indirectly countering dominant narratives about (Metro) Detroit
Ashley Cook’s Friendly at Cave, Design 99 and Wiley McDowell’s The Talking Fence & Illuminated Garage at 15378 Lamphere Street, Max Schulze’s Radar R2120 at Popps Packing Storefront and Vince Troia’s Air Freshener at Popps Packing

stephen garrett dewyer

26 October 2012

P.D.F. version

What does it mean to make art in (Metro) Detroit?  (Metro) Detroit is one of the most segregated cities among racial and, thus, class lines.  In the midst of such segregation, some artists and collectives make work addressing the politics of the city, although in indirect ways.  The last couple of weeks in October saw several exhibitions opening including and not exclusively Ashley Cook’s Friendly at Cave, Vince Troia’s Air Freshener at Popps Packing, Design 99 and Wiley McDowell’s The Talking Fence & Illuminated Garage at 15378 Lamphere Street and Max Schulze’s Radar R2120 at Popps Packing Storefront that address some of the politics of the city.  Although such exhibitions do not provide, necessarily, an answer to the ailments affecting Detroit, they do situate the city within various aesthetics that counter some of the grim happenings in the city.

To counter some of the grim happenings in (Metro) Detroit is not a matter of pretending such things do not happen.  Nor is it a guarantee of a future without violence.  To counter the grim happenings that always already result from an injustice, that, in Detroit, has become taken for granted by some in the state, is to show the future undecided.  In Politiques de l'amitié (The Politics of Friendship) published in 1994, Jacques Derrida writes:

What is going to come, perhaps, is not only this or that; it is at last the thought of the perhaps, the perhaps itself.  The arrivant will arrive perhaps, for one must never be sure when it comes to arrivance…. [T]here is no more just category for the future than that of the ‘perhaps’.  Such a thought conjoins friendship, the future, and the perhaps to open on to the coming of what comes – that is to say, necessarily in the regime of a possible whose possibilization  must prevail over the impossible (Derrida.  The Politics of Friendship.  p. 29).

In Politiques de l'amitié, Derrida writes democracy to come is the politics of friendship: the Other before self.  Whereas democracy counts, friendship knows no numbers since “[a]s soon as one needs or desires one’s enemies, only friends can be counted – this includes the enemies, and vice versa – and here madness looms” (p. 33).  In Politiques de l'amitié, Derrida also questions the distinctions between genocide, homicide and “natural” death and writes of grief.

What are the politics of friendship in Cook’s exhibition Friendly (figs. 1 – 6)?  If any doubt to whether friendship to Cook lies beyond the realm of the political, the exhibition invite convincingly suggests the political operating in Friendly and reads:

Natural
Artistic
Interesting
Valuable
Expressive

Each of the words suggests a supposed positive attribute within an apolitical (individualized) context yet, vertically, the first letters from each word spell “NAÏVE,” which informs each of the adjectives left alone as virtues.

figures 1 – 6

Friendly still of cube  still of cube

Friendly creed
creed

Friendly a hand
a hand

Friendly cube and patterns
cube and patterns

Friendly planet face and still of cube
planet face and still of cube

Friendly fish bells angels wings
fish bells angels wings

Friendly places furniture and equipment on several rocking chair runners distributed on the floor of the gallery while digital print images of various textiles, weaves and patterns mimic geometric shapes.  A long bench on runners sways with the movements of sitting inhabitants as part of a work entitled creed.  Each sitting inhabitant compensates for the displacement of one inhabitant and another.  The legs of the bench cross, appearing wobbly.  Against a column in the gallery leans a stool, made from the bench material.  The runners on the stool appear rounder than the runners on the bench, making it increasingly difficult to stand.  Next to the stool is an overhead projector on rockers with transparencies of the images used in the digital prints.  One of the digital prints, cube, uses rope to make the shape of a three dimensional cube with one side painted black.  Another digital print, planet face, depicts what could mistakenly seem like a smiley face from ribbon onto a purple blanket.  In hand, a tissue box with a kidney bean shape hole leans against a hand-sized pillow with a sock on one side.  The furniture in Friendly appears to arrange situations in which the inhabitants must change to compensate for one another.
 
figures 7 – 11

Talking Fence
Talking Fence

The Illuminated Garage
The Illuminated Garage

The Illuminated Garage
The Illuminated Garage

The Illuminated Garage
The Illuminated Garage

The Illuminated Garage
The Illuminated Garage

Design 99 (Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert) and Wiley McDowell’s The Talking Fence & Illuminated Garage (figures 7 – 11) at 15378 Lamphere Street features a spiraling, wooden fence and garage with protruding stained glass windows around a lodged headlamp.  The wooden fence extends into the lot to become a spiraling bench near a house built in 1923 designated by the city of Detroit as a historical landmark (http://letssavemichigan.com/placemaking-contest/entry/brightening-brightmoor-historical-house-landscape/).  The garage appears painted with pastel stripes at different widths.  Part geometric abstraction and part anthropomorphic sculpture, the glass windows in Illuminated Garage turn the surroundings into different hues.

With estimates for the number of abandoned buildings in Detroit ranging from 30,000 – 70,000 (http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2012/06/detroit_allies_caught_on_bligh.html), a number of works in the city appropriate abandoned lots for art.  Although the works often bring attention to the blighted neighborhoods and usually are positioned within “Outsider” art, claiming no responsibility to art history and, yet, recognizing itself as art, some recent appropriation of abandoned lots has simultaneously altered both preconceptions on public space and the role of art therein.  The Talking Fence & Illuminated Garage is an example of such work, although partially resembling anthropomorphic tropes attributable to expressionism.

figures 12 - 15

Radar R2120
Radar R2120

Radar R2120
Radar R2120

Radar R2120
Radar R2120

Popps Packing Storefront
Popps Packing Storefront

In a crumbling building turned Popps Packing annex gallery space called Storefront, Max Schulze’s Radar R2120 (figs. 12 – 15) uses miniature police barricades to display white fluorescent lights near a vertical grid of drop ceiling.  The ceiling tiles hang like canvases of an office culture that is the flipside of outsourcing.  The white fluorescents illuminate a black grid on which hang the tiles painted with dollar signs.

figures 16 - 23

Zebra Shelf
Zebra Shelf

Zebra Shelf
Zebra Shelf

ICE
ICE

Smokes
Smokes

Air Freshener

Container
Container

picture

Air Freshener

Vince Troia’s work in Air Freshener (figs. 16 – 23) at Popps Packing uses appropriated foam core, cardboard boxes, picture frames and a container to frame appropriated images often having to do with portraits.  Each of the works seems to stand autonomously, although sharing a consistency in materials including resin, plastic, foam core, metallic spray paint and duct tape mixed with detritus.  The materials, familiar to some of the works of Michael E. Smith and Kevin Beasley, both of whom lived in Detroit, share a particular aesthetic of a hardening over time mixed with various detritus from an industrial landscape.  Metallic spray paint, for instance, covers foam core in ICE (in addition to metallic duct tape).  A clear resin forms a block around a package of cigarettes in Smokes.  Many of the works including Zebra Shelf mix found images, often folded to conform to indentations in the armature.  Many of the portraits including two Middle Eastern men dressed in Thawb in ICE, an Asian woman dressed in Sari in Zebra Shelf, an African American young man in Container , a bunch of bathers in, presumably, a river in India relate to different ways of adapting to the climate.  Images of city skies filled with smog correlate to the production/consumption of products (such as foam core) meant to withstand such weathering.  The two seem in contradistinction, then, between climate adaptation and the production of non-biodegradable waste.  However, ICE refers to both the freezing of water and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, which has a field office in Detroit.  Hamtramck, one of the densest populaces in Michigan, is 41% non-U.S. born according to a 2010 American Community Survey.  Many of the recent immigrants come from Bangladesh and Yemen.  The non-biodegradable waste becomes an armature for biodiversity, striking biopolitical cord, the complete regulation of life according to what counts as life.  The flipside of biopolitics is the necropolitical, which, today, is evident in the race to destroy the planet by oligarchic interests.  For its part, Detroit has for the last century capitalized the automobile industry.

The works in Air Freshener, Friendly, Radar R2120 and The Talking Fence & Illuminated Garage demonstrate particular aesthetics in which the city is configured within the imagination in ways that counter the narratives of segregation, neighborhood blight and the destruction of the planet in indirect ways through different subjectivities.  Through the encountering of different subjectivities perhaps the city can have a future.  And although the future of (Metro) Detroit is unknown, differences in subjectivities happen regardless of those who wish for its demise, as if through its demise will come an end to the Other.

Cave Gallery
1604 Clay Avenue
3rd floor, Building Four
Detroit, Michigan 48211
http://www.cavedetroit.org

Popps Packing / Storefront
12138 St. Aubin Street
and
2026 Carpenter Street
Hamtramck, Michigan 48212
http://poppspacking.blogspot.com/
North End Studios
5101 Loraine Street
Detroit, Michigan 48208
http://www.northendstudiosdetroit.com/

The Talking Fence & Illuminated Garage
15378 Lamphere Street
Detroit, Michigan 48223
http://www.visitdesign99.com/
and
http://www.powerhouseproductions.org/

Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques.  The Politics of Friendship.  Verso: London and New York.  2005

Derringer, Nancy.  “Detroit resident’s answer to bustling blight: Do it yourself.”  mLive published with permission from Bridge Magazine.  26 June 2012.  http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2012/06/detroit_allies_caught_on_bligh.html

Let’s Save Michigan.  “Brightening Brightmoor Historical House/Landscape, Detroit.”  http://letssavemichigan.com/placemaking-contest/entry/brightening-brightmoor-historical-house-landscape/

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