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April 02, 2009 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2009-04-02

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Surreal bedtime tales

Daily Arts Writer
It's difficult to describe the
charm of "The Last of the Really
Great Whangdoodles" without
usingtheword"quirky." It'seven
more difficult to leave out "orig-
inal," "creative" and "zany." But
none of these can fully capture a
work that is so much more than
a children's fantasy novel.
As if 60 years of acting and
three Academy Awards nomina-
tions weren't enough to seal her
legacy, Julie Andrews - Mary
Poppins herself - has also writ-
ten one of the greatest children's
books of all time. In the spirit
of "The Phantom Tollbooth"
and "From the Mixed-Up Files
of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,"
"Whangdoodles" creates a lov-
able and bizarre world of High-
Behind Splintercats, living
motorcycles and the ineffable
Whiffle Bird.
The story follows three chil-
dren - Ben, Tom and Lindy
Potter - on a journey with the
brilliant Professor Savant to a
magical world resembling Peter
Pan's Neverland on LSD. On the

trip, Lindy gets kidnapped by a
huge cat, the children travel on
the Jolly Boat - a vessel fueled
by bad jokes and uncontrollable
giggling - and Tom learns to
always be polite - even to the
Swamp Gaboons, who insult his
mother and otherwise bait him.
But through it all, their goal is
clear. They must reach the cas-
tle and see what few others have
A children's
book on LSD.
seen before: the last really great
"Whangdoodles" borrows
the frame of English children's
literature in the style of E. Nes-
bit and others, and then tosses
in some ecstasy and tells it to get
out on the dance floor. In many
ways, it's more like "Alice in
Wonderland" than "Five Chil-
dren and It," far surpassing the
other classics in its genre with
sheer creativity.
But Edwards succeeds in

more than just the book's amaz-
ing originality; her true tri-
umph lies in the subtle harmony
between good and evil. In many
children's books, the story is
exasperatingly bland. No child
in his or her right mind wants
to read a book about perfect
children and their wonderful,
danger-free adventure. Incor-
porating horrifyingly scary
and invincible villains, how-
ever, isn't an effective recipe for
success on the juvenile market
Edwards achieves a balance.
Not only are the protagonists
of "Whangdoodle" flawed and
the bad guys vulnerable, it's
often unclear who's on which
side. Sometimes good isn't quite
as good as it first appears, and
sometimes the villains aren't
as villainous as they seem.
More than a physical journey,
"Whangdoodles" is an emo-
tional puzzle that, as soon as
it seems predictable, reverses
readers' expectations.
In the end, "Whangdoodles"
is a story of hope, but in a very
specific sense: Here, technol-
ogy can solve even the most dire
and bizarre problems.
As Professor Savant
imports culture tubes,
a dissecting micro-
scope and a laser beam
into Whangdoodle-
land, Edwards makes a
statement - in 1974 -
about hope for technol-
ogy and hope through
technology. In the end,
the answer to all of
the problems of this
mystical land lies in a
mixture of scientific
advances and human
"The Last of the
Really Great Whang-
doodles" shouldn't be
classified strictly as
children's literature. It
represents a freedom
of imagination, creativ-
ity and relativism that
appeals to a much larg-
er audience than those
who are 12 and under.

From Page 1B
her freshman year.
"At first I was upset that one day it
was gone, but they redeemed them-
selves with the new museum," Musial
said, conversing with a friend about
how their previous experience with
the museum had been limited to see-
ing 15 pop-artpieces and then leaving.
The two emphpsizedthatthe museum
is now an immersive experience.
The UMMA experience is tailored
specifically to fit University students'
needs. Whether it be the free WiFi
and the comfy chairs that lure stu-
dents into the museum after class or
the extended hours and free admis-
sion that make it more convenient
to freely stroll through the exhibits,
once inside, students will find deeper
and more unexpected reasons for
enjoying UMMA.
"Art is a fundamental way of learn-
ing about the world," UMMA Direc-
tor of Education Ruth Slavin said.
"Whether or not it's a student's cho-
sen profession or not, I am hoping that
it will touch them in their four years."
Additional resources have been
added to the museum to help stu-
dents engage more with the artworks.
Besides the protocol placard next to
each piece, the museum offers addi-
tional information in each exhibit
spaceas well as storage drawers under
many of the sculptures. This wayvisi-
tors can choose to learn more if they
feel inclined to do so, but are not over-
whelmed with information.

"We wanted to take things beyond
labels. There are backstories (drawn)
from popular culture and science that
help people engage with the art in a
different way," Slavin said.
Artmuseums canoftenseemintim-
idating or irrelevant to a lot of people,
especially if those people aren't well
versed in the subjects at hand. Walk-
ing up a long flight of stairs and pass-
ingbetween huge monolithic columns
in order to enter a space that holds
something virtually unknown is not
always a comforting thought.
UMMA has combated this some-
what intimidating museum presence
not only with approachable literature
about the work in its collection, but by
opening its walls with floor-to-ceiling
glass windows. In doing so, UMMA
essentially nixes the notion of the
exclusive, academic institution and
puts art in the streets (or the Diag) for
the public to see.
The glass also allows the casual
passerby to catch a glimpse of what
more can be seen inside and perhaps
will get the person to gather some
courage to make the epic journey up
the stairs. That's one big hurdle -
getting people into the museum. The
next is keeping them there, and keep-
ing them coming back.
The labyrinthine design of the
museum forces visitors to weave
through galleries they may never
have walked through otherwise,
potentially introducing them to
things they never knew they were
interested in. It's nearly impossible
to come in and head straight for a
specific room without catching a
glimpse of something completely

unexpected. It's an experience that
may unfold hidden passions and
interests in the arts.
Alexandra Miller, an LSA senior
who attended the 24-hour open-
ing, was especially impressed by the
design of the vertical gallery - the
three-story, awe-inspiring exhibit
space that allows visitors to see into
multiple exhibits at once.
"It's almost like a CliffsNotes (on
the history of art) - it'sthis spectrum;
you can be looking at an abstract work
and see Asian art out of the corner of
your eye," Miller said. "And maybe
that person never goes to see Asian
art; maybe it intimidates them, or they
didn't think they were interested in it.
It makes you view art in that way -
more interconnected, more fluid, less
rigid, less boxed off."
This same idea is reflected in the
storage gallery in the upper balcony
of the apse. The effect of having con-
temporary art, African art and Indian
religious figures side-by-side with
Japanese sculpture helps the viewer
fill in the gaps between previously
separated art forms and begin to bet-
ter piece together the power that art
has on understanding a shared uni-
versal past.
After a full week of opening events,
it may seem appropriate to bask in
the afterglow of the successful reno-
vation. But the best part is still to be
realized. UMMA was not just a stu-
dent opening or a 24-hour museum
marathon. It's almost too simple to
even write: UMMA is open for the
rest of the year, the rest of your col-
lege education. UMMA is your's for
the taking.

it has had its place in the performance and art world for a
longtime, that gives the students a more solidbase to work
Once given that base, the professors hope to see the stu-
dents work to advance their art form.
"We have tobe as much listeners and observers as giv-
ers and leaders because the program will start to define
itself even more by the students," Tulip said. "I mean, the
work that the students do will define what the program is
eventually. Because I think that's one thing we're waiting
for, isto see what new voices come."
But such development depends on those new voices

coming forth - a task often stilted by parental concerns.
Many parents have qualms about sending their sons and
daughters to theater and art schools, even if they have
well-established programs, noting the unpredictable and
competitive job market for artists and performers.
Still, Hughes sees hope for such creative occupations.
"Perhaps in this economy, I would argue that we all have
to be thinking like artists. You know, everybody has to be
creative, and there's no clear career path."
Regardless of post-graduation plans, Tulip offers some
advice to aspiring performance artists: "I think what the
students need is that unshakable knowledge ... 'Nothing's
going to stop me, wherever I am, wherever, whatever I'm
doing, I'll be making my art, however it grows."'
One thing is sure: The Interarts major will provide a
haven for colorfully creative minds, and their handiwork
will add to the already vibrant backdrop of arts on campus.

Work for our Fine Arts staff. E-mail battlebots@umich.edu for an application.


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