Riverside Arts Center Review
Glyph, May 2019
By Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu
Riverside Art Center’s (RAC), May 2019 exhibition titled “Glyph” was a huge success. It ran in the lower gallery until the end of May and featured many of the area’s most noteworthy artists. The opening reception was held in both the gallery and the Off Center adjacent space where there were performances from “Pure Dance Ensemble,” which was followed by a poetic performance art piece of “Typewriter Instrumentalists,” “Hannah Cut in,” by Carla Harryman and a later bass soloist. Artists attempted to look at language as a theme which was the thread that united the whole exhibition. Some artists tried mixing musical staff with runes, many employed a variety of text in their work, and some used body language in performative pieces. The exhibition was curated by Riverside Art Center’s Program Manager, Trevor Stone.
“Pure Dance Ensemble” is led by Dancer/Choreographer Gina Danene Thompson. Hip Hop and Jazz dance pieces were performed by Pure Dance Ensemble, which were heavily influenced by Haitian dance choreography with open palms and performed to a song by Ludacris. Performers from Pure Dance Ensemble that performed at the opening reception were: Celia, Lucy, Maxine, Fern and Scott. Their piece was called “Same Love.” What is unique about Pure Dance Ensemble is their extensive range from jazz and hip hop, to modern, African and ballet. They performed a second impressive performance on Family Day in the Gallery which takes place on First Saturday’s each month, with 3 dancers to hip hop and a marvelous ”Rag Time” piece with 3 chairs. Dancers are learning sign language as a catalyst for the design of movement and presented an inventive dance performance that Saturday. They will be performing in “Beau Monde” this spring. Pure Dance Ensemble includes 8th and up-Pure Teen, and Pure Youth- 3rd-6th, and Pure Kids- lower elementary. Teacher and performer, Gina Danene Thompson is a rare gem for this area, placements in her classes are sought after, as children and teens gain advanced skills in a variety of dance moves and frequent performances. Many go on to degree’s in dance. In the gallery, there are wonderful images included in the exhibition for sale of Pure Dance Ensemble in lyrical positions where dancers are grouped bent over in sequence and a second spiritual photograph which featured dancers, reaching up and reaching out. Both photos represent collector’s items for fans. In a brief interview with Dance Teacher and Choreographer, Gina Danene Thompson, she expressed her “joy to be here, that Ypsilanti had been needing these things for a long time.” She studied the Kathryn Dunham Technique and trained heavily in Afro Haitian Dance, Jazz, Hip Hop and Ballet.
The Typewriter Instrumentalists had two narrators reciting poetry and 5 seated at typewriters which were used as instruments. Many were reciting phrases and typing in sequence to create rhythms which were a truly amazing cacophony of sound. Some of the most amazing poetry/performance to ever arrive RAC. The piece represented a “narrative collage,” with a sea of voices, almost paranoid sounding, in unison at times and reflecting on futurologists, behaviors, or the sound of happiness or progression and procession. Flash to man in robes…“I packed my valises,” which sets up for travel, perhaps a mental travel or initiates imagination. There was some live singing that was reminiscent of Sinead O’Connor. All in all, the piece was both memorable and brilliant, waking up performance artists and poets simultaneously and painting a fresh canvas for both. “Neo Expressionist” was mentioned in the piece which may reflect on the union between performance art and poetry, as well as music or interdisciplinary works in general. They looked at the silence of negative spaces. How silence is a “sign of respect for one another and can be a political and communal barricade,…to illicit privacy.” They also looked at a “communal interior.”
Some of RAC’s gallery exhibitors included Margaret Parker, who showed a long white organza coat decorated with images of her art work done as a “walking retrospective.” The piece was originally a performance art piece shown in a Manchester Gallery, Woman in the Arts Exhibition and is reminiscent of gypsies who carried or wore all their belongings. Secondly, the piece paid homage to the afterlife. Looking into the piece or retrospective was a wonderful Kali sculpture made of cut t-shirts with many arms. Perhaps the audio that accompanied the piece reflected on the “afterlife,” or when you become the “sum of your parts” or total life’s accomplishments. Her jacket, sheer, as if worn by a woman no longer existing, but survived by her artwork, which became her afterlife.
An artist called Elijah Bobo, exhibited 3 letterpress prints, etched with cut type. One piece was “Mulatto Round Up,” another was “Tragic Boy,” and a third was “Rebel Breed.” Mulatto round up was perhaps the most controversial of the set of 3 prints that featured a Kentucky Fried Chicken or “KFC” motif with a “WIC,” motif, a government sponsored baby formula program. The artist may be drawing parallels to the controversial nature of the word “Mulatto,” which appears to be a slang derivative for mule with milk (late). Still in 2019, there appears to be status or class issues or general controversy for interracial marriage and procreation. How the other two prints relate to “Mulatto Round up,” could be a Tragic birth? Or a subsequent rebel breed? Contrary to status quo. Rebel Breed was printed in red and green and white Christmas colors. “Mulatto Round Up,” was printed in yellow, orange and black, with black and white text. The piece is somewhat autobiographical and looks at Afroism. A third piece’s text states, “one dropped one pped,” which relates to the 25% black origin that was decisive in racial declaration with a double meaning perhaps of a urinating then dropped infant. Bobo talked about “hypo decent,” at the artists talk following the opening. Bobo said, his fonts were “Trushkin” and “Cowboy.”
Steven Driscoll Hixson showed 3 pieces that included text and movement. One piece was a black and white contrast quilt with excellent craftsmanship. Pieces showed obstruction and fragmentation using text and movement of walking imagery.
Ava Ansari (in collaboration with Andrew Quitmeyer) presented “Subway,” a highly successful public performance art piece. Ansari is a “third wave immigrant from Iran” that studied in New York, and currently runs between Ypsilanti/Detroit areas. Ansari says, “she is dancing for the freedom of public movement.” She is featured in video dancing sensually, then crests and becomes ecstatic in a Times Square, New York City Subway Station. The subway traffic ebbs and flows, some pass her by, a few become spectators, most have things to do and places to go and will ignore her. There were continuous coming and goings of the subway juxtaposed with the dancing of Ms. Ansari which she says is a “poetic statement on the power of our bodies as fluid glyphs constantly recreating motions and emotions.” Her hands, like two birds, floating and winding, and she says to, “sculpt the air with contemporary Persian dance forms.” The juxtaposition against the train and her were sharp, exposing and hiding her dance through the windows of a passing train. She danced as if a song played in her head, or some kind of “freedom demonstration” or even to dance with the subway or subway passengers. She was wild and free, swinging her head and letting down her hair from a bun, hanging from a ceiling rail upside down and then ending with extraordinary grace. The piece ends and Ms. Ansari sits down next to a man who appears to be without housing on a bench, then a train passes and she disappears. It represents “man and machine,” man’s movement, contrasting machines movement. It could even represent a cultural freedom, or a freedom of space, or a personal or feminist triumph or even a healing? It suggested something about when the body speaks or has language beyond movement or when in protest and a simple dance could be as strong as a poster or a riot. One wakes up a people, ignites a crowd. Perhaps an artist is given amnesty in regards to cultural barriers that may prevent such an artwork? Ms. Ansari’s work has dealt alot with space, transgressing disciplines, working with her body and social topics. Ms. Ansari is interested in transforming space. She studied “Arts Politics,” at New York City’s NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She is also founding member of groups AAYA (Ann Arbor\Ypsilanti Art Group) and Poetic Societies. She utilizes a variety of networking and technologies to present a diversity of artworks. Subway has been presented at the Eyebeam in NYC, Sazmanab in Tehran, ArtIT2013 in Milan and Artaud Forum in London among others.
Barbara Neri presented a Quadtych mixed media piece that included children running and children playing with toy guns. Some figures were colorized features in newspaper print outs from Associated Press. All 4 pieces exhibited each a word Who-Are-These-Men? One print featured images from a Bosnian war, others in military camouflage. It was a juxtaposition of youth playing with guns who later become these future men of war. Perhaps, to see in the child, his imminent future or to remember the man once a child.
Golsa Yaghoobi presented 3 portraits of women with text. The text was written in Farsi and translates to, “God, you have refined and polished us according to your will (Khajeh Abdullah Ansari), another reads, “For all my life, I will not quit this intoxication, this half drunkenness,” a third painting reads, “The breeze of the new day is welcome, on the face of the flower.” All three were very fine oil paintings which highlighted a distinction between oil and acrylic qualities. The oil colors were very rich in color and quality. The women were shown wearing headdress, turbans and scarves. Eyes were thoughtful, gazing back at you. Ms. Yaghoobi describes her work as intertwined both cultural and religious. She is an artist of the Iranian Diaspora. Her work is better understood through the history and culture of Iran, inclusive of changes and conflicts. She is a product of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, where she spent her youth. She has attempted to unveil her voice and body. Her images she feels challenge “the oral, spatial and corporal limits for women in Iranian culture.” She uses herself and women she knows as subjects and framework for her art. She speaks with her art to a viewer that is both Iranian and Western. Ms. Yaghoobi is a painter and print maker based in Detroit. She studied at Sooreh Art Institute in Tehran and MFA in Painting and Printmaking from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She often creates etchings, lithography and oil paintings on canvas. She is held in private collections in the U.S., Iran, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, Czech Republic, and UAE. In addition to holding her private studio practice, Ms. Yaghoobi is privileged to teach foundation at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and various classes at the Atelier Art Studio in Royal Oak Michigan.
Gwynneth Vanlaven showed 3 photos and a wonderful photo flip book in the exhibition. The photo book was cut into 3 rectangular sections where you flip through portraits exchanging eyes, noses and mouths to redesign faces and emotions. Her work was contained many social themes relating to in one photo, eating disorders. In 2007, the artist stated that she was struck and crushed by a car, which made her gain visible identity as a disabled. She has been shifting disabled identities, via her work. One photo described difficulty getting out of the bathtub. The accompanying text in the bathtub photo reads “Activities of Daily Living.” It asks independent, Yes or No? Vanlaven wishes to ask what can it be like to have no independent way out of the bathtub? She used a long extended exposure to capture this moment and the image looks like a ghost exited the bathtub. She addressed specific binaries, the language of boxes, independent vs. dependent, to script her own independence. She feels it is possible to “adapt” to new circumstances via creative potentials. Ms. Vanlaven uses camera timers and duct tapes to capture some images. Another of Vanlaven’s photos exhibited has to do when one acquires a mantra of “fat, ugly, stupid.” Vanlaven states that “this atones a woman who is too sensitive, too passionate, too engaged, too intense, taking up too much space.” When one becomes an “internalized critic,” says Vanlaven, and has body dissatisfaction/body hatred. Vanlaven talks about the “silent scream” with her work.
Azya Moore featured a series of comparative and scientific or medical observation photos of two women. Photos contrasted racial differences which were highlighted by text in a research style wording. Artist looked at “quantifiable humanity,” when values are placed on mankind as was done in slavery and even in abortion cases. Artist was asking, “what does it mean to be human” on different levels and “how do we become whole?” Ms. Moore highlighted America’s controversial enslavement and related ideas, laws and conditions that resulted. Ms. Moore was intensely thoughtful, sensitive and probing for answers to heal and simultaneously challenge prevalent national ideas. Ms. Moore studied Painting, Photography, Museum Studies and Mixed Media and earned her BFA from Michigan State University.
An artist called Petra Keppers, included encaustic paintings with embedded poems relating to climate change. Poetry series related to “Neo Expressionism” a hot topic for this area, where artists explore multiple directions for the new expression of poetry or art often using interdisciplinary or innovative approaches. Petra was also featured as one of the narrators in the Typewriter/Poetry performance. She is working in a “Somatic Writing Studio.” Her work on the encaustic paintings utilized wax and blow torches to convey earthly problems. She is an international performance artist. She is working to accelerate poetry via “Neo Expressionism,” from movement to performance, to oil paint and beeswax.
Ypsilanti children were included on podiums in the exhibition and created animated emoji art works. Some emoji’s were completed by Girl Scout Troup 40602 and Ypsilanti Community Schools as well as children from Weiss Elementary International Baccalaureate. The cut paper art works represent the influence of technology on the youth of today. The children attempted to design their own original emoji, animate their expressions, creating loving ones with heart pupils or angry ones with slanted eyebrows or even devilish ones with horns. Attention to technological imagery by youth can be noted as well as their ability to extend it and design their own original pieces with Emoji animated styling.