolores Slowinski’s review this week of Marianne Letisi’s work.) It’s simply an effort to give credit to all that’s going on and bring people up to speed on the depth and variety of works and venues, so that as we continue to move forward and focus on particular shows, those single reviews will be viewed against broad and full backdrop that the Detroit arts scene has to offer. (It also doesn’t mean we won’t revisit some of the ones discussed in brief below in longer format in the near future.) As with our last outing, we follow along your arts editor on a night (or two) of openings in the city.
Deborah Friedman “Claudene”
Ellen Kayrod Gallery at the Hannan House
Ellen Kayrod Gallery offers up another showing of Deborah Friedman’s expanding “Claudene” project. We reviewed a body of the work here. Friedman continues to explore memories of her childhood in Detroit and her best friend who lived next door, but in this current exhibition, what began as more text-driven work is shifting to more solely image-driven pieces. She shows a new piece in colored pencil of rows of grey and orange houses, against a purple-polka dotted sky, and majestic trees coming to life in a beam of intense orange light. Wordless, the image speaks volumes of a city’s past, the power of memory (“to grow roses in winter”), and hope for its future. It’s also quite interesting how another Detroit art project (the Object Orange house painting collective, which she references throughout) inspired another artist in such different fashion, and triggered an entire body of work that looks to continue to feed Friedman for a good long time.
CCS Center Galleries/Hallway Space
From the Hannan House, it’s a quick trip to CCS, where in the Center Galleries, former distinguished faculty show their works in “Emeriti.” Over the last year or so, there have been a number of shows around town featuring artists who’ve taught up and coming artists over the years. In doing so, the galleries not only give due to these significant artists and educators, but they also help to draw a connection between generations. On that note, in the Hallway gallery, recent CCS alum Craig Paul Nowak returns from Chicago for a solo show of works all exploring his own image. From so singular a subject matter, he’s exploded his approach – a realistic painting, cut apart with pieces exploding away from one another, an iconic graphic image plastered over a wall of comic book covers, t-shirts, and more. It’s interesting terrain and seems to be serving him well. Additionally, it’s great to see the work of this young artist in the context of those long-established artists in the main gallery space.
Kingswood Academy Gallery (At Cranbrook Campus)
Leaving CCS, we take the long haul up to a gallery space at Kingswood, to see Sarah Kate Burgess’s exhibition. We’ve been exploring the idea of signature quite a bit of late, and here as with Friedman and Nowak above, we’ll continue on that vein. By signature, I mean not a style, but finding a voice, a means of exploration to feed the artist in ever more challenging ways. A monster-aside of explanation: if we think of some of the earliest vertebrates on this planet – a creature with four limbs, a tail, spinal column, etc., from this most basic of forms, came forth the incredible diversity of creatures we see today – from whales to people. It’s all built on the same basic chassis if you will, but over time, each has developed remarkably different features. Bringing it back to Burgess, she has been delving into the idea of jewelry and adornment, and the reconfiguration of the existing – from cup handles to earrings. Here she cuts apart to forge new meaning, mirrors an earring in multiple forms to transform it from object to pattern, adorns the walls themselves, and draws using jewelry chain as compass. There’s a clear aesthetic, an identifiable “Burgess-ness” at play, but each offer their own delights.
The trip north meant missing Susanne Hilberry, and Detroit Industrial Projects openings. I did however, make it back to DIP the next afternoon. As they’ve done so strongly in the past, it’s an installation show responding to the very space itself. Put together by Andrew Thompson, it features Gabe Hillebrand, Madeline Stillwell, Amanda Thatch, Nathan Vince, and Thompson. It’s a diverse field with each artist getting their own region to inhabit, yet it holds together quick well. Using a plethora of pallets Thompson builds a wooden fort, that at first look, seems as if they’re just thrown together, piled up as in “Les Miserables,” but it becomes clear that certain areas have a grace to them. There’s an archway at one end curving into the wall, where he’s carefully oriented the wood forms. It’s an interesting architectural mass in and of itself – but wait, there’s more. The archway is an entranceway leading to the inside. Crawling over the carpet he’s laid down, you arrive at a tiny room with wood-finished flooring, a dresser, chair and TV on the inside. It’s a fort we built or imagined as children, brought to life with the skills of being grownup. Thompson’s playfulness and obsessiveness work together well here to make this a delight on multiple levels. If Thompson’s “house” is playful, Hillebrand’s metal tiny house, suspended (not hung) by stretched aircraft cable attached to the columns and walls, is surreal and continues this exploration of place. Thatch’s forms are ethereal square columns of translucent netting suspended by ceiling-mounted pulleys, in great contrast to the mammoth support columns in the industrial building. Vince has made small earth mounds, cast from cut up small curved gas tanks. He’s planted grass in the dirt, tiny straight lines rising up, life growing from pollution. Finally, Stillwell uses industrial found objects to interact quite directly with the space itself. In fact, it’s not immediately clear at first what she’s done and what’s part of the building. Yet it is all very purposeful. Industrial interior becomes canvas, rubber tubes, pvc pipes, plastic forms and other elements become drawing tools to form her composition. Each of the different works makes for a solid and engaging show. DIP continues to offer something very Detroit, yet with a refreshing approach that is welcome in this landscape.
Saturday night means twin openings at Lemberg and paulkotulaprojects. Upstairs at pkp, Jim Shroesbree presents “Zero/Suspension.” It’s a spare show of small, wall-mounted colorful works against the white walls. From simple construction elements – wire hanger, nylon mesh – he’s created curving, edged, topological forms, which offer some of the gracefulness that can be done in clay – yet weightless. Bright color applied to both the forms and wall, add another layer of content, as they become abstract compositions as well, altering their form from different perspectives. At Lemberg, the show “Small Treasures is aptly-names, as these are just that – small works, which one could carry home in a shoe box (or perhaps a boot box), featuring a number of artists from Lemberg’s stable. Just to mention one out of so many varied works, Lesley Dill offers up a sculptural head, made of a collage of cut out flat letters. It’s an engaging object with rich metaphoric possibilities, a description that might apply to many of the objects in this show as well.
Sadly, I didn’t make it to MoNA or the comic book show at the Pontiac Center for the Arts. Such northern venues, along with other strong spaces like Oakland U, and Paint Creek, just to name a few, really demonstrate the need for a northern correspondent (or three!) to keep up with all that our region offers.
That’s it for the overview, we’ll see you with the longer form, next time. – Nick Sousanis
River’s Edge Gallery
3024 Biddle Ave.
Wyandotte, MI 48192
Marianne Letasi, once a staff photographer at the Detroit Institute of Arts, is known for her ability to charm the frostiest personalities into posing for photographs and for capturing the flavor of the Detroit art scene. But local nostalgia is not the subject in this exhibition.
Letasi has traveled throughout the US, Slovakia, and China. The photographs in this exhibition are taken from these trips as well as from excursions into her backyard. These are gems to be savored for the beauty they capture and the way they direct your gaze to observe the magic of everyday things.
Letasi points to the decorative painting that graces several Slovakian buildings as if to say, “Just look at this! There is a grace and loveliness here you should not miss.” Or focuses your attention on an added turret to a bell tower as if the addition was an effort to reach higher into the air in a time before skyscrapers.
In Yellow Car, Letasi reaches into her subconscious, saturated by her exposure to the Diego Rivera murals at the DIA, and creates her own homage to the automobile in Slovakia. Like Rivera, she places the car in the distance at the end of a narrow passage that pulls you along to find it. But unlike the Rivera mural that is crowded with monstrous machines and workers and spectators, her view shows a quiet courtyard with only one person silhouetted in the passageway. The yellow car fills up the entire opening as if it were the proverbial light at the end…a hope and dream for Slovakian personal freedom and prosperity.
Letasi loves people. Look for a Chinese man squatting down enjoying the restlessness of a toddler. In three or four frames the toddler’s movements and facial expressions change, joyfully accompanied by those of his adult companion. Portraits of Geisha’s in Kyoto look as if they were transmuted from another time. Two of her young friends appear in dramatically posed portraits that accentuate their fresh outlook and mysterious potential.
Letasi directs her lens toward natural wonders at home: water freezing into a prickly pattern at the edge of a pond imprisoning a fallen leaf; a dramatic sunset; a mystifying fog…simple observations reminding us that there are fascinating discoveries to be made very close to home.
Work your way to the third floor of River’s Edge Gallery to enter a very small, intimate space containing the photographs of Marianne Letasi. She will relieve your stressed existence and refresh your sense of wonder.
Dolores S. Slowinski, Detroit artist/writer delighting in the frost patterns on her studio windows.
It’s the middle of January and the art season is back in full swing. Despite rumors to the contrary, it seems there is an ever-increasing number of arts events going on in Detroit and the surrounding area as a quick scan over our arts calendar, gallery listings, and maps pages reveal. It’s hard to see them all, let alone write about them all, so this week, we’re departing from our usual long format single (and occasional dual) show reviews, and offering a bit of an overview of what one might see on a typical night (or two) in Detroit. Specifically we’ll be following the particular route I took, with some comments about destinations I couldn’t get to as well.
WSU: Elaine L. Jacob Gallery
Sheila Pepe and Janet Hamrick
On Friday, January 11, the night began at WSU’s Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, which featured two artists in its bi-level exhibition space. New York artist Sheila Pepe took over the ground floor with her installation piece “Drawing in Space,” while local painter Janet Hamrick displays several years worth of “Weaving with Light and Shadow.” A good pairing can really help elevate appreciation and inform the viewer about each of the artists. This does that well. Pepe’s installation is woven together string and shoelaces, a brightly colored spider web stretching through the columns of gallery and attached to its back walls. It’s wonderfully intricate, offering the complexity an orb weaver brings to its sticky net and playful at the same time, as we really wish to climb on it, through it. Where it works best is from within the webbing, where it begins to surround you, and one wishes the entire gallery might have been overtaken by this web. This idea of knitting, crocheting, as drawing in space seems prominent in the art realm, as recent Detroit shows of Orly Genger and Andrew Thompson’s knit together plastic bags demonstrate. As thinking about Pepe’s web as drawing alters one’s perception of it, so too does thinking about Hamrick’s paintings as weavings make one look at them in a new light. Her pattern-based work can be seen as more dimensional, layers of light and shadow pressed atop one another. Excellent pairing, strong visual experience.
WSU: Community Arts Gallery
Moving along, we travel to the other end of WSU’s campus to the Community Arts Gallery where inside Alana Bartol and Bernie Brooks are exhibiting together as the first of the WSU MFA thesis shows. Despite the great diversity of her works, Bartol’s works hold together quite well - they all bear her distinct signature. The works here are a recording of nature – bird tracks on glass, roots, rock collections - observations of the seldom-noticed brought to light by her actions. While we’re witness to a broad, diverse body of Bartol’s work, Brooks offers up primarily a single series of stylized and skillfully rendered paintings, based on photographic snapshots. The contrast between the two, offers a look at the range and strength of Wayne’s program.
The Scarab Club
Out of Cranbrook and into the World
Featuring Melanie Findayson, Lauren Jacobs, Chris Schneider, Mark Sengbusch, Curated by Vince Carducci
A short trip around the corner, brings us to the Scarab Club, where that venerable institution is filled with artists in and recently out of Cranbrook courtesy of the curatorial efforts of Detroit arts writer Vince Carducci. The show displays a diverse group of artists highlighting some of Cranbrook’s signature traits, attention to craft, process, and aesthetics no matter what the medium. Plenty to see and think about, and I’ll just mention one here, photographer Chris Schneider, the founder of the HATCH arts collective in Hamtramck displays his “Red Pants” series, years’ worth of photos taken all over of people wearing red pants all captured in public spaces. Brilliantly obsessive, coupled with the fun in a ‘Where’s Waldo” kind of way for some of the more hidden pants. Carducci does a great service to the community with this exhibition. Cranbrook brings in students from all over the world, and they are increasingly becoming a part of the Detroit arts community. In a town that suffered from a monoculture business model, such crosspollination makes for a healthier, richer environment.
Detroit Artists Market
ALL Media Exhibition
The Artists Market opens the year with its annual all-media exhibition. A strong and diverse field, various types of work. Another Cranbrook artist Haewon Yoo gets a prominent installation space, alongside more established and up and coming Detroiters, like Topher Crowder (who continues to amaze with his insanely intricate drawings) and others. One odd note, this featured the earliest closing time in memory of the gallery, especially odd given the number of artists in the show and all the other arts events happening. Having been involved in hosting a number of openings, I can relate, but it seemed to do a disservice to people who really wanted to make as many of these shows as possible. That said, to really see the work, going back after the opening is essential. That night, other Detroiters were showing at Gallery Project in Ann Arbor, among other places, pretty impossible to get to all of them.
Minister Dawud Bey Mohammed
Liberal Arts Gallery
Saturday, I missed out on CPOP’s Carnivora – a car-themed show in CPOP style, and the Art Battle at the Russell Industrial Center – an iron chef meets art sort of thing, that apparently attracted a huge crowd, and I hope to offer a report on in the coming week. What I did catch was Dawud Bey, or Minister Dawud Mohammed at Liberal Arts Gallery. Bright colored, flowing, layered abstractions, spiritually motivated works, quite different than other works covered above, though perhaps sharing a bit with Hamrick. Good show, warm, well attended reception, but a show few Detroiters who attended other shows that weekend saw. There are still barriers that we have to breach, communities that need to come together, and perhaps in gathering all these events under one hat, we might encourage others to see what else is going on right around them in their city.
And that’s just what I saw, I also missed out on “Reflections of the Spirit” at UM Dearborn, Contemporary Realism at Marygrove, Oakland University’s faculty show, and even more. All strong offerings, all displaying just how strong this community is, and how it needs our support. – Nick Sousanis
SLUSSER GALLERY: The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice and the Environment 1965-2005. The exhibition opening reception will include remarks by co-curator Elisabeth Resnick. Slusser Gallery, 2000 Bonisteel Blvd. 1st floor
In his essay accompanying the exhibition the Graphic Imperative, Steven Heller asks, “Can a flimsy sheet of ink saturated paper influence peace, social justice, and the environment?” The answer offered by this traveling show of over 100 posters from around the world, currently making a stop at the UM School of Art & Design’s Slusser Gallery, is an unequivocal “yes.”
However literate we may become as a species, the road to our hearts remains perhaps best reached through our eyes. Think of the effect of a good logo, or why a cereal box has a bright picture on it, instead of just a list of ingredients and nutritional information. We might care about all the words behind the image, but image is often everything. Such then is the challenge of the designer trying to find an iconic image that speaks volumes with very little. Something that no matter what the level of literacy of the viewer, will hit home without having to read, though something that may encourage deeper reading on the subject after the initial encounter with it.
As Heller writes of such advocacy posters, “It should also resonate for years, even decades after it is published.” This is definitely the case with these works. To take one example, McRay Magleby’s 1985 poster “Wave of Peace,” is a tranquil image of a cascading wave transforming into doves with the word peace across the top. It’s simple, memorable – the calmness of the imagery evokes the message, making it effective and lasting.
A current example familiar to most is the conflation of Apple’s clever ubiquitous IPod ads with silhouetted dancing people and the hooded figure from the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. It becomes something at once immediately catchy, then haunting, hence captivating. It’s this use of imagery and message that can strike a chord with us as individuals and perhaps then resonate with national conscience in a way that reams of articles on the subject seldom do.
The show is hung salon style, with a lot to take in and absorb. Even emanating from multiple cultures as they do, the strength of the imagery works to makes them universal. This is an important show to be sure for the educational value of being seen in a university environment filled with young designers. But it is just as significant for all of us to help find our voice, or rather imagery, to help bring about change in a time when the need to find the means for change is certainly imperative. – Nick Sousanis