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One time I spotted Audra Kubat in a crowded concert hall, dancing seductively with, what on earth else, but her own shadow. She had rather consciously sought out the spotlight meant for a movie and stood directly in front of it so her silhouette was projected huge — like a real stunning amazon — against a vast 28-foot-high decaying wall.

Those of you who know Kubat, be it from the stage or at parties, won't be surprised by this story. The singer-songwriter, who recently returned from a stint living in New York, is somewhat of a local celebrity.

So it makes sense that two artists awaken their creative muse in Kubat. Over the past year, Tim Caldwell and Allan Barnes chose her to hold steady as the subject of more than 40 photos at various Detroit locations. These images capture the transitory spirit of the city. Kubat poses in ball gowns and retro outfits, enlivening environments as old and rank as a beer distributor warehouse. She also lounges languidly, showing some skin, in Belle Isle's pastoral setting — a shot that Caldwell calls "Sally Mann meets Swan Lake, much to the amusement of many fishermen that day."

But here's what distinguishes this photo series from your average narcissist jaunt amongst friends: For once (or actually, on a few dozen occasions, as we have proof), Kubat plays a chameleon. As all artists should when choosing a model to work with, Caldwell and Barnes spot a side of her rarely seen and draw out what's unique about her face and form: She's absolutely timeless. With her wistful Eastern European visage, she looks like she'd be right at home at a German brothel or bugging out to Benny Goodman. She evokes nostalgia for Detroit's good old days — "when it was a melting pot," as Caldwell says. A couple images are cliché, sure, but other pictures, shot with digital and Polaroid view cameras, actually made me want to drive around to the backside of buildings downtown or find a few great alleys to wander. An exhibit at Zeitgeist features DVD projections of the photos.

Kubat performs at the reception, playing old-timey music — written by her and Loretta Lucas for uke, violin, banjo and piano that have "touches of rag, old country and folk" — against the backdrop of Jean Wilson's art, made of velvet and doll parts. Friends of the Diddlers join Kubat on stage. Cabaret Orphee is 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 16, at Zeitgeist Gallery, 2661 Michigan Ave, Detroit; 313-965-9192. Rebecca Mazzei is the arts editor of Metro Times. Send comments to

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October 21, 2020

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