Res Publica Ann Arbor

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Arriving in the Midwest in the middle of winter needs a special kind of courage. Leaving Detroit Metropolitan Wayne Airport one experiences the definition of the romantic notion of sublime: man against nature. It’s been a week since Ann Arbor defeated the North Pole’s first place in lowest temperatures. But the sublime exists more than this nature above human stamina to that expression of the great spirit that follows the ruins of Detroit on the one hand, and Ann Arbor a few miles away which, in my enthusiasm, looks like a contemporary Res Publica.

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I am considered by all I know as a person made for the summer. In the Mediterranean I spent my childhood in long summertimes that lasted more than half a year and when winter finally approached all I had to do was add a jacket to my wardrobe. Now I am wearing ALL the jackets I’ve brought with me at the same time, I take small, slow steps in order not to slip on the snowy, icy ground. I close my eyes and the memory of the orange heat of the long summer comforts me, but it is the refreshing dry wind coming straight away from North Pole that brings me back to reality. I open my eyes. This is where I am:

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A door closes besides me, locking out the minus 18 Celcius degrees. The comfortable heat of the huge block of the North Campus at the University of Michigan and a soundscape made of varius near and distant conversations on all possible subjects shape the flair of a US University. High ceilings. Demonstrations of innovative projects all over the place. Students from all corners of the world are doing research here – each one does something magnificent and serious. I understand not even the half of what they demonstrate; I just retain the air of excitement, high expectations and dreams of youth.

I am entering the door of 3D lab for modeling and animation. At Prof. Sile O’Modhrain’s lab a book expands its pages. It is a haptic diary, and every day its pages flourish with music, concepts, and new ideas. This is my place for now, a place manifesting that haunted cities can be rebuilt and communication patterns can be expanded. I am a small part here of a world that tries to protect knowledge and give the opportunity to the whole world to achieve the obvious. Knowledge available to everybody.

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Reed Esslinger, an artist born in the States, has travelled over the world and is based for the time being at Ann Arbor teaching History of Art at the Marygrove College Visual and Performing Arts division. In the rough/ tough world of Detroit today, her analysis of aesthetics is what this society needs: the truth seen through the eye of a contemporary artist. She treats her 18 year old students like adults that have to know a part of the story that she has experienced through art practice, research and her travels. Symbolism, juxtaposition, abstraction. Her personal work focuses on installations under the conception of a loom- this is the loom I am researching at the moment in an attempt to give it sound. Collin McRae, the third member of the team, a friend I made at NIME12 and one of the reasons why I hold that specific conference so dear, in a way connects similar thought and ideas from the Globe. Now we work together on a balanced project that involves ideas that needed an extra hand.

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Three others, Yu-Jen Lin, Chin-Jui Chen and Chuan-Che Huang also meet up at the School of Information and are working on a common project that they will present in Prof. O’Modhrain’s “Dialogue of the Senses” Class; I am the fourth member of this brainstorming group, applying informatics to an artistic project. We look backwards to the hidden area of art where the whole history of civilization can be a good example and use a pot pouri of information: My favourite Beckett for any cave construction, the brilliance of Alicia Alonso- the blind dancer who could do fouett├ęs without losing the spot-, a board game I bought from a store in Zurich some years ago.

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And then a friend made of silver, a resident exhibit of the Museum of Contemporary Art that belongs at the University of Michigan, (which means free entrance so I can spend time sketching her); Apsara is a female divinity from the Khmer civilization who dances the battle between good and evil. She dances to heavenly spirits and divinities to- among other things- bring peace and prosperity to the kingdom. This creature, created by artist Vicjet Ouk, is made of weapons donated to the Cambodian Peace Art Project (CPAP- a far-reaching project funded by the EU to raise public awareness of the need for non-violence in society and to translate weapons technology and tech skills into sustainable peacetime job opportunities). Apsara reminds me of what got lost through violence and worship of life through movement. In a strange way I believe that she dances to the words of one of my favorite Karuzos poems: “Here I might be resurrected, such joy proceeds. Dance my friend, death cheats me.”

And all this takes me back again to pages in the Haptic Diary that are gaining abstract forms in the lab- pages that through react to touch and one day will no longer be memories, but an interactive project. A book of images of the life that now is.