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What the Arts Means at Swarthmore

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As the year comes to an end, most of us are left to reflect on the time we have spent at Swarthmore College and what we have been able to do so far. One of the most amazing things has been the rise of the arts and activism through art on campus. Groups and individuals have been empowered this year to use their creativity to give themselves voice and agency.

The Visibility Magazine published its third issue this year with the most submissions it has ever had. It was filled with poetry, photography, and art meant to empower traditionally marginalized voices.

This was accompanied by the Rise Up Now: Zine Festival, a three day event put on by Intercultural Center interns and sponsored by Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association, Kitao, Latinx Heritage Month and the Intercultural Center . On Friday, April 27, Visibility Magazine was released in collaboration with a Day of Silence Rally. Day of Silence is dedicated to raising awareness of the bullying of LGBTQ+ youth. The following days consisted of a pop-up shop for artists to sell their work, a zine-making and earring making workshop, and a gallery reception at Kitao Gallery.

Zines have been part of a long legacy of activism both in our nation’s history and on Swarthmore’s campus. Zines were traditionally self-published works to empower the voices of people of color. That history was shared and emphasized during this year’s Zine Fest where people were encouraged to share their stories by making their own zine.

Alongside giving students more agency in their time at Swarthmore, art has had a persistent role in campus activism from the Spring of Our Discontent to today. From S.J.P.’s wall to represent Israeli apartheid to the poetry people shared at Revolution Festival last semester, students have worked to enact positive change on campus.

Just as important, art has played a role in developing the personalities and traits of many students on campus.

AV Lee-A-Yong ̕ 21, a prospective peace and conflicts  studies major, is one person who has been greatly impacted by the arts at Swarthmore.

Lee-A-Yong had been active in theater zir whole life but wasn’t formally trained until coming to Swarthmore this fall. For Lee-A-Yong, theater has become an important part of zir identity.

“Theatre has always been a way to express myself through someone else,” Lee-A-Yong said. “And it’s nice to be at Swarthmore and see those someone-elses share things in common with you.”

Along with playing an important role in identity, the arts at Swarthmore also provide a family to many people.

“Being a first-year originally came with its own set of nerves, but I think that I came in at such an opportune time — when there was a role I could audition for that, was perfect for me,” Lee-A-Yong explained. “I do think, however, that at Swarthmore, theatre is a family, and being adopted into it in my first year gave me a sense of belonging I don’t know if I would’ve found anywhere else. I definitely feel more secure in myself and my presence at Swat because of theatre here.”

As the year comes to a close, and we are left most recently with the S.J.P.’s wall and Organizing for Survivors’ posters that cover the halls of Parrish, but we can’t forget the family that the arts creates for so many.

Tradition and modernity at the A.A.P.I. Music Festival

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On a regular day, the high ceiling, elegant arches, and Gothic windows of Upper Tarble evoke images of western history and civilization. On Saturday however, Upper Tarble became a space for the Asian and Pacific Islander Music Festival. The music and dance performances took the audience on a journey through the traditional and modern aspects of Asian culture, drawing a A.A.P.I. Heritage Month to a satisfying close.

In the U.S., May is designated as A.A.P.I. Heritage Month. According to the Library of Congress, “The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7,1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.”

At Swarthmore, A.A.P.I. Heritage Month is held in April because May is finals season. The extensive month-long program includes cultural celebrations, such as the Thingyan Water Festival, as well as activities exploring salient issues in the A.A.P.I. community, such as panel discussions, poetry recitals, and documentary screenings. The Music Festival in Upper Tarble was the last event of the month.

The Swarthmore College Chinese Music Ensemble began the festival with a melodious piece titled “Osmanthus Flowers Bloom Everywhere in August.” Members in the Ensemble play a variety of traditional Chinese instruments, such as the dizi (flute), xiao (vertical end-blown flute), erhu (two-stringed fiddle), yangqin (hammered dulcimer), and guzheng (zither).

After the Ensemble’s opening piece, Jinjie Dong ̕18 performed a mellow dizi and xiao solo, followed by Lesia Liao ̕18 who performed a lively yangqin solo, accompanied by the Ensemble. The Ensemble finished with the upbeat “Flower Drum Song,” a Chinese folk song that describes a playful dancer performing with a small drum.

Personally, the “Flower Drum Song” is a nostalgic token from my childhood. Hearing the song brought back happy memories of my grandmother singing “Flower Drum Song” and teaching me to play with a little toy drum. I felt a unique fondness for the ensemble’s harmonious rendition as I seemed to relive my childhood again.

Lei Ouyang Bryant, associate professor of music at Swarthmore, described her involvement with the Ensemble’s activities. Bryant co-directs the Chinese Music Ensemble with Guowei Wang, artist in residence in Chinese music performance and director of the Chinese Ensemble at Williams College.

“I enjoy being in the ensemble because I can play music with my students. A lot of students join the ensemble out of their interest in the Chinese language and culture, either because they themselves are connected to the culture or because of what they study,” she said.

Bryant highlighted the students’ positive experiences in the Ensemble.

“Most people who join have a general interest in music, or maybe some musical background. I see people enjoying the opportunity to come together and play music. Many of the students who join are learning something new, and we are happy to join the A.A.P.I. Music Festival to be part of the different programs featured,” she added.

Besides the ensemble, Penn Enchord also brought some delightful music to the Music Festival. They are an a capella group at the University of Pennsylvania founded in 2013 by mainland Chinese students. They perform an eclectic mix of traditional and modern Chinese pieces that feature Western and Chinese singing techniques.

At the music festival, Penn Enchord performed three contemporary Chinese pop and rock songs—  “Highway”, “Purple,” and “Don’t Break My Heart.” I enjoyed all three songs, especially “Purple”, a soft and melancholic ballad about the memories that persist even after the end of a relationship. The singers’ voices blended harmoniously to create an emotional and magical experience for the audience.

Of course, the Music Festival would be incomplete without dance performances, since dance is such an integral part of Asian culture. Jie Gao ̕19 from Bryn Mawr College performed a beautiful dance solo in a long white dress that seemed like a sleek adaptation of the qipao. She incorporated the flowing movements of traditional Chinese dance into her piece, which was set to a more contemporary and up-tempo Chinese song.

Choom Boom, a dance troupe mainly focused on K-pop music and moves, also lit up the stage with an impressive nine dance pieces. Founded in 2008 by a few students at Bryn Mawr College, Choom Boom has grown to include several members from Haverford College as well as two members from Swarthmore.

Featuring high-energy K-Pop music, Choom Boom captivated the audience’s attention with their skilled dance moves and ever-changing group formations. The dancers expertly moved in sync with one another, often crossing the stage seamlessly to take their individual positions, and then moving out of their formation again.

Victoria Tamura ̕18 from Bryn Mawr College, current president of Choom Boom, described the amount of hard work that her fellow dancers put in.

“Most members of the executive board practice at least seven hours a week. Some people even do 12 hours,” she said.

Tamura expressed her passion for dancing in Choom Boom.

“I really love Choom Boom because once we perform on stage, and our dancers become confident in what they do, participating in Choom Boom is very fulfilling, even if it can be a little tiring,” she said.

Hana Yaacob ’20, a member of Choom Boom from Haverford College, also remembered devoting a lot of time to practice dance.

“I have been in three dance pieces this year and last year. I practice nine hours a week but still sleep at 10:30pm every night. It’s all thanks to time management!” Yaacob said.

Last but definitely not least, Swarthmore Taiko ended the festival with a literal bang. The drummers coordinated with one another, varying the rhythm of their drumming and their vocalization to create powerful and dynamic cadences. Although there were only three drummers, their rousing presence pervaded the entire room. Even as the drumming ended, I could still feel its resonance.  

The efforts of performers and organizers alike came to fruition at the Music Festival. Jessica Xu ̕19, co-organizer of A.A.P.I. Heritage Month with Jacob Clark ̕21, recalled how she invited the different groups to perform at the Music Festival.

“There are different programs for A.A.P.I. Heritage Month every year. This year we contacted groups at other colleges because I knew some people at Bryn Mawr and UPenn. I went to a concert by Penn Enchord before, and I know they’re pretty good. I’ve never seen Choom Boom perform so that was kind of a surprise for me,” Xu said.

Although the official A.A.P.I. Heritage Month program has ended at Swarthmore, an appreciation for A.A.P.I. culture, traditional and modern alike, lives on. For A.A.P.I. students, faculty, and staff, their identity persists throughout their daily routines, and this identity is given a chance to shine during special events, like the music festival.

“My mother is from China, and my father is from Australia. I grew up in Minnesota, was raised bilingual, and spoke Chinese and English. I participated in many Chinese community events, so my heritage has been a part of who I am, and it has always been around me. I’m happy to join the community here and create a space for it on campus,” Bryant said.

RnM, Terpsichore, and Ajoyo Spring Show a Success

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The Rhythm and Motion and Terpsichore show on Friday, one of the most anticipated and attended performances of the year, exceeded expectations. The show consisted of thirteen RnM pieces and five from Terpsichore, with one piece from the Bryn Mawr group Ajoyo.

RnM’s doesn’t have a single style, but in the past, it has been more influenced by the African Diaspora dance. This was evident the most in the opening piece, choreographed by Tinuké Akintayo ’18, Freddy Bernardino ’18, Ashley Mbah ’19, and Aly Rabin ’18. The opener exhibited aspects of the Umfundalai dance technique, which is also taught in the African dance courses offered here at Swat.

Many of the RnM pieces in the show came from other stylistic and cultural backgrounds. “Thicc Gyal and Latin Ting,” choreographed by Bernardino and Moniesha Hayles from Bryn Mawr, drew on Latinx and Caribbean-based movements and music. “Afghan Jalebi,” choreographed by Soumya Venkateswaran ’18 at Bryn Mawr, showcased a South Asian dance style against the Bollywood hit song “Afghan Jalebi” by Pakistani singer Asrar Shah. The student choreographers successfully incorporated traditional aesthetics while also using popular movements.

Part of what makes RnM pieces so fun to watch is that they choose popular dance styles and music selections. Songs like “Finesse” by Bruno Mars and Cardi B, artists like Beyoncé, clothes like a “Rugrats” sweatshirt, and trendy dance moves are immediately recognizable and relatable. It’s a celebration of our generation’s popular culture in a performance setting. Pieces like “Thicc Gyal and Latin Ting” and Akintayo’s “#Triplef:fiercefunflirty” also blurred the line between audience and performer when RnM dancers came out and danced in the audience.

For Ahsley Mbah ’19, popular media platforms are a basis for her choreography.

“I have definitely grown up watching tons of YouTube videos of dancers and being moved to create something that gives me the same feeling that I have when watching a dance video. I think I’m listening to music all the time and I’m dancing all the time. Every song I hear, I feel like there’s a choreography waiting to be made for it. Any song in general has the potential to be expressed through dance.”

Terpsichore is also a dance group based on student choreography, but whereas RnM participation is based on auditions, anyone can choreograph for Terpsichore. The pieces tend to display more lyrical and modern dance styles, but there is some crossover with incorporations of popular movements.

Ajoyo, a dance group from Bryn Mawr, also had the stage for one piece entitled “The Showdown.” Using inspiration from West African movements, the piece imitated a rivalry and then coming together of two groups, with a humorous ending when one of the dancers came back out to show off her splits.  

One aspect that makes the show so exciting for students is that all of the dance is choreographed by their peers. Student choreographers have control over all aspects of the process, from the music choice, the style of dance, the specific movements, and the mood they want to portray. The amount of creative freedom can prove daunting, but student choreographers have developed methods to make their visions real.

For student choreographers  music choice is central to the choreographic process. Liz Lanphear ’19 choreographed “Rain Dance” in fullfilment of a vision she had while listening to the song “Rain Dance” by Whilk and Misky.

“My mind constructed this story of a band of farmers recognizing the signs of the oncoming storm … and then celebrating this force of power and unpredictability that would also secure their livelihoods. That, to me, was a story I thought could be told compellingly through movement,” Liz Lanaphear said.

For Rabin, her inspiration for “Evergreen” simply came from finding a cool new piece of music, in this case the song “Evergreen” by YEBBA. When coming up with movements to set to her music choice, she looks back to past RnM pieces.

“My dance [is] definitely inspired a little bit by the choreography of past RnM performances, especially dancers who were seniors when I was a freshman. [They] did a really good job of combining African with Contemporary and finding a balance.”

Not all pieces are inspired by or set to music, however. Zara Williams-Nicholas ’19 set part of her piece “Colorblind” to an interview with Misty Copeland describing what it was like for her to be the first black principal dancer with American Ballet Theater. Homogeneity of body type and skin color has been a barrier for a lot of dancers in the professional world, and the highest paying and most accredited positions in the dance world are still largely held by naturally thin white people.

Williams-Nicholas, in her choreographic debut, impressively tackled this issue. In the program, she explained her objective.

“The piece attempts to create discourses about blackness in a white space, the desire to be heard, and the feeling of loneliness and a desire for solidarity.”

The show finale brought all the dancers onto the stage, and honored the seniors in each group: Tinuké Akintayo ’18, Freddy Bernardino ’18, and Aly Rabin ’18, and Bryn Mawr student Soumya Venkateswaran ’18 of RnM, and Charlotte Raty ’18, Rachel Diamond ’18, and Prairie Wentworth-Nice ̕18 of Terpsichore. The show was a highly entertaining break from the weeks leading up to finals.

Ceasefire

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You died a day before the ceasefire.

Another tally they forget

but we remember.

 

You were born on national day:

an honor they don’t deserve.

They cheer in the city square,

Their planes fly past like vultures,

their fireworks explode like grenades.

They put your name last

on a stone slab

in the middle of the park

like that’s going to stop

the list from growing—

At home we bake you a cake.

Children outside try to steal it,

they haven’t eaten in days.

We give it to them, eventually

and Mama cries in your old room.

 

Mama plucks the flag from your grave

and throws it into a bag full of weeds.

She crumples onto your tombstone

and doesn’t come home till dusk.

 

Mama died a year after the ceasefire.

“KOD” – J. Cole as you’ve heard him before

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North Carolina artist J. Cole has been a fixture in the Hip hop scene for years now. His last two projects “2014 Forest Hills Drive” and “4 Your Eyez Only” were met with huge commercial success, the former infamously going double platinum without any features. His new surprise release “KOD” comes almost a year and a half after “4 Your Eyez Only” and is primarily concerned with pain, self-medication, and addiction. Despite a few sharp songs and pointed verses, J. Cole’s “KOD” fails to captivate listeners across its runtime, as a number of forgettable moments and the project’s muddled concept prevent it from delivering.

“KOD” begins with the short track “Intro,” which features a very low-key instrumental and a voiceover which cryptically explains the thematic premise of the album. With various allusions to pain and suffering, the voice beseeches the listener to “choose wisely” in terms of how they cope with this pain. Even at this early stage in the album, it’s difficult not to roll one’s eyes a bit. The track isn’t particularly mysterious and the listener can certainly piece together that at some point the album will contrast “good” and “bad” decisions and their impact on life. The titular song “KOD” sees Cole rapping over a pretty trendy instrumental by his standards, complete with 808s and high hats. However, the instrumental doesn’t have much impact or bite and ends up sounding like “diet trap.” Cole seems to be rapping as a character on this track, trying to satirically drop ignorant bars about Bentley’s and Actavis. The problem with this track is that Cole doesn’t fully commit. On the one hand, Cole is channeling a totally different lyrical style, but on the other he’s whining about how critics want him to add more features to his albums. How can the listener tell what is satire and what is Cole whining over what sounds like the tamest Ronny J (producer of “Ultimate,” “Audi,” and “Gospel”) beat of 2018? The song “Photograph” is even worse, as it melds another highly derivative flow with an unsettling narrative of Cole falling in love with a girl who doesn’t know he exists over Instagram. The beat is run-of-the-mill and boring, while the vocal inflections Cole makes on the bridge verge on irritating and comical. “The Cut Off” isn’t nearly as grating, but suffers from a vocal “feature” from kiLL edward, Cole’s alter ego. The singing on “The Cut Off” is practically atonal, and the lethargic delivery halts any momentum Cole generates on the verses.

While the album fails to get off to a strong start, there are some undeniable highlights on the second half that see J. Cole living up to his potential for an entire track. “ATM” is the most immediate and catchy song in the tracklisting. Cash machine sound effects and eerie piano chords add some color to the instrumental while Cole brings some much-needed energy to his vocals. There is still some sub par singing scattered throughout the track, but the hook and flow are undeniable. Although the biggest weakness of “KOD” is its failure to fully explore its themes and issues, there are a few moments on the record where Cole is as sharp and perceptive as ever. The second half of “BRACKETS” is especially good, as Cole is contemplating the government’s failure to use his tax dollars meaningfully in his community. “Once an Addict – Interlude” is the high point of the album, displaying Cole’s full narrative potential. Telling the story of his mother and her struggle with alcoholism and other drugs, Cole explores feelings of guilt and anger in a very moving and powerful way. While Cole’s constant warnings to “choose wisely” may come across as preachy and self-evident to some listeners, “Once an Addict” connects with listeners in a visceral, human way. It’s moments like these that show Cole at his best. Too often, he feels the need to shove heavy-handed imagery and half-baked wisdom down his audience’s throat (as in the album’s introduction or the voiceovers throughout) without giving them enough credit to simply sit with what they’ve heard. The final track, “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’),” generated a lot of controversy because of claims that Cole was dissing the new generation of rappers, but the track is actually very well intentioned. Cole dissects the dilemma of the new wave of hip-hop, and trendy artists in general, quite well. A particularly striking moment on the track is when Cole meditates on white hip-hop listeners and how their concern for the humanity of the artist is lost in the rockstar persona cultivated by artists such as Smokepurpp, Lil Pump, and more: “They wanna see you dab, they wanna see you pop a pill / They wanna see you tatted from your face to your heels.”

Cole’s latest effort is a deeply flawed release with a number of undeveloped ideas and several empty “revelations.” From faux-deep condemnations of drug use to some downright terrible front to back songs, “KOD” is definitely a mixed bag. However, the occasionally potent moment is enough to make this project worth a listen. Hopefully J. Cole’s next project will see a greater focus on conveying messages through storytelling and contemplation as in “Once an Addict.” Until then, we’re left with another frustrating album that shows glimmers of Cole’s potential but is ultimately weighed down by weak tracks and a tenuous and clunky album concept.

Profiles in Art: Therese Ton

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The best pieces of art come with a story, something that can be passed on through the generations. At Swarthmore, one of the most beautiful stories comes along with Toscah, the name of Therese Ton’s ̕ 19 emerging bakery. Ton’s story is a powerful one, rooted in her family and her own determination to find her purpose.

Ton’s first time cooking was her attempt to perfect French macarons to serve to her aunt, whose love for baking was sky-high. She started baking in middle school, inspired by her aunt Anh and uncle Rick’s specialty — soft bake biscotti. The recipe came from her aunt’s Italian husband, who brought his own family recipe to the mix. Their biscotti — which were usually sent out as Christmas gifts — inspired a lot of praise and encouragement to start a business. But as they had full-time careers, her aunt and uncle were never able to start their biscotti business, which they had wanted to name “Tarabella” after the older of their two German Shepherds: Tara and Toscah.

So when Ton came to Swarthmore, she made a promise to her aunt and uncle that she would start their biscotti business before she graduated. The decision wasn’t easy to make, but it came as a result of realizing exactly what she did not want.

“What really catalyzed me to actually start it this past summer was I was working in Philadelphia at a biomedical research job at Jefferson Med school. I hated it. I really, really despised it. I dreaded going to work every day. Throughout the first few weeks where I was really miserable I had a reoccurring conversation that was going in my head.” Ton said, “Hey that conversation that you had with your aunt and uncle. I kept on remembering that conversation, and I was like, I need an outlet to keep myself sane, I already hate my job, let’s pick up another one that I somewhat like to do. So I whipped up a couple batches of biscotti.”

For Ton, baking became something of a refuge for her. After leaving an abusive home environment, Ton moved in with her aunt and uncle, shedding light on just how important the family ties are to this business.

“This business is like a big thank-you present for taking me in and for being the family that I always wanted, that was supportive and healthy and inspiring rather than feeling like something I dreaded to come home to,” Ton said.

However, Ton decided to change one thing about her business: the name. Tara has a lot of attitude and acts like one of those mean girls who knows they’re pretty. So instead, she chose the younger of the two German Shepherds, Toscah. Ton describes Toscah as herself in dog form: kind and happy-go-lucky.

Soon after, she decided to pursue her business further. She started selling her biscotti and other baked goods to Hobbs. Alongside her weekly deliveries to Hobbs, she started doing orders through her website, www.toscah.com. It began to spread around campus, and more and more people began to order desserts. This enabled Ton to realize where her passion really was and gave her the self-confidence that sometimes she didn’t always have during her time in college.

Alongside her aunt and uncle, Ton’s closest mentor at Swarthmore, Professor Sara Hiebert Burch in the biology department, gave her the emotional support and guidance she needed to make the decision to do what was best for her. For Ton, the more “secure” choice was to go into medicine, something that did not give her the same amount of joy baking did. She realized that there were three things that she wanted to do for the rest of her life: baking, teaching, and biology.

Soon she began to daydream about opening Toscah’s storefront in Philadelphia and how she could teach the biochemistry of baking to her customers in her bakery, and especially to low-income folks who don’t traditionally have access to this information. Ton realized how biochemistry is very inaccessible to many people and saw value in using baking to teach these lessons.

Ton’s dreams are quickly becoming a reality. She is now working to develop a curriculum about the biology of baking to teach to high school students for S.T.E.M. mentoring. Ton is also testing some of her ideas at Strath Haven High School, where she gets to perform demonstrations and test recipes.

What is most amazing about Ton’s story is her determination to make her dreams come true. She came from a low-income, abusive family to create her own successful bakery, and is now getting to pass on her knowledge to others. Her story is one that can remind us that when we feel lost, we can always come back to the ones we love most and what they have taught us.

Destruction and Defiance in “Annihilation” and “A Quiet Place”

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The first scene in “Annihilation” shows a college classroom viewing a cancer cell  — something that causes its host to morph and change beyond recognition. That theme is picked up through the rest of the movie, with unsettling conclusions. Based on the award-winning series of sci-fi horror novels of the same name by Jeff Vandermeer about the inability of the human mind to comprehend an alien intelligence, it was always going to be hard to depict on screen. It follows the actual plot of the book very loosely (full disclosure, I haven’t read the book), telling the story of Johns Hopkins biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) grieving the unexplained disappearance of her special forces husband Kade (Oscar Isaac) over a year prior. But suddenly he appears at her door, dazed and seemingly empty. It is unclear if he even recognizes Lena, but before she can begin to understand what’s wrong, he collapses. As they rush to the hospital, they are suddenly whisked away by an armed government force, with Lena forcibly sedated. She wakes in a facility known as the Southern Reach, a United States facility observing a section of Gulf coastline enclosed in a mysterious expanding bubble called the Shimmer. The Reach has tried everything — drones, vehicles, military teams — but nothing comes back out, and no communication penetrates the Shimmer. That is, until whatever is left of Kane emerges. Lena, still grief-stricken and confused over what happened to Kane, is persuaded by the enigmatic Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to join her all-female team of scientists in another expedition into the Shimmer.

Once in the Shimmer, nothing is as it seems. Time jumps forwards and slows down, and it soon becomes clear that something strange and terrible is occuring in the swampy southern forest. Alligators with shark teeth and flowers that seem strangely humanoid point toward an ecosystem running on overdrive, genes constantly scrambled and rearranged towards a cacophonic crescendo. The mental state of the team is similarly deteriorating; as the movie slowly makes clear that one would have to seriously want to escape one’s own life to go on a mission like this, while the expeditions members have an apparent inability to cope with what they are facing. Strong supporting performances from Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson help build the aura of paranoia and fear. And the reasons for Lena’s determination to push further and discover what happened to Kane are gradually revealed in effective flashbacks.

“Annihilation” suffers from poor pacing. The middle of the movie, while sometimes terrifying, can wallow in atmosphere instead of driving the plot forward. What become most compelling are the explorations of Lena and Ventress’s motivations for pushing towards their goal: finding the lighthouse where the Shimmer spread from. Early in the film, Ventress, a psychologist, references the human capacity for self destruction. While the disturbing wildlife of the Shimmer could be read as a metaphor for the costs of environmental disaster which humans have barely begun to reckon with, the main thrust of the film is more personal. In the almost inexplicable final half hour, Lena discovers the source of the Shimmer and  what happened to Kade. It is the scariest use of special effects I have seen in years, not in a conventional horror way, but in how it awes you with its strangeness. The slow destruction of the identities of Ventress, Lena, Kade, and the rest evoke the horror of personal change, of gradually and unwillingly becoming a person you barely recognize, face to face with your own annihilation.

John Krasinski’s directing debut, “A Quiet Place,” is not nearly as high concept as “Annihilation,” but has a few gimmicks, as well as political baggage, that make it interesting. On the one hand, it’s simply an entertaining monster film. Lean and quickly paced, it follows the struggle of a family to survive in a world where speaking aloud, crunching leaves underfoot, or rolling dice can bring certain death. The monsters, you see, are blind but possessed with astonishing hearing. Grotesque, massive eardrums allow them to instantly zero in on noise from miles away and attack relentlessly. Opening with the death of Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn Abbot’s (Emily Blunt) youngest son after he plays with a noisy toy space shuttle, the main conflict is Evelyn’s pregnancy and the efforts of the Abbotts to keep a (noisy) baby safe in their world.

The main achievements of the film are the inventive set and sound design. The family can’t use plates (they clink), must walk on trails made of sand (leaves crunch), and play Monopoly with felt pieces (in this film, the top hat and the steamboat are agents of death). Dreamy, light-filled cinematography shows the beauty and fragility of the life the Abbots have carved out. And the bare soundtrack leaves plenty of space for the tension built into the film’s premise: the constant fear of ordinary, previously safe sounds that now lead to violent death. The structure of the Abbot’s world has changed, not beyond sanity or recognition like it does for Lena, but enough that the basic framework of ordinary home life is irreparably altered.

On the other hand, “A Quiet Place” is interesting because of what people are reading into it. According to Krasinki, it was conceived as a simple metaphor for him and his wife’s (who is Emily Blunt on and off-screen) love for their children and the fear and determination to protect that come with parenting. Undeterred, voices on the left and right have seen something else in the movie. The New Yorker’s always-baffling Richard Brody criticizes “A Quiet Place” for its “regressive politics” of a white, gun-toting rural family battling against dark monsters who stifle their speech. And the hilariously contrarian Armond White of Out and National Review lauds its “pro-gun and pro-life themes,” as well as what he sees as representation of Hollywood culture of outrage and censorship. Personally, the cultural issue that I found most intriguing was whether Krasinski could ever escape his role as Jim in The Office. In retrospect, obviously not.

Anyways, I highly doubt that John Krasinski, of all people, meant to make a conservative political critique in this film. If you choose to see it as a reactionary stand against progressives, then do so, though I think that takes jumping through more than a few mental hoops. And if you choose to see a family deciding to bring life into a difficult and dangerous existence as pro-life, you’re probably right in the broadest sense. But this is a horror movie, first and foremost. The main reactions should be screaming and flinching, not political takes.

The sci-fi horrors of both movies are refreshing and original contributions to the dead space between awards season and summer movies. Both show humans struggling to grapple with a radical shift in their reality. In one the threat is literally on a cellular level and inescapable; in the other the terror comes from more conventional monsters. “Annihilation” will leave you chewing over its ending and trying to shake pervasive unease — “A Quiet Place” leaves you with an immensely satisfying final shot after a solid 100 minutes of scares.

Putting the ‘Art’ in Party

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This Friday, April 13, the studio arts and art history departments held their annual pARTy, an event that allows people all across campus to enjoy and appreciate the work of artists on Swarthmore’s campus. At least one hundred students gathered in Beardsley Hall this week and wandered through this popular event.

Beardsley had all of the essentials for a good party: music, art, drinks (for those over 21) and food. Approaching Beardsley in the hot spring weather, many people were lined up at the various food trucks to grab something to eat before perusing various works of art. Upstairs, live jazz music flooded the rooms.

From karaoke to advice from philosophy professors, there was something for everyone. Most importantly, it was an event supporting and highlighting the many talented artists here at Swarthmore College.

Liz Whipple ̕ 18, a studio art major, is one of the many people involved with pARTy and is one of its biggest supporters, citing the importance and uniqueness of this event as its best qualities.  Whipple explained that a huge portion of the success of pARTy can be credited to Stacy Bomento and Meg Gebhard, both staff members in the art department.

“For me personally, as a member of the art history and studio art departments, pARTy has been a way both for me to really get to know faculty and staff in a personal way, which has certainly made me more successful and happy in my time at Swarthmore,” Whipple said. “It’s also been a way to get my friends who pay zero attention to the arts at Swat to engage with all the amazing work that students are doing!”

While so often at Swarthmore we get caught up in the stress of everyday life, pARTy serves as a welcome change of pace.

“PARTy is a space that is super unique on Swarthmore’s campus — where faculty, staff and students can spend time and get to know each other in a non-academic and relaxed setting, and where the lines between academic and social life and adults and students can be blurred in a really exciting way.” Whipple explained.

PARTy is also noteworthy for its reputation as a particularly safe and open space.

“It is also one of few open events that I personally feel is a safe wet space — you can drink and have fun in a well-lit area monitored by your peers and others who are going to look out for you. PARTy’s planners have created a wet space that encourages a different kind of social scene than we usually see at on-campus parties, which often revolve around a culture of binge drinking,” Whipple commented.

Lea Slauch ̕ 18 was one of the attendees at this year’s pARTy who came to support her friends’ work throughout the year. For her, it was enjoyable to look at the stages of art in the process of creation.

“I really like walking through people’s studios and kind of seeing their work space. Sometimes their models and stuff are still there too, you can kind of see a little bit of the product and the process,” Slauch explained.

“A lot of times I hear about what people are doing in the art department, but it’s kind of like an exhibition of all of that, that you don’t really get to see,” Slauch said.

Overall, the importance of showcasing the work of Swarthmore’s artists, who are so often not highlighted, cannot be understated. For many students, much of the art department is a mystery, but pARTy pulls back the curtain and allows students and faculty to see the incredible talent of Swarthmore artists.

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