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March 12, 2008 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2008-03-12

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 - 5A

Making artfor the
viewing public

Rackham Auditorium
last Thursday, the Beat-
tradition poet Gary
Snyder criticized fellow writers
who lament
the chore of _ - --
getting work
and sold, as
though pub-
work were A
beside the ABIGAIL B.
"Well, they
just haven't
thought it
through - not in an artistic sense
and not in a spiritual sense," the
78-year-old poet declared. "Karl
(Pohrt, the founder and owner of
Shaman Drum Bookshop) and his
work are as much a part of it as
any other step in the process."
Snyder's comments brought up
the idea that artists are involved
in a kind of public service and
that, as public figures, they're
obliged to accept accountability
for what they produce. Not a
revolutionary idea by any means,
but it does distinguish, quali-
tatively, between creative work
done solely for personal expres-
sion and creative work done for
an audience - and, often, for a
"To be an artist means to work
with others in mind," Snyder said,
between poems that reflected
both on the moody limbo of bag-
gage claim areas and the beauty
of Japan's New Year celebrations.
it's no wonder artists easily get
the reputation of being attention-
seekers. The advantages of work-
ing hard to get one's work into
public view may seem self-impor-
tant and calculating - when what
may have started as a labor of love
or of obsession becomes a touch-
stone for public discourse.
Snyder seemed to be framing
art as a critic might: "It's not art
until you're willing to go public
and take the heat, baby," he said.
Snyder wasn't entirely dismissing
work done for personal expres-
sion. He distinguished between
art made with an eye for others
and art made "to build soul," put-
ting an onus on the obligation
artists have to dive into a place
where their work can be put to
the test.
When the Massachusetts
Museum of Contemporary Art's
legal battles with artist Christoph
Buchel halted public viewing of
an enormous installation, the
cartoonishly dramatic legal blows
from both sides prompted Mass
MoCA to publish on its website
a list of questions the public had
about the stymied exhibit. Among
these was whether the legal dis-
putes were actually a secret col-
laboration between the museum
and the artist, meant to create a
subversive performance on the
state of contemporary art. Was
this the art?
Considering the circumstanc-
es, it may have been an honest
question. The art the museum-
goers had been waiting for cer-
tainly wasn't available, but the
snide and antagonistic machina-
tions between museum and artist
could be tracked practically by
the minute and from the comfort
of your own home. It's as though
Museum of Contemporary Art
Detroit gave free admission to
some meta-commentary on art.

Here, "heat" came not only
from professional critics but also
from all the people who have easy
access to the material - whoever
asked MoCAD the million-dollar

I agree with Snyder that vul-
nerability is part of the point of
public service of art. The way a
work is presented once it's in that
public realm can try to change the
playing field, exempting the work
from candid criticism.
Something I feel tends to cheat
in this brave exposure is the
artist explanation placard, the
paragraph or two accompanying
a work of visual art. These can be
terse or wordy. The ones IStake
issue with explain what the work
is supposed to mean and how it's
supposed to feel. It does give a
kind of full disclosure and lets a
viewer judge the work on its own
terms, something I feel can be
important ammunition for a criti-
cal viewer.
On the other hand, it harnesses
the work with a description of the
work's effect. The artist hasn't
made a work of art in the piece
itself, since clearly the piece alone
doesn't suffice to get the message
across - and the artist demon-
strates, with such a placard, that
the message matters. A lot.
one such contemporary work,
in the de Young museum in San
Francisco, was pointed out to
me by a friend whose impres-
sion of the work changed drasti-
cally after reading the placard.
Charred pieces of wood hung at
different heights from invisible
wires, collectively giving the illu-
sion of a hovering cube. It was
technically impressive and fun to
stand near and practice missing
the forest for the trees and find-
ing the forest again.
But the work itself - the pieces
of wood - said little to me about
the black congregation that died
Descriptions of
a painting's
meaning are also
in a church burned in a hate
crime, the souls of the victims
collecting in solidarity and the
sense of awe and horror I was
supposed to feel. It would have
been informative for the placard
to state that the wood was origi-
nal pieces from that destroyed
building. As it was, there was a
very moving idea present in the
work, but it wasn't something I
could see without the artist cod-
dling it into existence.
The closest books of poetry
come to doing this when they
have a glowing introduction, and
even then those are rarely writ-
ten by the author and don't argue
their own interpretation. Part of
what such texts bank on is the
freedom of interpretation, and
therefore of audience approval,
allowed by not having a play-by-
play alongside each poem.
Pohrt is working on transi-
tioning Shaman Drum from a
for-profit business to a non-profit,
changing the strict definition of
how his store serves the public.
Hopefully the kind of transpar-
ency that often goes along with
non-profits will push more of the
publishing business into public
view, generating more heat - and
more light.

Colodner doesn't like when
people tell her what art means.
But e-mail her your thoughts on
Renoir at abigabor@umich.edu


"Oh shit, that's what Will Smith looks like naked?"

On the road

Lawrence controls his
often spastic demeanor in
new G-rated comedy
Daily Arts Writer
If someone had told you back in the summer
of 1995 that Martin Lawrence would one day
star in light, G-rated family comedies, you'd
have snorted and walked
away. In those days, Law-
rence was one of Hollywood's
hottest action stars, fresh College
from his role in the definitely Road Trp
not G-rated "Bad Boys." But
his action persona has aged At Quality16
very poorly, and Lawrence and Showcase
has recently been reduced to Walt Disney
a bevy of uninspired, sloppy
slapsticks. All that history
makes the following statement downright stun-
ning: Lawrence's latest family comedy, "College
Road Trip," is actually a decent movie.
Lawrence stars as James Porter, a Chicago-
area police chief whose daughter is about to go

off to college. Overprotective of his daughter, as
he is of everything else, James wants her to go to
nearby Northwestern University, but little Mel-
anie (Raven-Symon6, TV's "That's So Raven")
has her sights set on Georgetown University.
James agrees to drive Melanie to her admission
interview at Georgetown,. fully intending to
brainwash her alongthe way. But strange things
happen when the loving movie father gets in a
car with his perfect movie daughter - laughs,
tears, lessons and morals - on both sides of the
As predictable as "College Road Trip" is in
purpose and execution, it somehow works.
Nothing this stock should be so charming, but
the film finds a way to engage and, occasion-
ally, surprise its audience. Having a good heart
is one thing - even the worst family movies
have that. This film, however, has feelings - as
weird as that sounds. Rarely do films of this
genre back up their warm and fuzzy intentions
with perceptive, touching plotlines or charac-
ters. Touching would be an overstatement here,
but at east the characters and situations in this
film ring true.
One of the film's biggest accomplishments
maybe that it bottles up the neurotic tendencies
of Lawrence's usual screen persona. Though

his loudness and ability to talk really fast while
saying nothing in particular has served Law-
rence well in action comedies like "Bad Boys"
and "Blue Streak," they're oddly out of place in
the genre he has recently migrated to. In this'
film, Lawrence is flamboyant but not explosive,
allowing the rest of the players to fill their roles
in the story.
The result is not only a calmer, more coher-
ent narrative, but also an unexpectedly deeper
character for Lawrence. When we see him
eagerly donning the colors and logo of colleges,
he tours with his daughter he's easy to iden-
tify and sympathize with. He represents the
entire batch of nervous parents that emerges
every year around this time, not just a psychotic
exception. Doing that while still being at least a
little funny is a remarkable feat.
All this praise for "College Road Trip" must
be qualified by stating that the film is hardly
great. It is amusing and laudable less for its
own merits and more as a testament to how dry
and desperate the family comedy genre is these
days. Slightly overacted and stumbling overjust
about every clich6 imaginable, the film is little
better than a pleasantcouple of hours for people
of all ages. But that in itself is above and beyond
everything we could possibly expect.

The body's second brain

By PRIYA BALI "Scientists say that the belly has
DailyArts Writer a brain," Haddad said in an inter-
view with L'Humanit6.
Homer once wrote, "The belly is "I call it the sun, and arms and
the commanding part of the body," legs are its rays."
and he was right. It aches when She will be accompanied by the
we're sick, drops Ghawazee musicians of Luxor,
when we're Egypt, who play traditional instru-
shocked, fills Leila ments like the re baba, a two string
with butterflies Haddad Egyptian fiddle, and a tabla, an
when we're ner- Indian hand drum.
vous, but moves Tonight at oriental dance is one of uncer-
freely when we 8 p.m. tain origins, reminiscent of the
dance. This is At the Power indigenous dances of ancient
something Ori- Center North Africa, India and other Mid-
ental dancer, $16-$36 dle Eastern countries. Tonight's
choreographer performance will be a collective
and teacher Leila display of the sights and sounds of
Haddad understands. Haddad will these regions. In addition, Haddad
make her Ann Arbor debut tonight will incorporate Greek, Iranian
at the Power Center for the Per- and Spanish dance influences.
forming Arts. Born of Tunisian and Syrian
Haddad will be performingRaqs descent, Haddad learned oriental
el Sharqi, the Arabic term for "belly dance by watching her mother and
dance," where the role of the danc- aunts as a young girl. In London,
er is to convey emotion and rhythm after pursuing a masters degree in
of music through movement of the English, Haddad decided to resist
feet, legs, pelvis, chest and neck, the disapproval of her family and
which all function in the move- pursue a career in dance. It was
ment of the belly. no easy task. When she came to

France, stereotypes of this far east-
ern dance deprived people of an
understanding of its true nature.
"American culture is so domi-
nant in France that no one ever took
the liberty to translate the terms
rock'n'roll, mambo, salsa and twist
in equivalent French terms," Had-
dad said in an interview with Tilda
"It is not the case for oriental
dance that they allowed them-
The belly is the
sun, and the arms
and legs, the rays
selves not only to translate but also
to 'misrepresent' by a bad transla-
tion: 'belly dance' for American
people and 'danse du ventre' for
French people."
Haddad's work as a dancer has
helped undo a cultural miscom-
munication about the art of belly

dancing, which is still being res-
cued from its negative connotation
in the West as a dance exclusive to
nightclubs and cabarets. Haddad
suggests a more accurate transla-
tion, calling it "Eastern dance." Its
identity as a credible form of art
becomes more recognizable when
it emerges from its hidden setting
and onto a theatrical stage.
"My struggle concerns people's
approach to this dance, and it
seems to me more than necessary
to do this job and carry on with it,"
she said.
Haddad's job is a work in prog-
ress, as this Eastern dance is always
in motion. While it remains true to
its multi-layered traditions, it has
become a sort of blank tablet in the
U.S. where rock and hip hop, as well
as fashion and film, can leave their
influences. The dance is more com-
plex than what we see. The sensual
bold movements elicit an under-
standing of an ancient civilization,
whose dances will emerge tonight
from the edges of a questionable
form of art and into an acceptable
and versatile mode of expression.

For an application, e-mail


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