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Gail Griffin, Professor Emerita of English

Gail joined two other Kalamazoo writers in a recent issue of the journal Quarter Past Eight. It was the first time that longtime colleagues and fellow writers Gail and Di Seuss ’78 appeared in print together. Di is Writer-in-Residence and a professor in the English department. The two colleagues were joined in print by Hadley Moore ’99, a short story of whose appeared in that issue of the journal. Di’s piece won the journal’s Short Prose Contest. Gail’s two pieces were both finalists.

In other “English” news, Gail may have retired, but she keeps a close eye on K graduates in the arts. She sent us the following note:

Lisa Kron ’83 is almost sure to win the Tony Award for the book associated with the Broadway hit Fun Home, and possibly share the Tony for lyrics as well. Joe Tracz ’04 was just nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award (off-Broadway) for the musical The Lightning Thief. David France ’81, of course, received an Oscar nomination for his documentary film How to Survive a Plague, and it’s being turned into a series on F/X. It’s interesting to me that Lisa was a theatre arts major, Joe an English major, and David a political science major. And then there’s Jordan Klepper ’01 (a math major!) of The Daily Show fame and Steven Yeun ’05 (psychology) who plays Glen on the The Walking Dead. What a crop of media stars from K! And the breadth of their liberal arts journeys is incredible.”

Teju Cole ’96

Teju has published a new collection of essays titled Known and Strange Things. The topics are digressive and eclectic, just one element of their individual and intense interest. Teju is the author of two previous works, the novels Every Day is for the Thief and Open City. At K, Teju went by the name of Obayemi Onafuwa. He majored in art and art history. Carolyn Cole of the Los Angeles Times wrote a review of the essay collection that includes a delightful interview with the author, including his final, wonderful and liberal arts-ish quote that ends the piece: “It’s OK not to be the smartest boy in class, because knowing how much you don’t know can then be the starting point for engaging with the world.”

Keeney Swearer ’13

Keeney has been hired as exhibit designer for the Mackinac State Historic Parks, working on Mackinaw Island and the mainland to design, build, and maintain exhibits for five state parks. He was part of a group art show at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center in Kalamazoo in February. Read more about Keeney and see his artwork at his website.

Tom Hennes ’78

Tom is working on the $150 million expansion and renovation of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, scheduled for completion in 2020. Tom is founder of Thinc Design, a New York City-based firm that has provided exhibit designs for clients worldwide, including the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, the USA Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo, and the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The Detroit-area native moved to New York City to become a theater designer after graduating from K with a B.A. degree in German. His assignment in Cleveland includes moving the Perkins Center from the north to the south side of the institution’s complex in University Circle, plus creating interior displays in the new main exhibit wing.

Kristian Bjørnard ’03

Kristian is a new faculty member at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where he will teach courses in advanced design, interactive media and graphic design. Kristian is a designer, thinker and “sustainabilitist.” He is the director of “The Office of Kristian Bjørnard,” a design studio focused on publishing in all its forms. Kristian holds an MFA in graphic design from MICA; he earned his bachelor’s degree in art at Kalamazoo College. The artist nearly became an engineer. His exploration of physics and mathematics filtered through the lenses of painting and drawing led Kristian to graphic design. Current research includes “sustainable graphic design” and new publishing utilities. This has resulted in various “sustainable” aesthetic exercises, a more purposeful interest into systems, exploring reusable processes, a focus on rules-based design concepts, and investigating vernacular design methodologies. Kristian keeps abreast of current web trends, standards, and technologies, and explores time and motion in both digital and print media. His myriad interests make for interesting insights and connections among science, philosophy and the practice of design—-both in the classroom and in his professional practice.

Christine Hahn, Associate Professor of Art History

22July2010 Evergood Mural, Kalamazoo CollegeChristine published an article, “Maintaining Problematic Art: A Case Study of Philip Evergood’s The Bridge of Life (1942) at Kalamazoo College.” The article appeared in Public Art Dialogue (6:1, 116-130) on May 27, 2016.

The piece is particularly interesting for any alumni familiar with the mural (see above) in Old Welles Hall. It covers the history of controversy inspired by the work since it’s unveiling (1942), including specific calls (in 1966 and in 2010) for some redress for iconography deemed offensive to and by some individuals and groups. Detailing the call-and-response to the criticism voiced in 2010, Christina ultimately suggests “that problematic public art has the unique potential to produce positive social change by staying in place.”

The article reveals much about K’s history, including Evergood’s time on campus as an artist and a teacher as well as his bona fides as an ardent social radical. Christina also introduces (from Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air) a concept of “freedom of listening.” In his book Hyde cites Benjamin Franklin’s creation of a lecture hall where “people were free to give lectures on whatever they wanted.” In that space (Christina quotes Hyde): “Individual speakers present singular views; individual listeners entertain plurality…. The hall was thus built to serve the eighteenth-century idea of replacing the partial self with a plural or public self, one who is host to many voices, even those otherwise at odds with the singular being you thought you were when you first walked in the door….If we take free listening to be the true end of free speech, then freedom itself takes on a different aspect…intelligence arises in the common world, where many voices can be heard; it belongs to collectivity, not privacy, and is available especially to those who can master the difficult art of plural listening.”

Christina invokes Hyde’s notion of “agonistic listening amongst equals in conflict” (a notion that is at the heart of the academy and a direct contrast to “antagonism, where opponents try to silence or destroy the other”) to describe College and student responses to the controversy implicit and explicit in the work, particularly the responses that took place or were considered between 2010 and 2015. She writes: “The building Benjamin Franklin built that embraced such agonistic pluralism eventually became the Philadelphia Academy, which in turn became the University of Pennsylvania. This transformation of space, built to house agonistic conflict among equals, is a particularly fitting symbol of how physical space can potentially create a space for inquiry, conflict and debate. This type of site is necessary and important. Indeed, as Lewis Hyde argues, it is agonistic spaces such as these that are the foundations of democracy.”

The presence of the mural, Christina continues, has provided the intellectual and emotive space for agonistic listening, “has allowed these twenty-first-century conversations on race, class dynamics and elite educations to take place….[M]aintaining problematic public art in an agonistic space helps keep our understanding of the past and our vision of the future firmly in view.” A fascinating article, well worth the time to read it.