Crossing boundaries 

In 2000, video and performance artist Nick D’Angelo culminated his graduate studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art with a painstaking final project. In the video “I’m Sorry Britney Spears,” the artist, clad in a diaper and long curly blonde wig, dances haltingly to “Baby One More Time” while desperately and repeatedly wailing “I’m sorry, Britney!” For the coup de grace, he produces a wooden spoon and proceeds to paddle himself on camera.

One of the most exciting things about Cranbrook’s annual graduate degree exhibition is that you never know what you’re going to get.

True to form, this year’s 70 artists showcase work ranging from the wildly quirky and experimental to the traditional — and the more intriguing pieces are shades of both. Museum Director Greg Wittkop feels the current exhibition is one of the Academy’s most ambitious. “As always, some of the most interesting work defies categories and is made in that conceptual space between disciplines.”

Take, for example, Michelle Hinebrook’s lush, large-scale close-ups of human skin, which venture into the realms of science and technology. “I am interested in the technological transformation of the body,” she says. “These paintings reveal topographies of the body, charting and mapping the skin.”

Transgressing boundaries of a different sort, Shiva Ahmadi’s gorgeous, vividly rendered paintings employ traditional techniques to explore contemporary social and political issues. Ahmadi, who is of Iranian descent, mixes bold colors and patterns from Persian tapestries with images that conjure the war in Iraq, the fight for oil and oppression of women.

Fibers student Emily Keown has created a series of intricately woven pieces blending disparate materials — along with high and low art — to delightful effect. “A Series of Un-Connections” features a gorgeous lattice knitted from seemingly discordant elements of stainless steel, silk and linen paper. The materials form a surprisingly harmonious whole, but not for long — gravity will cause the hanging piece to gradually unravel. The textile’s lacy chain is a sort of Lancelot-meets-Guinevere hybrid of masculine and feminine ideals.

Another of Keown’s pieces, “The Hobby of a Satisfied Woman,” features a wispy, intricate filigree of polyester thread, linen paper and punch card lace, accompanied by a video illustrating simple knitting stitches and instructions that double as cheeky sexual innuendo, such as “Slip it in from behind” and “Do it again.” The artist also presents a stack of whimsical, cartoon-style sketches she simply terms “Drawings I thought about while I was knitting.” Visitors are invited to sort through the drawings, which lends a sense of familiarity and humor to the exhibit.

The work of another fibers student, Rowland Ricketts III, draws from his past experience living on an indigo farm in Japan. The striking textile “Color of Place” is a progression of rich, burnished shades culled from natural dyes indigenous to the region — native black raspberry, black walnut, white aster, indigo and others.

Mark Moskovitz also explores the notion of place in his installation “Writer’s House: TrxDesk.” A native New Englander, Moskovitz has constructed a life-size representation of a small cabin that recalls the home of hermit writer Henry David Thoreau and his Walden credo, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” A sign notifies visitors, “Out chopping wood. Please come in.” The sparsely decorated interior gives an intriguing glimpse into the life of its resident. A vintage typewriter sits on a desk where typewritten pages have been strewn about; on a counter, kitchen utensils — including a crude coffee filter constructed by the artist himself — are casually arranged; and a ladder leads to a high bunk. The overall tone of the piece suggests rugged individualism and hyper-masculinity, albeit with a little humor. In one corner, a pair of worn work boots sits directly below a very large, unmistakably phallic belt hook. There’s a certain undercurrent of suspense at work too. The viewer is allowed to have some fun, to construct his or her own narrative about who might live here and why. Although we need not ask that question of Cranbrook’s talented graduates.

 

Runs through May 13 at Cranbrook Art Museum (39221 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills; 248-645-3320). Student Art Auction is 4-6:45 p.m. on Saturday, May 7, at the Forum Gallery in the New Studios Building.

Christina Kallery writes about art for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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