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January 22, 2009 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-01-22

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, January 22, 2009 - 3B

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycomThursday, January 22, 2009 - 38

Warming up
with literature

Nick Tobier, an assistant professor in the School of Art & Design, shows off several performance art projects at the lecture "Interruptions for Everyday Life."
Rea Iity, Interrute

I'11 be the first to admit I don't
read as much as I would like,
or even as much as I used
to. I recently had this sobering
conversa-
tion with a
friend, the
same friend _
with whom I
once created
a Facebook
group about
not "looking nfBELY
like philis- CHOU
tines": "I used
to read philosophy texts in eighth
grade, and actually enjoyed
them - and now I barely read for
class." "I used to think I liked the
classics - and now I spend most
of my time reading gossip blogs."
"Really?""... I just really like
Gofugyourself."
But January always convinces
me, at least for the month, that
things could be different. Surely
many of you have had the experi-
ence of going to Shaman Drum
during syllabus week, looking at
the full-price, brand-new text-
books and silently screaming at
the damage they will do to your
checking account - knowing that
after you returned last semester's
books for only three or four bucks
a pop is no conolation. If you're
like me, you think about buying
used books online instead, then
walk downstairs from the text-
book shop and funnel the calcu-
lated savings toward shiny new
novels and essay collections to
read for pleasure. There's an eco-
nomic term for consumers who
spend money knowing they will
receive a big financial windfall,
those who spend money before
they actually get that raise or pay-
check ... or re-sold book money.
My English thesis-addled brain
can't think of it at the moment,
but oh, does it apply to me.
Furthermore, who wants to go
outside into sub-zero temperatures
and AnnArbor's arbitrarilyplowed
streets? I don't. (I would hate
to think that my more frequent
declining of suggested nights out
during winter means I'm destined
to be alone for the rest of my life.
Whatif my future life partner is
waiting to be found at Charley's?)
To keep up the morale and fuzzy
feeling that comes with socializing,
subtract the wait outside on South
U. in the cold and make some use
of your brain, I've come up with
some things to do until the thaw
that blend the literary and social
spheres.
Idea No. 1: Pair good books
with good drinks (and good food).
"Beijing Coma" doesn't really
make me want to drink cheap
rice spirits, but I do find myself
dreaming of Chinese food as

protagonist Dai Wei relives his
pre-coma memories. Curl up on
the couch with the book and some
decent takeout - if you don't tell
me where the food's from, I won't
judge. Or drink wine as the char-
acters in the first part of Roberto
Bolano's "2666" travel through
Europe and to Mexico in pursuit
of a reclusive writer, wining and
dining on the way. Then there's
always Kingsley Amis's "Everyday
Drinking," which has experienced
a recent surge in popularity, re-
printed with his "On Drink" and
"How's Your Glass?" Mix a pitcher
of gin and tonic (for you and a
friend or, if you really are Kings-
ley's kind of drink-man or woman,
for you and yourself), read his
non-fiction and discuss.
Idea No. 2: Ernest Heming-
way get-together/drinking game.
Gather friends and copies of Papa's
heaviest drinking short stories
and novels. Anythingset in Spain
is a goodbet. Drink every time
the characters drink. Drink every
time a character is introduced
Booze, books
and sex buddies.
who doesn't appear to be much
more than a gender stereotype.
Drink every time an animal gets
shot. Two drinks if it's because the
animal has been taken down by
helicopter. Kidding.
Idea No. 3: Test the "January is
mating season" theory. Another
friend theorizes that humans,
especially college-age.humans,
just want to cuddle up with each
other during colder months, and
even more so in the first few
weeks after the holiday break.
Hibernation with a buddy. An
attempt to conserve heat between
bodies. Something like that. With
your partner, climb into bed with
copies of novels listed for the Lit-
erary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction
award - or something more high-
brow, like "Ulysses." Read "sexy"
passages out loud and test the fine
line between mild disgust/confu-
sion and arousal. Giggle. Make
out. Repeat.
Idea No. 4: Exchange books
with your housemates/neighbors/
friends. This one is for the cheap-
skates and true lonely hearts.
Swapping books is good way to
get to know people better - and
it's completely free. That is, until
you spill that pitcher of gin and
tonic on "A Farewell to Arms."
Chou wants to make the perfect
gin and tonic. Send her recipes
at kimberch@umich.edu.

P
T(
lif

erformer Nick
bier dhallenges
e's expectations
By KATIE CAREY
DailyArts Writer

Imagine the first day of fresh-
man year. More specifically, imag-
ine your first time driving in to Ann
Arbor. Remember that giant bill-
board that says, "Welcome to the
University of Michigan"? Probably
not, because there isn't one. What
the University does have as the
distinguishing landmark between
greater Ann Arbor and campus is
a big empty parking lot that reads:
"Red lot. Permit only."
Now re-imagine that first day of
freshman year. Imagine that the
Michigan MarchingBand practiced
in that empty parking lot instead of
Elbel Field. Imagine arriving on
campus for the first time, nervous
about a new roommate and college
classes, your car packed with dorm
accessories, when all of a sudden
you hear a distant "Hail to the Vic-
tors" as a welcome to the visitors.
This is one of the visions of Nick
Tobier, assistant professor in the
School of Art & Design, who gave
a lecture called "Interruptions for
Everyday Life" last Thursday at
the Penny Stamps Distinguished
Visitors Series. Tobier played a
short video of what this vision
might look like. Marching down
State Street waving a baton in
white uniforms and feathered hats,
Tobier gave the audience a glimpse
into the whimsical and awakening
power of the disruption of every-
day life. As car horns blared at the
line of marching musicians, laugh-
ter filled the crowded Michigan
Theater auditorium.
Tobier's venture into perfor-
mance art began when he saw an
elephant in the streets of New York
while walking home from his job at
afishmarket (a jobhe said explained
his social life at the time). It's not a
typical answer about artistic inspi-
ration, but it has a lot to do with
how Tobier makes art now.
"It was something unexpected.
Something to make direct contact
with and something to take a person
out of their isolation," Tobier said.
He later asked others to con-
tribute personal experiences with
this type of interruption. Perhaps
it's the researcher who plays har-
monica on the Diag and makes the
tired student stop and smile, or the
Ghost and Pac Man chase in the
fishbowl a few years ago that made
everyone stop studying for a min-
ute to laugh. Tobier takes the spark
from these exchanges and recre-
ates them as the pivotal part of his
performances.
Tobier was not always a perfor-
mance artist; he began his career
as a wood sculptor: Making con-
traptions like a two-foot-by-six-
foot wooden box that could operate
as the world's smallest apartment,
complete with bed, workspace and
storage space, Tobier soon gave
up his wood sculpting studio, and

made people, the city and even the
world his new workspace.
"I'd walk through New York
where I grew up, where I was liv-
ing, and I'd see all these amazing
things in the street and I'd open
this big door with a padlock and I'd
go inside my studio and I'd make
wood things. Wood sculptures that
had absolutely nothing to do with
what I was walking through," Tobi-
er said ina Play Gallery video.
"What I realized at a certain
point was that I had a studio life
that was completely separate from
the life around me."
The first project that Tobier cre-
ated to close the gap between his
art and his life in the city was apor-
table bridge that he set up over the
small ponds that formed around
the sewers after a snow melt.
Tobier took an active role, helping
people cross the wooden structure
and engaging them in conversa-
tion when they said such things as,
"I'm so glad the city is finally doing
something about this problem."
Another project involved build-
ing a portable hot chocolate stand
made out of a red patchwork
canopy that produced a warm
glow when people stepped inside.
When Tobier showed a picture
of a policeman leaning out of his
window to get a hot chocolate, it
is clear that his work is connect-
ing all types of people by shaking
them out of their routines.
When Tobier was studying land-

scape architecture in graduate
school (which he described as an
uptight place where students cov-
ered their drawings at night so no
one stole their ideas), he came up
with a project that would alter his
environmentthrough performance.
He constructed a tea cart that he
would bring around to the drawing
boards while students were pulling
all-nighters. The catch was, if the
person wanted the mint tea, they
had to agree to unplug one of their
appliances and have a conversation
with Tobier about something other
than their project.
"It's easy to get a laugh," Tobier
said of his work. "It loses its rel-
evance if it's just funny. When my
work stops at being merely funny,
then we don't have a conversation."
Looking around the room dur-
ing Tobier's lecture, it seemed as
if people couldn't help but smile at
the whimsical magic that Tobier's
work brought to them. It was as if
simply hearing about these "Inter-
ruptions for Everyday Life" was an
interruption on its own.
As last Thursday's lecture con-
cluded, it seemed people were
more likely to engage in conversa-
tion with each other ortto smile at a
strangerwalkingoutofthetheater.
It was as ifmerelyviewing Tobier's
work had chipped away the shell
of isolation that many people go
through life wearing - Plugging
into iPods and cell phones instead
of engaging other people.

Granted, there were probably
mixed responses. But that's also
what Tobier values: the variation
of people and diversity within cit-
ies. When Tobier built a tricycle
with a chandelier that hung from
a beam above his head and was
powered by the energy he cre-
ated when pedaling, he received a
mixed bag of comments that were
shouted at him as he rode through
the city. Some people yelled "freak"
from their apartments, but they
also would shout things like, "Take
back the streets!" and "Streets are
for people and bikes, not cars!"
"The work that I am most proud
of has been (the work that make
things seem) as if the energy of
the city has turned inwards," said
Tobier.
Certainly, on a smaller scale,
Tobier captured the attention of
his audience. He commanded the
energy of an entire room and for
an hour and a half, turned that
energy in on itself and providing an
escape from the nagging thoughts
of everyday tasks and duties.

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