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UMMA art inspires digital short films, 'Many Voices'

By Julia Kline, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 30, 2012

The University of Michigan Museum of Art boasts more than 18,000 works from some of the most creative and talented artists the world over. This winter, the art will inspire new creations from filmmakers taking part in the “Many Voices” video workshop.

UMMA invited visual artists and storytellers of all ages and skill levels to create a short film based on a work of art in the University museum. Veteran filmmakers Sharad Patel and Donald Harrison are leading the workshop series, which evolves based on the needs and visions of the participants.

Patel, a freelance filmmaker, believes that the project will foster collaborations between the participants, leading to a richer array of creative output.

“If someone is a musician, they can help someone else with the music on their video, so there should be a lot of cross-creative energy going on,” Patel said. “I look forward to encouraging that and seeing what unpredictable things might come out of that.”

Harrison, a former director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, feels that creativity can be enhanced by unlikely collaborations outside of one’s usual social circle.

“Some of the people are going to be more technical, some of the people more intuitive or ethereal or approaching it from their own art practice or not having an art practice at all,” he said.

Harrison expects this aspect to be a central experience of the workshop.

LSA sophomore Keshav Prasad is one of the “Many Voices” filmmakers. While searching for a subject for his film, Prasad stumbled upon the abstract expressionist work “White Territory” by painter Joan Mitchell.

“I knew right away that that was the one that I wanted to make a video about,” Prasad said. “It’s kind of a white background covered in hues of white and green paint and some splotches of brown. It’s a very textured piece and it seemed truly abstract. It doesn’t look like anything in the real world.”

The painting reminded Prasad of everything he loves about abstract art. He saw his film as an opportunity to help people less familiar with abstract art begin to see it in a different light.

“I want to work with the painting itself in the video close-ups or different angles of the painting to help the viewer think about how they actually look at a painting and how that affects their perception of the painting,” Prasad said. “An idea I got from other group members was to draw associations from different textures and colors to more tangible objects so that the painting does become more relatable.”

For instance, one section of the painting reminded a fellow “Many Voices” filmmaker of spreading peanut butter on bread, an idea reflected in Prasad’s film.

Lisa Borgsdorf, manager of Public Programs & Campus Engagement at UMMA, said that some of the “Many Voices” filmmakers plan to take a documentary approach, while others will use the art as a starting point for a film that veers in a totally different direction. She feels that the project will not only benefit the participants but also enrich the experience of the gallery’s visitors.

Borgsdorf hopes the project benefits artists as well as enhances the gallery’s visitors.

“We think of it as a little triangle,” she said. “There’s the work of art, there’s the video and then there’s the visitor who is experiencing both. (We try) to remember all three of those in the creative process as we are developing ideas.”

The finished films will be visible through QR codes located near the works of art in the UMMA gallery that visitors can scan with smartphones. They will also be available for viewing at the UMMA’s dialog table, a digital interface used for storytelling and dynamic learning.