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Arts

Meet the fellows

18 Detroit composers, authors and performers reap rewards in Kresge program

Photo: Patrick Daly
Jolly good fellows: Rachel Harkai, Valeria “La Chispa” Montes, Frank Pahl, Monica Blaire, Lynn Crawford, Steve Hughes, Chris Tysh (front), Haleem “Stringz” Ar-Rasheed, Louis Aguilar, Rick Robinson, Vince Carducci, Spencer Barefield, Vievee Francis, Timmy “Vulgar” Lampinen, Joel Peterson, “Invincible” Ilana Weaver. (Not pictured: Matthew Olzmann, Craig L. Wilkins.)
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Published 6/30/2010

Under merciless fluorescents inside Detroit's College for Creative Studies' Center Gallery sits Detroit punk Timmy Vulgar, his Viking-red muttonchops connecting jawbones to a blond receder that's sort of slicked back for the occasion. The untamed frontman is wearing blue jeans and a once-white T-shirt from a band (No Bunny) he's probably shared a stage and more with. He's intensely quiet amid a small village of contemporary Detroit musicians, writers and dancers. Do they know the energy inside this guy, what it must take to restrain it? Today though, he's Timmy Lampinen, a calmer version of himself. 

To Timmy's right are a couple of hip-hop torchbearers. The coolly subdued break dancer Haleem "Stringz" Ar-Rasheed stretches out in his seat, a baseball cap tilted to one side, just so. Next is the voracious vocalist Monica Blaire. A trio of warmly weird scribes sit to Vulgar's left, including Hamtramck's affable zinester Steve "Stupor" Hughes, novelist and MOCADite Lynn Crawford and the challenging Parisian émigré poet and playwright Chris Tysh. 

There are 16 esteemed writers, dancers and composers here in all — along with two who couldn't make the gathering, the recipients of the 2010 Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellowship, a program of the Kresge Foundation. The striking flamenco phenom Valeria "La Chispa" Montes is there, as is bassist Rick "Mr. CutTime" Robinson and multi-instrumentalist and programmer Joel Peterson.

The fellows listen as Kresge Arts in Detroit's director, Michelle Perron, and assistant director, Mira Burack, unwrap the ins and outs of the fellowships. Cedric Tai, a young painter, sculptor and 2009 fellow, sits in a far corner with a high-beam grin smacked on his face. One year ago, he was sitting where Timmy Vulgar and the rest of the new class sits — unsure how his life would be affected. At the very least, all these fellows know is a cool $25,000 is coming their way. Tai knows what's to come in the following year is more than just money, and he can't wait to share. 

While the fellows are awarded $25,000 each, they're also invited to attend a professional development retreat backed by year-long support programming from ArtServe Michigan, the state's leading arts and culture advocacy organization. Tai describes the professional development program as "a massive vault of information that only seemed to get bigger throughout the year." Part of what makes this aspect of the fellowship successful, Tai notes, is that those leading the professional development are also artists able to communicate on the same artsy wavelength. "Everyone is inspirational in their own right, holistic in their advice, and will pretty much be there if you need them, long after the fellowship period ends," Tai says. 

He goes on to tell of a recent study he discovered that described how experts in dissimilar fields have more in common with each other than those who work within their occupation. "The people who are the most interested in being innovative or experimental or more heartfelt relate their research and quest on profound levels," he says. Collaboration should be part of the experience, and the chance to collaborate with other diverse artists is what Tai hopes the 2010 fellows take advantage of. "I'm pretty ecstatic," Tai says of this year's fellowship. "I see it like a big, talented family."

The Kresge fellowships are part of Kresge Arts in Detroit's $8.8 million commitment to arts and culture in the tri-county area. In odd-numbered years, the program focuses on visual artists, naming 18 fellows (Gilda Snowden, Chido Johnson, Senghor Reid, Kristin Beaver and Russ Orlando were among the inaugural group in 2009) and one eminent artist, who is awarded $50,000 (starting with Charles McGee). In even-numbered years, the program turns to literature, music and the performing arts. Earlier this year, jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave was named as the year's eminent artist. These are this year's fellows and samples of some of their work.


LITERARY ARTS

Louis Aguilar

After staff stints with the Washington Post and Denver Post, Louis Aguilar came back home to Detroit in 2004 to work for The Detroit News. The award-winning reporter has consulted for the Smithsonian and headed up the Cruzando Fronteras Film Festival in Washington, D.C., but in the last two years, the writer delved further into the realms of creative nonfiction. His 2009 book, Long Live the Dead: The Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato, published by the Detroit Science Center, is about a Mexican city's love affair with 112 of its mummified citizens:

On the morning of June 9, 1865, the remains of Dr. Remigio Leroy were removed from crypt 214 at Santa Paula Panteon Municipal because no one could be found to pay his grave tax of 50 pesos. When the cemetery caretakers pried opened the French physician's wooden casket, located in the middle of a concrete wall of tombs, the men were horrified, according to one of many local legends. One man immediately fled and another fell to his knees in prayer because both feared they had just unleashed the devil.
Dr. Leroy should have been a skeleton. Instead they found something with skin and still wearing elegant burial clothes. His beard appeared to continue to grow beyond his death though his eyes had vanished. His dropped lower jaw and the slight tilt of his head to the right makes it looks as if he's in the middle of an engaging conversation.

Was it the hand of God or Satan? The brightest minds of 19th century Guanajuato — priests and politicians and philosophers and scientists — gathered to examine him. Even an old Indian woman said to be able to communicate with the dead was brought in, but allegedly ruled Dr. Leroy wasn't sufficiently dead for her powers to work.

Little was concluded beyond he was actually dead and posed no health threat. He was a mummy, just as the ones in Egypt. Except he was unplanned; an accidental mummy.


VINCE CARDUCCI

No strangers to these pages, Vince Carducci has been sorting out his opinions on arts and culture for a quarter-century. When he's not writing for Art & Australia, Artforum, Art in America, PopMatters and Sculpture, Carducci pens essays for such scholarly publications as the Canadian Journal of Sociology. Here in Detroit, he's a prolific educator, currently employed by both Oakland University and the College for Creative Studies. In 2007-08, he coordinated the Critical Studies/Humanities Program at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

From Revolutionary Rabbits: Groundbreaking Detroit Artist Michael Luchs Resurfaces (Metro Times, Dec. 8, 2004)

In promoting the Cass Corridor movement (an outgrowth of the legendary Detroit Artists' Workshop), art world gatekeepers like then DIA curator Jay Belloli came up with the term "urban expressionism" to distinguish it from the cool objectivity of minimalism and the dry immateriality of conceptual art that, at the time, ruled aesthetic theory. As the argument went, the deeply committed and physical Cass Corridor work was noteworthy as a regional countercurrent to the so-called mainstream emanating from New York. 

But instead of being reactionary, the Cass Corridor was right on trend. The Whitney Museum of American Art declared the birth of 'New Image Painting' in 1978, and neo-expressionism was in full swing by the time of [Detroit artist Michael] Luchs' 1981 Feigenson Gallery show. Luchs can be considered a pioneer of what we now call postmodernist art, alongside Julian Schnabel, Susan Rothenberg and especially Anselm Keifer, whose forest mythology pieces are artistic cousins of Luchs' rabbits. 

As with neo-expressionism, the best Cass Corridor art is permeated with Romantic self-determination, and the bootstrapping aesthetic of Luchs' rabbits exempli?es it. 

Method and materials seem invented anew from work to work. There isn't any indication of formal art training, and not a conventional brushstroke is visible. The materials are nontraditional and commonplace: industrial enamel, sign maker's stencils, duct tape, carpenter's staples, etc. Luchs is totally in command every step of the way; it's the will to art, pure and simple.


Lynn Crawford

In the wake of efforts such as Solow, Blow and her collection of critical sestinas, Fortification Resort, we await art critic and fiction writer Lynn Crawford's new novel, Simply Separate People, Two, due out this autumn. A founding board member of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Crawford's critical eye has produced works for Art in America, Zing, Modern Painters and more. 

From Simple Separate People, Two 
Coming Sept. 2010 (Brooklyn Rail)

"Your grandmother was a gentle woman, but a ferocious gardener," my mother told me. "She channeled her sadness, and humiliation at being cheated on and poor, and having the sickliest farm animals in the county into making and caring for her garden. No one could ever figure out when she did it, but I can tell you: she did it at night. I heard her go outside. Father, drunk, passed on the couch or floor, never heard her. But I did. I watched her outside her bedroom window. If the night was pitch black I could not see, but knew she was working hard because I heard her breathe, grunt. But if there was a full moon or a starry sky I could see. And it was astonishing to watch her little body crouch, dig, rise, cut, snip, groom. All day long she was busy with regular farm jobs: feeding animals, picking fruit, digging vegetables, bathing children. But at night she worked on her own plot of land, turning it into something remarkably pretty. On the other hand, gardening was tough on her own looks, giving her a deeply bent back and prematurely hunched shoulders. She never had time for me, her only daughter, but our neighbor, Gertrude, did. She saw that I was uncared for. She saw that I did not like being outside or doing the dirty farm jobs. So she took me in. She taught me how to knit, sew, wash, and bake. My mother was never one to spend time inside. Gertrude gave me small jobs (drying dishes, darning socks, polishing silver) and paid me enough to buy toothpaste, shoes, and notebooks.


Vievee Francis

The award-winning poet Vievee Francis has works in a number of journals and anthologies, including the notable Approaching Literature volume. A Callaloo and Cave Canem Fellow, she currently works with Springfed Arts. We'll see her work next in Best American Poetry 2010 and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry.

From "Say It, Say It Anyway You Can,"

Rattle #31 (Summer 2009)

He hit her in the back of the head. Truth — finds its own coarse measure. Not long out of diapers I wore purple hot pants and danced a funky chicken. There was the boogaloo, and my aunt's red wig that went over her hair. I knew men, even then. I had uncles. And a father. We jumped high in the living room, our lives a quick-step. When I held her in my arms, did I do any good? She was hip, too cool, a Saturday night cigarette, a bone-handled pistol in the panty drawer. Say it louder — I was proud. I held my head up high with my Sally-legged aunt, I kicked my heels and my uncle laughed. He had a western name. This was Texas, a man's world, but women raised men out of cotton, out of dust. Bred long-horns and bullshit. She could shoot, but she didn't. She said, "Sing it baby." Please, please — I got down on my knees and cradled her son's head in my small arms. Out of memory the thread of truth. A red daisy chain. Blood running down a back. He hit her again. I was wearing my purple hot pants, ones that matched hers. Or I was in my pajamas holding my cousin's head in my arms, covering his eyes, his mouth, with my flat chest, my fingers in his hair, red as his mother's. Coarse. As in unrefined ...


Rachel Harkai

The young poet Rachel Harkai only graduated from the University of Michigan three years ago, but she was making a poetic impact before donning the cap and gown. Winner of four Hopwood awards for both poetry and nonfiction at U-M, Harkai went on to serve as writer-in-residence with Hub City Writers Project of Spartanburg, S.C., before moving back to Detroit in 2008. She's now working on a body of poems loosely based on the themes of memory, survival, collapse and the post-urban landscapes of Detroit. Harkai is a writer-in-residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

From What We Thought We Knew

You can make anything disappear that you want.
You just can't make it come back.

I thought I knew a lot about leaving.
Dawn light, disembodied light, 

daylight bending backwards.
It all comes down to angles, anyway.

Dogs were tearing up the air somewhere
with their mouths when you said

I want to show you something.
That was what you said. A secret.

What is supposed to be here?
The raised red marks I made and then followed?

Memories you can move through and between,
back and forth in the mind like a finger on a line?

For a long time after, 
I went to all the same places.

It was the difference between pretending to sleep 
and sleeping.

The funny thing about time is that 
there is no going back.

Nights we made imperfect circles in the grass.
Or a first snow: 

the moonlit alleys like perfect chambers, 
our haloes of breath rising.

I want them to be secrets. 
But they are just forgotten avenues to nothing.

Reminders of something
we can't return to anymore. 


STEVE HUGHES

You can catch Steve Hughes on a barstool near you. You can eavesdrop on his conversations with whoever's around, collecting barfly stories in practiced dialogue. Then you can catch his regurgitations of said tales in the incredible zine he's been writing for more than a decade, Stupor. A builder by trade, Hughes is also a founding member of the Public Pool art space collective in Hamtramck.

From Stupor: "Hard to Eat With Your Mouth Full of Knives" (2008)

In two days, I'm going on a trip. She knows I'm going. She doesn't know about the girl I'm going to see, or the porn we'll watch, or all the screwing and drinking and gorging we'll accomplish. I can't wait. I'm not a good liar. I'm the shittiest liar. I shouldn't have given her the key. I wish I didn't. I'm poised to make another big fucking mess. She's maybe two weeks away from hating me. 

"I don't think it's going to work out," I say to my friend. 

"What?" 

He's watching the TV over the bar. It's playing something about sharks. They're showing the sharp triangles of their teeth. A diagram describes their position in the jaw: a row of teeth upright, one angled slightly inward, one behind that, almost perpendicular to the first. New ones are growing all the time because the old ones get stuck in whatever meat or bone they're ripping apart. They're disposable. 

"Seems like it would be hard to eat like that," he says, "You know, with your mouth full of knives. But worse, because they keep getting stuck in your food and falling out." 

The TV is showing this one shark, a great white, I think. It eats with complete dedication. Smashing and yanking and smashing and yanking at this poor seal or whatever that thing is? Like there is nothing in the world but this moment and this amazing meal.


MATTHEW OLZMANN

A writer-in-residence for InsideOut Literary Arts Project, Olzmann is a celebrated Detroit poet who currently holds the position of the poetry editor of The Collagist. His moody work has appeared in several poetry reviews, including poems to be published in the forthcoming Kenyon Review. He's a Kenyon Review Writers Workshop and Kundiman Fellow. 

"The Man Who Looks Lost as He Stands 
in the Sympathy Card Section at Hallmark"

looks so sad with his bent umbrella 
that you want to place a hand on his shoulder, 
say, "It'll be Okay." But you don't. 
Because you also look like a crumbling statue
narrowed by rain, because you too have been abandoned 
by language and what's there to speak of or write 
among so many words. There are not enough words
to say, Someone is gone and in their place 
is a blue sound that only fits inside 
an urn which you'll drag to the mountains 
or empty in an ocean with the hope 
that the tide will deliver a message 
that you never could.
 Because even those words 
would end like a shipwreck at the bottom 
of clear water. Someone would eventually look down,
notice the shattered hull, the mast 
snapped in half, and believe those words
meant ruin, when they really meant,
starfish, iceberg, or scar tissue.
And even those words would fail. In this room 
that smells like lemon candle wax and wild berry 
potpourri, you pick up a card, set
it down again. Pick up a card, toss
it aside. In leaving, you take only an empty envelope. 
Or you are an empty envelope. Or you're the boat 
searching for the glacier to gouge its side again. 
You're the door that opens to the sleet outside. 
You're the bell that bangs above the door as the door slams shut.


CHRIS TYSH

A professor in the English department at Wayne State University since 1989, where she teaches creative writing and women's studies, Tysh is one of the city's more challenging poets. She's also a playwright, albeit her most recent work, Night Scales, is pure poetry assigned to characters as script. The author of several collections of poetry, such as the Clevage, Tysh was a recipient of a 2003 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. 

From Night Scales: A Fable for Klara K
Scene Four

Time is now Colder than a devil's tit Theatre's maiden unities / Three old bags skanky tooth and bony butt have been quarantined / No exit visa in a holding tank Meanwhile upstairs in the kitchen / of remembering floor covered with sawdust sloppy bread pans lonesome for / a flock three YOUNG girls call them X Y Z or if you must know just this once Ania Sonia and Vera Three young girls at the / camp not the hags from before sit over icy vats / They peel potatoes with / thousand-year-old eyes / in long pure ribbons of heart / lest the tiniest interruption of the coil / feed death in their mouth

: K's lover did not return
: His brothers?
: Never made it
: From that field?
: She'd mentioned he might have to
: Play dead?
: Lie there in their clothes
: Like waiting for a signal?
: Even though he swore
: They'd be gone?
: By dawn
: Far from here?
: To the other shore
: That other place?
: Called Life or something close
: How she tripped him up?
: I want to know
: So near the ending?
: Did she clap her hands
: Just like that?
: Eins zwei drei
: Twelve-bar hole?
: Something to fall on
: This passing of the bag?
: Not incarnate yet not flesh pink
: On the narrow bunk?
: Light three candles
: Like a reel that will disappear?
: From the low forest and orphaned hills


Craig L. Wilkins

An architect, educator and director of the Detroit Community Design Center, Craig L. Wilkins specializes in engaging communities in collaborative and participatory design processes. The Aesthetics of Equity: Notes on Race, Space, Architecture and Music is his most acclaimed work to date, having won him the Montaigne Medal for Best New Writing and the 2009 National Indie Excellence Award in the Social Change category. 

"D's here..."
From an essay written as part of the exhibit small architecture / BIG LANDSCAPES
Swopes Art Gallery, Terre Haute, IN (February-March, 2010)

...Spend any amount of time outside Detroit and one may be surprised to find that Mo-Town is No-Town to the world around us. Has been for some time. It isn't that Mo-Town as a signifier of the city has been forgotten, it is simply that people now recognize it as simply that, an all-but-empty symbol of a time gone by; a time not to be captured again. 

It is symbol of a past, not a present and certainly, not a future. 

So, quietly, cautiously, the search for a new moniker began. If you listened closely, you would've heard it in conversations in various and sundry locations, sometimes tentatively, sometimes defiantly. And as with all moments of this sort, it was clearly rough and unofficial, which, of course with a city like this, is as it should be. Such is the source of its influence, its catalytic potential – both for the city and the symbol. However, should you not have been privy to this particular linguistic quest taking place in the bars, clubs, warehouses and studios that house the brave and (trail-) blazin', you might be surprised to learn that it didn't take long for the denizens of Detroit to settle on something that seems to represent this particular moment in time. Momentarily at least, one moniker seems to have the kids all abuzz: the D. Crisp and succinct, not wholly unexpected considering the text-nation from which it emerged. 

CU N the D.

Still, while we all (imagined we) knew what it was like to live in Mo-Town – what, exactly, is signified when one claims to live in the D? It is often unclear to me from person to person, specifically what are Ds here?...


PERFORMING ARTS


Haleem Ar-Rasheed

Haleem Ar-Rasheed is an incredibly lanky and agile dancer whose stature and elegance mesh into a break dance style unlike any other. Known as Stringz, the Detroit-born dancer established the city's most notorious dance crew, Hardcore Detroit, in 2001. Having instructed dance workshops internationally, judged and participated in dance tournaments throughout the nation, Ar-Rasheed is best known for his continued dedication to organizing dance-related events in his native city. 

Spencer Barefield

Having toured and recorded throughout North America and Europe as bandleader, soloist and bandmember for the likes of Roscoe Mitchell, guitarist A. Spencer Barefield is a jazz force to be reckoned with. He's a director of Creative Arts Collective and his concert series received the Governor's Arts Award, but Barefield is at his best when he's on stage, guitar in hand. Look for a forthcoming CD series documenting Barefield's music and series going back to the early '80s. 

Monica Blaire

Composer, singer and songwriter Monica Blaire is another of Detroit's young stars. She's a multigenre performer with a booming voice and a stage presence that'd make James Brown proud. Blending classical, rock, and with soul, gospel, funk, hip hop, techno and pop, Blaire's live show is something to be experienced. 

Timmy Lampinen aka "Timmy Vulgar"

Call him a punk, a freak, a rock 'n' roll hellion, call him whatever you want to. It doesn't matter. No words can nail down the body of work from Timmy Vulgar. His sonic expressions with bands such as Timmy's Organism and Human Eye blend psychedelia with psychosis. The live show will leave you affected, like it or not. 

Valeria Montes aka "La Chispa"

Choreographer performer Valeria Montes is known as "La Chispa" or "The Spark" due to her vivacious performing style. She learned her art in her native Mexico and the United States, but perfected it with the masters of flamenco puro (pure flamenco) in Spain. The dancer's refined interpretation of flamenco, mixed with her complex and rhythmic footwork, creates a visual performance that must be seen to be appreciated. 

Frank Pahl

Having taught sound design at College for Creative Studies and sound-related courses at University of Michigan, the sound artist Frank Pahl has received more than 80 commissions to write music for theater, film and dance, and has performed throughout North America, Europe and Japan. A multi-dimensional sound-maker, Pahl often makes his own instruments out of found materials. His current music projects are Scavenger Quartet and Little Bang Theory.

Joel Peterson

From the Violent femmes to Detroit saxophonist Faruq Z. Bey and fellow fellow Frank Pahl, Joel Peterson is one of the city's busiest composers and musicians. He studied double-bass with Detroit Symphony Orchestra principal Robert Gladstone and jazz player Dan Pliskow, as well as guitar with John Denome, and is a founding member of Immigrant Suns, Lac La Belle, Odu Afrobeat and a number of other bands. He's also been an influential programmer of music and art in Detroit for 16 years, having produced over 200 events a year at Bohemian National Home from 2005 to 2008, and since then under the moniker Bohemian in Exile.

Rick "Mr CutTime" Robinson

A member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for more than two decades, in 1995, Rick Robinson began arranging a hundred symphonic, classical and jazz masterworks for two unique outreach groups of DSO musicians called CutTime. In 2006, his original work Essay after Sibelius was premiered by the DSO, and he has since composed a dozen works that fuse classical music with urban dance and folk idioms, including Latin and gospel.

Ilana Weaver aka "Invincible"

She moved to the Midwest from the Middle East and learned English by memorizing songs. Then she started making her own. One of the city's most acclaimed hip-hop artists, Invincible is also a community organizer and activist who walks the talk. Boasting a deft rap delivery, her work off the stage with the Live Arts Media Project, a program of the community organization Detroit Summer, goes beyond music and manifests the social changes she promotes in her music. She's a fellow of the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media — and she can rap your face off. 


In spring of 2011, a biannual festival celebrating the work of the 2009 and 2010 Kresge Artist Fellows and Kresge Eminent Artists will be presented by the University Cultural Center Association (UCCA). The event will be a community-wide celebration of some of Detroit's most talented literary, performing and visual artists. It will be open to the public and held in the cultural corridor in Midtown Detroit. 

More info at kresgeartsindetroit.org.

More than 350 Detroit-area artists applied for the 2010 Kresge Fellowship. Fellows were chosen by a panel of nationally renowned artists through a series of deliberations. The Literary Arts panelists were: Brad Leithauser, Cary Loren, Thylias Moss, and Lynne Tillman. The Performing Arts panelists were: Grisha Coleman, Aaron Dworkin, Benjamin Hernandez, and Greg Tate.

Travis R. Wright is arts and culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to twright@metrotimes.com.

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