Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 1982 \ BA University of Chicago \ MA University of Illinois – Springfield \ Lives in Detroit
There’s a mysterious but exciting energy in the images created by Precious Johnson-Arabitg, known artistically as VODKASERENGETI. Her performance-based compositions have a strong and fearless nature that arrest the eyes at a glance and draw the observer into the scene.
Often turning the camera on herself, VODKASERENGETI describes her visual voice with expressive terms like out there, weird, disruptive, uncomfortable, and shocking. A scroll through her Instagram page (@vodkaserengeti)–home to her bold images– complements her self-assessment. In a ghostly diptych, VODKASERENGETI becomes Persona Non Grata (2017), an allegorical figure who, in this set, instructs the observer to “make space to mourn past selves, lost selves, fictional selves.” The character appears, she says, in a state of limbo where there’s difficulty in processing and coping with things unsaid and unaddressed – “individually and collectively as a nation.” Each transitional state calls for an enlightened consciousness and allows rebirths to take form.
Dorota Coy, Born Lubin, Poland, 1978 / BA University of Vermont / Lives in Detroit
Steve Coy, Born Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1978 / BFA, University of Michigan, MFA University of Hawaii / Lives in Detroit
Like many outside of Detroit, I first encountered the work of Dorota and Steve Coy through the film Detropia in 2012. Looking up at the glowing, gold-gas-masked Executives of the Hygienic Dress League Corporation (HDL) I never imagined that in 2020 I’d be emailing with Dorota to reschedule an interview when the opening of their exhibition The Five Realms at Wasserman Projects – along with all other social events in the city and across the world – was postponed due to a global pandemic.
As I clear my calendar, I wonder how many respirators are currently among HDL’s holdings, and whether that number affects the corporation’s value. There’s plenty of time for a deep dive on the internet to find out while I’m waiting for public life to resume.
What I discover is that Steve and Dorota Coy are not the Hygienic Dress League.
Leyya Mona Tawil, Born Livonia, MI, 1975 / BDA University of Michigan, MFA Mills College, Oakland, CA
Mike Khoury, Born Mt Pleasant, MI, 1969 / BA(Econ) University of Michigan, MA Central Michigan University, MA Michigan State University / Lives in Northville, MI
On a sparse stage, a woman’s body rolls sideways, spinning about its central axis, ricocheting from one edge of the space to the other, back and forth, sometimes at alarming speeds and almost crashing into the audience, other times slowing down, exhausted. In comparison to the familiar, childlike, head-over-heels rolling, this movement seems alien and serious. The woman is clad in a stylishly cut, army-green, hooded raincoat and wears black boots that periodically land solidly but awkwardly on the floor, searching in vain for a physically sustainable way to continue the body’s rotation. Elsewhere on the stage, a black-clad musician holding a viola alternates between periods of repeated, siren-like glissandos and silence. There is a palpable push-and-pull between dancer and musician, but who is pushing and who is pulling is hard to say at any moment in this uncompromising performance.
Born Farmington Hills, MI, 1987 / BS, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit
“What is an artist? A provincial who finds himself somewhere between a physical reality and a metaphysical one…”
Movement artist Rachael Harbert can be found dancing in that space between the lived and the dreamed. Propelled by nature, relationships, and other earthly things, she works in extremes that point to absurdities within the norm. Exaggerated gestures and surrealist imagery leap out from within her creations. Harbert’s body of work includes site-specific performances, installations, and stage presentations. Each confronts the viewer with urgent meditations on the human condition, and breathes into being the otherwise invisible, intangible, unsociable psyche.
Born 1989, Royal Oak, MI / BFA, The Cooper Union, New York, NY / Lives in Detroit
In his 2017 bestseller Fantasyland, Kurt Andersen makes the convincing case that an essential aspect of the American character is a brazen disregard for the line between reality and fantasy. This is a congenital condition, he argues, that dates back to the nation’s founding.
Andersen’s thesis provides a useful lens through which to view the work of Bailey Scieszka, a multimedia artist and writer with a voracious appetite for history, on one hand, and popular fantasies like conspiracy theory, live action role playing, and end times prophecy, on the other. But for Scieszka, it is not just our eager and longstanding embrace of the irrational that makes Americans Americans; it is also the will to violence that is so dangerously entangled with our mania for make-believe.
Scieszka’s work has a great deal to do with violence. It’s “the only way to tell a true story,” according to her unbridled alter-ego Old Put—a murderous, shapeshifting, basket-weaving demon clown and pro wrestler who is the star of her elaborately-conceived plays, performances, and videos, and who features prominently in her prodigious drawings. Indeed, Scieszka’s astonishing output to date can be understood as an extravagant explosion of American violence, fantasy, and myth—a deranged, bedazzled, go-for-broke freak show that is informed by history, interpolated by trash and post-internet pop culture, and framed by anxiety about the horrors of contemporary life. Her work is a funhouse mirror reflection of the world today, hilarious at one turn and terrifying the next.
Born 1992, Udaipur, India / BFA, American University in Dubai, UAE / MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Madison Heights, MI
Detroit-based multimedia artist Jetshri Bhadviya is profoundly concerned with technique. She’s lived much of her life steeped in it; entering her studio, you’re confronted by exquisite prints of her photographic work, crystalline recordings of her expansive, layered sound pieces, and (perhaps surprisingly, since she tends not to exhibit them) rows of well-executed oil paintings. Bhadviya grew up studying Kathak, a form of classical Indian dance. She is an avid student of history, religion, science, and gender. She is fluent in Hindi and English, and has studied Sanskrit.
But from this vast, rich education, Bhadviya has arrived at an understanding of technique’s dead end. Just as she’s hopped continents in pursuit of higher education and career, so has she sought to transcend the foundations of technical mastery to create a language, a practice, that is entirely hers. Bhadviya arranges archives of everyday sounds into staggering sonic maps, meticulously arranges signs in her still images to awaken ideas about gender, identity and place while uncannily canceling them out, and cloaks herself in swaths of confining fabrics for her performance work, crafting a balance between sophisticated and primordial, sensual and asexual, observant and blind.
Born 1984, Pittsburgh, PA / BFA, Maryland Institute College of Art; MFA Virginia Commonwealth University / Lives in Detroit
Performance, food, puppetry, sculpture (both soft and hard), video, quilting, agitprop parading, even rima oris theatrics. Enter Leslie Rogers’ work with a premise of play—as verb and noun. A vibrant, animated constellation of unfettered elements run through this diversity of forms: rhythmic, dynamic, and overflowing. Rogers speaks of her work in an intuitive, ambling fashion, imparting an exquisite corpse-like testimony, one anecdote leading into the next and, just when these elements appear leaning off topic, they fall squarely into the work, illuminated.
Born 1986, Saginaw, MI/ BFA University of Michigan; MFA University of Iowa/ Lives in Highland Park, MI
Jennifer Harge is a student of the body — the black body, to be exact.
She lives to make them move, play, and most of all to speak; yes, speak, truth to hard social traumas and silent terror. And do not for a second misread Harge’s intention or vision of dance as an invitation to be entertained. In fact, keep your applause. This dancer turned movement artist, choreographer and educator, is after more – your mind.
Born Detroit, 1953 / BA, University of Detroit / Lives in Detroit
Where do you begin with Maurice Greenia, Jr., aka Maugré? This painter, sculptor, blogger, actor, musician, cartoonist, pamphleteer, puppeteer and all-around walking art project is a bundle of creative energy focused through a lens likely ground in some dimension far, far away but somehow reflecting so much of our world.
His prolific works in watercolor, acrylic, oil, and pen and ink, such as View of a World (2007), create in viewers the irresistible urge to consider how, under what circumstances, the strange and colorful figures prancing across a strange and fantastical landscape could make sense. Look at one of his estimated 10,000 (!) drawings or his pieces hanging in a gallery exhibit, such as the huge section of Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art given to Greenia in a 2008 show there. Some will jump out and resonate for reasons that may immediately call to mind something of personal significance. Others may resonate for reasons that may not become clear for a long time, if ever, yet they will continue to compel and intrigue.
Born Ithaca, New York, 1987 / BS, Skidmore College; MFA, University of Kansas / Lives in Detroit
Eli Gold’s conceptual performances explore the value of labor in art by using the artist’s own body as medium, material, and live-tested instrument. To consider art as a form of labor places emphasis on measures of time and physical effort, and on the demonstration of the processes by which a work of art is made. In addition, Gold’s work exposes how gestures of doing are inextricably intertwined with gestures of feeling, as his practice foregrounds how institutions such as art galleries regulate human behavior. The conceptual approach to performance art in Gold’s work also makes intellectual labor significant, as an a priori plan prefigures each task-based event—whose execution is an ultimately perfunctory affair.
Born Detroit, 1975 / BFA, College for Creative Studies, Detroit / Lives in Detroit
It makes sense that Nicola Kuperus was onstage at the Detroit Institute of Arts recently, running her big yellow vacuum up and down a strip of beige carpet. And that a few minutes later, her face obscured by a long, black wig, she started to play the vacuum, using an effects pedal to modulate and amplify its heavy roar. And that a few minutes after that, she pulled out a tall, pink vase and began to fill it, maniacally, with fake plants, while on a screen above her, another Kuperus appeared, dressed up and gesticulating like a cross between a magician, Laurie Anderson, and some faceless horror movie creep, and that that Kuperus had the same vase, which she began to slap with her white-gloved hand, asking it, over and over again, “Ya like that?”
Born Detroit, 1982 / BA, Howard University; MA, University of Chicago; Phd, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit
Art, ever sociable, is always in conversation with something else. One of artist Maya Stovall’s primary interlocutors is the City—that ever-shifting concatenation of street, sidewalk, and neighborhood; of people, power, and capital. (This conversation started early; Stovall recalls riding her bike to the Detroit Institute of Arts as a child and developing an “obsession” with the street life she encountered along the way.) For the last four years, she has pursued a related obsession, enacting and documenting an ongoing series of sidewalk performances and ethnographic interviews made near the liquor stores that dot her eastside neighborhood, McDougall-Hunt. Stovall, who trained in classical ballet, holds a Master’s degree in Economics and a PhD in Performance Studies and Cultural Anthropology. She approaches the sprawling yet tightly focused Liquor Store Theatre project as a means to ask what she calls “monumental questions” about human existence via “close, rigorous, devoted, durational looking.”
Born Rhinelander, WI, 1979/ BFA (Music), California Institute of the Arts / Lives in Detroit
The artist Billy Mark intentionally messes with your head. He moves, he morphs, he mystifies. Watch him for even a moment, and it’s soon clear that he embodies this trio of M’s and more—sometimes all at once.
In fact, Mark means to make you believe that the whole “artist” moniker—improvisational freestyle poet and installation artist, to be exact—is too confining for him or his multidimensional work, which spans and connects conceptual theater, performance, sculpture, poetry, music, movement, even silence. Label him, if you must, but no longer will he narrow himself.
Liza Bielby, Born Flint, MI, 1980 / BA Kalamazoo College, MI; MFA Dell’ Arte International, CA / Lives in Detroit
Richard Newman, Born London, England, 1980 / BA Greensboro College, NC / Lives in Detroit
It’s 1970. The sixties are over, but not yet past. In a townhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village two members of revolutionary leftist group The Weather Underground are building a pipe bomb packed with nails and dynamite. They plan to use it to “bring the war home” to a dance for non-commissioned officers and their dates at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Casualties are inevitable. A third member of the cell is hammering out an accompanying statement on a typewriter, maniacally searching for inspiration in lines from Sophocles’ Antigone—a play whose message of non-conformity in war-time has achieved renewed currency in the Vietnam protest era. The book he reads from is not just any version of the play, but one by the legendary New York-based anarcho-pacifist ensemble The Living Theater—which is in turn a translation of a version by Bertolt Brecht. At that moment, the twin radical undercurrents of theater and far-left politics converge. Then the bomb explodes. So ends a pivotal scene in The Hinterlands’ kaleidoscopic 2016 art/theater project The Radicalization Process. Continue reading
Born New York, NY, 1988 / BA (Anthropology), Wayne State University; BFA, College for Creative Studies / Lives in Detroit
The art of weaving has long inspired metaphors for nothing less than the nature of human existence — from the mythic Fates, literally weaving each individual’s destiny, to Ishmael’s musing in Moby Dick that the “mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm.” The age-old link between weaving and living is of paramount significance to Levon Kafafian, a young artist and teacher for whom this ancient way of making is at the center of a vital, unfolding, multimodal practice — a practice that seeks to connect people more deeply to the natural world, one another, and their own lived experience. Continue reading
Born Sebastopol, CA, 1976 / BA, University of California Santa Cruz; MA & PhD (Performance Studies), New York University / Lives in Detroit
On a sunny Sunday afternoon last July, several hundred people crowded the Dequindre Cut, a popular recreation path in Detroit, to watch a dance. The performance, one of three public dance labs programmed to accompany “Here Hear,” the Cranbrook Art Museum’s celebrated exhibition of Nick Cave soundsuits, included music by Frank Pahl and choreography by Biba Bell. There is no telling what, exactly, the audience expected. What they witnessed was a distributed dance, a de-centered performance event, in which any vantage point along the Cut’s long, linear footprint offered a different view of different groups of dancers, some of whom slinked by in sinuous silence, while others posed, elegant and remote, above the crowd. Others danced a mannered duet involving the ritualistic exchange of their black or white soundsuit costumes, and the rest, by the end, were dancing in furious, ecstatic unison. When all was said and done, no one present had seen a complete dance, or the same dance. Everyone, however, had seen a dance by Biba Bell, an artist who specializes in the unexpected.
Born Bryn Mawr, Pa, 1980 / BFA, Rhode Island School of Design; MArch, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Hamtramck
Art, it’s been said, is often about taking something small, and making a really big deal out of it. For Jessica Frelinghuysen, that initial seed is the minutiae of social interaction – the tiny events that individually are of little consequence, but that collectively make up the fabric of any society. Continue reading
Born Raleigh, North Carolina, 1986 / BA Bennington College / Lives in Detroit MI
Hamilton Poe’s artist statement is a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation in which he, the patient, a “27-year-old right handed male,” is characterized in modern scientific terms. It details everything from his previous diagnoses of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia to his superior “non-verbal concept formation and reasoning skills.” Continue reading
Born Detroit, 1964 / BA, University of California at Los Angeles / MFA, University of Michigan / Lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan
To date, Melanie Manos has scrunched into the upper shelves of walk-in closets; inserted her body between exposed wall studs; inhabited the interiors of defunct, doorless refrigerators; squeezed into rolling metal utility cabinets; ducked into niches and crevasses of attics; walked the rafters; clambered up, over, and down interior walls; climbed the exteriors of multistoried buildings; and, most recently, shinnied into the upper reaches of gigundo, sequoia-sized tree trunks. A number of Manos’s intrepid feats have been achieved digitally or on video and, surprisingly perhaps, beget as potent a reflexive audience reaction—fear, unease, release—as her literal, physical performances. She is indeed the consummate interdisciplinary artist who works in performance, digital media, and installation, exhibiting not only nationally but internationally.