Michigan Revealed project

 Framing Text:

These photos were taken at three museums here at the University of Michigan: The Museum of Natural History, The Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry, and the University Of Michigan Museum Of Art.

The University of Michigan’s Natural History collections were initially established in the mid-19th century, and it grew significantly with the donation of over 60,000 specimens by a Joseph Beal Steere, an alumnus of the university during the 1870s.  Even though The Museum of Natural History, which was specifically devoted to the development of exhibits and educational programs, was officially created in 1956, public displays had been offered 80 years earlier prior to that date. The museum offers many exhibits, from the fossils of prehistoric life to an in-depth look of the research conducted by the archeologists at the University of Michigan.

The The Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry, located in the School of Dentistry on N. University Ave., is devoted to preserving and exhibiting the history of dentistry. Created in 1991, the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry has over 15,000 objects used in dental practice and technology in the United States. These objects, ranging from patient chairs to X-Ray machines, are dated back as far as the 18th century.

The University of Michigan Museum of Art is conveniently located on State Street in fron of the Michigan Union. At 93,000 square-feet, the museum proclaims to be a “town square,” with 18,000 pieces of art after more than 150 years of collection. The photos in this project take place in the Fluxus exhibition. The objectives of this movement, which started in the early 1960s, were that “anything can be art and anyone can do it,” and “to fuse the cadres of cultural, social, and political revolutionaries into a united front and action.” As a result, many Fluxus art is very simplistic and obvious in nature, thus blurring the boundaries between art and life. Famous Fluxus artists include George Brecht and  Yoko Ono.

Reflective Analysis:

 Last week when I was at the Museum of Natural History, I overheard an upperclassman saying, “I always heard about this place, but this is my first time actually being here.” Each of the 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students here at the University of Michigan is accustomed to the excellent academic reputation and the legendary football team, but almost all of them forget some of Michigan’s smaller gems – like the numerous museums that line the streets of Ann Arbor.  In my Michigan Revealed project, I wanted to capture some scenes from some of these hidden gems, because my goal is to encourage my peers to explore these valuable resources on campus.

I first started off with The Museum of Natural History primarily because that was the museum I enjoyed the most.  The rotunda at the entrance gave me a lasting impression, with the beautiful marble pillars surrounding me. Even though the museum consists of four floors, I chose to photograph the prehistoric exhibit. I made this decision, for this particular exhibit   had the most profound effect on a personal level. As an NYC native, I frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan for elementary school field trips. Thus, as I sauntered past the skeletons of the mastodons and read the panels describing the evolution of amphibians in Michigan, a great sense of nostalgia overcame me. However, I was content to feel that connection to my childhood. As seen in the order of the pictures, I initially placed a picture of the two mastodons. However, as I pointed out, one of them died because of a fatal wound to the skull during a fight. Likewise, the adjacent picture to the Allosaurus image is a picture of a dead Stegosaurus. This contrast in images reflects the ephemeral nature of life. Yes, the mastodons looks elegant and are full of grandeur, but a closer look reveals that they vulnerable to injuries too.

The Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry was an interesting choice, because like the 99% of those affiliated with the university, I was not acquainted with this museum’s existence. However, I pleasantly surprised when I took a look at it. Full of artifacts used by dentists over the decades, it was only natural that I began with the most familiar object at the dentist’s office – the dreaded chair. The contrast between the patient chair from the 1890s (notice the “old film” effect) and the chair used in the military is apparent. Moreover, the differences in the appearances signify their varying functions. In my opinion, the dentists in the 1890s used comfortable chairs in order to ease the anxiety of patients who were not familiar with dental care, while the military used short and compact chairs because armies frequently transported from place to place. Sandwiched between the two “comic relief” pictures is an image of X-Ray machines. It is interesting how they resemble cranes – both the bird and the machine.

Finally, pictures from UMMA appear. By far this was the largest museum, covering 93,000 square-feet. As seen in the entrance photo, UMMA contains many forms of art. In the video, we see a 14th-century sculpture of an Apostle, with its head facing down. Therefore, it can be inferred that sculpture was placed above the viewer’s eye level.  The subsequent pictures I took significantly contrast with the medieval, religious sculpture. These images (in order, Dance by Benjamin Patterson, Exit by George Brecht, Fluxfilm No. 4 Disappearing Music for Face by Mieko Shiomi) are all part of the Fluxus movement, which began in the 1960s. The mantra of Fluxus is to blur the boundaries between life and art. As seen in all three of these art forms, the artists use simple and obvious images to convey their message. For example, the footprints that read “Now” and “Later” in Dance symbolize a performance by a dancer, while the sign in Exit might symbolize death. As simple as the art pieces may be, the viewer is still able to find the entire story behind the art. I highly recommend students to visit this exhibit, since Fluxus is very unconventional form of art. Who knows, it might even change your perception of life!

As seen in this reflective analysis, a major theme in my project is the “contrast.” The purpose of displaying this theme is to illustrate the variety of fossils, artifacts, and objects within these museums, as there is something for everyone. If you have the time, you can easily spend hours at these three magnificent buildings, with each having their own treasures. The song I used is Island in the Sun by Weezer, one of my favorite bands. This song is very soothing, and it is representative of the mood one should be when visiting a museum.  I know many students right now are swamped with projects and exams, but if they have a chance after their finals, they should take a peek at the museums Michigan has to offer. These gems I revealed are pretty valuable!