It’s easy to walk by and never see what goes on inside Work, the wood-paneled building sandwiched between Amer’s Coffeehouse and Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop at 306 S. State St. However, once inside the quaint, two-level, 2600-square-foot structure, visitors are greeted with a special treat, as some of the most unique works of art produced by the students in the School of Art and Design are on display.
Formerly a Harmony House records store, the location went under extensive renovations and had its grand opening in November of 2002. According to Gregory Steel, the director of Work who has been with the project since its inception, the building is now “a unique changeover from what it was. It’s unbelievable to see what it’s become.”
Upon entering Work, the hardwood floors and pure white walls are covered with 25 sculptures, each accentuated by track lighting and each unique in its own way. The title of the collection is “Speaking Volume(s): 3-Dimensional Work by Art Undergrad Students.” Chris Bradley’s “Full Court Son: Home Work for Team Base” is a collection of baseball equipment and trophies sitting on shelves above the Single Parent’s Prayer and a plaque telling about the greatness of a friend. Near that exhibit is Mary Witte’s work, a rusted chair frame and springs, titled “The Fabric of Our Society.”
According to Steel, the art that is featured coincides with the curriculum that is offered in the art school. Currently, sculpture is featured, but starting Feb. 11, new pieces will be offered, now with a new media and digital media theme. “It gives the students more freedom in the curriculum,” Steel explains.
Some of the pieces offered on the main floor are available for purchase, and people all over the world have bought items. However, some of the works are not for sale. One piece in particular, Megan Hildebrandt’s “All in the Family,” a collection of family photographs, clearly states: “Memories are Priceless.”
The basement of Work features a special exhibit titled “(Our)Selves,” which is a collection of works from three undergraduate students. Emily Squires, Mary Paul and James Arndt, all seniors in the School of Art and Design are featured this month. The students say they are delighted to be given the opportunity to have their work displayed as they have worked together throughout their undergraduate education.
“There’s a particular connectedness within all of our work that has come from our relationship as friends and as developing artists,” Arndt said.
Arndt’s feature piece in Work is a collection of black and white photographs of housewives sewn onto a quilt outlined in blue, called “Don’t Look So Sad. Homeownership is Really More Fulfilling than Marriage Anyways.” He has also created “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” which features a CD of Arndt speaking in a stream of consciousness over a background track of pop music and a man lecturing.
“The message of each piece varies greatly depending on what I am attempting to communicate, and also the setting and different interpretations each viewer brings with their perception,” Arndt said.
Paul and Squires provide a subtle change with multi-colored paintings — “Thursday Afternoon” and “Woman, Seated” respectively — with oranges and purples composing the body’s skin tone.
In another piece located along the back wall, multimedia is used, as two large female figures are set up between a projector and a conversation ensues with words being written out on the projection screen.
“(I want to) create a piece of work that will engage the viewer, that will continue to make me ask questions about what I’m trying to do,” Squires said.
“Overall, I would say I seek to challenge myself and my audience by pushing stereotypes and boundaries,” Paul added.
Thanks to its stellar location, creative student base and ever-changing objects, Work hopes to continue to keep the art scene exciting in Ann Arbor.
“I think that each of us have strong individual voices, but we share a lot of the same views and attitudes. Our goal with “(Our)selves” was to explore these commonalities and individualites,” Paul said.
“I think we made it to where (art) has become important again. It’s made art visible on campus again,” Steel said.