Techno-struggles at Simone DeSousa; 'All Media' at DAM

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
Melanie Manos' "In which F experiences rock-and-a-hard-place" in "Truing" at the Simone DeSousa Gallery through Feb. 23.

If you've got the winter blues, a quick visit to Midtown's Simone DeSousa Gallery might just be the ticket. 

The huge pictures in "Truing," the show by performative photographer Melanie Manos up through Feb. 23, are bright and funny enough to pop you out of any low-grade depression. 

Look at them for a while, however, and these portraits start to look deeply unsettling.

In each shot, the artist — who appears in all the images — struggles against metal stepladders that appear animate and malevolent, a bit, if you will, like the apple trees in "Wizard of Oz."

In some frames, such as "In which F experiences rock-and-a-hard-place," the artist tries, clearly in vain, to scale a crevice between two sets of ladders pressing hard against her. 

Even more alarming is "In which F plays dead," where we find the young woman slumped, limbs akimbo, over the top of a sharply tilted stepladder.

It's not hard to read these portraits as apprehensive comments on the individual's place in our increasingly mechanized, technological world. But what immunizes the series from any risk of feeling pat or obvious is its subversive humor, which momentarily throws us off the hunt for deeper meaning. 

"In which F plays dead" by Melanie Manos, in "Truing" at Simone DeSousa Gallery through Feb. 23.

"Melanie always talks about pretty serious social and political situations," said gallery director and owner Simone DeSousa, "but there’s always an aspect of humor which I think makes people feel welcome. Then they go through the layers."

Charlie Chaplin, who famously battled similar forces in "Modern Times," would doubtless be amused, and struck by the artist's perseverance in the face of sobering odds. 

But there's added edge here, in that stepladders have a mostly masculine association, the inevitable tool of professional house painters. 

DeSousa described Manos, who teaches at the University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, "as this petite, completely fearless woman." All the same, she added, "this particular body of work is definitely connected to power dynamics and gender bias."

Manos, by the way, will give a performance -- "Rumble Mumble" -- at 5 p.m. Feb. 9 at the gallery. 

A few blocks north, the Detroit Artists Market is hosting its "All Media Exhibition" through February 16, which provides more welcome tonic against seasonal affective disorder.

The nonprofit, membership-based gallery's shows are always a treat, and this annual exercise — pleasingly packed with visual stimulation — is no exception. 

Juried by Detroit artist Tylonn J. Sawyer, as expected, the show ranges all over heck and back. 

Works worth searching out include Carole Morisseau's "Healing Wall," a large piece hung on the wall with hundreds or thousands of brightly colored ribbons hanging off it. Punctuating all the fabric here and there are a few tiles with portraits of African-Americans. 

Detail of Carole Morisseau's "Healing Wall" at Detroit Artists Market.

A note from the artist asks viewers to take a minute to write the name on a piece of ribbon of "an African American or Black/Brown person who's been brutalized or killed by police or a corrupt system of government."

Strips of ribbon are provided, and the artist returns periodically to affix them to the installation. It's a striking, interactive work. 

Striking in a completely different way is photographer Bruce Giffin's "Top of the World" — an overhead view of a sinuous tangle of railroad tracks catching the sharp sun in an otherwise dark industrial landscape in Detroit.

Gallery director Matt Fry says Giffin, who documents the look of this city better than almost anyone, took the shot from the top of the Michigan Central Depot. It's a breathtaking image. 

Melanie Manos: 'Truing'

Through Feb. 23

Simone DeSousa Gallery, 444 W. Willis, Detroit 

11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Wed. - Sat; 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Sun.

Artist's performance, "Rumble Mumble:"  5 p.m. Sat., Feb. 9

(313) 833-9000 

'All Media Exhibition'

Through Feb. 16

Detroit Artists Market, 4719 Woodward, Detroit

11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Tues. - Sat. 

(313) 832-8540 

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy