Public Art Builds Community

"Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality" 
--Lewis Carroll. 

Public Art beautifies the landscape, but it fulfills many other goals as well. Art in public spaces can start conversations, project diverse points of view, challenge common assumptions and provide points of engagement. In this years' WonderFool Productions event, I realize public art can instigate a communal story, or a support the task of reimagining a well-known narrative. Even a fantastical one.


I’ve participated in two Wonderfool Productions events, and both experiences challenged me, stretched me, and helped me understand contemporary art and performance as dialogues.

Festifools 2021, By WonderFool Productions and associated artists.
Date: April 1, 2021. Place: Ann Arbor, MI, The TeaHaus on Fourth Ave.

With the most recent project “Painting the Roses Red” I selected a Chapter of the same title from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll. Our installation theme is encapsulated by the overall festival theme “Alice in Wonderfool” that was selected by the innovative Wonderfool Productions. And there were quite a few “Alices” in the weekend-long event. Curiouser and curiouser! However a picture is worth a thousand words, so enjoy the gallery below.

Process Notes

With a preparation period of approximately 30 days, and a performance period of 4 hours, our installations and performances were fleeting, and so, ephemeral. And because I’m obsessed with research and discovery, a good portion of my practical project management time was devoted to research about Lewis Carroll, himself, and his texts.

With found and common materials, I challenged myself to create environments which would support whimsical performances. I made a series of four hand-painted fabric pieces to document the process of painting the roses red. The fibers are 100% cotton hemmed 20 inch by 20 inch squares. To literally “paint them red” to match the story excerpt I chose, “The Dancing Cards” I would need to devise a technique and strategy, and fast.

I made the first of these pieces at EMU’s Fiber studio with my artist friend Suzanne Boissy’s guidance and encouragement. The fabric has to be prepared prior to hand-painting, with dye activator and hand-application of resist applied directly onto the fabric. Then, the dye is custom mixed and painted onto the fabric. This process is somewhat similar to batik.

That forever-tardy white rabbit was popping up everywhere! I finished the remaining pieces in a race against the clock. Later I decorated the storefronts of the Ann Arbor Tea Haus with the square fiber pieces, lights, and red and white silk flowers. Now for rehearsal! Claire was finishing up a semester of ballet dance at EMU, so we could scheme about music selections before or after dance class, on campus. Claire put in a ton of thoughtful research and creative problem-solving, as a we sought to find music from Lewis Carroll’s era. Claire began rehearsing her music selections on her own, and was ready for April 1st like the professional musician that she is! One morning in late March, the performers Lisa Dietz, Claire Guilford and Ginger Ann Nelson and myself gathered at Maple Street Studios to devise our performance score, and fine-tune it. Finally, the Festival date arrived. On April 1st, we danced to a curated a multi-hour playlist, and we also were lucky to have Claire perform live on her violin. We inhabited a magical, enchanted landscape of tea, beats, and so many roses, red and pink and white.

A final word about my recent forays into large-scale, temporary public art: As the parade of several hundred people passed by the store-front, many individuals and families paused and danced with us! Many Festifools participants stayed with us, dancing with enthusiasm, for 3-5 minutes.

This was a delightful occurrence, and we didn’t anticipate the high level of engagement. What a delightful exchange! What fervor, what zeal! If this is a small proof of the leaps public art can make, sign me up for more.

https://www.wonderfoolproductions.org/artists

Kudos to BrushMonkeys for the fanciful window art. Find out more about all the artists who participated here:
https://www.wonderfoolproductions.org/artists

Current Events

“Making Worlds Local Authors’ Night” @ Booksweet.

Poetry and Performances by three artists.

I’m so, so, so excited for this in-person poetry and performance event. Friday 4/22/2022 from 7:30-9.

Follow the link for all the details.
Hope to see you there.

Shibori

How can words, fibers and performance intersect? I’m still contemplating the connections myself, but I know that creating textile/fibers pieces, for me, satisfies a specific desire to invent.

Additionally, because most dances require threads of some kind– scenery, decor, or costume,– I bet many of my pieces will end up as wearables.

I can happily report that three of my recent performance ventures have included my fiber crafting and/or shibori. In chronological order, these are the installation for “Cave” (November 2020 and April 2021, Ypsi Glow (October 2021) and a suite of liturgical pieces for First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor (December 2021.)

Over the past year, I’ve been learning Fibers from the best, Suzanne Boissy, who is a Faculty member in our neighboring School of Art and Design at EMU. Since I am also a Faculty member (teaching Ballet to non-majors) it’s just a hop, skip and a jump between the Fibers’ Lab and our Dance Studios in the Warner Building. Suzanne is also one of my best friends, so I count my lucky stars that I get to study with– and shadow, her– in full Studio Action.

If you’d like to read more about Shibori, including an approach I call “Trash Panda,” fill out a contact form and I will keep you updated when my next blog post drops.

Subscribe, like or follow me to learn more about “Trash Panda Shibori.” In 2022, I will be sure to share updates with you!

Interview with Matt Seigfried, Historian

This semester I have had the privilege of studying with Dr. Elisabeth Däumer from the Department of English Language and Literature. The course finished now, and despite the Quarantine and finishing the course in lockdown, Winter 2020 was a wonderful semester, in terms of our course: Literature in the Age of the Anthropocene. My eco-criticism final project for the Course is a paper entitled “Luna Lake: EcoCriticism, History and Land Use in Ypsilanti.” There is also a conjoined hypermedia notebook in the hopper. Meet me at the River is a multi-modal creative investigation of the Huron River and my study of it over time.

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I have the pleasure of speaking with Matt Seigfried who is a self-employed historian. According to his website, Matt is a historian, writer and researcher originally from Cincinnati, Ohio who has lived in Michigan since 1996. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University with degrees in History and Historic Preservation, much of his work has been on connecting local history to broad historical moments.

Matt’s Master’s Thesis Project resulted in the publication of an impactful website. This site centers around the cultural and sociological histories of African-American Families in Ypsilanti around 1900. Matt and I spoke about the gaps in what history has been preserved in terms of land use, ethics, and social and cultural norms and practices of African-American families. Matt stated:

“If the information wasn’t collected 150 years ago, it’s not (going to be) available now…When we look at history, there is an absolute necessity to use an informed imagination.”

When I explained a bit about my project, and that several of the components in my hyper-media e-book, Meet Me at the River, are inspired by a somatic sensing of place, I wanted to get a professional impression of my research process.

As a Somatics practitioner, I have found that this work infuses everything. A somatic sensing of place allows one to collect distinct impressions of place through one’s sensory apparatus, energetic attunement, and intuitive creative visioning. I call this process of somatic attunement “Deep Time Listening.”

Due to there being significant missing pieces in Ypsilanti’s social and cultural history, there was a lot of sadness and sense of loss in this study. One particularly disturbing gap is the lack of record regarding First Peoples and this area.

The Prospect Park which marks the epicenter of this lived history project is particularly complex. What I was able to establish from historical record is that Luna Lake and Prospect Park were widely used as hunting lands by at least three tribes (bands) simultaneously. The area was plentiful with game and water, having been documented as “Swamp land,” on a platt map.

However, this area, bordered to the East by International Water Way and the Port of Detroit, to the immediate North East by the powerful Huron River, and the South by Ohio settlers and bands of people migrations from East to West, was lively and multi-cultural from the get-go. European influence came from the British and French wars, military history, fur traders and trappers from French-Canada and so on. Consider all the impact of this past, and then add “Great Migrations” of African Americans. Families travelled northward following the Emancipation Proclamation, and continued to seek better employment opportunities in through mid Twentieth century. The progressive manufacturing activities of Edsel Ford are intricately tied to Ypsilanti history. Ford used the river extensively, and hydrology and automotive history play a big part in the industrial development of the area. Additionally, Ford designated housing for factory workers, and the connections between Detroit families and Ypsilanti are hinted at in my poem, “Boys in Dress Uniform.” (DM if you’d like to read a draft.)

Of particular note, burying grounds have an important function in cultural life for all people, and land cultivation as well. In the past, Prospect Park was a burying ground for cholera victims, though these remains were exhumed (presumably respectfully?- one hopes) in 1892 as a activist efforts by local women were undertaken to “improve” the area.

Facing these complexities, during one 15-week semester, which was disrupted by COVID, was a daunting task. I imagine the possibilities of undocumented land use, in January 2020 I began a poetry series inspired by the place where I live. Most of these poems are set in the time period between 1890s-1930’s, and I have wondered how valid Deep Time Listening, combined with sociological and biological factual points of reference and poetic prompts are as literary inquiry.

How important is imagination, interrogations of place, and an examination of built structure in terms of interpreting history? Was I totally off-the-wall in my practice, which like most other points of inquiry, is multi-modal?

How does investigative traditional research, books, scouring newspaper accounts and making detailed examination of photographs, drawing, cartoons, etc. interface with the lived body? I’ve long been fascinated by oral history, especially given its mainstay as a feminist mode of inquiry.

How do conversations, news accounts, and found items play out with the experience of living in a historic neighborhood?

I floated a few questions about the research process I used during LIT 592 to Matt, during our interview. One gem from his response below:

“I do nothing but walk around and imagine what things could have been like. You have an informed understanding of the past, but you must use your imagination. All history requires imagination, in one sense or another.”

This position was reassuring to me. As a white LGBTQ+ woman, living with hidden disabilities, ethics and anti-racism are an on-going concern in my research and life. I’d been juggling historic papers, from City and Michigan State University sources, contemporary pro-Black farming studies (notably Ms. Dorceta Taylor’s comprehensive reportage on African-American farmers in Michigan and nationwide, published in March 2018) with observational study, perusing platt maps, vintage photographs, and the like.

Balancing historical traditional research, primary research and the emergent “Deep Time Listening” made for a heady stew. In order to compose my paper and create aspects of my conjoined hyper-media project, “Meet Me at the River”  I required a professional historian’s point of view. It is and was imperative to me, that the research be as immaculate as possible.

Matt conducts walking tours and considers the built and natural environment an invaluable resource. Matt shares:

“One of the reasons I do walking tours is because history is what we walk around in everyday. History is in our built environment… history navigates the… relationship of the built environment and our natural world. Roads are racially-coded, and the built environment is a really important place to understand history and how social differences are built and encoded into place.”

Visit Matt’s impressive website, which documents African-American families, neighborhoods and life-styles here. The feature image, at top, is a photo from the website, and marks an intersection of major historical import in South Ypsilanti. Similarly, the second image, a candid of Matt, shows him standing in front of a former theatre, on Michigan Ave. where Frederick Douglass spoke twice.

To contact Matt and book a place on one of his tours, or inquire about other programming, send him a note through his website. I personally hope to go on a walking tour with Matt soon, and will be sure to share a bit about it this summer.

Flash Fiction Workshop

Join Christina-Marie and the Creative Writers Association for a Flash Fiction Workshop this coming Sunday March 8th, from 4-6 pm at Cultivate.

Write a short short story of 300, 500 or 1,000 words and bring it to the workshop for peer or small group review.

Look for our table at Cultivate, in the Main Cafe area. Excellent coffees, beverages and snacks are available for purchase, but purchase is not required to participate.

This workshop is free and open to serious creative writers. For those who are not currently students, a suggested donation of $7 to $15 applies. Funds raised will support the Creative Writers Association of Eastern Michigan University. We ask that writers commit the full 120 minutes to the workshop, so everyone has a chance to receive feedback on his/her/their projects.

Email to RSVP

Past Events

Festifools: Alice in Wonderfool 
April 1, 2022

Bollywood Blast 22: Showcase at Cherry Hill Theater
March 20, 2022

YpsiGlow: Wonderfool Productions
October 30, 2021

Somatics Practices in Nature Conference
East West Somatics Institute and LINK Movement Arts, Elmira NY
October 18-20, 2021