Detroit Research Volume 1




post-studio art, choreography, ceramics, music, performance, critical theory

Vol.1. Spring/ Fall 2014

Of Spaces


Detroit Research no. 1

is dedicated to the Memory of Imre Molnar

Imre, guiding a committee in search of an innovative Chair for the Future of

Fine Arts, also called the twenty-first century, asked: What is our main asset

After a long silence, people started to mumble about the exceptional facilities,

unrivalled in Michigan, the Mid-west, etc.

No, said a somewhat weary Imre. Our main asset is Detroit.


Imre Molnar

b. Hungary, 1951, d. California, 12.28.2012

Industrial Designer, Dean of the College for Creative Studies, Detroit, 2001-2011 and Provost 2012


Journal for Artistic Research (JAR):

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Submit before August 1, 2013 to be considered for JAR4.

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research methodologies across the arts, sciences and humanities, emphasizing the transdisciplinary

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a dynamic online canvas where text can be woven together with image, audio and video. This new approach

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Detroit Research will Publish:


Shiva Amahdi

Kevin Beasley

Biba Bell

Maurice Blanchot

Elysia Borowy-Reeder

Jon Brumit

Mitch Cope

Steve and Dorota Coy / Hygienic Dress League

Lynn Crawford

Kate Daughdrill

Georges Didi-Huberman

Petrova Giberson

Tyree Guyton

Ben Hall

Jerry Herron

Scott Hocking

Gregory Holm

Tony Hope

Amy Kaherl

Laith Karmo

Sarah Kofman

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

Ralph Lemon

Thollem McDonas

Scott Northrup

J.H. Prynne

Gina Reichert

Scott Richmond

Samantha Schefman / Playground Detroit

Mike Smith

Mistinguette Smith / the Black Land Project

Keston Sutherland

Julia Reyes Taubman

George Tysh

Chris Tysh

Sarah Wagner

Barrett Watten

Sarah Wilson




Michael Stone-Richards, Introducing Detroit Research

Mary Fortuna, The Idea was to create a dialog... On Ground Up

Addie Langford, Collecting Textures: A Visit with Tim and Marilyn Mast

Michael Stone-Richards, ... The Final Frontier ...



Michael Stone-Richards, Retreating / Retracing Space: Scott Hocking and the Politics of Visibility

Scott Hocking, A Nice Spot Along the Water

Sarah Margolis-Pineo, Interview with Scott Hocking

Glen Mannisto, Scott Hocking's Long Look at the End of the World

Lynn Crawford, Scott Hocking (at the public pool)

Vince Carducci, Art of the Commons...

Ellen Blumenstein, Detroit-Berlin: Imaginary Siblings

Dominic Molon, The (Re)Shape of Things

Bradley Duncan, Thollem McDonas

Elysia Borowy, An Interview with MOCAD's new Executive Director



Curtis McGuire, Occupy Detroit



Nato Thompson, Living as Form

Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells

MOCA LA: Engagement Party: Social Practice at MOCA, LA



Samantha Bez on Paul Chan's Waiting for Godot




Michael Stone-Richards, On a posthumously published text by Guy Debord on Immigration



The Possibility of Hope: on boats

Petrova Giberson, Country Women

Scott Hocking, Scrappers

Biba Bell, My Own Private Dance Studio

Two Fictions:

Andrew Mehall, Livonia, Livonia

Jessica Newberry, Up North

Dan Hoffman, Erasing Detroit

Barrett Watten, Learning from Detroit: The Poetics of Ruined Space



Tyree Guyton



Addie Langford, underdog: Notes on a Series by photographer Christopher Schneider

George Tysh, The Practice of Outside

Marissa Jezak, An Answer to a Zen Question / A Wind Instrument

Editor: Michael Stone-Richards

Editorial Board: Biba Bell, Kevin Beasley, Ben Hall, Addie Langford

Editorial Assistants: Marissa Jezak, Jessica Newberry


Photo on cover /

Scott Hocking, The Egg and MCTS #4764, 2012

From the series The Egg and Michigan Central Train Station, 2007-2013

Image courtesy of the artist and Susanne Hilberry Gallery.

Photos on inside cover /

(left) Scott Hocking, The Egg and MCTS #3437, 2012

From the series The Egg and Michigan Central Train Station, 2007-2013

Image courtesy of the artist and Susanne Hilberry Gallery.

(right) Biba Bell, Belle Isle Conservatory, Detroit, MI. Image courtesy of the artist.


Detroit Research is published in Spring and Fall by the Alexandrine St Seminars.

©Detroit Research the present collection. All rights revert to authors upon publication. and



Introducing Detroit Research:

A journal of contemporary

art and culture


Michael Stone-Richards

conviviality: the opposite of industrial productivity

/ the autonomous and creative intercourse

among persons, and the intercourse of

persons with their environment / the individual

freedom realized in personal interdependence

and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value / in any

society, as conviviality is reduced below a certain

level, no amount of industrial productivity

can effectively satisfy

the needs it creates

among society’s members.

Ivan Illich, Tools for

Conviviality, 1973

Where then is the city

Maurice Blanchot,

Thomas l’Obscur,


Detroit, the Idea of Detroit,

as the title of a poem by

the late Jim Gustafson

would have it, has been

much in the news, and

that news has been economic,

industrial, urbanist,

political, and philanthropic.

The news about Belle Isle Conservatory

Image courtesy of Biba Bell

Detroit, both outside and

inside Detroit, has been dominated by an iconography

of ruination (a nice eighteenth-century

word) or, the obverse, an energetic boosterism.

Each deserves the other. Great cities have been

ruined by war (Budapest) or economic mishandling

(Gerald Ford to New York: Drop Dead!)

and recovered. No great city needs – or has ever

been aided by – boosterism. It has been said and

it bears repeating – see the exhibition catalogues

from MOCAD and Cranbrook’s show Shrinking

Cities of 2007 – that there is not a single problem

which Detroit has which is unique to Detroit,

for the problems encountered by Cleveland,

Pittsburgh, Leipzig, etc. are structural problems

linked to an economic system

undergoing profound

change at the global level.

That being said, we must

live – and indeed survive

– such change, and in so

doing come to understand

much about our place in

the changing world. Having

made its many contributions

in culture, industry,

and war (The Arsenal of

Democracy!), the established

Idea of Detroit is

exhausted, and with it the

old narratives; indeed, the

sense of crisis that so often

accompanies any talk

about Detroit is in large

part due to the absence of

a new narrative to take the

place of the old, exhausted

narrative centered around

industry and the machine

for the creation of the middle

class. This is the crisis

of representation in Detroit

which is also the main cultural crisis.

The Idea of Detroit is at a turning point as

the image of the city, and the nature of participation

in the polity, is once more in crisis and therefore in

a process of urgent re-definition the mark of which

is that the outcome remains open. As so often, the



arts in Detroit, the changing status of the arts, the

questions as to what kinds of things, actions, or

processes can even count as “art,” have become

the image or stand-in for attempts to think through

and think about the Idea of Detroit as one form of

Detroit is in train of dis-appearing and the Detroit

that is yet-to-come is still hovering within the light

of the horizon. The appearance of the Museum of

Contemporary Art in Detroit in 2006 represented

one response to the existing crisis in the attempt

to provide an architectural medium to facilitate the

giving of form to the possibilities of a distinctive

contemporary art practice amidst the economic

voids left by a City unable to engage with any but

essential services – as if, that is, art were a luxury.

The Detroit Institute of Arts, on the other hand,

one of the great cultural institutions of the country,

has become an

image of this crisis

as the argument

about ownership

of the contents of

the museum oscillates

with profound

discomfiture between

the legal,

the political, and

the cultural. The

standard practice

of municipal museum


in this country – for

example, with the

Metropolitan Museum

in New York, The Museum of Fine Arts in

Philadelphia, the Art Institute of Chicago, and, indeed

the Detroit Institute of Arts – has been that

the City gave the land on which the museum was

built, possibly shared in certain aspects of responsibility,

say, security in the case of the Met in

New York, but otherwise left the museum to run

itself without economically burdening the City. The

Boards of these museums were responsible for all

fundraising for acquisition and operations in order

to unburden the city economically, but by having a

notional share in ownership – in the land, or in security,

with representation on the Board – the City

could ensure that there was cultural representation

in the museum of its citizenry whose land was

the gift to enable the foundation of the museum.

Ownership, thus, was democratic representation

and not financial title, for should the City decide

suddenly and unexpectedly to claim financial title

over the art as property the Board could just as

easily lay claim to be re-imbursed the hundreds

of millions of dollars it dispensed over decades

on the clear understanding that it was disburdening

the City of financial responsibility in perpetuity.

This was a compact and such a compact is still

in effect at most of the great municipal museums

of the United States, but such a model was not

straightforwardly the case for the DIA, but in its

many permutations there was always a sense of


(The complex history

of ownership

and title as regards

both works of art

and the DIA itself

has been studied

by Jeffry Abt in his

book A Museum on

the Verge: A Socioeconomic


of the Detroit Institute

of Arts, 1882-

2000, Wayne State

University Press,

Detroit Soup. Image courtesy of Amy Kaherl

2001; drawing upon

Abt and his own

considerable experience as a reporter on the arts

beat of Metro-Detroit, Mark Stryker has done us

all a considerable service in making the complex

history of ownership in relation to the DIA

manageable. See his September 8, 2013 article

for the Free Press, “DIA in Peril,”. Suffice it to

say that the City in the form of the Emergency

Financial Manager holds the cards of title, but

nothing is so clear cut as to leave the DIA without

means of self-defense, all be it limited means of

self-defense. 1 )

As with all compacts, however, the moment there

is a breach of trust, or social collapse, there is

confusion and chaos as “legal” rights are asserted

where there is no longer any agreed history and

understanding of foundation or purpose. The moment

the current Emergency Financial Manager of

Detroit asserted legal title to the contents of the

DIA’s collections on behalf of a bankrupt City - a

claim which can readily be challenged with the

right legal theory but without any guarantee of

success and most likely as a form of “guerilla warfare”

against the Emergency Manager– crisis was

bound to ensue since the practices and compact

upon which the DIA and all other institutions of its

kind were founded – and had every reason to expect

to run into the foreseeable future – were broken

in a way which had little to do with contract law

and everything to do with customary practice. To

the DIA’s “This is not how things were supposed

to work when the DIA was founded and the Board

assumed financial responsibility,” the EFM simply

says, “Show me the note.” The point here is that

the crisis of the DIA, the crisis of the arts in Detroit,

is the image of a larger political crisis, in this case,

the most prestigious of the traditional arts institutions

in the region – the greatest social capital, in

other words - is caught in a tangle which is not

strictly legal but the result of larger economic and

political collapse and implosion of the tacit trust

(pistis) upon which all human intercourse is based.

The DIA’s plight, it may be said, is symptomatic of

a larger problem for which there is no obvious solution

until a political resolution in the larger sphere

becomes viable. It is not a legal problem first and

foremost, and that is why it is also a cultural-political

problem. Such is the perpetual role of art,

not to offer solutions but to become the medium of

problems or aporias as the language of criticism

would put it today, that is, puzzles for which there

are no solutions, dilemmas out of which there is no

escape. 2

It remains, though, that the crisis is present

throughout “Detroit,” throughout, that is, the

Idea of Detroit, for the arts, or the artistic practices

of Detroit, are amongst the things most

discussed about Detroit outside Detroit – in Europe,

Asia, and even Latin America – and as

such have come to represent the Idea of Detroit:

the problems, possibilities, fears and hopes.

It cannot be denied that the arts in Detroit have

received exceptional attention and even, one

might say, Care, in the form of deep and thoughtful

funding from foundations such as the Kresge,

the Knight, the Erb, Skillman, etc. (the list is by

no means short) even as the Council of the City

of Detroit is all but entered into formal economic

(and political) bankruptcy. Not since the 1960s has

the divide between civil and political society been

so large, and the image of this divide is the very

thing that has been most alive and urgent in recent

times in Detroit, namely, the new art practices

so much of which have found their support outside

of the traditional forms of patronage. And yet,

there is no journal, that is, no forum, devoted to

capturing or exploring the new art and experimental

cultures emerging in Detroit these past fifteen

years; indeed, there is scarce any fully developed

critical language for the forms of new art practices

and experimental cultures emerging in Detroit and

which, like it or not, are shaping the Idea of a Detroit

in the process of emerging.

The principal aim of Detroit Research will

be the development of a critical vocabulary for

representing the new kinds of art practices emerging

in Detroit and the social, aesthetic, and ethical

issues which are at the core of these practices.

For works of art to attain the level of appreciation

of common standards they must be collected, exhibited,

and, crucially, written about. Detroit has

major private and public collections, many exhibitions

venues – beyond the official – but there is

relatively little writing of a critical kind that places

the new practices in a larger national and international

framework of critical practice. Though studio

art will not be neglected, the aim of Detroit Research

is to reflect upon the art, the mostly poststudio

art (in dance, performance, social practice,

along with new thought in urban thinking) which

has not yet found its critical vocabulary in Detroit.

Detroit Research will be the first journal dedicated

to capturing and nurturing a new visual and critical

vocabulary for the kinds of art and playful investigations

in social practice, public engagement, and

experimentation in geography, urbanism, communal

living (The Boggs Center, for example), urban

gardening, and the use of food in socially innovative

ways along with dance, performance, and

music. Detroit Research aims not only to facilitate





outlets for a new type of art-urban cultural writing,

it will also regularly document historically important

moments in the recent cultures of Detroit: ecological

thought, the African-American contribution to

urban gardening, etc. It is to be hoped that the

reach, amongst artists, writers and thinkers, will be

regional, national, and international, and will thereby

contribute to the comprehension of the changing

image of an emergent Detroit. We propose a

new set of terms for understanding post-Studio

practice both within and beyond Detroit by considering

Biopolitics, Critical Theory, experimental geography,

artist research, and social engagement.

Detroit is a place, but it is also a critical

function – the Idea of Detroit which is not only

now being contested

but has always in

some sense been

contested, though

it is only in times of

crisis (1805, 1943

…) that the terms of

contestation become

visible; as critical

function, Detroit is

also the possibility

of re-thinking the

idea of the City. We

are Detroit Research

because the operant

The Heidelberg Project. Image courtesy of Vince Carducci

idea of art practice

has long moved beyond

the creation of studio art for the fulfillment

of optical stimulus or the repetition of formulae,

both romantic and academic. Research means

thought, investigation, historical sensibility, contingent

hybrid formations, and the reflexive act of

construction within the field of the Open, which

is also the field of playfulness. In time, we hope

that the journal will become open for practitioners

in Art / Research from far afield the effect

of which would be to establish the terms of a rich

conversation on art practice (and education) in

a state of transition.

The opening format of each issue of Detroit

Research will be a theme (for vol. 1 that theme

is space), an artist in focus (in this issue that artist

is the multi-media artist-thinker Scott Hocking),

and a guest editor. In future issues guest editors

will include dancer and performance scholar Biba

Bell (choreography and post-studio dance), the

social activist Amy Kaherl (of Detroit Soup), and

sound artist and public engagement practitioner

Jon Brumit with sculptor Sarah Wagner. Future

artists in focus will, we hope, include Kevin Beasley,

Shiva Ahmadi, Michael E. Smith, and others.

Detroit Research will appear twice yearly

in Spring and Fall. We hope, dear Reader, that

you will find much food for thought in these new

pages of a Detroit being written all around us.

A new venture such

as this would not be

possible without the

collaboration of many

people, both formally

and informally. First

and foremost we need

to thank the editorial

assistants Marissa

Jezak (Critical Theory

and Photography,

CCS) and Jessica

Newberry (Aesthetics

and Politics, CalArts)

who designed

and laid out all features

of this journal.

In many ways, this is the journal that they built.

Significant support of many kinds has been forthcoming

from many sources, but first and foremost

we acknowledge the critical support of Katy Locker

and Dennis Scholl of the Knight Foundation.

We also thank the College for Creative Studies

for its support in making this issue possible –

Rick Rogers, President of CCS, Sooshin Choi,

Provost of CCS, Nina Holden, Vice-President

for Institutional Advance, and Michelle Perron,

Director of the Center Galleries at CCS. Marc

Schwartz and Toby Barlow have supported the

project throughout both materially and culturally,

as have the gallerists Susanne Hilberry, George

N’Namdi, Christine Schefman of the David Klein

Gallery, and Simone De Sousa. Linda Dresner

and Marsha Miro have been deeply supportive

throughout. Above all, we would like to thank

the artists who contributed to this first issue and

in so doing showed great trust – and patience.





For example, the legally binding terms of the great

Tannahill bequest of 1969 were explicit that if a single

one of the works gifted by Robert Hudson Tannahill

were to be sold then the entire collection should, by

the terms of the will, be given to another museum. For

a collection made up of Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso,

Seurat, Degas, Van Gogh and more its loss would irrecoverably

undermine any notional financial valuation of

the DIA’s collection that the Emergency Financial Manager

might have sought.


Since this introduction was written the grown-ups in

the room, led by the U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen,

the judge in charge of the mediation aspects of Detroit’s

chapter 9 bankruptcy hearings, have sketched the outlines

of an understanding whereby a group of foundations,

with further assistance from both the DIA itself

and the State of Michigan upon the suggestion of its

Governor Rick Snyder, will come up with a sum equal to

the evaluation for the DIA produced by Christie’s, which

funds will assist in off-setting the expected loss in the

value of city pensions and in return the DIA will become

definitively autonomous of the city and with clear title.

No one expects this proposal to have plain sailing, but

it has the merits of decency in an otherwise impossible



Paul Schwarz

Originally published in Ground Up 2. Image courtesy of Ground Up, Mary Fortuna


Each future issue of Detroit Research will feature a section on a historically important Detroit

journal / magazine / zine. It may be a particular issue of a journal, such as George Bradford’s

essays on Deep Ecology in Fifth Estate, or an overview of a journal, such as C.L.R. James’

Correspondence, or art and culture journals such as Glen Mannisto’s journals (S)traight(s) (the

meaning of the French word “Détroit”) and Traits. Mary Fortuna, artist, and exhibition director

of the Paint Creek Center for the Arts, in Rochester, Michigan, offers a reflection on her efforts

to start a journal, Ground Up, in Detroit nos. 1-15 between 1995-1997.

“The idea was to create dialog…”

My role in Ground Up Well, at the time (c. 1993-1994) I was part of Artists Cooperative, The

(A.C., T.) an artist-run organization downtown. Gilda Snowden was a friend. I asked Gilda and

Vince Carducci (who then edited Detroit Focus Quarterly) and a couple of others how they

would go about starting a publication devoted to the Detroit art community, with no money. This

was at the time that people were doing a lot of self-published zines, before there was really any

such thing as a blog. I wasn't computer savvy enough to figure out a blog on my own. Gilda

described small journals she had seen in New York and elsewhere where artists were taking it

upon themselves to go look at gallery shows and review them. They'd make xerox copies of

their reviews, compile them, and give them out for free in the galleries. We used this as a


I chose the title Ground Up for the notion of “building from the ground up.” I put out a call to

artist friends all over town, several people went out to write their own reviews of gallery shows,

and we met to do a little what I will call “light editing” (egregious spelling and grammar

problems were corrected, but we avoided “stepping on” each other's writing). Then each writer

made one hundred copies of their edited review, and we would meet to collate and staple

them. I kept a list of galleries, art school libraries, and other sites that wanted to have them

available. Every place where we left them agreed to make xerox copies for anyone who came

in and asked for it. Over time, there were regular subscribers who would contribute enough

cash to receive a copy in the mail.

While I called myself the editor, it was a true volunteer effort on the part of a group of people

among whom were contributors such as Jeanne Bieri, Kevin Castille, Dennis Nawrocki,

Dolores Slowinski, Dale Sparage, Christine Welch, Richard Lewis, Sabrina Nelson, Peter

Williams, Rose De Sloover, and others. Some wrote regularly, some, such every once in a

while. We tried to be broad minded and equitable, but ultimately, the shows that got reviewed

were the ones that had someone interested enough in the show to write about them. How do

you make assignments to volunteer reviewers


I had a couple of simple rules I tried to stick to without fail: If someone wrote a review or other

article that was not an obvious attack on another person, and related to some element of the

Detroit visual art scene, and would provide the copies and help with the work, we would publish

their review. If someone sent in a Letter to the Editor and was willing to sign their name to it, we

would run it. It was a little tough to stick to these rules a couple of times. At the time, there were

a couple of notorious cranks in town who considered themselves highly attuned critics. One of

them especially could be quite offensive. But since he was willing to put his name to his letters,

we ran them. Some people considered that brave.

The idea was to create dialog in the virtual vacuum that was Detroit during the newspaper strike

of 1995 – 2000. 1 We wanted to see shows reviewed, and we wanted to get feedback on those

reviews. We risked offending Joy Colby, who was still writing regularly for the Detroit News. She

was a good sport and a generous soul who didn't see our operation as a critique of her efforts,

but as another voice in the conversation. We got the attention of Jim Hart, at what was then the

Detroit Council of the Arts. He had small pockets of money made available through MCACA

[Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs], and he asked me to write a grant application to

pay expenses for a couple of special issues. That was a nice little pat on the back. It was a lot of

work and, in my opinion, it could always have been better. But I liked the roughness and the

do-it-yourself ethic, and what I considered the heartfelt honesty. Some of the writers were more

sophisticated and critically astute than others. There was always the risk of becoming just a

bunch of friends patting one another on the back. There were always complaints, because this

town loves nothing better than to complain about how everything falls short.

Our intention was to make it a monthly. We quickly learned that it would have to be a bi-monthly

effort. It became exhausting to recruit writers - everyone wants their show reviewed, and only a

handful of people want to write for free. We kept it up for three years, then threw ourselves a nice

party after which I put it all away in boxes. There are still multiple copies of what I think is every

issue, or nearly every one, in my basement. I've tried a couple of times to get CCS to keep the

full set on hand in the library, but I don't know if they still have them available.

By the time I was exhausted and my marriage was falling apart, Nick Sousainis was getting

started with He did a great job with that one.

My fervent dream is to see somebody start an honest-to-goodness print publication - bi-monthly

or quarterly - devoted to art in Detroit, where writers and editors and photographers and

designers get paid for their work. I don't know the root reasons why it's so impossible to keep

something like that funded, apart from the reasons why all print publications and newspapers are

struggling to survive. I know Glen Mannisto made a heroic effort in the mid-nineties with Straits

(1982-1984) and then Trait (1999), but it didn't last.




Cf. James Bennett, “After 7 Weeks, Detroit Newspaper Strike Takes a Violent Turn,” New

York Times, September 06, 1995, accessed April 23, 2013.

Originally published in Ground Up 1

Image courtesy of Ground Up and Mary Fortuna



Originally published in Ground Up 1

Images courtesy of Ground Up and Mary Fortuna

Originally published in Ground Up 1

Images courtesy of Ground Up and Mary Fortuna





Addie Langford



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the preservation

of personal a time of vision radical as transition well as in the North pres-

Janet Ayako Neuwalder, Torso, 15x7x5, 1992.

the This exploration with the Masts is the beginning


organically and which now represents the of a research into modern and contemporary

ervation American

This exploration with the Masts is the beginning


a ceramics


time of from


radical the


transition 1960’s to present.

well as the



a ceramics time of radical from the transition 1960’s to in present. North ceramics Tim ning and of a collections Marilyn research and into other Michigan modern collectors. and inspired contempo-

Families by



ceramics This a research exploration collections

into with modern the in

and Masts Michigan


is the inspired begin-



American ceramics from the 1960’s to present. Tim that rary and house ceramics Marilyn significant collections and other ceramic collectors. in Michigan holdings, Families inspired namely

by house Maxine Tim and significant and Marilyn Stuart and ceramic Frankel, other holdings, collectors. Marsha name-


and Jef-


ly frey lies

Maxine H. that Miro, and


Stuart Rebecca significant

Frankel, and Alan Marsha

ceramic Ross, and

holdings, Julie Jeffrey

Bobby namely


H. Miro, Taubman, Maxine


and Joy and

Stuart and Alan Allan Ross,

Frankel, Nachman, Julie


and and

and Jeffrey H. Miro, Rebecca and Alan Ross,

Bobby Joyce Taubman, and Myron Joy and M. LaBan, Allan Nachman, continue and to consistently

and Myron collect/conserve M. LaBan, continue systems to and con-


Julie and Bobby Taubman, Joy and Allan Nachman,

and Joyce and Myron M. LaBan, continue


sistently tions of collect/conserve thought in the field, systems not and to mention transitions

work of thought each of in these field, collectors not mention do the

to consistently collect/conserve systems and the

transitions of thought in the field, not to mention


work programs, each

the work

of artists, these


collectors and of these institutions do


to support that do maintain

support the programs, artists, biosphere and artists, of institutions the and culture institutions that locally, main-

that with




tendrils maintain the biosphere

of the support biosphere of the

reaching of culture the culture across

locally, locally, with

the US/

tendrils of support reaching across the US/

abroad, with tendrils and of in support the case reaching of Marsha across Miro, the the US/ accretion

abroad, of and significant in the case scholarly of Marsha contributions Miro, the ac-


abroad, and in the case of Marsha Miro, the accretiocretion

of of significant scholarly contributions as as


an author


and historian

of art



art and architecture.

bert Cooke,

Robert Cooke, Robert “Wrapped

“Wrapped Cooke, Wrapped Form”,

Form”, Form, 6x19x8,

6x19x8, 6x19x8, 1973.

an author and historian of art and architecture.

1973. 1973.

Images courtesy of the artist and Tim and Marilyn Mast. Photography by Marissa Jezak

Janet Ayako Neuwalder, “Torso”, 15x7x5, 1992.

Janet Ayako Neuwalder, “Torso”, 15x7x5, 1992.

This mid-February morning, from my peach

velvet perch, I sensed the upward pull of the

ceiling vault and the slow spin of the rice paper

figure twisting from a piece of filament.

This form is one of few figures among mostly

viewing and selecting works of art. Born and

raised in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, Tim’s

father was a residential builder and his parents’

travels lived on through the works of art they acquired

for the house. Built in 1939, their family

abstract forms. On matte white walls, red, pink, home featured an original Pewabic Pottery tile

green and This orange mid-February flares of morning, color flicker from my amid peach fireplace, his guide and of in particular viewing and influence selecting was works a vase of

predominant velvet earth-tones. perch, I sensed The the home upward sits atop pull a of the crafted art. by Born the and matriarch raised of in Pewabic Grosse Pointe Pottery, Farms, Mary

steep hill, ceiling and vault a glass and wall the faces slow spin southeast of rice incorporatinper

a figure sheet twisting of snow from and a wet piece bark. of Rak-

filament. ochre er over and the his highly parents’ textured travels surfaces lived on imprint-



Chase Michigan, Perry Stratton. Tim’s father The was barium a residential blue and build-


ing light





is one of




figures among







a reverence

of art they



the ceramic

for the



several ceramic



forms. On



low bench

white walls,

of art



Built in


1939, their





him eventually

featured an


pink, green and orange flares of color flicker original Pewabic Pottery tile fireplace, and of

texts and a steaming cup of coffee in a paperthin

porcelain cylinder. The spare modern fur-

finishing a business degree at the University of

highly textured abstract sculptural forms. While

amid predominant earth-tones. The home particular influence was a vase crafted by the

sits atop a steep hill, and a glass wall faces matriarch of Pewabic Pottery, Mary Chase

nishings allow the variety of forms to activate Michigan, Tim was studying in the basement coffee

lounge and was transfixed by laughter in a

southeast incorporating a sheet of snow and Perry Stratton. The barium blue and rich

the space in the way that one normally relies

wet bark. Raking light stitched together a Corbusier

ochre over the highly textured surfaces imprinted

on wall coverings,




family photos,




the distant salon.





a reverence

the corner

for the

to discover


lunch box

a low






art texts

by design

and a









tall blond across









eventually grinning, to highly who was textured enjoying abstract the compa-


creates of a sense coffee of in place. a paper-thin I was porcelain compelled cylinder. to

note the The time spare – the modern light was furnishings so important allow to the the variety

of of forms the textures. to activate 11:25am the space in winter.

the way That at was the 1965 University and in of 1966 Michigan, Tim and Tim Marilyn was study-


ny of tural a mutual forms. friend While at finishing a travel a abroad business function. degree


that one normally relies on wall coverings, ing in the basement coffee lounge and was

rugs, family photos, and the lunch box family

the clutter Masts that at by Cranbrook design or Academy default creates of a rounded the corner to discover “this stunning,

transfixed by laughter in a distant salon. He

I first met

Art as an sense MFA of student place. in I was 2004. compelled Upon receiving to note the tall blond across the room,” he explained,

the Clark time Hill LLC – the scholarship light was so in ceramics important (sponsored

by perience Tim Mast’s of the law textures. firm), I was 11:25am introduced

winter. mutual friend at a travel abroad function. That

to the ex-

grinning, who was enjoying the company of a

to the couple and a friendship ensued. Marilyn was 1965 and in 1966 Tim and Marilyn wed.

Mast, was I first raised met the (Marilyn Masts at Parker) Cranbrook in Northern Academy of

Michigan, Art in as both an Bellaire MFA student and Traverse in 2004. City; Upon her receiving

the a Clark weekly Hill newspaper LLC scholarship in Bellaire in ceram-

father founded

and was ics a (sponsored newspaper by man Tim Mast’s in Traverse law firm), City. I was

The creative introduced embrace to the of language couple and and a friendship the influence

of her sued. mother’s Marilyn involvement Mast, was raised with a (Marilyn Bellaire Park-


craft market, er) in Northern Winter Michigan, Workshop, in both permeated Bellaire and

the Parker




and her




Oren Parker,

a weekly

a noted


set designer,

in Bellaire


and was

her with

a newspaper


studio processes. In grade school Tim

man in Traverse City. The creative embrace

of language and the influence of her mother’s

involvement with a Bellaire craft market,

Mast enjoyed painting and sculpting but would

pursue a career in law. His studio exploration

the Winter Workshop, permeated the Parker

in painting and sculpture as a young adult cultivated


home and her uncle, Oren Parker, a noted set


him an












vision and

In grade

the visceral

school Tim


Mast showed


sculpture, enjoyed a skill painting set which and remains sculpting his but guide would in pursue

a career in law. His studio exploration in

painting and sculpture as a young adult cultivated

in him an appreciation for joining material

mechanics, artistic vision and the visceral

qualities of sculpture, a skill set which remains


Tim & Marilyn Mast


In addition to to forty years at at Clark Hill LLC law

firm and twenty years as an English teacher in

Detroit and librarian at Cranbrook Kingswood

School, Tim and Marilyn raised a family (Ashley

Mast, a school teacher and Scott Parker

Mast, a musician), traveled and collected consistently,

starting with their first acquisition: a

wooden oval installed vertically on a blue-gray

stone base that Tim admits their friends referred

to as a commode seat. Not surprisingly

this work of art is no longer among the Mast’s

collection having likely likely been been broken broken (deaccessionedaccessioned)

in in of one their of several their several moves. Though moves.


possibly Though a possibly sore spot a sore for the spot couple, for the the couple, gentle ribbing

gentle of their ribbing peers of points their peers to the fact points that to the the Masts fact



that the












for that matter, which has always been lo-


and sculpture for that matter, which

gistically inconvenient to collect. What frustrates

has always been logistically inconvenient to

too many collectors about three-dimensional

collect. What frustrates too many collectors

work - the weight, the mass, the installation, the

about three-dimensional work - the weight,

very objectness of presence - is a delight to Tim


the mass,





who enjoy














is a delight


to Tim


and Marilyn


Mast, paper who bag enjoy patterns the slow and process contemplating of selecting and

designing a space, re-arranging their own pedestals objects, which drawing they paper commission

bag patterns from a and short contemplating list of specialty and fabricators. designing

their own pedestals which they commission

Mast from collection a short list has of an specialty undeniable fabricators. sense


of unity without objects looking like one another.

The It Mast is not collection a hodge-podge has an but undeniable a collage across sense

aesthetics of unity without in a contemporaneous objects looking like genre one another.

It is art not and a hodge-podge its next generation but a collage - or three. across It

of ceramic

is aesthetics collage in in that a contemporaneous it offers the experience genre of ceramic

art and tapestry its next as color generation somehow - becomes or three.



air-born It is collage and in forms that reflect it offers but the don’t experience mirror one of

another. inhabitable Walking tapestry into this as space color feels somehow in this becomes

like air-born a sacred and space forms experience reflect but don’t – you mir-



feel ror one the composition another. Walking of care into and this quiet space mornings feels

- in looking. this respect This is like confirmed a sacred by space the way or Tim experience


Marilyn move

you can








of care


stories of each work, biographies of artists, years

and quiet mornings - looking. This is confirmed

of art, changes in the market. Tim touches the

by the way Tim and Marilyn move through the

work and moves quickly, Marilyn is still and offers

space elaborating on stories of each work,

names, places and dates with tremendous recall.

biographies of artists, ears of art, changes in

the market. Tim touches the work and moves

quickly, Marilyn is still and offers names,

places and dates with tremendous recall.

John McQueen, Gargoyle, 39x37x4, 1996;

wood and plastic ties.

The one impossibility in viewing the Mast collection

The one is impossibility for the eye to in light viewing on an the object Mast without collection

is for no the matter eye how to light subtle. on an It is object like entering without


a texture, fun-house no matter of texture how where subtle. you It is can like try entering on different

a fun-house sensations of texture - inflated, where slack, you can taut, try scraped, on different

sensations pierced, - inflated, and dripped slack, on taut, forms scraped, that


bring scratched, tension pierced, to the and skin, dripped and cause on forms the need that

to bring bend tension close to to the touch. skin, This and cause haptic the response, need to

when bend close sight to and touch. touch This swap haptic roles, response, when when you

can sight touch and touch with the swap eye, roles, or see when with you the can skin, touch enables

with the sight eye, and or skin see to with join the and skin, feel enables momentarily sight

inseparable, and skin to join as and though feel the momentarily body itself inseparable,

as texture. though Surface the body in itself these turns works to pure is dense tex-

turns to


and ture. sinks Surface deep in into these the works material is dense below and the sinks surface,

deep since into the the material sensation-shapes below the surface, involved since are





‘the outermost


layer with

are not



on top.’





layer with

in these

color on


top. Rather,



in these works becomes a matrix or cata-


matrix or catacomb that invites the projected

feeling that one can crawl into and hibercomb

that invites the projected feeling that one

can crawl into and hibernate, lay eggs, become

nate, lay eggs, become primitive. Here one

primitive. Here one can begin to say what the

can begin to say what the power of the Mast

power of the Mast collection is, the mark of its






is not


a pretty

of its

or decorative



not a of pretty objects; or it decorative is, a lot of collection it, messy, of heavy ob-



jects; and brutal it is, a work, lot of against it, messy, a clean heavy expanse and brutal

floor, work, peach against velvet couch a clean and expanse soft muted of walls. floor,


peach velvet couch and soft muted walls.

John McQueen, “Gargoyle”, 39x37x4, 1996; wood and plastic ties.

tion of the works is clearly thought through:

no stray boots, no T.V. remote. The conversation

is between you and this vigorous work.

The removal of information in the presentation

The of inherent the works depth is clearly of the thought glazed through: surface on no

many stray of boots, the works no T.V. brings remote. layers The of conversation

light is between refraction you that and highlight this vigorous fissures, work. im-



purities and tonal variation. Mineral spikes

bubble The inherent from two depth 36 inch of the high glazed ceramic surface forms on

many of the works brings layers of speckle and

by Graham Marks (constructed by Beth Blahut)

in the living room; a soaked textile piece

light refraction that highlight fissures, impurities

and tonal variation. Mineral spikes bubble

made from of two clumps 36 inch of high dried ceramic bread forms dough by wrapped Graham

in Marks textile (constructed with strings by falling Beth Blahut) from the in orbs the living sits

in room; front a of soaked a mirrored textile corner, piece made the of work clumps looks of

as dried though bread it has dough been wrapped dredged in textile from with a swamp; strings

behind falling the from couch the orbs is an sits inflated front ceramic of a mirrored form

by corner, Betty Woodman the work looks that is as the though shape it of has a Saint been

Bernard’s dredged rescue from a swamp; canteen; behind the tightness the couch of is the an

drum inflated form ceramic is interrupted form by Betty by layered Woodman drips that that is

the shape of a Saint Bernard’s rescue canteen;

become blobs of glossy grass green and rust

the tightness of the drum form is interrupted by

with an exposed grid of raw porcelain peeking

layered drips that become blobs of glossy grass


green and

A Kevin

rust with


an exposed









street peeking soot and through. then A drowned Kevin Beasley in plastic, acrylic a


sort disc of is vessel stuffed as with jailer street instead soot and of then cradle, drowned yet

in in conversation plastic, a sort with of vessel historical as vessel/cylinder

jailer instead of

forms. cradle, Though yet in conversation we have become with historical immune vessel/cylinder

hysterical forms. digital Though chaos we that have is on become the morn-




ing mune news to and the hysterical commercials, digital moving chaos that between is on

smooth the morning sober news surfaces and commercials, to injurious spikes, moving tween









to injurious




between wood potter browns and hysterical pink

puff at the Mast’s home makes texture and

puff at the Mast’s home makes texture and













and and snippets snippets of of experience, the the ity ity of of making, and and thought becomes physical-


vealing. This collection says things that the

Masts may or may not wish for us to understand,

there is a viscera, a daring, a fertility


Like to the making forms art, with being drips taken of hot by art color is revealing. amid moss

This tones collection that, after says listening things that to the Tim Masts speak, may reveal

may a not yearning wish for for us the to understand, making of there art, for is a the


viscera, experience a daring, of a touching. fertility the The forms collecting with drips urge

of seems hot color simultaneously amid moss tones that, invoke, after satisfy, listening yet

to frustrate Tim speak, this reveal compulsion. a yearning In for other making words, of revealing

it as desire in the strongest sense.

art, for the experience of touching. The collecting

urge seems simultaneously to invoke, satisfy,

yet frustrate this compulsion. In other words, revealing

For Marilyn, it as desire the collecting in the strongest process sense. presents For

Marilyn, an initial the intuitive collecting response process followed presents by an an initialytical

intuitive weighing response of art followed acquisition by an against analytical other


weighing possibilities. of art acquisition This evaluative against process other possibilities.

sense This if you evaluative know Marilyn’s process makes patient sense and if dis-


you cerning know nature, Marilyn’s but patient the couple and can discerning also be naturegerously

but the spontaneous. couple can They also be see dangerously it, they like it,


spontaneous. they acquire They it. But see this it, is they after like much it, they general acquire

it. But this is after much general study in

study in the field as is evident in their library

the field as is evident in their library and Marilyn

and Marilyn who, now in retirement, can read

who, now in retirement, can read seven books



a week





a week



it to




or four

it to



events. or four Though art events. their Though library is their deep, library Tim shared is deep,

with Tim me shared the three with seminal me the texts three that solidified seminal his texts

passion that solidified for the world his passion of ceramics: for the American world Pottersramics:

The American Work of Twenty Potters: Modern The Work Masters, of Twenty by

of ce-

Garth Modern Clark; Masters, A Century by of Garth Ceramics Clark; in the A United Century

States of Ceramics 1878-1978, in the by United Garth Clark States1878-1978,

and Margie

Hughto; by Garth and Clark Objects: and Margie USA: Works Hughto; by and Artist- Objects:


Craftsmen in






Glass, Metal,

in Ceramic,

Enamel, Glass, Metal, Plastic, Mosaic,

Plastic, Mosaic, Wood, and Fiber, by Lee Nordness.

Flipping through the plates of these books,






Fiber, by Lee



and style markers

through on the the wall, plates floor and of these side table. books, The one collec-



tion corresponding is studied but pieces fresh, having and style obvious markers spur of on

the moment wall, floor game and changing side table. acquisitions. The collection In addition

studied to these but fresh, key texts having were obvious later pivotal spur works of the


they moment saw game and felt changing compelled acquisitions. to acquire, In and addition

allow to these time key to catch texts up were to the later work pivotal through works


contemplation, they saw and looking, felt compelled and further to acquire, research. and

then allow time to catch up to the work through

contemplation, looking, and further research.

Kevin Beasley, Beaseley, In Case “In Case Your Your Parts..., Parts...”, 6x11x11, 6x11x11, 2010; dirt, 2010; tar, dirt, t

sticks and cast acrylic.







17 Marcia

Marcia Polenberg,

Polenberg, “William

“William Morris”,

Morris”, 18x19x12,


rcia Marcia Polenberg, Marcia Polenberg, William Morris, and Aweigh, 1995; bread and fiber.

2012. Marcia

Polenberg, “William Morris”, 18x19x12,


2012. Polenberg, “William “William Morris”, Morris”, 18x19x12, 18x19x12, Beth Beth Beth

2012. Blahut,

Blahut, “Up and “Up

“Up and



Aweigh”, 14x18x18,

14x18x18, 1995; 1995; bread 1995;

bread and bread fiber. and




12. 2012.

Beth Beth Blahut, Blahut, “Up and “Up Aweigh”, and Aweigh”, 14x18x18, 14x18x18, 1995; 1995; bread bread and fiber. and fiber.

2012. Beth Blahut, “Up and Aweigh”, 14x18x18, 1995; bread and fiber.







Betty Betty Betty

Betty Woodman, Woodman, “Pillow


Betty Woodman, “Pillow Vase”, Vase, Vase”, 15x24x13, Vase”, 15x24x13,


1980. 1980.

tty Woodman, “Pillow Vase”, 15x24x13, 1980. 1980. 1980.


r Betty Woodman, “Pillow Vase”, 15x24x13, 1980.
















Marilyn Mast Mast

Mast Paul Paul Paul

Marilyn Mast Paul Kotula, Kotula,


Untitled, Untitled,


each each approx. each each



11x15x2, 11x15x2,



rilyn Mast Paul Kotula, Untitled, each approx. 11x15x2, 1988-1992.



, Marilyn Marilyn Mast Mast Paul Paul Kotula, Kotula, Untitled, Untitled, each each approx. approx. 11x15x2, 11x15x2, 1988-1992. 1988-1992.




irt, r, dirt,

r, tar,




Betty Woodman, “Pillow Vase, Vase”, 15x24x13, 1980.


The Cornerstone

Cornerstone exhibitions



at at

the the




1968-71 and and an an exhibition exhibition called, called, Contemporary


Art in in Detroit Collections (1982), of of ly ly one hundred and fifty internationally esteemed

works of of art from Detroit domestic collections,

made indelible marks on on their their understanding of of

of art art and and collecting. Tim Tim described the the power of of

of being being able able to to to see into the living room collections

of families across the the region region and and sense sense the

network the network of appreciation, of of valuation, and and curios-


- - a - a movement dedicated to to the celebration

and collection of thought, beauty and culture.


So what is is it it that captures a person’s attention so


completely that they must collect The The motiva-

tion to to collect comes from many directions - - love


of of art, infatuation with with material, nostalgia, nostalgia, schol-



arship, prestige,

prestige, investment,


preservation preservation

- -



the unifying quality that links collectors (of any

the unifying quality that links collectors (of any

kind) is,


in the words


of Marilyn Mast, that “it



kind) is, in the words of Marilyn Mast, that “it is is

not something one decides to do, it is something

not something one decides to to do, it it is is something

one can’t help.” In other words, collecting must

one can’t help.” In In other words, collecting must

be a form of compulsion and attraction – not un-

of like

be love

form of compulsion and attraction – not un-

1 . The Masts have built a living library of

like love 1 . 1 . The Masts have built a living library of

a section of our culture, like many other collecof

tors section of note.

of of our They culture, have rescued like many these other objects


from tors of of ‘thought note. They dispersion.’ have rescued The collective these voices objects

of from each ‘thought of these dispersion.’ two hundred The plus collective artists voices hang

of together of each of of to these offer a two colloquy hundred or gathering plus artists of past hang

and together present, to to offer with a hints colloquy of futures or or gathering yet unknown. of of past

The and collection present, with captures hints of and of futures embodies yet the unknown. com-

plex The collection temporalities captures of movement and embodies and transition

the com-

from plex temporalities one artistic generation of of movement to another, and transition like a

from one artistic generation to to another, like a

1 André Breton famously said that art – and collecting

11 André Breton famously said that art art –– and collecting ––

– should only be approached as an act of love.

should only be be approached as as an an act act of of love.

thought diagram whose paths and openings

respond to one another in in non-linear ways.

Since retirement in 2005 and 2006, Tim and

Marilyn have been been able able to to expand to expand their their passions


for sions gardening, for gardening, cooking, cooking, travel travel and books, and books, passions

passions which which are evident are evident throughout throughout the home


where home where book cases book cases and pantries and pantries of handmade of of hand-


made pottery

are of equal are of of

aesthetic equal aesthetic

interest. Tim’s interest.



for passion

gardening for gardening

extends deep extends

into the




landscape surrounding the property out of which

the rolling landscape surrounding the property

large sculptural forms emerge as though long an

out of of which large sculptural forms emerge as as

organic part of the landscape. They are visitors

though long an organic part of of the landscape.

to The Frederik Meijer Garden and Sculpture

They are visitors to to The Frederik Meijer Garden


Park in Grand Rapids, and the Marshall Fredericks

and Sculpture

at Saginaw Park in


in Grand

State Rapids,



and the Marshall seek out Fredericks sculpture parks Museum when

at at they Saginaw travel

such Valley as State Storm University, King Art Center and seek in New out sculpture Windsor,

New parks York, when Millennium they travel Park such in as as Chicago, Storm King and Art art

parks Center in in in Seattle. New Windsor, This brings New me York, to one Millennium

Park concerns in in Chicago, the Masts and expressed art parks in in about Seattle. the

last This ten brings years me trending to to one artists of of the away few from concerns largescale

the Masts outdoor expressed art in lieu about of installation the last ten or social years

practice trending which artists favors away from the art large-scale of interaction outdoor and

exchange art in in lieu of of instead installation of objects. or or social They practice are ready which to

develop favors the their art landscape of of interaction gallery and and exchange find them-



of of with objects. fewer choices. They are I thought ready to to this develop might

lead their to landscape a concern gallery about the and devaluation find themselves of object with fewer by collectors choices. I but I thought Tim and this Marilyn might are lead not to to

worried a concern about about a shortage the devaluation of compelling of of the objects

in by general, collectors insisting but Tim the and object Marilyn market are is not thriving.


about a shortage of of compelling objects in in

of the


John Stephenson, Twisted Earthscape #18,

general, insisting the object market is is thriving.

35x35x24, 1989.

John Stephenson, "Twisted Earthscape

#18", 35x35x24, 1989.


The Mast collection awakened me to domestic

collecting as a creative act, collector as maker,

collector as collage artist. 1 To continue this notion

of making, let us explore the significance of

creative freedom experienced by the domestic

collector as opposed to the institutional collector.

In addition to the benefit of the domestic collection

providing a nurturing, inspiring space to live

out daily routines (bills, meals, celebrations and

quarrels in front of the Peter Voulkos platter), the

domestic collection is free of the committee with

all its swaddling restrictive comforts, the collector’s

free range mobility to operate both at random

and by design is key to the construction of a

unique work of collection collage. The see it, like

it, buy it, notion that Marilyn described with delight

is not to be underestimated. Sure, a budget

is the dirty uncle of all collections, but the ability

to build as you go with a committee of one/two is

the fundamental (aesthetic) parting line inviting

whim, chance, and the development of a personal

taste that piles up consistent inconsistencies,

changes that are beautifully incremental

over a lifetime which begin to tell a provocative

and specific story, producing a narrative unlike

anything possible in a public collection. The collection

collage becomes a biography but transcends

complete self-portraiture or narcissism

as it can only be made up of multiple voices of

other people – artists and viewers whose touch

remains in the patina of works unlike anything in

a museum where physical interaction is forbidden,

the effect of which is to reduce everything

to the eye, the instrument of envy and longing,

where touch is the instrument of relation, intimacy,

and reciprocity. A whole universe of difference

opens up here in understanding the public

and private functions of collecting and it is in this

sense that the collector as cultural collage artist

is a lens through which I would like to continue

looking and writing on the psychic, aesthetic,

and material explorations of other collections.

1 Many of the great collections / collectors, however

varied, share this collage aspect: Breton, clearly, the

de Menil collection in Houston, the Isabella Gardner

collection in Boston; while the aesthete Adrian Stokes

late in life said that it was absolutely essential that we

develop an aesthetics of domesticity.

Tom Phardel, Disc, 65x60x6, 1992; steel, stone and bronze.

The Mast collection has safeguarded a unique

snapshot of a Michigan ceramic collaborative

called the Clay 10, a generation of artists

who came of age under the generation of Peter

Voulkos, Betty Woodman, Rudy Autio, Paul

Soldner, Ken Ferguson, Tony Hepburn, Robert

Turner, Ruth Duckworth, Hans Coper, and Lucie

Rie to name a few. The Clay 10 and others like

them across the country helped that “first generation”

complete the shift of traditional ceramics/pottery

into the realm of art - sculpture and

modernism. Together these two generations and

have influenced the past 25 to 40 years of ceramics

students through the continuum of modern

to post modern and contemporary practice.

The Clay 10 collaborative was generous in the

way they identified emerging talent and including

them in their exhibitions. Of particular interest

to Tim and Marilyn Mast during that time was,

and still is, the work of John Stephenson, former

University of Michigan department of ceramics

head, Susanne Stephenson, former Eastern

Michigan University ceramics department head,

and Tom Phardel, who leads the ceramic department

at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

These three imminent Michigan ceramicists were

leaders in the group and pivotal in a dense period

of the Mast’s collecting helping them to hone

their taste in expressive vessel and large sculptural

forms. A further exploring of the Clay 10 is to

follow in subsequent Detroit Research Volumes.


Ceramic and mixed media works coming out of

Cranbook Academy of Art, College for Creative

Studies, University of Michigan and Eastern

Michigan University among others shaped and

continue to lead the regional tradition of modernist/post-modern

exploration of the ceramic

object, and now clay and mixed media installation.

The Mast collection, though dominated by

clay, is not nostalgic for ceramics. Tim and Marilyn

collect ceramic and mixed media works as

seen in the work of Janet Neuwalder, and Sharon

Que, two of their most favored mid-career

artists, the early career artists such as the work

of Shannon Goff and Tom Lauerman, Phaedra

Robinson and Scott Hocking and emerging artists

they are keeping their eye on as “ones to

watch,” Kevin Beasley, Graem Whyte and Virginia

Rose Torrence among others, each working in

media spanning from ceramics to social practice.

All of these works have been discovered with

a great degree of interchange with and regard

for the Metro Detroit galleries and gallerists

who have brought emerging to blue chip artists

to the Mast’s attention. From their first purchase

at the International Art Gallery in downtown

Detroit, to the over fifty galleries listed in

an addendum to this article, five specializing in

ceramics up through the present. Tim and Marilyn

speak with gratitude about the gallerists who

guided their path as well as a deep sense of loss

about how the city’s economic challenges have

reduced the number and energy of the gallery

network to a handful, few of which now focus

on the exhibition of ceramics. This conversation

with the Masts about an entire disappeared

sector has explained so much of the shaking

heads of elders I am close to in the arts. I’ve

not had a clear sense of what they miss when

they speak of what used to be - until now. Understanding

this, their collections stared back

at me representing not only artists but the galleries

and associated networks, resources, and

community that have dissolved. Viewing the

Mast collection calls one to consider some of the

visionaries, curators, owners and dealers who

have played an important creative role in the

Masts’ path over the years; it is to grasp instantly

the sense of lost as well as newly unfolding visual

art terrains in Metro Detroit: Sam Wagstaff at

the Detroit Institute of Arts; Susanne Hilberry at

the Susanne Hilberry Gallery; George N’Namdi

for three decades as the George N’Namdi Gallery,

and now the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary

Art; Gertrude Kasle of the Gertrude

Kasle Gallery; Mary Preston of The Feigenson-

Preston Gallery; Alan and Dulcie Swidler at The

Swidler Gallery at which Paul Kotula was director;

Arlene Selik and Linda Ross of The Sybaris

Gallery; Corrine Lemberg of Lemberg Gallery;

Darlene Carroll of Wasserman Projects

(formerly with Lemberg Gallery); the collective

vision of Paul Kotula, Sandra Schemske, Meg

LaRou and Joanne Park-Foley at Revolution

Gallery; then Paul Kotula at Paul Kotula Projects;

Dick Goody at the Meadowbrook Gallery,

now the Oakland University Gallery; Mary Denison,

Sharon Zimmerman and now Nancy Sizer

at the Detroit Artist Market; and most recently

Monica Bowman at the Butcher’s Daughter, and

Simone DeSousa at Re:view Gallery among

other strong emergent galleries. The Mast’s

collection maps the intersection of these past

guides/ relationships and stands as a living testament

to one segmented era, an era that keeps

evolving and incorporating new landscapes.

If 80% of success is showing up, as Woody Allen

says, their collection reflects an exhausting,

open, probing approach to venue. Tim and Marilyn

Mast embrace the notion that the entire city

is a potential space of discovery and the regular

hierarchical breakdown between art venues

is far less determinate - they go everywhere in

hopes of seeing something fresh. (There is an

old French term, denicheur, hunter, which is used

to identify the art collector passionately and constantly

in search of just the right work, and a work

which, moreover, has not yet entered the

mainstream which, moreover, of appreciation has not yet or entered taste, the characterizatiostream

of which appreciation fits the or Masts taste, perfectly.) characterization Their


commitment which fits the to education Masts perfectly.) and emerging Their commitment

comprehensive, to education their and emerging collecting artists practice is com-




fined prehensive, by exploratory their collecting participation. practice They defined tend by to

know exploratory the names participation. of younger They emerging tend to know talent the

yet names unheard of younger of by their emerging collecting talent peers yet unheard – they

look of by at their micro collecting studios peers as well – they as visit look to at megaart

studios fairs, Art as well Basel Miami, visit to pop-ups, megaart fairs, community Art Ba-


centers sel Miami, and pop-ups, one day community happenings. centers In addition and one

day happenings. In addition to established galleries,

they regularly attend Gallery Project in

to established galleries, they regularly attend

Gallery Project in Ann Arbor, Motor City

Ann Arbor, Motor City Brewing, Next Step Studios,

and the Contemporary Art Institute Detroit

Brewing, Next Step Studios, and the Contemporary

(CAID) Art which Institute is a parent Detroit organization (CAID) which for Detroit is a

parent Contemporary organization Gallery, for Lady Detroit Bug Contemporary

Gallery, and

Gallery, Whitdel Lady Arts. Bug Pieces Gallery, playful and and Whitdel serious Arts. find

Pieces their way playful into the and collection serious like find a their toddler way sneaking

collection cookies into like the a grocery toddler basket. sneaking They cook-




ies themselves into at grocery capacity basket. for space, They but find unable themselves

stop the at momentum. capacity for They space, are but true unable collectors.

stop the momentum. They are true collectors.


But what is more, the Masts are known to the

But local what art is community more, the as Masts serious are contributors known to the of










to Michigan




and arts organizations. The study and acquisition

of this collection of works lead Marilyn and

time, attention, and support to Michigan artists

and arts organizations. The study and acquisition

Tim Mast to a deep engagement with artists,










works lead


Marilyn and


Mast to in a Metro deep Detroit. engagement Their with participation artists,


arts in the and Detroit culture Institute and educational of Arts (DIA) collecting committee,

Friends in Metro of Modern Detroit. and Their Contemporary participation Art


in (FMCA), the Detroit an auxiliary Institute of of the Arts DIA, (DIA) and committee,

the Friends FMCA and of Modern Friends and of Prints Contemporary Drawings and Art

travel in

(FMCA), Photographs an auxiliary (FPDF) of formerly the DIA, known and travel as the in

the Graphic FMCA Arts and Society, Friends has of Prints had a Drawings significant and impact

on their (FPDF) knowledge formerly and friendships known as with the


Graphic collectors Arts in Society, Detroit, Kansas has had City, a significant and beyond. impact

on their knowledge and friendships with

collectors in Detroit, Kansas City, and beyond.

The Masts have found a home at Cranbook








a board

a home

on which

at Cranbook

Tim has

Academy been a member of Art, a and board chaired on which the nominating Tim has

been committee a member over and the course chaired of the twelve nominating years.

committee Tim’s childhood over the wonderment course of for twelve Pewabic years. Pottery

continued childhood in wonderment his adult life as for he Pewabic devoted


Pottery continued in his adult life as he devoted


twenty years to their governing Board (including

chair) years and to exhibition their governing committee. Board (including One gets


chair) the sense, and exhibition hearing stories committee. of the One collection, gets the that

sense, it is a private hearing accretion stories of of the a very collection, social that engagement.

private Each accretion piece of is a about very social stories engagement. and people,

it is


Each remembrances piece is about of relationship stories and people, and inspiration, remembrances

manifestations of relationship of their support and inspiration, and encouragement

of more of their than support one hundred and encouragement and fifty ce-


of ramic more artists. than one The hundred Masts’ and collection fifty ceramic has been artists.

rightly The influenced Masts’ collection by their has active been participation rightly influ-ienced

the intellectual, by their active museum, participation and student in the life intellec-

at the

tual, museum, and student life at the Cranbrook

Cranbrook Academy of Art. Masts have a deep

Academy of Art. The Masts have a deep connection

and understanding of the particular form of

connection and understanding of the particular

form of modernism from which the school was

modernism from which the school was born and

the born innovative and the innovative yet retreat-like yet retreat-like experience experience

Cranbrook offers. The school offers. attracts The school a slightly attracts more a


mature slightly student more mature base, many student of whom base, have many been of

practicing whom have artists been and practicing many from artists divergent and fields many

who from bring divergent a high fields level of who professionalism bring a high to level their of

studio professionalism research and to their tend studio to produce research collectable

tend works to produce during collectable their educational works exploration. during their


Knowing educational and exploration. tracking each Knowing artist has become and tracking

each of intellectual/ artist has personal become past a sort time. of Marilyn intellec-



and tual/personal Tim have past a zeal time. for the Marilyn artists and in their Tim collection


a zeal












collection - there


reflect this, evidences of the collector-trackerhunter.

The artists mark eras and historic events

are files and spreadsheets that reflect this, evidences

of the collector-tracker-hunter. The artists

mark eras and historic events and transi-

and transitions for the couple, “we acquired this


tions for the couple, “we acquired this when...”

Shirley White Black, Shirley Wing, White 10x20x14, Black, 1981. “Wing”, 10x20x14, 1981


Tim Mast Tim Mast


Janet Ayako

Ayako Neuwalder, Cocoon,

“Cocoon”, 11x17x12, 1990; and “Bundle” 8x11x10, 1989.

Mast Janet Ayako Neuwalder, “Cocoon”, 11x17x12, 1990; and “Bundle” 8x11x10, 1989.

Mast Tim Mast Janet Ayako Janet Ayako Neuwalder, Neuwalder, “Cocoon”, “Cocoon”, 11x17x12, 11x17x12, 1990; 1990; and “Bundle” and “Bundle” 8x11x10, 8x11x10, 1989. 1989.

per: Upper: Rebecca Rebecca

Upper: Tufts, Tufts,

Rebecca “Sliced “Sliced

Tufts- Loaf”, Loaf”,

Bhowmick, 6x8x3, 6x8x3, 2003;


per: Sliced Loaf, 6x8x3, 2003;

Lower: Upper: Rebecca Adele Rebecca Tufts,

Lower: Barres, “Sliced Tufts,

Adele “Kuru-Kuru”, “Sliced Loaf”, Loaf”, 6x8x3,

Barres, Kuru-Kuru, 1987. 6x8x3, 2003; 2003;

wer: Adele Barres, “Kuru-Kuru”, 1987.

wer: Lower: Adele Adele Barres, Barres, “Kuru-Kuru”, “Kuru-Kuru”, 1987. 1987. 1987.




Upper: David Shaner, “Cirque”, 5x19x19, 1993; Lower: Jun Kaneko, “Chunk” 16x13x3, 1989.

Upper: David Shaner, Cirque, 5x19x19, 1993; Lower: Jun Kaneko, Chunk,16x13x3, 1989.


Though Tim pursued law, and Marilyn teaching,

Though volunteer Tim pursued administrating, law, and and Marilyn the Unitarian teaching,

volunteer administrating, and the Unitar-

Though Tim pursued law, and Marilyn teach-

Church, ing, volunteer their social administrating, engagements and and the relationships



have taken

their social



among artists,




Church, their social engagements and relationships

curators, arts



taken place





lationships have taken place among artists,


and curators, appreciators. arts administrators, Their interest and forms, fel-

students, curators, arts administrators, and fellow

texture collectors and meaning and appreciators. has encouraged Their interest

low collectors and appreciators. Their and interest



in ported forms, emerging texture and meaning developed has talent encouraged

in forms, texture and meaning has encouraged

to explore

and the supported outer reaches emerging of their and medium. developed talent

and supported emerging and developed talent

to explore the outer reaches of their medium.

to explore the outer reaches of their medium.

Throughout and Throughout



education, education,

and and



like the my thoughts have




one one

with with

the the

Masts, Masts,

my my



have been rearranged. I am now thinking of collec-




rearranged. rearranged.

I am I am

now now

thinking thinking



collectors as artists, their private collections as pub-




artists, artists,

their their

private private



as lic (seen or unseen), and of the collector as

cross-trainer as

public public



or or


- they unseen),


usually and


do of


this the



‘on collector

the A as

point as



- -


of distinction they


that usually


needs do


to be this


made ‘on

the is

that the



A throughout


point point

of their


distinction travel


that abroad


needs and



in the



US, be

made made


Tim and


that that

throughout Marilyn


their have


travel remained






and in

to in

the building the


Tim a Tim

and significant and

Marilyn Marilyn

have portion have


of remained

committed their collection



with artwork to

building building

a created a

significant significant

portion in Michigan, portion


by of


Michiganders, their



with or with

artwork artists artwork

created from various created

in places in





have gan,


fallen or

by by

Michiganders, into Michiganders,

or or fallen in love or

artists artists

from with Detroit. from





many ous



who other collectors who

have have

fallen a fallen

into simple into

or curiosity or

fallen fallen


grew in


into love with

a with Detroit. guiding Detroit. Like principle Like many of many other life – other collectors

an aesthetic collectors



domesticity a simple simple curiosity curiosity grew – which grew into has into a shaped a guiding guiding prin-

their social principle

life, ciple travel

of of life life and

– – an friendships an aesthetic aesthetic for


almost of domesticity domesticity fifty years,



and which in

has has turn

shaped shaped they have

their their shaped

social social life, the life, travel community travel and


friendships that friendships people for likely for almost almost have fifty been fifty years, years, shaped and and by, in in knowingly

they have and have unknowingly. shaped shaped the the community Their community collection that that reflects people people


turn turn


likely critical likely have have slice been of been Detroit’s shaped shaped history by, by, knowingly and knowingly culture, and and now

unknowingly. safeguarded unknowingly. against Their Their collection dispersion. collection reflects reflects Entire histories a a criti-


housed cal slice slice along-side of of Detroit’s Detroit’s burgeoning history history and and visions, culture, culture, textures now now

safeguarded of safeguarded the future. against A against true collection dispersion. dispersion. collage. Entire Entire histo-


housed housed along-side along-side burgeoning burgeoning visions,


textures textures of of the the future. future. A A true true collection collection collage.


Pi Benio, Fetal Female Wrapped Form, 34x25x10, 1991.


Graham Marks, Marks,

Untitled, Untitled,

33x33x34, 33x33x34,



Pi Benio, “Fetal Female Wrapped Form”, 34x25x10, 1991.

Pi Benio, “Fetal Female Wrapped Form”, 34x25x10, 1991.


John John Stephenson, Stephenson, “Earth Auger, “Earth Auger”, Auger”, 12x24x13, 12x24x13, 1985.



obert Robert Sperry, Sperry, Untitled, Untitled, 28x28x4, 28x28x4, 1989. 1989.

obert Robert Sperry, Robert Sperry, Untitled, Sperry, Untitled, Untitled, 28x28x4, 28x28x4, 28x28x4, 1989.

1989. 1989.

Christian Christian Tedeschi, Tedeschi, Untitled, Untitled, 9x8x59x8x

Christian (metal Christian (metal stand Tedeschi, 11x10x5), stand Tedeschi, 11x10x5), Untitled, 2002.

Untitled, 2002. 9x8x5


Christian Tedeschi, Untitled, 9x8x5

(metal (metal stand 11x10x5), stand 11x10x5), 2002.


(metal stand 11x10x5), 2002.

Marilyn Marilyn Mast Marilyn Mast Ma

Marilyn Marilyn Mast



... The Final Frontier ...

Michael Stone-Richards

I had the new sensation that the air was touching

things; that the space between things touched

them, belonged in common; that space itself was


Adrian Stokes, Inside Out: An Essay in the Psychology

and Aesthetic Appeal of Space, 1947

I believe that the anxiety of our era has to do fundamentally

with space, no doubt a great deal more

than with time.

Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” 1967 / 1984

Over space, man has begun to win victory.

Futurama: To New Horizons, General Motors, 1939

New York World Fair

When considering what the principal theme of the

inaugural issue of Detroit Research would be there

was, in a sense, little doubt: space(s). Detroit has

a lot of it, 138 (or 139) square miles of it, of which

40 square miles is vacant space. The readily available

clichés – we all know the relevant figures off

by heart - tell us that within this square mileage one

could fit Manhattan, Boston, and San Francisco. In

his recent book – part memoir, part urban analysis

and social critique – journalist Mark Binelli begins

a chapter on “How to shrink a Major American City”

with the limpid declaration: “There was no getting

around it: Detroit had too much space.” Major exhibitions

at Cranbrook Art Museum and MOCAD

(in 2007) were devoted to Shrinking Cities; nature

was returning, taking over (or reclaiming) urban

spaces as pheasants and assorted game could be

spotted in certain parts of town; properties may be

cheap but services are wanting. Many young artist

types recently relocated to Detroit when asked

why they had moved to Detroit could scarcely find

anything more compelling to say than, It’s cheap.

The list of privations could easily be extended.

Sisyphus and the Voice of Space, 2010.

Courtesy of Scott Hocking and Susanne Hilberry Gallery.

The bleeding loss of population density has only

served over the decades to dramatize the de-industrialization

and de-population of Detroit which,

after the last census in 2010, seemed to suggest

that a tipping point had been reached.

This is a far cry from the vision, the city of

the future, the city of tomorrow set out in splendid

Technicolor in GM’s To New Horizons, its futurama

film for the 1939 New York World Fair. “Mentally

and physically,” says the voiceover, “we are progressing

toward new horizons.” 1 To get a picture

of these new horizons, the futurama invites us to

“travel into the future [of 1960], this wonderworld

of 1960,” where, one learns, “The accelerating

rate of Man’s progress in all fields of endeavor has

paralleled closely our progress in the freedom of

movement from place to place,” this wonderworld

in which “more desires have developed to be satisfied.”

The future, of course, is a future for the motorcar,

a future with “Highway engineering at its

most spectacular”, where “The motorway continues

through the mountains. Without tedious travel, the

advantages of living in a small town are within easy

reach, bringing the people who live there into closer

relations with all the world around. [And here the immortal

lines, O reader] Over space, man has begun

to win victory. Space for living, space for working,

space for play. All available for more people than

ever before.” One does not need to be a follower of

Jane Jacobs or Louis Chevalier (author of The Assassination

of Paris so admired by Guy Debord) to

see this wonderworld of 1960 as an utter nightmare


– the color of the future even looks like the landscape

of a Bosch painting. The point, however, is

not to critique this old film – it even has a certain

camp value in its voiceover and Technicolor! –

which would teach us nothing; rather it is to remind

ourselves that its politics of space were the practice

not of GM but of a whole profession of urban

planners whose influence could best be grasped

as a form of Centralized Democratic Bureaucracy:

across the country, almost without exception, modernist

urban planning had near uniformity of practice

and destructive impact. When the voiceover

in GM’s futurama says that in this wonderland of

1960 “Residential, commercial and industrial areas,

all have been separated for greater efficiency

and greater convenience,” just as “On all express

city thoroughfares, the rights of way have been so

routed as to displace outmoded business sections

and undesirable slum areas whenever possible

[for] Man continually strives to replace the old with

the new,” this is not GM pure and simple but the

commonplace of a profession whose form of Centralized

Democratic Bureaucracy was projected

through federal government policy the cornerstone

of which was the National Housing Act of 1934 and

the Housing Act of 1949 which established “as a

national goal, the realization of a ‘decent home and

suitable environment for every American family.’” 2 If

there are I-75’s and I-94’s through Detroit and many

if not all American cities – most notably Greenwich

Village, New York – it is because so few American

cities had a Jane Jacobs and the social, cultural,

and intellectual capital to resist one of the most

powerful forms of Centralized Democratic Bureaucracy

ever envisaged. If, in America, Jane Jacobs

Highway engineering at its most spectacular

To New Horizons, 1940. Photogram.

The motorway continues through the mountains

To New Horizons, 1940. Photogram.

symbolically delegitimized the urban planning profession

in its imperialist mode, it would not be until

Richard Nixon – yes, Richard Nixon – that, between

1973-1975, the effective universal power of urban

planning orthodoxy would be contained with the

halting of urban renewal plans and the devolution

to state and local bodies of powers over housing

once invested in the federal government, starting

with the invidious subsidies for both the demolition

of existing urban fabrics condemned as blighted

and the concomitant expansion of the suburbs at

the expense of cities. We are all, from Detroit to

Paris, living in the wake of this failed futurism captured

in glorious Technicolor in GM’s futurama To

New Horizons…

If urban planning no longer has the authority to impose

a uniform vision upon a reluctant citizenry, it

remains that much of the language of urban planning

is operant, especially the language of blight

which is used, in the absence of social or urban

imagination, to license the demolition of structures

and to render space abject. It is in this context that

should be placed one of the most important events

for urban and spatial thinking in the cultural economy

of recent Detroit. The publication of Detroit Future

City: 2012 Detroit Strategic Framework Plan,

which will shape much of public official discourse

even if relatively few of its proposals will see the

light of day, is a telling and fascinating document

dominated as its rhetoric is by time, which is to say

urgency: it is, though, the Future City, and “Detroit


is closer to its future than we imagine” which is

touched on in a preface or Forward – get it – “Forward:

Leading Detroit toward its Future,” followed

by “Blueprint for Detroit’s Future” and “The Time is

Now.” 3 When, however, the content of Detroit Future

City comes into play the content is all space,

places, and what to do with them, all is, indeed,

a politics of space in search of an ethic of space

and spatial justice. 4 Nothing makes this clearer

than the proliferation and varieties of maps and

mappings in Detroit Future City. Admirable though

this document is – and there is a need for such a

document to focus the conversation since no official

body of the City Council of Detroit on its own is

in a position to organize or undertake the needed

research – its treatment of space is too functional,

limited and, dare one say, diminishing – there is no

poetry there - for it

is not deferred time

(for the future never

arrives) but deferred

space which is the

current problem in

Detroit. Space is

housing, space is

work, space is social

and political interaction

– this much is

something on which

we can all agree

- but if Detroit becomes

its own frontier

– as envisaged

in the “right-sizing” of the city in Detroit Future City

- then it will remain locked, frozen into its current

networks of voids and absences; in other words,

Detroit’s frontier needs to be re-conceived in the

widest regional and porous terms to encompass,

say, Windsor – there are more bridges over the

River Seine in Paris than over the Detroit River

which separates and links one of the greatest

trading routes in the world – no less than Grand

Rapids. Just as we are learning to daylight buried

streams so might we learn from nature’s own

set of interconnections and inter-zones (which is

to say, free movement) and come to realize the

artificiality of our boundaries – nationally, regionally,

and locally. Regional space, however, is not

merely the space of trading routes, but also of

spiritual expansion and the encounter with social

complexity. One looks in vain in much current spatial

research on Detroit for any acknowledgement

of spaces of play of, indeed, play 5 as a fundamental

need, something which the economist Amartya

Sen and the moral philosopher Martha Nussbaum

and many more have come to argue. 6

On the Social Practice scene in Detroit it is precisely

the ethic of space with a profound sense of

play and playfulness that one finds being explored.

As an emblem of this marked tendency in the Social

Practice and art on the Detroit scene, one

may consider Katie Yamasaki’s mural overlooking

an urban garden at 2nd Avenue and Brainard in

midtown. It depicts a portrait of a young girl alongside

three boys on a tire swing, and in the space

between the two is

written the following

quotation from

Grace Lee Boggs –

the work was commissioned

by the

Boggs Center: “We

need to combine

learning with work,

political struggle,

community service

and even play.”)

And even play. Everywhere

one can

observe the preoccupation

with space

and play, for example, Graem Whyte, Faina Lerman

and friends’ complex in Hamtramck called

Popp’s Packing part of which is a Squash House,

2012-2013 with its re-appropriation of a deteriorated

building for the construction of a new type

of playing of urban squash; Whyte has also made

new fields of play and gaming in the construction

of new forms as embodied in his Make Love not

War, 2012 made from modified ping-pong tables

joined as two octagonal tubular forms joined in a

cinched but open center. In such an imagined form

play becomes an act of reciprocal choreographic

imaginations and not the following of pre-existing

rules of a game (whose purpose is winning).

Whyte and Lerman have also composed a fascinating,

simple and compelling field of play called

^Graem Whyte Make Love Not War (2012). Latex on modified ping pong tables, wood paneling, aluminum, steel, wheels, 6′ 4″

x 8′ 4″ x 11′. Image courtesy of the artist.


Memory Field, 2010, a form of earth sculpture in

layered rings incorporating groundcover, drainage

system, and cistern in and around which children

can play in open and new ways. 7 There is, too, the

PowerHouse Project, with its Play House (a community

performing arts center), and Skate House

which abuts the Ride It Sculpture Park (along the

East Division Freeway), not to mention Jon Brumit’s

Sound House (a novel sound and recording

studio where the house itself is treated as percussive

medium) which are further examples of the

exploration of spatial forms which necessitate of

the participants the open behavior in a new field

of composition, behavior of the kind called play.

Indeed, one of the strongest aspects of the new

kind of art practices emerging on the Detroit scene

is the exploration of place in a space between the

strictly and narrowly

private and the public,

in which people

explore forms of association

intimate yet

neither private nor

public, hence the role

of the many dinner

gatherings whether

in and around urban

gardens (Kate

Daughdrill) or in a

space such as Detroit

Soup run by Amy

Kaherl (which brings

together a greater social

diversity than any other art space in Detroit), or

as organized by Phil Cooley’s Clandestine dinners

in out of the way locations and buildings/structures

(which seek to activate abandoned buildings

through underground dining experiences), or in

the home which is also a studio and place of wider

association (part expanded kitchen, living area,

part lieu de passage), or, even, in larger cultural

practices such as the new venue of Culture Lab

Detroit initiated by Jane Schulak in 2013 which,

for example, organized a conversation on Social

Practice, architecture and design with Theaster

Gates, David Adjaye and the Campano brothers

followed by a dinner at the local venue Le Petit

zinc. The studio of a Scott Hocking, for example,

is one of the great distinctive spaces and meeting

places for resident artists and visitors to Detroit

worthy of comparison with some of the great poet

and artist studios of modernism; to visit Jon Brumit

and Sarah Wagner’s studios is to visit, at the same

time, their urban gardens and get a sense of how

they interact with their social environment; to get

to know the Columbia trained conceptual sculptor

Ben Hall is also to get to know his Russell Street

deli in Eastern Market as an extension of his practice;

Phil Cooley’s Ponyride complex has become

the housing for an assortment of diverse artists,

architects, and social entrepreneurs of which Veronika

Scott’s Empowerment Plan (which provides

employment and skill training for once homeless

women) has arguably become the most famous

resident; there is, too, the Imagination Station…

and before all of these there was – and remains –

the Heidelberg Project

created by Tyree

Guyton which, with

its stuffed toys and

re-purposed waste,

is the ur-model in Detroit

of public art and

playfulness in space

and representation

and, it is said, the

second most visited

site in Detroit after

the Detroit institute

of Arts. This model of

practice has begun

to reach out from the

core group of practitioners such as Brumit, Whyte,

Lerman, Hocking, Mitch Cope, Gina Reichert, Veronika

Scott, Daughdrill, Guyton, etc., each one of

whom was trained as an artist, to non-artists who

see in it a method for the possibility of changing

the representation of their neighborhood as well

as build community (however problematic this

term might be). An example would be the developing

Brightmoor Alliance in northwest Detroit.

There are so many ways of thinking space – as

intimacy (see, for example, the interview with

Timothy and Marilyn Mast, on the intimacy of

living with a collection of ceramic art long open

to artists in Detroit), as ludic invention, as heterotopias,

as voids (which can have a creative

^Graem Whyte and Faina Lerman, Memory Field (2010).

Groundcover, earth, drainage system, cistern, 3′ high x 100′ in diameter. Image courtesy of the artists.


function akin to redundancy in systems theory),

as the envelop of community, as the mark of the

anxiety of dispossession as Foucault put it – but

above all if space is not to become, yet again,

the functional space of urban renewal it must be

a practice, a practice of collaborative invention,

as the Lettrist International Gil J. Wolman put it:

L’espace est une invention: Space is an invention.

8 There is never simply space to be managed,

this is the functionalist fallacy. As Rilke wrote in

“The Eight Elegy,” the poem more than any other

in which we find the presentation of the Open,

We’ve never, no, not for a single day,

pure space before us, such as that which flowers

endlessly open into: always world,

and never nowhere without no [Nirgends ohne nicht]. 9

Space is always a particular world because the

result of the collaborative activity of world-making

and projection and as such an activity of negation,

the work of the negative from which no human activity

is exempt. In Detroit, in its urban fabric, in the

self-conscious art emergent from an engagement

with a care of the city, there is a poetics and ethic

of space which assumes rather than eschews the

sedimented, historical layers and tension of this

negation through play and representation.

Images from Ride It Sculpture Park (2012-present) and

The Heidelberg Project. Courtesy of Vince Carducci.

Social Practice cannot be a solution to the larger

structural, global problems of spatial justice – art

cannot offer solutions to anything of the kind and

to think so is merely delusional or childish – rather,

Social Practice, as one of the dominant modes of

contemporary art-thinking about social and political

relation, offers representations of critical alternatives

and gestures to what is lacking…It is as

citizens that we accomplish the rest.

A 250 person Clandestine in the David Whitney Building

to raise money for the Ruth Ellis Center. This is before the

renovation when there was no running water or electricity.

Reopening in 2014. Image courtesy of Phillip Cooley.




The film can be watched at YouTube


“Housing,” The Kerner Report, Report of the National

Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (New York:

Bantam Books, 1968), 467.


Cf. Detroit Future City: 2012 Detroit Strategic Framework

Plan (Detroit 2013), 1-13.


Cf. the recent collection at the intersection of activism,

social practice and critical theory of space, Andrea Phillips

and Fulya Erdemci, ed., Actors, Agents and Attendants,

vol. 2. Social Housing – Housing the Social: Art,

Property and Spatial Justice (Berlin: Sternberg Press

and SKOR, Foundation for Art and Public Domain,

2012), and Actors, Agents and Attendants, vol. 1. Caring

Culture: Art, Architecture and the Politics of Public

Health (Berlin: Sternberg Press and SKOR, Foundation

for Art and Public Domain, 2012). An ethic of care, it is

becoming clearer, not participation, is the core of Social

Practice. There has always been an avant-garde critique

of the sociologically based intervention into practice,

and for that reason participation per se has never

been a goal of avant-garde practice, whence the charge

of “elitism” that some still throw at the historic avantgarde

and figures such as Guy Debord.


Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Eight Elegy,” The Duino

Elegies, trans. J.B. Leishman and Stephen Spender

(London: Chatto and Windus, 1963), 77. In a French

translation of this elegy as used in a text by Giorgio

Agamben, the negation is made ruthlessly, even crudely

clear: “Tout est Monde toujours / et jamais n’est un

Nulle part exempt de négation (Everything is always

World / and never is any place exempt from negation)

.” Rilke, “Die Achte Elegie” quoted in Giorgio Agamben,

“Vocation et voix,” La Puissance de la pensée (Paris:

Rivages, 2006), 71.


Even GM’s futurama spoke of space for play, though

there was not the slightest idea of what this could be.


Cf. Martha Nussbaum, “Central Human Functional

Capabilities,” Women and Human Development: The

Capabilities Approach (Cambridge : CUP, 2000), 1 and

78-80, as also Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky,

How Much is Enough Money and the Good Life (New

York: Other Press, 2012). On the role of play in religious

sensibility, following on Huizinga’s Homo Ludens,

cf. Robert N. Bellah, “Religion and Evolution,” Religion

in Human Evolution (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap

Press, Harvard University Press, 2011), 44-116.


On Graem Whyte cf. Dick Goody, Remain Calm: The

Art of Graem Whyte (Oakland University Art Gallery,



Wolman, “Constat d’échec (Notice of failure),” Défense

de mourir (Paris: Allia, 2001), 156. Wolman was a coconspirator

with Debord in the Internationale lettriste,

the precursor movement to the Internationale situationniste.



Retreating / Retracing Space:

Scott Hocking and the Politics of Visibility


Michael Stone-Richards

‘Archeology’ was the only path still open to any

possible ‘physiology.’

Seth Benardete

Mixing the documentary mode with lyrical fiction,

The End of the World, Scott Hocking’s recent show

at Susanne Hilberry Gallery, presented Detroit as a

Surrealist archive.

Matt Biro, Artforum, March 2013

In geography similar to Istanbul’s –

read for Lake Huron, the Black Sea,

for the St Clair River, the Bosporos,

for the Lake St Clair, the Sea of Marmara,

for the Detroit River, the Dardanelles,

and for Lake Erie, the Mediterranean –

a natural place for Ford and Olds to open factories,

strategically tangential to the Pittsburgh steel mills,

Akron rubber plants, the Mesabi iron ore range.

Here, in ultimate concentration, is industrial

America […]

the capital of a new planet.

Lawrence Joseph, “Here in a State of Tectonic


As I write this introduction to the featured artist

in this inaugural issue of Detroit Research, Scott

Hocking’s work, some of the most significant work

emerging from contemporary art practice in Detroit,

is being shown in Detroit: Artists in Residence

at The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh; in the international

exhibition The Way of the Shovel: Art as

Archeology at the MCA in Chicago; in addition he

recently finished a residency with new work The

Quarry / Steinbruch, a site-specific installation in

Wolfsburg, organized by the Kunstverein Wolfsburg

in Germany, and this not long after a multimedia

installation of new work, The Secrets of Nature,

in April 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary

Art, Detroit (MOCAD) in the context of ArtX, the

biannual celebration of artists and writers who in

the previous two years have won a Kresge Arts in

Detroit Fellowship. Even after the influx of artists to

Detroit from Europe, Los Angeles, San Francisco,

Chicago, New York and elsewhere, there is a very

small handful of artists in Detroit with this kind of

national and international reach whose work is also

at the cutting edge of thoughtful and innovative art.

Of the artists in Detroit who have achieved national

and international recognition Hocking is one of the

few – Michael E. Smith would be another – to have

developed a distinctive new language and form of

representation, one, furthermore, that necessitates

the correlative development of a critical response

or critical theory. Another claim, however, can be

made of Hocking’s work in addition to the national

and international recognition which it is receiving,

and that is that his may be the representative art

of the recent and emerging Detroit scene for the

way in which it encompasses a thinking of the city

as practice in transdisciplinary forms across sculpture,

installation, walking, photography, the pursuit

of sedimented layering in archeological and archival

research, and the research into the retrait / retreat

of cultural presences through an investigation

of latency in spatial sites.

Garden of the Gods, West, Winter – from

Garden of the Gods, 2009-2011

All images courtesy of Scott Hocking and Susanne Hilberry Gallery


By representative I intend above all that Hocking’s

work is both deeply rooted in the historical conditions

of the city of Detroit (the question of place,

thus) and simultaneously participates in the international

language and forms of contemporary

art (and thus the meta-discourses of contemporary

art). When these two conditions are met the

work of Scott Hocking emerges as one of the most

compelling of a relatively small group of significant

talents focused upon the conditions of representation

through the expressivity of constructed, historically

manipulated – and sedimented - artifacts.

Even when artists make it their task to do away

with representation, to work in some way directly

with or upon reality, to expose or de-mystify the

conditions of spectacularity, it remains that representation

is the necessary encounter, and Hocking’s

work is one of

those, in Detroit, that

fully articulates representation

as the

principal problem of

thinking in art. It is

for this reason that in

the inaugural issue of

this new journal Detroit

Research Hocking’s

work is featured

in depth as the representative

artist of

the new modes of art

practices emergent

from Detroit these

past fifteen years or


Garden of the Gods, Zeus, Ice

– from Garden of the Gods, 2009-2011

First, what do I mean by the new forms of

art practice emergent from Detroit these past fifteen

years Though there is much art of quality in

Detroit, the form of art practice for which Detroit is

increasingly gaining attention outside Detroit is predominantly

post-Studio art of which Social Practice

has become the dominant form. Hocking’s art is not

at all a form of Social Practice, but it is, with Social

Practice in its Detroit form, a practice based within

the city, is, indeed, an art of the city, where the city is

taken as a historically conditioned and sedimented

medium. 1 The critical edge in Hocking’s work is the

role of research and investigation, above all as this

leads to one of his principal subjects, an investigation

of the conditions of representation as this bears on

what the poet Jim Gustafson famously called the

idea of Detroit. In doing so, Hocking’s work – in

Iceland, Australia, Germany, Detroit, Philadelphia,

St Louis, and other venues in North America -

uses archival research, archeology, anthropology,

social geography, walking, site-specific installation,

and photography as means of simultaneously

constructing, capturing, and investigating the processes

by which forms within the city and “nature”

emerge, become depleted, ruined, displaced, and

finally cast off in processes of de-differentiation. If

Hocking’s was a traditional art practice we should

speak of genres of landscape, still life, etc. His

is not, however, a traditional art practice, so it is

better to speak of the way in which certain forms

assume the provisional status of genre: for example,

the factory as

a genre, where it is

understood that the

factory in Hocking is

not a genre of photography

but more

a form with a (manipulable)

history, a

sense of inside and

outside constructed

by the artist through

the complex patterning

and inter-weavings

of collection,

installation, photography

and, importantly,

the work of the hand as

witnessed in a series

such as Sisyphus and the Voice of Space, 2010. 2

Part of the title, “The Voice of Space,” is an allusion

to a painting series, La Voix des airs / The Voice

of Space, c.1928-1931, by the Belgian Surrealist

René Magritte, by which Hocking makes clear

that his concern is not with documenting (through

photography, say, a factory) but with representation,

and thereby construction or figuration. Other

examples of the way in which forms assume the

status of genres is Hocking’s great exploration of

/ and installations within the Albert Kahn designed

Fisher Body Plant one of which is the already iconic

series called the Ziggurat, 2007-2009; closely

related yet distinct is the city in the series Garden


of the Gods, 2009 – 2011. This series consists of installations

made from materials onsite – reinforced

concrete columns, with broken, used televisions

atop the columns – on the collapsed roof of the

Packard plant as though the installation and constructed

imagery captured a mythic landscape in

snow, in a field of ruins, even, at one moment, the

exposed metal supports in the re-inforced concrete

of collapsed roof and columns positioned at a distance

just right to make the resultant configuration

appear like a form of drawing, in other words, the

work of distancing inherent to the project is there to

make the experience not an image but a construction.

Here a number of Hocking’s concerns and

practices converge in construction (walking, surveying,

recuperation, the work of the hand with onsite

available materials, process sculpture, investigation

of site-specificity and spatial form as result

of varied historical sedimentations, the photograph

as (partial) indexical record, or witness, and artistic

artefact for attentive engagement) bearing upon

the problematic of ruination and the archeological.

But what, in the context of Detroit industrial and

cultural histories, is a ruin For there are ruins and

ruins, as the great psycho-analyst and writer J.-B.

Pontalis once observed remarking on the need to

recognize the type of temporality linked to a certain

type of attentive engagement in the idea of ruins

especially as found in the ancient relation between

paintings, ruins, and wrecks (naufrages) in a logic

of fragmentation. Here is the comfortable idea of


There are ruins and ruins. Those propitious to

gentle melancholy, to nostalgia: the monument

– temple, castle, dungeon, abbey… - already

sacred or noble from its origin [...] There is a

whole pictorial tradition of ruins and wrecks 3 :

the alliance of painting and of ruins in their

power of evocation of what is not, of what is no

longer observable from end to end under our

eyes. 4

One goes to Rome, to certain parts of England or

Germany, to be enchanted by the remains of monasteries

or once great houses or the intentionally

left fragmented remains of war (Oradour-sur-Glane

in France); the Imperial Garden in Beijing; may be,

even, one visits Colorado and the Garden of the

Gods there, or Utah with its pre-historic rock formations

to allow the mind to play with the making

visible of the passages and ravages and so many

losses of time 5 – for each human loss in time is

a loss of a possible human future as Guy Debord

never ceased to force home in the ethics of temporality

he made central to his account of liberty.

Here, though, is an other fragment, the gaze upon

which does not allow the mind an equally easeful

playful absorption:

But to wander in a damaged and shelled city, in a

destroyed neighborhood deserted by its inhabitants

overwhelms us. The vision of a work-place

left in abandonment discomforts us: this house,

then, will never become finished! Why has its

construction been stopped What a failure! It is

dead before being born, it is abject waste, never

having achieved the moving status of relic, or remains.

Incomplete, but incomplete forever, as it

will never have been granted the time to become

a ruin. 6

In this form of fragment there is abandonment, and

time seems not to have touched it, the remains, the

ruin-object or fragment, sufficiently for it to become;

it is, indeed, stunted and with it the temporality becomes

what Debord, following Eugène Minkowski

and Joseph Gabel, characterized as a damaged

or coagulated temporality. 7 This fragment does not

even achieve the status of a relic which, in analytic

terms, is part of a logic of separation in which the

relic-object, in veneration, allows the dead to be

dead (separated) so that the living may continue

living (transmission) – in other words, to use the

colloquialism, there is no closure, and this fragment

interrupts us in our otherwise free, unthinking

movements, and makes us almost internalize

its projected resistance. The ruin-object in Detroit

has, though, received time, has been a forum of

interaction, but it has been, primarily, economic

time, the time of the commodity, and so the ruin

in such a context may be defined as the shell left

behind after the massive and irreversible transfer

of capital (social energy) away from the City, and

its social networks or arteries, a city ill-equipped

for the arrival of globalization. The resulting shell

is not devoid of significance, community, or history,

hence the language of re-treat (withdrawal,

fading, concealment, disguise, obscuring) and the

related work or dérive in urban margins so present

in Hocking’s art practice. 8 In many respects,

the irritation felt by some at others’ fascination with

the ruin-objects of Detroit is a reaction- formation


at becoming voyeuristic objects 9 – but all this does,

in a strange way, is show the manner in which the

voyeurism built into the origins of the Western camera

has now turned its gaze from exotic “others” to

ourselves. In other words, one suddenly feels what

it is like to be looked at at the very moment that

resources, which once were drained from otherplaces,

are now drained from us ourselves and our

social and ecological environments of sustenance.

This process started with native-Americans and is

commemorated in Hocking’s Garden of the Gods.

The title of this series, Garden of the Gods, alludes

to rock formations to be found in Colorado and Illinois

which, as the poet Robert Hayden wrote, in

his “[American Journal],” were sacred. Here is how

Hayden, in the persona of an extra-terrestrial alien

anthropologist visiting earth in Colorado, puts it:

much here is

beautiful dream like vistas reminding me of

home item have seen the rock place known

as garden of the gods and sacred to the first

indigenes red monoliths of home. 10

The “first indigenes” are long gone, their culture

devastated, available only in fragments, ruins, and

even their burial mounds buried over, open, or removed,

barely visible, if at all, in the conceptual

realm alone. But the first indigenes are followed by

others who in turn are followed by others and each

leaves behind a City more complex, more rich with

affect, ruins, relics, histories, and lives layered in

oblivion and forgetfulness, the process of making

oblivion gaining speed. 11 Hocking’s practice is less

about mourning such passage than commemoration,

but even more than commemoration – as recorded

in the Babylonian epic the Enuma Elish, the

Ziggurat in its original Mesopotamian function, after

all, was a form of celebration of victory over an enemy

and the establishment of a sacred place upon

that defeat 12 – his practice, rather, is an un-veiling

of oblivion and forgetfulness as though, in the Garden

of the Gods, the columns are upshoots of a

buried past, rocks amongst the greenery, the detritus

of industry amidst the dashed, broken hopes

of a life predicated upon consumption, the broken

T.V.s testimony to some timeless rite of celestial

communication: messages from the stars – celestial

and inter-stellar communication as the earthly

stars become deified and refined into images for

transmission – or the gods (not captains) of the universe.

It is as though the installation (upon which

one chances within the frame of the Packard Plant)

and photography record a kind of secular orogenesis

embodying the interaction of man’s play and

industry/labor for which art and consumerism are

curious doubles of each other in the staging of forgetfulness

and oblivion … from Colorado (a Spanish

name for the Colorado River), through Illinois (a

French transliteration of a native-American name)

to Detroit (from the French Détroit for the straight

of Detroit) 13 and its many burial grounds whose retreat

is the subject of The Mound Project.

“The work is not put in a place, it is that place.”

Robert Smithson, Avalanche, Fall, 1970

Above all, however, Hocking’s languages and

forms – drawing upon the materialist dimension

in archeology, anthropology, and natural history

– point to an over-riding preoccupation, namely,

the politics of (in)-visibility. I do not know if there is

an archeological turn or imaginary in recent contemporary

art as Dieter Roelstraete, who curated

Hocking into his MCA exhibition The Way of the

Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art, 14

has argued since his 2009 e-flux article on the topic,

but I am quite sure that there is in contemporary

art and related meta-discourses a powerful preoccupation

with the politics of visibility – Chantal

Akerman’s cinematic meditations on demographic

movements (from D’Est in 1993 to De l’autre côté

in 2002 and Là-bas in 2006 ), and Alfredo Jaar’s

Let there be Light: The Rwanda Project (1994-

1998) will suffice 15 – and further that archeology

has become one of the figures of this preoccupation,

in a manner consistent with yet differing from

Robert Smithson’s figures of the archeological.

The Mound Project, Morgan Estate, North

– from The Mound Project, 2007-present


It is in this light that it becomes powerfully clear that

Hocking has developed a distinctive practice calling

for its own critical language, for the whole utterly

misinformed talk in Detroit and certain places

about the photography and representation of ruinobjects,

ruins and ruination has detracted from,

wholly missed, the principal concern, 16 a concern

which is central to Hocking’s developing practice,

for Hocking’s work shows its criticality through the

engagement with and

investigations of the politics

of visibility, through

the ways in which the

dis-appearance of appearance

is staged (this

is the retrait / re-treat),

how erasure becomes

manifested, and there

is no clearer example of

this than the series The

Mound Project, 2007 –

present, which attempts

The Mound Project, Under I-75

– from The Mound Project, 2007-present

to point (for words are

not readily available) to

the creation of oblivion

through the erasure

of sites of memory (in

this case, the removal,

displacement, or destruction

and eventual

devastation of precontact

burial mounds

in Detroit) only to be

“replaced” by (or retreated

as) brownfields,

factories in turn

become redundant,

blight, wasted lives,

with all (or most) visible

evidence of the past

erased as part of a process of cultural devastation,

that is, where destruction and erasure

become irreversible at the cultural level and so

permanently disruptive of transmission.

The Mound Project, Morgan Estate, with Two Brothers

– from The Mound Project, 2007-present

an act of re-tracing, to a quasi-archeological and

social-cultural investigation of the area of Detroit

called Black Bottom, one of the most poignant and

still felt sites of erasure of African-American culture

in Detroit, removed in the name of urban renewal

and now the site of the Mies van de Rohe complex

of apartments in Lafayette Park. The Mound Project

in its treatment not of mere absence-presence

(after all a relatively crude binarism) but rather of

the retreat from representation

into invisibility

has prepared

the way conceptually

and perceptually for

the kind of phenomenological

and historical

intuition of erasure,

retreat, re-tracing and,

finally, devastation

(rather than mere destruction

from which it

is possible to recover).

We see, for example,

the I-75, like a looming

presence, a beast, a

weight, even, holding

its appropriating presence

over the once

lived in land vacated,

then devastated by

eminent domain, and

we are invited to construe

the surrounding

negative space dialectically

and so precisely

not as mere absence

against a supposed

presence but as an

active historical configuration

whose resonance

and vibration – that tone of the neutral, the bland

as we grasp it in The Mound Project, Morgan Estate

– have found visual density in the photo-graphein

/ light-writing of Hocking’s practice.

It is no surprise, indeed, it is a logical extension

of his developed and developing language and

forms, that this approach to the politics of visibility

should lead him, in a newly begun project, in

Likewise shall we be required to see the gracious

Lafayette Gardens – like the manifestly ugly and

beast-like I-75 – as contemporaneous forms of cultural

burial grounds…but also come to recognize


that this is the City, where the living is complicit

with the dead. I could quote Sophocles’ Antigone

or Simone Weil on precisely this point, but may be

the Anglo-Nigerian writer Ben Okri says it in a late

modern diction when, in his “A Prayer from the Living,”

which opens Alfredo Jaar’s Let there be Light:

The Rwanda Project, we find it said by the dying

man in the City of Man: “And when I looked at the

body next to me and found the luminous unfamiliarity

of its face to be that of my lover’s – I sang all

through the recognition.” 17 The post-Industrial City,

however, bears within itself this difference, namely

that is it is marked by oblivion, that is, forgetfulness,

hence the politics of (in)-visibility so prominent in

contemporary practice and in Hocking’s development

of this preoccupation

in his Detroit-based


There is, last but by no

means least, another

aspect to Hocking’s

artistic practice, an aspect

which is based in

the Detroit habitus and

which also shows him

thinking in terms of the

history of art. When, in

October 2010, Matthew

Barney and Jonathan

Bepler came to Detroit

for the creation of their

opera KHU, whilst experiencing

the duration

of the work (an appro

ximately twelve hour

event from beginning to end) something obvious

hit me with a force which hitherto I had never

felt, at the precise moment of the raising from the

Rouge River of the god Osiris under the form of the

engine of the Chrysler Crown Imperial surrounded

by a form of keening – led by Isis - with which one

is no longer accustomed in the Western tradition,

namely, that Barney’s work is not first and foremost

a semiotic venture but is rather firmly anchored in

the ancient – and renewable – conception of the

analogical imagination. The engine of the Chrysler

Crown Imperial is a god. 18 (Surrealism was the

last great renewal of this mode of working with the

analogical imagination, 19 since which time artists

such as a Beuys or an Abramović have developed

distinct strategies that are variations of analogy as

practice aimed at breaking, frustrating or problematizing

the mirroring tendencies inherent in human

projection. 20 ) What could easily be seen as the

movement of the signifier in Barney’s work could

also and more plausibly be grasped as the movement

of forms and analogy in a distinctly fabricated

(manipulable) analogical space. (The Garden of

the Gods, The Mound Project are analogical spaces

figured through materialist practices.) Then it

was that it struck me that the only artist in Detroit

for whom the analogical mode was still available,

that is, an operant set of reflexes and forms, was

Scott Hocking – his

last one-person show,

The End of the World,

at Susanne Hilberry,

was nothing else with

its Mercury motor car

(the literal and the figural


held in salts (again, the

literal and the figural),

its installation of a wall

of books each cover of

which bears on the topos

and form of the end

of the world and nearly

all of which are alchemical

or available to

Alchemical Works, The BeeKeeper –

an alchemical movement;

and through-

from Alchemical Works 1997-2006

out one encounters in the exhibition and the related

work that fundamental alchemical disposition that

the world is a system of symbolization in which everything

(large and small, high and low, inside and

outside, before and after) is interconnected and

thus a system in which all is mutually translatable.

The old tradition of alchemical thought believed

that there was a key for all this – nineteenth-century

alchemy in its Symbolist as well as non-Symbolist

modes is one of the most curious forms of positivism

ever invented! – but after Surrealism and up

to Abramović and Barney there is no key to a book

of symbols but only movement and transformation,

matter as mode. Hence the great saying by Breton

in the essay on the peu de realité (the paucity or


little that there be of reality) that the world is only

limited by the poverty of our imagination, for what

the analogical mode seeks is the open for the

play of the imagination, and, in a mode predicated

upon mutual translatability, anthropological equivalence

or balance without mere mirroring, that is, a

mode in which terms may be brought into material

equivalence, but not tautology. This is the work of

Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9 (35 mm color, 2005).

We see this mode of attention in Hocking in the

photographic series called Detroit Nights, 2007 -,

something present from the earliest stage of his

professional life as an artist with the Alchemical

Works, 1997-2006, the techniques and modes of

which are brought to bear upon the materialist work

based in Detroit and the Packard and Fisher Body

Plants, for example, the Fisher Body 21, Night Window,

2007-2009 whose use of reflecting light upon

a horizontal surface fulfills a similar effect to the

broken mirroring devices to be found in late nineteenth-century

painting such as Paul Serusier’s

The Talisman, 1888, oil on panel (Musée d’Orsay),

and which were one of the principal formal sources

in the emergence of abstract painting (and so abstraction

as thought) in the tradition of both Kandinsky

and Mondrian. We see the same devices at

work in Atget in photographs such as l’Ambassade

d’Autriche, rue de Varenne, 1905 and Saint Cloud,

June 1926.

Atget, Saint Cloud, June, 1926, public domain

The fundamental aesthetic transformation is that

of matter with experience. The way in which the

raw material of the Fisher Body has been transformed

through light into Night Window not only reaffirms

such strategies about the role of form in the

transformation of matter, but shows, too, how the

analogical imagination is still at play, even, and

may be, as Barney showed, especially in Detroit.

It is in this criticality and historicity that Hocking is

at once of Detroit yet part of a powerful set of languages

in international contemporary art.

Fisher Body 21, Night Window, 2007-2009

In this issue a number of writers – Lynn Crawford,

Sarah Margolis-Piñeo, Glenn Mannisto – share

their take on Hocking’s work. Hocking, too, is a

fine writer and researcher and some of his writings

have been brought together and placed in dialogue

with other works such as Biba Bell’s reflections on

Belle Isle and domesticity, Vince Carducci on the

art of the commons, or Barrett Watten on the poetics

of ruined space in order to evoke new echoes,

suggestions and critical strategies.




Another artist with whom Hocking can be compared, in

being an artist who takes the city as a medium, whose

work is a sustained engagement with the materiality

of the city, but which work is ultimately not at all Social

Practice or socially engaged art, is Susan Goethel

Campbell. In her most compelling recent work Campbell

has developed a practice or logic of the imprint.

For example, her series Dirty Pictures: Portraits of Air,

2010, in which air filters from around the world are exhibited

as a form of monoprint, and most recently, in

her exhibition Rotations at Simone de Sousa’s Re:View

Gallery in Detroit (2013), where sods of earth uniformly

produced from supermarket lettuce containers are arranged

into networks or grids which, in their repetition

and regularity across time (a logic of replication), evoke

urban structures, or the layout of cities. It is an important

feature of this body of work that the dry sods of

earth can be revivified through watering or the work of

the hand, and thereby the proportionality between body

and city (or latency and form) becomes activated as a

subject of the work.


The way in which Hocking’s practice of the city situates

itself in relation to painting and especially Surrealist

painting bears comparison with the work of the anarchitect

Gordon Matta-Clark. This should not be such a

surprise as many of Matta-Clark’s concerns and forms

mediated through Robert Smithson – alchemy, sedimentation,

archeology, walking, process sculpture, the

construction of non-sites, the nature of city-place where

Detroit, for example, is the site of work instead of say,

Patterson – are also Hocking’s concerns. On alchemy

in Matta-Clark’s thinking, cf. Thomas Crow, “Alchemy

and Anthropology,” in Gordon Matta-Clark, ed. Corinne

Diserens (London: Phaidon, 2010), 22-37. It remains,

however, that Thomas Crow, like so many other (important)

academic art historians of his generation does not

have a clue what to do with or say about alchemy as a

formalism in Matta-Clark’s work or the art of the 1960’s

and 1970’s. In effect, mainstream art historiography

of the last twenty years has arrived at a compromise

between social history of art and the writing that falls

under the journal October, which has led to a writing of

post-World War II art history and criticism that could be

called grosso modo the Artforum view of things. Matta-

Clark belonged to a group of artists and thinkers whose

work was best captured in the great experimental review

Avalanche, which, in turn should be seen in relation

to the culture of Art News. A new form of art writing

and history, drawing upon the culture of Art News and

Avalanche – and other forums of this kind – remains to

be composed and with it an alternative history of modern

and contemporary art.


On this pictorial tradition of ruins, see the recent Tate

Gallery exhibition Ruin Lust (with artists ranging from

the painter Turner to the film-maker Tacita Dean). Cf.

Brian Dillon, Ruin Lust (London: Tate Gallery Publishing,



J.-B. Pontalis, “Le Souffle de la vie,” Ce temps qui ne

passe pas (Paris: Gallimard, 1997), 126. My emphasis.


The locus classicus for this form of reverie upon the

ruin is Rose Macaulay, Pleasure of Ruins (London:

Thames and Hudson, 1964). A more current approach,

that is, one which takes ruins in terms of critical practice

/ theory, can be found in the Whitechapel Documents

of Contemporary Art volume on Ruins, ed. Brian Dillon

(Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2011), and Christopher

Woodward, In Ruins (New York: Pantheon, 2002). An

important essay which (necessarily) links the question

of ruins to ruination is Ann Laura Stoller, “Imperial Debris:

Reflections on Ruins and Ruination,” Cultural Anthropology,

vol. 23. No. 2 (May 2008): 191-219.


Pontalis, “Le Souffle de la vie,” 127.


Cf. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit:

Black and Red, 1977), thesis 35.


Cf. Philipe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, Retreating

the Political (London: Routledge, 1997).


The term “ruin porn” being utterly vacuous and void

of conceptual content. In short, it explains nothing, and

is a mere protest at being looked at – but the Western

camera was designed to look, stare, and objectify.


Robert Hayden, “[American Journal],” Collected Poems

(New York and London: Liveright, 1996), 192-193.

Less accessible but important for its Lawrence F. Sykes

cover design of a collage of moon landing and atlas

is the Effenden Press 1978 edition of the book American

Journal of which “[American Journal]” is the closing

poem. Clearly, Hayden’s “[American Journal]” could

readily, and rewardingly, be read as an Afro-Futurist



Cf. Norman M. Klein, The History of Forgetting: Los

Angeles and the Erasure of Memory (London and New

York: Verso, 2008).




The most significant aspect of Marduk’s victory, in

whose honor the first Ziggurat was built, as recorded in

tablet VI of the Enuma Elish, is the imposition of labor/

work upon Man so that the gods “shall be at leisure”:

Let me put blood together, and make bones too.

Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name.

Let me create a primeval man.

The work of the gods shall be imposed (on him), and so

they shall be at leisure.

The location of Hocking’s Ziggurat in the Fisher Body

Plant, an iconic industrial site, is not an accident, all the

more so as the presence of the Ziggurat creates, within

the historically sedimented industrial site, a non-site as



No surprise, then, that one of Hocking’s finest essays

is called “A Nice Spot Along the Water.” See below, 44-



Cf. Dieter Roelstraete, The Way of the Shovel: On the

Archeological Imaginary in Art (Chicago and London:

Museum of Contemporary Art and University of Chicago

Press, 2013), 126-131.


See below “Notes on Biopolitics,” 132-138.


For a sophisticated treatment of ruination as a problematic,

and not as some trite response to outsiders’

fascination with decline and decay, cf. the article below

by Barrett Watten, “Learning from Detroit: The Poetics

of Ruined Space,” 189-198. Barett Watten and Tyrone

Williams organized a panel at the Modernist Studies

Association conference in Las Vegas in 2012 called

Learning from Detroit where a version of his essay was

delivered. I participated in this panel and delivered a

paper on Scott Hocking and ruination which looked at

the models in the representation of ruins from the eighteenth

century through to Surrealism – which has a fully

theorized practice of ruins and spectrality - at work in

Hocking’s practice. What all the panelists shared is a

view that ruins are fundamentally a question of representation.

Cf. Michael Stone-Richards, Care of the City:

Detroit and the Question of (Social) Practice, forthcoming.


Cf. Michael Stone-Richards, “Coda: And what would

a god look like, anyway Matthew Barney in Detroit,”

Care of the City: Detroit and the Question of (Social)

Practice, forthcoming.


Matthew Biro has written a review of Hocking’s Susanne

Hilberry show End of the World in which he

pointed to the presence of a Surrealist disposition of

documentation and lyrical fiction in the work. Cf. Matthew

Biro, Artforum (March 2013). Does one need to be

reminded that, following Atget, the Surrealist key, that

is, the distinctive note in the Surrealist photography of

Paris, is the Paris of emptiness, stillness, pre-eminently

of twilight states: dusk, dawn, and night


The problem of the Ströher Collection of Beuys’ work

in the Hessiches Landesmuseum, namely, whether it

should have been left exactly as Beuys curated it or

allowed to be ‘modernized’ is, I construe, an illustration

of Beuys’s strategy of the refusal of mirroring by

acknowledging entropic degradation. See, also, the

photographs (frontispiece and pages 52 and 70) of Joseph

Beuys tête-à-tête with James Lee Byars at the

opening of the Speck Collection, 15 March 1983 in

which Byars’ face and head are fully covered in cloth

Cf. James Lee Byars, Letters to Joseph Beuys (Hatje

Cantz, 2000). The work of a Joseph Beuys or a Marina

Abramović might seem to invite mirroring because of

the way in which certain situations would seem to have

invitation built into them but in no case does the person

of the performer invite or seek to sustain mirroring.


Ben Okri, “A Prayer from the Living,” in Alfredo Jaar,

The Rwandan Project: 1994-1998 (Barcelona: Actar,


A Nice Spot Along the Water

photography & words by Scott Hocking

Fig. 1. Gilbo Boats, 2009, from the photography series Shipwrecks, 1999-2013

Originally published in Under the Influence, 2009. Reprinted courtesy of Scott Hocking.

Images courtesy of Scott Hocking and Susanne Hilberry Gallery


“Since the trade of the war is not that of a

writer, I cannot without rashness draw the portrait

of a country so worthy of a better pen than mine;

but since you have ordered me to give you an

account of it I will do so, telling you that Detroit is,

probably, only a canal or a river of

moderate breadth, and twenty-fi ve leagues in length

according to my reckoning lying north-northeast,

and south-south-west about the 41st

degree (of latitude), through which the sparkling

and pellucid waters of Lakes Superior, Michigan

and Huron (which are so many seas of sweet

water) fl ow and glide away gently and with a

moderate current into Lake Erie, into the

Ontario or Frontenac, and go at last to mingle in the

river St. Lawrence with those of the ocean. The

banks are so many vast meadows where the

freshness of these beautiful streams keeps the

grass always green. These same meadows are

fringed with long and broad avenues of fruit trees

which have never felt the careful hand of the

watchful gardener; and fruit trees, young and old,

droop under the weight and multitude of their fruit,

and bend their branches towards the fertile soil

which has produced them. In this soil so fertile, the

ambitious vine which has not yet wept under the

knife of the industrious vine-dresser, forms a thick

roof with its broad leaves and its heavy cluster

over the head of whatever it twines round, which it

often stifl es by embracing it too closely. Under

these vast avenues you may see assembling in

hundreds the shy stag and the timid hind with the

bounding roebuck, to pick up eagerly the apples

and plums with which the ground is paved. It is

there that the careful turkey hen calls back her

numerous brood, and leads them to gather the

grapes; it is there that their big cocks come to

fi ll their broad and gluttonous crops. The golden

pheasant, the quail, the partridge, the woodcock,

the teeming turtle-dove, swarm in the woods and

cover the open country intersected and broken

by groves of full-grown forest trees which form a

charming prospect which of itself might sweeten

the melancholy tedium of solitude. There the hand

of the pitiless mower has never shorn the juicy

grass on which bison of enormous height and size


The woods are of six kinds, -- walnut trees,

white oaks, red, bastard ash, ivy, white wood trees

and cottonwood trees. But these same trees are

as straight as arrows, without knots, and almost

without branches except near the top, and of

enormous size and height. It is from thence that the

fearless eagle looks steadily at the sun, seeing

beneath him enough to glut his formidable claws.

The fi sh there are fed and laved in

sparkling and pellucid waters, and are none the

less delicious for the bountiful supply (of them).

There are such large numbers of swans that the

rushes among which they are massed might be

taken for lilies. The gabbling goose, the duck, the

teal and the busted are so common there that, in

order to satisfy you of it, I will only make use of the

expression of one of the savages, of whom I asked

before I got there whether there was much game

there, “there is so much” he told me, “that it only

moves aside (long enough) to allow the boat to


Can it be thought that a land in which nature

has distributed everything in so complete a manner

could refuse to the hand of a careful husbandman

who breaks into its fertile depths, the return which

is expected of it

In a word, the climate is temperate, the

air very pure; during the day there is a gentle

wind, and at night the sky, which is always placid,

diffuses sweet and cool infl uences which cause us

to enjoy the benignity of tranquil sleep.

If its position is pleasing, it is no less

important, for it opens or closes the approach to

the most distant tribes which surround these vast

sweet water seas.

It is only the opponents of the truth who are

the enemies of this settlement, so essential to the

increase of glory of the King, to the spread of

religion, and to the destruction of the throne of

Baal.” 1

1 Description of the Detroit River by M. de Lamothe

(Cadillac), the Commandment there, October

8, 1701. The Windsor Border Region: Canada’s

Southernmost Frontier, Edited by Ernest J. LaJeunesse,

C.S.B., The Champlain Society of the Government

of Ontario, University of Toronto Press,

1960, pp. 18-19.


Fig. 2. Ziggurat, East, Summer II, 2008 – from the installation and photography project

Ziggurat and FB21, 2007-2009

Fig. 3. Shipwrecks, Carbon Works, 2007 – from the photography series Shipwrecks, 1999-



Detroit has been many things. When

Cadillac arrived just over 300 years ago, he found

a narrow channel between two lakes, with Native

camps on either side. It was a nice spot along

the water.

Soon, the marshlands, creeks, and

forests became a rivertown. Land was divided into

strip farms, each with a piece of shoreline. There

were battles between the French, the British, and

Natives of many kinds, and the Revolution came,

and went. A great fi re burned the town to the

ground. Still, Detroit began anew. The location

was ideal for trade, and from pelts to cigars to

whiskey, the shipping industry grew into a

boomtown. The War of 1812 and the Great

Rebellion came, and went. With ore fl oated

down from the north, Detroit became the stove

builder, the carriage maker, and the automobile

capital. It was coined the Paris of the West, the

Arsenal of Democracy, and the enduring

Motor City. It expanded away from the river, less

dependent on the waterways as paved roads and

superhighways were built. All the while things

were changing, and as the industry moved, so

did the people. In the last 50 years the population

dropped nearly 50 percent, as residents and businesses

left. Thousands of dwellings, factories, and

neighborhoods were abandoned, demolished,

decayed. Vacant lots turned to prairies, trees

sprouted through cracked pavement and tar

roofs, and the overgrown rubble of demolished

homes became hills. Nature returned to reclaim,

dismantle, and erode the unused spaces.

these people were: the Hopewell, the Adena,

the Mississippian societies, or even Phoenician

copper-mining mariners. Cadillac himself

theorized that perhaps these earthen monuments

and reliquaries were remnants of the lost tribes

of Israel. What is certain is that these sites were

not unlike the pyramids, ziggurats, temples, and

structural artifacts found worldwide: they were

used for burial, and perhaps ceremonial and/

or military purposes. Yet, even the Mound

Builders were not the fi rst to inhabit the area.

Humans of the early Woodland and Late

Archaic periods were living along the shores of the

Detroit and the Rouge rivers at the time of Christ.

Ancient garden beds and bermed pathways lay

fossilized under Michigan soil. And evidence of

the Old Copper Complex shows that Natives were

traveling great lengths to reap the glacially

exposed copper of northern Michigan between

5,000 and 8,000 years ago. It’s clear that the

“sparkling and pellucid” waters have attracted

explorers and harbored travelers for thousands of


So here is Detroit, at the threshold of

another rebirth. The city of industry may be

dying, but this is not the death of d’étroit. The last

300 years have seen many changes, but one

thing has not changed much in the last 3,000

years. And maybe this course of events will lead to

rediscovering the one unwavering reason that

Detroit will continue on: The River. It turns out

that this is still a pretty nice spot along the water.

And now, after 100 years of the

Automobile Age, the future of Detroit City is

unknown. But that’s just the last 300 years.

People have been living along d’étroit for

thousands of years. When Europeans fi rst arrived,

there were hundreds of ancient burial mounds,

earthworks, and tumuli along the Detroit and Rouge

rivers. They were so old; the Natives knew only

legends of their mysterious builders. Long before

the many Algonquin tribes, the Wyandot, the six

Iroquois nations, and the Tuteloes set up camp along

the strait, cultures known as the Mound Builders

existed for centuries. It has been debated who


Elliot M Abrams and Corinne Freter (editors), The Emergence of the

Moundbuilders. Ohio University Press, Athens, 2005.

Vivian M. Baulch, Michigan’s Mysterious Indian Mounds, The Detroit

News. June 6, 1997.

John T. Blois, Gazetteer of the State of Michigan, Antiquities through

History, pages 161-196. Sydney L. Rood & Co., Detroit, 1839.

Silas Farmer, History of Detroit and Wayne County and

Early Michigan. Silas Farmer and Co. 1890, Third Edition, Gale

Research Company, Detroit, 1969.

Peter Gavrilovich and Bill McGraw (editors), The Detroit Almanac. The

Detroit Free Press, Detroit, 2000.

Henry Gillman, The Mound Builders and Platycnemism in Michigan,

Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1873, pages 364-390.

Government Printing Offi ce, Washington, 1874.

W.B. Hinsdale, Primitive Man in Michigan. University of Michigan Press,

Ann Arbor 1931.

Bela Hubbard, Memorials of a Half Century, pages 199-262. G. P.

Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1887.

Thomas L. Jones, Up in Smoke: Cigar Making in Detroit, The Detroit

News. February 18, 2000.

Dr. E.W. Johnson and David Johnson (editors), The Old Copper

Complex, North America’s First Metal Miners and Artisans. 2009.

William J. Kubiak, Great Lakes Indians. Baker Book House Company,

Grand Rapids, 1970.

Henriette Mertz, The Mystic Symbol: Mark of the Michigan Mound

Builders. Global Books, Gaithersburg, Maryland, 1986. 2nd

Printing, Hayriver Press, Colfax, Wisconsin, 2004.

Arthur Pound, Detroit, Dynamic City. D. Appelton-Century Company

Inc., New York, 1940.

George I. Quimby, Indian Life in the Upper Great Lakes. University of

Chicago Press, Chicago, 1960.

Sister M. Rosalita, I.H.M.m Detroit: The Story of Some Street Names.

Wayne University Press, Detroit, 1951.

Henry R. Schoolcraft, LL.D., History of the Indian Tribes of The United

States. J. N. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, 1857.

Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis, Ancient Monuments of the

Mississippi Valley. Smithsonian Institute, Washington, 1848, Edited by

David Meltzer, Smithsonian Classics of Anthropology, 1998.


Fig. 4. Fox Creek Lamp – Scott Hocking, 2012

from the series Detroit Nights, 2007-2013

Image courtesy of the artist and Susanne Hilberry Gallery




Lao Fig. Zhu 5. and Bamboo the of Flour Zhu, Factory, 2009 – from 2009 Lao Zhu and the Flour Factory, 2009

All images courtesy of Scott Hocking and Susanne Hilberry Gallery

Human infrastructure can only withstand so much benign neglect before returning to

Human nature. infrastructure Much like the can children only of bohemian withstand parents so much or the benign subjects of neglect laissez-faire before

returning governments, to nature. the physical Much structures like the children of built space of bohemian will eventually parents succumb or the to wildness subjects if of

laissez-faire left too long governments, on their own. In the no city physical is this process structures more of apparent built space than in Detroit, will eventually where

succumb creeping to vines wildness engulf Victorian if left too homes, long trees on their sprout own. from the In roofs no city of skyscrapers, is this process and packs more

apparent of wild than dogs roam in Detroit, the streets. where Nature creeping has been vines slowly engulf reclaiming Victorian the city homes, for decades, trees

sprout disseminating from the a sense roofs of of wildness skyscrapers, that many and proclaim packs is a of promise wild of dogs renewal roam rather the than streets. an

Nature admission has been of failure. slowly reclaiming the city for decades, disseminating a sense of

wildness Surveying that the many expanse proclaim of Detroit is a promise prairie, it does of renewal indeed rather appear than that the an admission city has been of given failure.

Surveying a proverbial the green expanse slate upon of Detroit which to prairie, rebuild it and does flourish indeed as a newly appear incarnated that the future city city. has

been The given future a has proverbial not arrived green yet, however; slate upon so for which the moment, to rebuild many Detroiters and flourish are making as a newly do

incarnated as only Detroiters future city. know The how—embracing future has not the arrived period yet, of transition however; with so resourcefulness,

for the moment,

many ingenuity, Detroiters and a are sense making of possibility. do as only Detroiters know how—embracing the period

of transition Detroit-based with artist resourcefulness, Scott Hocking has ingenuity, been a life-long and a sense observer of of possibility. a city in flux. Detroit-based

His work











a life-long




of a city


in flux.


His work explores






and psychological

Through tactics that


are technically




and certifiably


insane, Hocking


flourishing nature. Through tactics that are technically illegal and certifiably insane,

Originally published in Bad at Sports, August 4th, 2011. Reprinted courtesy of Sarah Margolis-Pineo.

Hocking traverses vacant sites in forgotten corners of the world that are on the verge of

collapse. His practice involves site-specific installation and documentary photography,

where industrial debris becomes the backdrop for monumental sculpture. Beyond

being the Andy Goldsworthy of urban detritus, Hocking’s work arrests the ephemeral, and

reminds us that decay is an equal cause for celebration within the journey we call

progress. Recently, I had a conversation with Scott amidst the well-categorized clutter of

his Detroit studio.

Discussed: Kangaroos and giant lizards, the end of mystery, fucking with everything,

scrappers, documenting survival, a four-story collapse, making lemonade out of lemons.


Fig. 6. Powerhouse Basement, 2010 – from Sisyphus and the Voice of Space, 2010

Sarah Margolis-Pineo: The most immediately striking attribute of your work is your

depiction of site. Your photos have this other-worldly quality, like we’re looking at bacteria

blooming on a Petri dish rather than an actual place. Working internationally, you must

see quite a bit, and I’m wondering how you select where to work. What is it about these

sites that you find compelling

Scott Hocking: It’s hard for me even to articulate what it is that threads through

everything that I do. It’s easiest to say that I work site-specifically, that I really just try

to get a sense of a space and get ideas from my surroundings and from its history. I

work differently in different places, but I end up being drawn to places that end up being

somewhat forgotten,


or maybe there’s a sense of mystery, or of chaos, or of loss of control. I feel like when

nature reclaims places there’s a feeling that humans have stopped controlling it and it’s

gone back to this wild, organic way of moving and living. Often times, that can involve

the decaying of the structures that we’ve built. I’m not particularly drawn to abandonment

or decay by themselves, but I have an interest in these places that give me a sense of

solace. In Detroit, going into an abandoned auto factory is my walk in the woods. It’s

the closest I can get to the top of a mountain peak—the top of a building. This is where

I get my sense of wildness—my satisfaction in nature. I did this project in Australia in

October, and I was in the bush. I loved it, because that was it—I was getting it from my

everyday life. I walked out of my space to see kangaroos in the morning, and I hiked into the

mountain and ran into giant lizards. I don’t get that here, but I crave that wildness, and I

think I get it from these spaces that have begun to be reclaimed by nature.

SMP: It interests me that you characterize your work as site-specific, because your

images also express a certain universality, or an ambiguity in the way of place. Is this


SH: I think, for me, I may work from the site and get ideas from the history and the site

itself, but in the end, what I want the images to convey is something more universal. I

don’t want people to look at the image and think: Oh, this is Detroit. Sure, people might

recognize it, or know it knowing that my work is based here. But, I do try and emphasize

that this could be anywhere, and what is behind it speaks to people everywhere… It

might sound grandiose or dramatic, but I’m trying to talk about people—about humans

on earth, what we do, what we’ve always done, how we’re really no different than we’ve

ever been. When I put a pyramid in an abandoned building, one of the many things that

I’m thinking about is the fact that it’s a ruin within a ruin. One is ancient, and I’m building

a new one, and what’s the difference Why do we look at some ruins with reverence, and

see others as failures Why can’t we realize that we’ve been creating things since the

dawn of time, making structures and objects with our hands, and at some point they decay,

at some point the civilization that made it fails, at some point the city in which it was

made disappears It’s not the end—there’s never an ending. So maybe there’s a certain

countering to the idea that this is the end of something, that this is a failed city, or a failed

industrial age. I just see it as a constant cycle that we’re in the middle of. I just try to find

the beauty in all the stages.


Fig. 7. The Egg and MCTS #6005, 2011 – from The Egg and Michigan Central Train Station, 2007-2013

SMP: You seem to take an almost ethnographic approach to collecting data on decaying

works of culture. Do you see yourself as an urban anthologist in a way

SH: I was transient for years, and didn’t go to art school until I was about 22. When I first

went to college, I had lots of interests including anthropology. I took a number of courses

actually, and I found out very quickly that I am way too impatient for the scientific method.

So, for me to claim that I’m an ethnographer, anthropologist, archaeologist, you name it,

would be a slap in the face to those who have studied for all those years. I’m an amateur

at best—I feel like I have the curiosity, without any of the knowledge. If I was to excavate

anything, you’d find out what an amateur I am. I’m okay with wrenching something to

death, just shaking it until it falls loose, or kicking it until it’s down… I have no problem

fucking with everything, and I’m sure scientists would be a lot more finicky about

disturbing the site.


Fig. 8. Relics, an installation in collaboration with Clinton Snider, at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 2001

(photo: Shell Hensleigh)

SMP: It seems that the installation-aspect of your practice—the way that you build in the

field to create sculptural works within these sites, speaks to processes of myth-making.

Is myth something you consciously incorporate into your work

SH: Yeah, for sure. I love mythology, and I’ve started to really become inspired by

ancient ideas—mythologies and ancient sciences more than anything. I don’t pay

attention to the current art scene—I don’t know what is hip right now. I just know

that my ideas come from generations ago, and somehow I’m more inspired by that.

Mythology exists outside of time… One thing that I appreciate about ancient ideas is that

they were often more lyrical, and there was a sense of mystery. Today, we’ve destroyed

all our mysteries! We’ve figured them all out and are looking at them with telescopes

or microscopes, taking things apart. I feel like there isn’t enough mystery, whereas in

ancient times and myth, there was a lot. If you even read it now, you don’t know what

they’re talking about; so there’s a part of me that likes to try and create this sense of

mystery or myth when I’m in these buildings. And it could be as simple as someone

coming into a building and discovering the Ziggurat, or discovering the TVs on the colum

ns in the Garden of the Gods. It could be as simple as me creating a sense of: who

the hell did this When did this happen What the fuck is this! For example, building

the pyramid—it’s a universal symbol that has existed on all continents since we’ve first

started building things, and we have no idea why. It’s still a mystery to this day. Some

people might look at my work and think: wow, this is an amazing thing, while

others might look at it and laugh. It might be a joke, and I love how it can be interpreted

in so many different ways because it’s an archetypal symbol. I like playing around, to

be honest. There’s a part of me that’s very serious, and there’s a part of me that likes

having a sense of humor about things. I like being open minded and I like that art can be

perceived differently by different people because of our different backgrounds, and god

knows what. So I don’t like to narrow in too much. I like to maintain that nebulous quality.


Fig. 9. Garden of the Gods Hole, Winter, 2010 – from Garden of the Gods, 2009-2011

SMP: Can you speak a bit more to your process How do your projects, like Garden of

the Gods, [which was installed and photographed in Detroit’s landmark Packard Plant],

usually unfold

SH: Garden of the Gods was fun because those pedestals were formed when the roof

collapsed and those columns were still standing. Immediately I thought of pedestals. If

you’ve ever been to Rome or any of the ancient cities, they have statues up on pedestals—gods

or warriors to be revered. I thought: there needs to be some gods up there

- and as luck would have it, another part of the building that was used for storage was

filled with television sets. Hundreds. And this was almost too easy for me—the idea is

almost too simplistic that the TVs are new gods, and I’m going to put them up on these

pedestals. But I have to admit that it was just too good to resist. I’m sure other artists

would have taken it a step further, but for me, I’m a simple guy, so I thought: these are

our new gods, I’m going to


put them up on the pedestals, and I’m going to name them after the twelve classical Greek

Pantheon gods. In the end, it was all for an image, but I love the idea that people will come

across the actual objects. That interaction is a significant part of the way I’m working now. I

alluded to it earlier when I said that I’m attracted to places where there’s a loss of control and

a little wildness. Detroit is that kind of place. When I’m working on projects like this, there’s

also a loss of control in terms of what I might do. I can’t come home to the studio every day

and resume working on the same project. I’m going out to a building I don’t own that could be

torn down, burned down, destroyed, renovated, boarded up, somebody could have broken

in and knocked over or spray painted what I’m working on, they could have added to it, or the

materials I’m using could suddenly be gone. There are so many variables I don’t have

control over—a hell of a lot of chance involved. It’s sort of like working on a sculpture, and

every night putting it outside to see if someone stole it in the morning. It’s a real freeing

way of working… I just try and trust the universe.

Fig. 10. The Foam Stone Takes Shape, 2010 – from Sisyphus and the Voice of Space, 2010

SMP: So I have to ask about the aestheticization of decay, since it’s a very prevalent

topic of conversation in the city at the moment…

SH: It’s so interesting that no one was saying “ruin porn” ten years ago… I’ve been really

exploring vacant spaces and forgotten places since I was a child. Maybe it’s in my nature,


Fig. 11. The Egg and MCTS #4000, 2011 – from The Egg and Michigan Central Train Station, 2007-2013

but when I grew up, it was near the railroad tracks in a real blue-collar neighborhood,

so I was exploring these places as a little kid. So the notion of ruin porn... I understand

where it’s coming from, but I also feel like the media is coming late to the party. People

have been interested in doing this stuff for a long time, and the city is only now becoming

overloaded and flooded with people “urban exploring” and taking photographs…

Through the 70s, 80s and 90s, so much was abandoned in Detroit—places like the train

station, Packard, or Fisher Body—these really trademark, vacant buildings in Detroit all

happened in the 80s! It’s amazing, these places looked like people just up and left work

one day, and if you were the first guy to get in there, like a scrapper, you wouldn’t have

even known the place was abandoned. Coffee would still be out. So, these buildings look

a hell of a lot different today than when I began working on this. I have always enjoyed

going in these places, and for years I didn’t take photos—I was just using the objects to

make work. If I ever brought a camera it was to have an excuse if I got caught. And then

very slowly, I started to take photos more because I began to want to document these

places before they disappeared. A lot of these places became very cherished to me, and I

began to see how fast they were disappearing. I never considered myself a photographer,

and it was through the process of taking these initial photographs that I became sensitive

to the idea that I was just, as someone put it to me recently, “documenting survival,” and

that wasn’t enough for me. So this path was good in the sense that it made me transition

into photographing these places as larger installation projects. So now they’re just sets—

I don’t have to create the whole environment, I just need to find the environment I want to

create in. Other photographers will create environments in a vacant studio, and for me,

my projects allow me to collaborate with buildings and collaborate with sites that I find

mesmerizing. I know I’ve found a place to work in when I want to take a photograph of it

alone. If I get that feeling, I think: Okay, this is where I’m going to build something. This

is where I want to interact.


Fig. 12. Books, 2008 - from Roosevelt Warehouse and the Cauldron, 2007-2010

SMP: You really seem to occupy these very uncertain, threshold spaces in the city. Is

there a certain adrenaline rush that accompanies this type of work

SH: That is such a great word—I love the word threshold. It’s such an important

word for me, because I feel like Detroit is on a threshold. These buildings are on a

threshold. These are places in a space between what they were, and what they are going

to be—they’re in transition. We’re always in transition, but sometimes transitions can take

40-years, or other times transitions can be catastrophic and can happen overnight. The

Packard Building for example... I was working in there through the winter, and by March,

I had people coming through to interview me for upcoming exhibitions. Two weeks later,

there was a four-story collapse, right where we were standing! Two weeks later! It was

an unbelievable amount of space that just fell, and we all would have been crushed. I’ve

been in buildings and places where I’ve done dumb things—fallen through holes, hit my

head, been attacked by dogs. There are a lot of risks you take, and I don’t really get that

adrenaline rush anymore, but there’s something about the way it affects your senses—

they become heightened and aware. Again, in the same way they would be if you were

lost in the woods. If you were lost in the woods or at sea, and you’re not in control and

you’re not sure if a shark is going to bite you or a bear is going to come at you, that way

your senses sort of open up in these situations is the same.

I think that is certainly appealing—that sense of being alive. You notice every fleck of

paint on the wall, every sound you hear. A pigeon flies out and you have to be aware that

it’s a pigeon and not something about to hit you. Your senses become heightened and I

think I’m very attracted to that too.


Fig. 13. New Mound City, 2010

SMP: In a way, your work forges new pathways through forgotten places, exposing

fissures in the traditional urban network. It brings to my mind the Situationist tactic of

dérive—the practice of walking “off the grid” in search of an unmediated, authentic

experience within the urban landscape. Would you describe your process as an act of


SH: Saying it’s an act of resistance might be a little much… I do feel, though, that

the reason I can easily let go of these objects that I’m making and allow them to be

destroyed is because the process is more important to me than the object. So really, these

experiences that I’m trying to seek out, I don’t think I could find them without going “off

the grid,” so to speak. Off the grid is where I have these experiences in my version of

nature and can seek purity and solace, as I mentioned earlier. And it’s not only a walk

in the woods for me, but it’s kind of like my church too. It can be a metaphysical thing—

I basically meditate when I’m working in these buildings alone, like a monk stacking

blocks in quiet, in the middle of nowhere, and in the middle of winter. It’s a real peaceful,

meditative experience to work like this, and often times, I have to break the rules and

break the law to find this, but I’m certainly not going in there and saying: fuck you! I’m a

bit more quiet about it.


It’s about inner peace and peace of mind than it is about the big FU to the powers-thatbe.

Now, on the other hand, if the powers-that-be were cool about things like this, then

I wouldn’t have to break the law. I do feel like in a sense: fuck you, because you’ve left

these buildings to neglect, you own this space and it’s falling apart. If you own this, I’m

not going to call you up and ask you for permission, because I’m already pissed that you

let it fall apart. I feel like you lose the right to say you own something when you’ve let

something so useful and amazing go to waste.

Fig. 14. Cogs in Cogs, 2010 – from Sisyphus and the Voice of Space, 2010

SMP: We’ve already spoken about the influence of myth, and I’m wondering if memory

comes into play at all when you’re at work in these spaces

SH: I feel like it’s not my memory most of the time. There are many people who grew up

in Detroit or one of the other cities that I’ve worked in, who might feel nostalgia for the

past, and have certain memories of buildings—maybe even have family members who

have worked there. There are all kinds of connections. In fact, when an article comes out,

I’ve gotten emails from people who say: Hey, I used to work there! What’s been surprising

is that all of these people have written to tell me that they like what I am doing. My own

sense of memory… I don’t really connect in that way to these spaces. I don’t really like

the idea of nostalgia, I prefer to focus on the present moment and find the beauty in how

things are now opposed to looking back on how they were. I tend to work in

uildings that aren’t very personal—they’re places of work—factories. There may have

been thousands of people working and occupying the spaces where I am working at any

given moment. These sites don’t quite have that trace, or energy, that a house might—

where people lived and slept, family members loved and grew up. I don’t really work in

places like that, and I think part of the reason is because of the memory—the idea of who

they were is still very strong there, and you can feel it and see it sometimes. I think I shy

away from that a bit.


Fig. 15. Ziggurat, East, Summer, 2008 – from Ziggurat and FB21, 2007-2009

SMP: There’s such a fantastic history in Detroit, perhaps initiated in the 70s by the Cass

Corridor Movement, with artists appropriating materials that are symbolic of crisis—the

raw, discarded material of a city, to create artwork. I read this great quote the other day

that was something along the lines of: we didn’t have much, but we made art with it. Is

this idea something that persists today in the city

SH: I think it’s continued. Personally, I have no history with Cass Corridor—I didn’t grow

up knowing about it, and I didn’t know anyone involved until I started making art and

meeting people who were part of that. Now we’re good friends, and it’s maybe through

meeting people and gaining a bit of knowledge that you start to realize that it’s all

connected. For me, it’s less about the linage of the art world in Detroit, and more about

Detroiters and the way we are. Most people who grow up in working class families and

in working class


neighborhoods in the city, this is how we work—we do with what you have, make

lemonade out of lemons. Everybody, myself included, who has been making artwork in

the city hasn’t had resources to do anything but making with what you have. Sometimes

you’re living in squalor and trying to scrape by… The Cass Corridor people got a lot of

notoriety, but shit, there were artists in the 80s living inside the Broderick Tower and Fort

Wayne, and had studios in random skyscrapers that were virtually vacant because no

one could afford to do anything in there. These artists may not have gotten the same

attention, but that lineage is all the same—trying to use the spaces that have been

neglected because creative people see potential there.

Fig. 16. The Egg and MCTS #3388, 2011 – from The Egg and Michigan Central Train Station, 2007-2013


Image courtesy of William Henry Jackson


Scott Hocking’s Long Look at the End of the World

Glen Mannisto

The camera, more than the windscreen of the car or any other revolutionizing nineteenthcentury

machine, urbanized the planet. Rivaling, if not surpassing, landscape painting, it

became the portal through which much of the unknown, exotic world was visualized and

imagined. Through huge box cameras, hauled by such intrepid Romantic explorers as photographer

William Henry Jackson of the Detroit Photographic Company, the eroticized secrets

of the faraway became exposed. The voluptuous fl ora and fauna of the interior of

Florida’s everglades, the craggy mountain peaks of the Rockies, or the comely “natives”

of Maori were no longer chaste visions, but material for the gaze of armchair travelers.

Detroit’s own modern-day Jackson, artist Scott Hocking, has made a career of exposing

stunning views of the remote interior of the city’s now infamous derelict urban landscape. In

work often and pejoratively referred to as “ruin porn,” he has photographed the inexhaustible

evidence of capitalist exploitation. And while some photographers have been content

to document the icons of Detroit’s industrial demise --Michigan Central (railroad) Station,

the Michigan Theater—and leave it at that, Hocking has for years, roamed solitarily the

vast area that is the city as if it was his studio, “trusting myself, with no particular product in

mind,” to shape a body of work—sometimes photograph, sculpture, assemblage, objet trouvé

-- that is anything but porn, always transformative and on the way to becoming iconic.

Hocking has a broad literary vision of how to treat his subject; however, his is not based on

the messianic notion of “Manifest Destiny” that compelled nineteenth-century photographers

to capture the ravishing beauty of the Wild West. He works in open-ended series with a kind

of formalist arrangement of objects--abandoned boats, cars, houses, factories--documented,

or sometimes appropriated, in the “studio” he “roams,” and seems to grid the open landscape

as he builds taxonomies of objects that suggest deeper issues layered in the space

that was Detroit. While documenting change and transformation caused by force of nature

or man, Hocking himself becomes, as artist, an agent of transformation and consciousness.

The End of the World, a recent exhibition at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery in Ferndale, Michigan,

typifi es Hocking’s work strategies, and as a total installation underscores the wonderfully obsessive

nature of his art. Among the many parts of installation are two sets of large, archival-pigment

prints of his serialized projects, documenting work that he has done outside of the cultural confi nement

of the gallery. There are night photos — Detroit Nights — of moments in the urban darkness

lit by a street light or two, wherein stands a lone remaining building or house from a once thriving

neighborhood, which appear as stage sets awaiting players who will never reappear (see Fig. 4).

Each of the photos in Detroit Nights has a different referent: some memorialize an important historical

site such as a famed trailer park on the river, or an ancient native burial mound, or a whacky

architectural site such as Stanley’s Chinese restaurant. I-75 Over Carbon Works documents a

beam of light seeping through a crack in the divided highway overpass above as if it were a Mayan

astronomical earthwork. Each photo suggests a fl eeting memory of Detroit’s regional peculiarity.


Image courtesy of William Henry Jackson


Visions of the End of the World

A series entitled The Egg and MCTS features photos of the baroquely trashed hallways of the Michigan

Central Station and of an ephemeral monument that Hocking composed in the shape of an

enormous egg (see Fig. 20). Elegantly crafted of shards of marble from the vandalized walls of this

once-upon-a time cathedral of commerce, the egg, like the majestic pyramid of wooden fl oor blocks

Hocking created in the Fisher Body Plant and the tire pyramid made of thousands of tires “dumped”

in Detroit’s vacant lots, will eventually be demolished along with the building. The idea of continuous

change and transformation is a constant in Hocking’s work and it occurs, like all good time travel,

without nostalgia and on an astronomical rather than diurnal stage, and his own work is part of it.

Hocking’s ephemeral, pyramidal monuments have become a signifi cant motif in his work and

suggest his interest in archaeology, as well as the spiritual and alchemical research that underlies

his work. The End of the World, from which the exhibition gets its title, is a “spiritual pyramid”

of intriguing books collected on the subject of cosmologies and doomsday reports of various cultures

and thinkers occupies one of the walls of the gallery. (Perhaps not coincidentally it was installed

on the celebration of the end of the world of the Mayan calendar.) Mercury in Retrograde,

a whimsical astrological pun, is a mixed media installation, composed of a rusty 1955 (probably

the glory year of Detroit automobile production) Mercury car, resting wheel less on a pile of rock

salt (see Fig. 17). With a gorgeous patina of rust and oxidizing turquoise paint, the Mercury is

an astonishing moment and image in the evolution of all cars and human production, and it suggests

Hocking’s mythic sense of time. Ironically the rock salt was more-than-likely mined under

Detroit in its enormous salt mines, and the installation monumentalizes how Detroit, historically,

continuously undermined itself. Overall Hocking’s installation has a quixotic and romantic scale

and at the same time possesses a visual literacy reveling in quasi-systematic and formal compositions

that permit diverse readings whether as pun, underlying myth or the cosmological.

The Bad Faith of Grafitti

Bad Graffiti, released the night of his Hilberry Gallery opening, is a book of Hocking’s photographs

of not just any graffi ti, but bad graffi ti punctuating the city, and expressing not the artistic

genius of the street artist calling out for attention from every blank wall, but a subtext of

everyday life. In a prologue, Hocking defi nes the multiple possible meanings of “bad,” one of

which is “naughty,” and hilariously many of the drawings are raucously pornographic, mocking

the idea of “ruin porn.” A preponderance of hastily drawn penises seems to adorn every

empty wall and abandoned house, and testifi es that we have entered a libidinous zone. Occurring

less frequently, naturally, are the desired vaginas (usually drawn with a little more TLC).

Throughout his work Hocking documents the graceful but savage power of nature in dismantling

the urban grid, but here it is realized as a literary force mocking the structure of the city.

In the fi rst image of the book, Close My Ass, Hocking fi nds this untranslatable one liner on the synthetic,

rusticated, concrete block wall of a party store advertising Budweiser Beer (see Fig. 24). It

is pure poetry, startling and violent and funny, that has no corollary in the spoken or the written language

we use. It’s an endgame statement that says it all — much better than Turn Off the Lights!


On another wall, beneath a hand-lettered and illustrated sign on an appliance store wall are the

words “STOVES & FRIGIRATORS” with a “frigirator” illustrated in two-point perspective and a

clothes dryer (not a stove!) also illustrated. In response to this benign domesticity are the freehand,

spray-painted words “EAT ME.” Short, succinct, and brilliantly dark, this is a response that

is more devastating than the usual overblown, spray painted gang tag or egoistic marking that

we see in most graffi ti.

Bad Graffi ti — from Black Dog Publishing of London, a press that features “art, architecture,

design, history, photography, theory and things, and that celebrates the layered processes of

cultural production” — is a felicitous publication for both Black Dog and Scott Hocking. It suggests

the nuanced engagement that he has with his work and the broad range of his vision. If

the whole fraying fabric of the city is Hocking’s studio and his process is this chance-driven, drift

through the palimpsests of the derelict, then he is as much grammarian as artist, archaeologist

as photographer, scholar as monk, and perhaps a good deal of each. Bad Graffiti is way smarter

than the good graffi ti they call art.

-Glen Mannisto

Image courtesy of William Henry Jackson


Image courtesy of Scott Hocking and Susanne Hilberry Gallery

Fig. 17. Mercury Retrograde, Scott Hocking, 2012.

Installation view of The End of the World, Susanne Hilberry Gallery.


Fig. 18. (above) Tire Pyramid Lawn After Removal, (below) Tire Pyramid with Man and Dog, Scott Hocking, 2006.

Images courtesy of the artist.

Lynn Crawford




MARCH 19 – APRIL 30, 2011

When Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived and worked in Detroit in the early 1930s,

Rivera lauded the city as an example of, “the great saga of the machine and of steel.” Kahlo, in

contrast, described it as “a shabby old village.”* A similar discussion—is Detroit the shining future or

destitute— continues today, some 80 years later. Recent books and projects highlight its

negative features (abandonment, segregation, crime); various media commentators single

it out as an example of failed capitalism, democratic rule, and, if not exactly said, certainly

implied, a failed, black-led city. Other ventures indicate a growing enthusiasm for Detroit and

an opinion that the region, with its growing number of businesses, international population,

organic gardens, and percolating art scene, is a promising example of a new kind of urbanity. The

most interesting undertakings fall somewhere in-between these two views. They chronicle the

city’s complex, lesser known stories; the nuances of its social and physical landscape and postindustrial

status. It is in this context to consider the work of Detroit based artist, Scott Hocking,

who for the past 15 years has paid close, careful attention to the intricate and unique features

of various, mostly neglected, global locations. Hocking works for periods of time in unpeopled,

untended-to, often vacated and remote areas, developing an intimacy with his scenes that

allows the artist to give a respectful nod to the past as well as suggest fresh, disparate, and

creative narratives for the present and future. Locations include: the abandoned corridors of

industry in St. Louis, the scrub jungles of Florida, neighborhoods in and around Shanghai,

the fields and coastline of Northern Iceland, the Australian brush, and most especially, his

hometown, Detroit. Hocking, like the best gumshoe reporter or beat cop, prowls his circuit

with an impressive, fearless thoroughness. He possesses a detective’s stamina and eye for

detail—an ear to the ground style that authentically connects him to his subjects. He collects

found material from his chosen sites (rubber gloves in St. Louis, television sets from the fields of

Detroit, bricks in an abandoned flour factory in Shanghai) to fabricate stunning sculptures and

installations, which he then documents with photographs. Because the work is often erected

in buildings that are slated for demolition or on sites that will decompose, be washed or blown

away over time, his constructions would otherwise never be viewed. He is possibly best known

for his photograph, taken in the abandoned “Fisher Body Plant #21” and published in Time

magazine, of a pyramid he made of 6,201 wooden floor tiles that look like bricks (see Fig. 2,

15). His current show, Tartarus (the space in Greek mythology between Chaos and Hades),

explores Detroit’s environment and the city residents’ immediate relationship to it. Hocking packs

the Public Pool, a gallery space in a city neighborhood, with artfully arranged trash (see Fig.

19). The exhibition started as a cleanup project in Hocking’s Detroit neighborhood. As spring

came and snow melted, the artist began to pick up garbage wedged in the dead vegetation of

his parking lot, yard, and neighboring fences. Over the next several days, Hocking expanded his

work to a several mile radius collecting, he estimates, over a thousand small plastic shopping

bags. Tartarus consists of these bags, variously torn and tainted with a mixture of dirt, germs

and toxins (urine, sludge, gravel, gas, grass, mud) and a few other types of sacks and items he

collected or cleaned up, dangling, like leaves, from willow tree branches and ghetto palm trees.

>Originally published in The Brooklyn Rail, May 2011. Image courtesy of Scott Hocking.

* “The Troublemakers: The True, Epic Tale of Frida and Diego in Depression-era Detroit” by Louis Aguilar


On the gallery floor, “playground” type objects (a plastic baby pool and assorted ball-like

sculptures, cast from spherical sewer grates) reside. The resulting exhibition reads as some

sort of apocalyptic yet enchanting forest one might find in a postmodern fairy tale. There is

no escaping the amount of time and labor the artist spent with this waste, not only gathering

it but patiently, carefully, hanging each piece of litter from the tree branches. It was impossible

during the crowded opening for visitors to avoid serious physical contact with the trees/trash that

overtook the space, driving home the point that, for better or worse, we are all in this heap

together (I overheard someone praise the show but say he thought he was allergic to it). There

is a light majesty to Hocking’s constructions, grimy, sickening and polluted as they might be. He

does not come down definitively to say what he thinks of Detroit and its future but with Tartarus,

the artist and his hometown, to paraphrase Ring Lardner, give each other a smile with a future

in it.

Fig. 19. Tartarus, Scott Hocking, 2011


Image courtesy of Scott Hocking and Susanne Hilberry Gallery

Fig. 20. The Egg and MCTS #4718, 2012 – from The Egg and Michigan Central Train Station,



Images courtesy of the artist

Art of the Commons:

Envisioning Real Utopias in Postindustrial Detroit


Vince Carducci

For the better part of four decades, the city of Detroit has been an icon of urban disinvestment.

The city has been steadily losing population from its mid-1950s peak of

1.85 million to a little over 700,000 today, according to the most recent figures from

the US Census. Along with the population loss has come the widespread abandonment

of the city’s physical plant with many neighborhoods and industrial areas reverting

nearly to open field. As historian Thomas Sugrue most notably has shown, the

evacuation actually began with the suburban expansion after the Second World War

but became more apparent in the wake of the 1967 civil disturbances, which were

a reflection of growing economic and racial inequality in the city and its environs. 1

In recent years, the devastation has taken on a romantic patina in the form

of the photographic genre known as “ruins porn.” Featured most prominently in

books such as Detroit Disassembled by Andrew Moore and The Ruins of Detroit

by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, the form is marked by glamour

shots of the city’s deliquescing architecture, often printed in large format with a

glossy sheen. 2 Yet, while the erstwhile Motor City’s identity as a steam punk avatar

of modernity gone awry possesses scopophilic allure, there is another,

more fertile tendency that has emerged, which I call the “art of the commons.”

The art of commons trespasses the boundaries of conventional property relations

of modern capitalism, existing in an indeterminate zone between public and private

as customarily understood. Historically, the notion refers back to the medieval

commons, land left open for grazing, farming, and other uses by anyone without

requiring individual ownership (the term “commoner,” i.e., one without hereditary

title, comes from it). A more contemporary interpretation derives from the idea of the

commons as put forth by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their book Empire as:

“the incarnation, the production, and the liberation of the multitude,” the collective

freeing of land and labor from capitalist economic and social relations. 3 It is a concept

Hardt and Negri develop in subsequent works, and one that is being explored on a

number of fronts in the face of the seemingly ongoing crises of the global capitalist

system. 4 The commons as envisioned by Hardt and Negri is a collective social practice

that recognizes the connectedness of things behind the abstractions that seek to divide

them up into ownable pieces whether of physical nature or of the more ephemeral. 5

The commons has emerged in Detroit where conventional property relations

appear to have withered away, where large-scale abandonment of the urban

core has literally deconstructed the conventional distinctions between the private

and public spheres and revealed, paraphrasing the famous Situationist


International aphorism, “the beach beneath the streets.” 6 The reclamation of

the commons can be seen in grassroots activities such as the urban farming

movement where in many cases it is unclear where title resides to the land

being cultivated and residents simply work the plots and harvest the results.

The art of the commons first emerged in desolate zones of the city where the distinctions

of conventional property relations had been effectively erased, in places

where the abandoned landscape offered opportunities for creative agency to

flourish by force of sheer will. The most notable early example is Tyree Guyton’s

Heidelberg Project, begun in 1986 on the street on Detroit’s East Side where the

artist grew up, which at the time had been virtually annihilated by not-so-benign

neglect. Guyton’s project, which spreads over more than two city blocks, is not

strictly speaking private as it is available for all to freely experience, resisting assimilation

into the private domain of commercial galleries and collectors. In addition,

The Heidelberg Project was initially undertaken outside the official channels

of public art, which vet the creative expressions that are allowed entry to the public

sphere. Indeed, the City of Detroit government has tried twice to demolish the project,

citing its interference with urban development plans and a rash of neighborhood

complaints as part of its action, with Guyton simply rebuilding it anew each time.

Appropriating vacant houses and empty lots and using castoffs retrieved from

around the neighborhood, the artist created a sprawling outdoor installation that

drew attention to and commented on the failure of the modern urban order. Guyton

festooned one structure with salvaged doll parts. Another was covered with

multicolored polka dots that spilled out onto the street. Discarded doors and car

parts were painted and fashioned into freestanding sculptures and placed in different

locations around the neighborhood. Most chilling, a tree’s barren limbs were

trimmed with shoes suspended by their knotted laces, to the unsuspecting eye an

imitation of the practical joke of tossing footwear out of their owners’ reach but in

fact referring to the memories of the artist’s grandfather, a descendant of slaves,

who told tales of the lynching trees from his rural youth in the South where all

that passersby could see were the soles of the victims’ shoes dangling overhead.

Another, more recent example of the art of the commons is Scott Hocking, who

for more than a decade has drifted through Detroit’s nether parts, working in the

manner of the Situationist dérive. In the course of walkabouts among the city’s industrial

ruins and other neglected spaces, Hocking creates installations and other

interventions, and he documents them photographically along with other aspects of

Detroit’s postindustrial psychogeography. Often the result of weeks if not months of

solitary labor, these projects are undertaken with full knowledge of the likelihood of

their eventual destruction either by human intervention or exposure to the elements.


The Power House, 2009-present.

The Heidelberg Project, 1986- present.

Images courtesy of the artist


Ziggurat (2007-2008) documents a sculptural installation Hocking built in Fisher

Body Plant 21, a building that had been abandoned for the more than 20

years. The installation was constructed over several months between winter

2007 and summer 2008. It consisted of some 6200 wooden flooring blocks

retrieved from around the empty building fashioned into a stepped pyramid,

since destroyed and returned to the pile of rubble from which it came.

The Garden of the Gods (2009-2011) pushes the inevitability of entropy

even further. It is sited in the old Packard Plant, a 3.5 million square foot facility,

nearly half a mile in length and believed to be the largest abandoned industrial

site in the United States, which has been derelict for decades. On a section

of collapsed roof in the building designed by Detroit’s premier architect

Albert Kahn, Hocking placed a series of old wooden TV consoles he found on

a lower floor atop structural columns that had remained upright. Over a period

of months, some of the columns toppled and more of the roof collapsed,

events also documented photographically. Named after a sedimentary rock formation

in southern Illinois, Garden of the Gods isn’t a ritual of mourning but an

acknowledgment of natural processes that have occurred throughout history.

Envisioning Real Utopias in Postindustrial Detroit

The “unconcealing” of the commons has provided an opportunity for new aesthetic

practices to emerge that can be looked at from a sociological perspective using

Eric Olin Wright‘s model of social change, the “real utopia.” 7 As opposed to traditional

utopias, which are ideal communities of admittedly unattainable perfection,

real utopias, according to Wright, combine “principles and rationales for different

emancipatory visions with the analysis of pragmatic problems of institutional design.”

Real utopias are ways of envisioning conditions of social and political justice

that are at once desirable, viable, and achievable. In keeping with this, real utopias

are thus models of emancipatory social transformation, alternative ways of providing

for human wellbeing. Elements of the aesthetic community of Detroit operate

as such real utopias, negotiating within what Wright terms the “niches, spaces,

and margins of capitalist society,” in what I have been calling the commons.

One of the notable examples of this in Detroit is the work that has been done over

the last five or so years by Design 99, the collaboration of artist Mitch Cope and

architect Gina Reichert. Started as a design consulting studio and retail space,

Design 99 has evolved into broad-based conduit for exploring models of contemporary

art and architectural practice and community engagement. In 2008,

Design 99 acquired a foreclosed and abandoned residential structure on Detroit’s

northeast side for $1800, which they began to use as a test site for sustainable

design and social practice. Project plans called for the structure to be

rehabilitated using recycled materials and be completely energy self-sufficient,

combining wind and solar technologies for all of its power needs. The project,

known as the Power House (for its aspirations of both self-sufficiency in existing

off the utility grid and self-determination with respect to personal and community


empowerment), soon attracted attention and support from local residents. Kids

started coming by to help paint and plant, and the daily proceedings became a

source of conversation for adults.

In 2009, Cope and Reichert formed Power House Productions, a nonprofit , a nonprofit organization

to extend their work into the nearby neighborhood in a more comprehensive

and coordinated way. Founded in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, the

organization started as a defensive mechanism against the increase in crime and

vandalism that plagued the already blighted neighborhood. Power House Productions

facilitated the acquisition of eight more houses and three empty lots in the

neighborhood. Five of those properties are currently undergoing rehabilitation for

use as primary residences. There are community gardens, neighborhood cleanups,

and neighborhood watch programs in effect. The San Francisco-based magazine

Juxtapoz also partnered with Power House Productions on a multiple-location

art-installation project. Future plans call for a neighborhood bike shop (Detroit has

become a major bike city) and a series of artists’ residencies and workshops.

Related projects have now followed. The University of Michigan School of Architecture

sponsored five graduate fellowships in 2009-2010 to conduct design

research, purchasing houses in the neighborhood to allow them to work at full

scale. Chicago-based artists Sarah Wagner and Jon Brumit moved in and formed

the project DFLUX Research Studio to explore the possibilities of emergent

creative cottage industries, famously purchasing a house for $100 in which to

conduct their activities. The artist Graem Whyte (himself co-director of another

nearby artists’ enterprise Popps Packing) is working on the Squash House project

(2012-present), a site-specific interaction space focusing on play and gardening

as the primary mechanisms for community building. Like the Power House,

it will be energy self-sufficient and use recycled materials wherever possible.

Power House Productions recently received a $250,000 grant from ArtPlace

to convert three vacant houses in the neighborhood into sites for art and community

engagement. The piece of the overall project that seems to have the

most immediate effect is Skate House, which is part of the Ride It Sculpture

Park (2012-present). When completed, Skate House will feature an indoor

skateboarding track and residence for visiting skateboarders and artists.

Ride It Sculpture Park is situated on four adjacent vacant commercial lots at

the terminus of the Davison Freeway, the nation’s first below-grade limited access

urban highway, opened in 1942 to service nearby defense manufacturers

during WWII when Detroit was known as the “Arsenal of Democracy.” The project

is a collaboration of skateboard enthusiasts and artists in the area as well

as nationally. Design 99 and artist Brumit are the principal park design team

and video artists. Other collaborators include skateboard accessories providers

Emerica and Independent Truck Company, media outlets Thrasher, Slap, and


Images from Ride It Sculpture Park (2012-present) and The Heidelberg Project.

(courtesy of the artist)


Juxtapoz, and a crew of volunteers. A 2012 fundraiser auction of artist’s skateboard

decks, including one designed by international artist Matthew Barney, netted

more than $25,000 for the project. A Crowdrise campaign exceeded its goal. Ride

It Sculpture Park recently received additional support in the form of a $30,000 Tony

Hawk Foundation grant, and Design 99 principals Reichert and Cope have also

been named 2013 Creative Capital project grantees and received the $100,000

ArtPrize Juried Award for 2012.

Although not officially completed, the first phase of Ride It Sculpture Park is substantially

in place and functional. The concrete construction features several ramparts,

quarter and half pipes, spines, and banks. There’s a built-in barbeque pit off

to one side. The facility is already being used by skateboarders and BMX riders,

many of whom have come from far beyond the neighborhood, having heard of

the park through skateboarding community social networking on Facebook and

Twitter. The national organization Boards for Bros has given away skateboards to

kids who couldn’t afford to buy their own, and more seasoned riders have helped

neophytes get on board so to speak.

How long projects like this will continue to be possible is questionable. Recently

a small group of investors in nearby Macomb County, a primarily working class

suburban region and Tea Party stronghold northeast of the city, purchased every

available tax-foreclosed property (a total of 645 parcels, including 403 residential)

for a lump sum of $4.7 million. The inventory in Detroit exceeds that by many multiples.

(By one estimate the total hit for tax-foreclosed properties in Detroit would

come to more than a quarter of a billion dollars.) But news outlets such as NPR

have reported stories of foreign investors from places like London and Dubai buying

up large lots of Detroit real estate in speculation. And most recently local investor

John Hantz negotiated with the City of Detroit to buy 1500 lots for the Hantz

Woodlands urban tree farm at a bargain-basement price of $520,000, under $350

a parcel. The recent naming by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder of an Emergency

Financial Manager for the City of Detroit with virtually unlimited authority to reconfigure

the city politically, economically, and physically raises additional uncertainty.

Even so, there is an abundance of the commons yet at hand in Detroit. And in

the short term at least, these zones are still available for transformation in the

manner discussed above. As Wright notes, real utopias have the best potential

to emerge in situations where conventional structures are simply not available.

They’re forms of social bricolage (in contemporary parlance DIY), which hold the

promise of modeling a new order. The art of the commons augurs such a hope.





Thomas Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton

University Press, 1996). See also

Reynolds Farley, Sheldon Danzinger, and Harry J. Holzer, Detroit Divided (New York: Russell Sage Foundation,

2000) and Joe T. Darden, Richard Child Hill, June Thomas, and Richard Thomas, Detroit: Race and Uneven Development

(Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1987).


Andrew Moore, Detroit Disassembled (Bologna, IT: Damiani Editore; Akron, OH: Akron Art Museum, 2011) and

Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, The Ruins of Detroit (Gottingen, DE: Steidl, 2011).


Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).


Hardt and Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin Books, 2004) and Hardt

and Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009). See also Elinor Ostrom, Governing

the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,

1990) for a modern examination of the concept of the commons as it relates to the environment and economics;

McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004) in terms of media culture;

and James Boyle, The Public Domain: Closing the Commons of the Mind (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,

2008) for a legal analysis.


Hardt and Negri, Commonwealth, 120-125. The provenance of real estate ownership, i.e., deeds, mortgage liens,

litigations, etc., is legally termed a property abstract. Intellectual property, the ownership of ideas, is one of the more

obvious abstractions of the ephemeral.


The original aphorism comes from the May 1968 Paris student uprisings, “Sous les paves, la plage!" (Under the

pavement, the beach!). My usage comes from McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life

and Glorious Times of the Situationist International (London: Verso, 2011).


Wright, Eric Olin, Envisioning Real Utopias (London: Verso, 2010).

Fig. 21. (above) Zeus, Summer, 2010 / Fig. 22. (below) Garden of the Gods, North, Winter, 2010 – both from

Garden of the Gods, 2009-2011. Images courtesy Scott Hocking and Susanne Hilberry Gallery



Fig. 23. Shit – Scott Hocking, 2012 – from the series Bad Graffiti, 2007-2013

Image courtesy of the artist and Susanne Hilberry Gallery


Fig. 24. Close My Ass – Scott Hocking, 2012 – from the series Bad Graffiti, 2007-2013

Image courtesy of the artist and Susanne Hilberry Gallery


DETROIT –BERLIN: Imaginary Siblings

Ellen Blumenstein

DETROIT –BERLIN: Imaginary siblings

Ellen Blumenstein

The idea of Detroit that I probably share with many Europeans is a kind of imaginary paralleling

of “Detroit” and “Berlin,” thought about in fairly narrow art terms as art cities. In more thoughtful

refl ection, the city in which I have been living for the last fifteen years, Berlin, probably differs

fundamentally from its American sibling. A comparison of their historic, social, and political backgrounds

wouldn’t, I think, unearth too many direct parallels, - though this is not something about

which I am dogmatic. Without doubt, however, the two cities share something important, namely,

the way in which in each city there has been a transfi guration of the local living and production

conditions by non-residents, and a strong identifi cation with the cities by inhabitants.

As I obviously know Berlin much better, I would like to give a few examples of life, work, and art

here in regard to my phantasmatic image of Detroit, and in return hope to offer the portrait of my

city as a projection screen for Detroiters and the understanding of their own city.

My hypothesis is that, as the Detroit-Berlin axiom is being touted, Berlin has passed its peak

as the ‘international art metropolis,’ even if not everyone – newcomers just as little as long-time

residents – has noticed yet. This means that we can, for the first time, take a closer look at the

historic evolution of this art capital and examine the conditions that made its rise possible as well

as endanger its existence now. Detroit’s future as an art city is not entirely predictable, but as its

older ‘sister,’ Berlin might function as an (anti) role model from which to learn.

Just as Detroit does now, after the Iron Curtain came down in 1989 Berlin possessed a vast

chunk of empty inner city (formerly East Berlin) space about which that nobody had any clue as

to how it might function or what it might become. Economic interest was zero; real estate didn’t

waste any attention to half-ruins, so predictably, it was the cultural producers who claimed the

territory. As far as I hear from friends and colleagues, a similar process is taking place in Detroit.

Mostly German artists, musicians, writers and actors occupied empty space in the new center

throughout the 1990s, and they soon created informal and decentralized structures that brought

the district and with it the whole city back to life. Money was always short, but the city was still

very cheap still economic concerns played such a minor role that no one really cared. The myth

of Berlin as an art city spread quickly, however, although it took till after the turn of the millennium

before reality closed the gap to (what would prove to be) imaginary promises of fast international

development. Foreign artists, gallerists, and collectors would pass by to have a drink in one of

the temporary bars in some unexplored backyard on their travels through Europe, but very few

of them settled down here until maybe seven years ago. That was the turning point when Berlin

became the most inspiring and attractive hotspot for the global art context for real – though not

for its market (something with which Detroit artists are undoubtedly familiar). Nevertheless, the

‘art city’ suddenly was a location factor for the local authorities, as far beyond the art world Berlin

is now renowned for its ‘creative industries.’ I suspect that as the industrial sector has hit rock

bottom in Detroit, this might be a future fantasy or goal for both local politics and the cultural


entirely hide both a lack of inventiveness and imagination and an uninterest in the local ongoing

of its organizers, however. The situation wasn’t always like that. Kunst-Werke, today internationally

known as KW – Institute for Contemporary Art, first appeared on the scene in 1992, when a

collective of artists and other art afi cionados occupied a former factory building to use its fl oors

as studio spaces and for exhibitions. Under its director Klaus Biesenbach 1 , it soon became the

meeting point and motor for the inventiveness in the city throughout that decade. Again, a comparison

to Detroit comes to my mind. A few years ago, I had the privilege of being offered a brief

insight into MOCAD. It reminded me a lot of KW in the 1990s: a similar, former industrial building

in the empty city center; a similar orientation in production-based programming of current developments

in the fi eld; a young, small, underfinanced, and highly engaged team; and the urge to

make a difference and help vitalize the city. Ten years after its inception, the existence of a professionalized

KW is precarious today, as neither the city nor sponsors take the step to support

an internationally highly renowned institution with different and higher needs than in its founding

years. A diffi culty that MOCAD surely faces as well.

With the growing recognition of both the scene’s and the young institution’s efforts and its effects

upon the city (Berlin), including the revenue it generates, we practitioners somehow hoped that

both the government and interested people of means would feel responsible for preserving the

emerging milieu in times of increasing professionalization and gentrifi cation. Neither of these two

developments is bad per se, of course, as they are an outgrowth of the recovery of an economically

devastated city; but the room for maneuver for artists is shrinking. Money does play a role

now, as the free spaces diminish and rents and prices increase; those who acknowledge their

profit from the artists’ and cultural producers’ labor (in politics and in the economy), and therefore

feel responsible to give something back to the context, can be counted on the fingers of one

hand. Two examples are the private collectors who pay the rent for the space where we ran Salon

Populaire, and the company that sponsors all technical equipment we need to run a weekly program

of conversations, performances, screenings, and political debate without any budget. The

money we need to pay our own rent we all earn elsewhere. At the same time, Berlin is afflicted

with a mayor who announced himself secretary of culture, and who very much likes to present

himself as an art lover and friend of famous artists and curators – which is great as it shows his

appreciation of the arts – but who in turn doesn’t feel any obligation even to ask for the needs of

the artists whose off whose kudos he is. Shall the future be different in Detroit

1 Klaus Biesenbach is now Director of MoMA P.S. 1.


Michael E. Smith, Trouble Stand, 2011. Photo credit: Alexander Koch.


The (Re)Shape of Things:

Michael E. Smith

Dominic Molon

The work of Micheal E. Smith is often hastily liquided as reflection on speed-obsessed, frenetically

consuming American culture, especially in relation to the urban collapse of Detroit. Dominic

Molon examines the artist’s work with a sharper sensibility, demonstrating that there is a lot

more behind the radical transformation of refuse into sculpture done by Smith: from exaggerated

knowledge of materials to the use and tactical revitalization of installation spaces.

The first impression of Michael E. Smith’s work is the startling effrontery

of its abjection. His manipulations and syntheses of cast-off objects and

materials willfully resist justifying themselves as art. Rejecting the centuryold

common logic of utilizing the art context to elevate or redeem everyday

phenomena—Picasso’s collage-sculptures, Duchamp’s urinal, and Tatlin’s

“Counter Corner Reliefs” vying in a three-way tie for first in that regard—

his works initially seem to have the opposite effect of degrading the aesthetic

context, of bringing the museum or gallery space down to the level

of refuse. Yet he pulls it back through an ingenious integration of disparate

substances and things; a knowing encouragement of the natural properties

of a given situation to take its course and dictate the ultimate form of

a work; and a calculated use of the existing atmospheric dynamics of a

given exhibition site. Smith’s exploration of the inherent and essential functions

and attributes of various forms of matter, and strikingly unexpected

new applications and utilizations of it, prompts a reflexively dialectical relationship

between decay and desuetude and recycling and repurposing.


In this sense, Smith’s work possesses sensibilities that are both quintessentially

American and absolutely un- or anti-American. It simultaneously

evokes and makes direct use of the detritus of a narcissistically wasteful

culture that scorns conservation and valorizes rampant consumption.

His redemptive project runs contrary to this “more is more” philosophy

through its industrious ability to make more with less, if not next to

nothing. Much is typically made of Smith’s immediate working context

of Detroit and his work’s reflection of that city’s identification with urban

blight. This oversimplification not only ignores the increasingly widespread

decline, if not devastation, of the entire American landscape, but

sells short both Detroit and the dynamic cosmopolitanism of the work itself.

One might propose, however, that it is not only unavoidable for it to

>Originally published in Mousse, 2012. Reprinted courtesy of Dominic Molon and Mousse.

Image courtesy of Michael E. Smith.


be seen within that context, but also that it operates in manner similar to

the way that experimental rock bands such as Destroy All Monsters, Pere

Ubu, and Throbbing Gristle in the 1970s seemed to channel the entropy and

dysfunction of civilization occurring around them (in Detroit, Cleveland, and

Sheffield, England, respectively) into the very form of their music. In this

sense, “Detroit,” or a sense of urban collapse in general, asserts itself in his

work less as a cultural referent or corollary, but rather as integrally informing

its structure and composition.

One might also examine the work through the lens of serial killer Hannibal

Lecter’s instructions to trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling, from the 1991

film The Silence of the Lambs: “First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read

Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself What is its

nature” (Not an un-apropos consideration given the desperate and furtive

feel of the work and the somewhat ominous, basement-like appearance that

the unlit exhibition spaces preferred for its presentation to take on.) Smith’s

sculptures and other works suggest a profound and thorough understanding

of their base materials in that their transformation into a radically different

new entity or experience could only be achieved with that prior knowledge.

As such, his works are anything but arbitrarily conceived or constructed

but instead are the product of an acute and nuanced appreciation for what

substances can do and what they can’t—whether they were intended to or

not. A sculpture of a truncated tracksuit pant-leg whose interior is lined with

crumbled foam is exemplary of Smith’s canny re-imagining of the structure,

function, and purpose of both object and material. Hung perfunctorily on

the wall to reveal its interior, the pant leg reveals enough volume to cover a

human leg, yet that void suddenly becomes something else, a vacuum for

contemplation. (How often have YOU looked into a pant leg for more than

the split second it takes to put your foot in it) The foam similarly has the

typically technical function of FILLING a volume created by an outer layer in

order to provide structure and support. Here, however, it offers only another

lining, one that demonstrates just why it remains the un- (or rarely) seen

filler of a pillow, cushion, or stuffed toy. Smith’s materials in this instance do

what they are intended to do, essentially, yet his intervention pulls them far

away into a space where they exist and are understood in a completely different

way. This estrangement of objects and substances from themselves,

simply by making their principle function or purpose work against or beside

itself, is exacerbated by Smith’s tactical use of every possible option

possessed by an exhibition space. In his 2011 presentation at Benevento

Gallery in Los Angeles, an extremely overlookable opening in the ceiling

was deployed to house a work featuring insects encased in clear resin. It

joined blue, yellow, and red spotlights and the ambient light of the gallery’s

front window in providing the only illumination for the rest of the work in the

space. This approach—opting only or primarily for existing light for works

lacking an inherent light source—is consistent with the other aspects of


Smith’s practice, suggesting a rejection of the kind of inauthentic theatrics

that have historically accompanied and accentuated the presentation of art.

For example, in his installation in the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis’

Front Room project space, the aforementioned pant-leg sculpture, was

presented alongside an oatmeal-encrusted guard shield of a weed whacker.

The pitched form of both objects—unusually presented side-by-side—

echoed the angled shadow created by residual light pouring over the open

ceiling from the exhibition next door. Similar to his work’s redemption of

discarded objects and materials, his activation of unconsidered spatial and

structural details in unexpected ways prompts a greater appreciation of the

extant properties of an exhibition site, converting it into a virtual extension

of the work itself.

The sheer nerve of presenting non-light emitting work in deliberately unlit

spaces underscores the drily sophisticated sense of humor that informs

Smith’s practice, albeit one that is much more circumstantial than intentional.

The works are not so much Dadaist sight-gags as inheritors to a more

deadpan tradition of the archly comedic in art, that operates on mordant wit

rather than slapstick. In this sense, Smith’s sculptural works evoke the abject

humor of Mike Kelley’s arrangements of stuffed animals and thrift store

blankets and the entropic yet funny auto-cannibalism of Tom Friedman’s

work. A 2009 sculpture featuring a mannequin part covered with gray latex

paint is characteristic in this regard. Its bristled surface and breast-cup-like

shape initially prompts comparison to Duchamp’s Prière de toucher (Please

Touch), 1947, a relief of a woman’s breast mounted on a cloud of black

velvet. Whereas Duchamp’s gesture flaunted and ridiculed the fetishistic

nature of masculine sexuality’s tendency to prioritize the part object, Smith’s

sculpture (like all of his others) is hardly fetishistic—if anything it repels the

viewer with its un-adulterated-ness or mal-adulterated-ness—a strangely

droll sexual object that only a masochist might love. Other works, such as

a garden hose bent and segmented into an elegantly stylized form, humorously

redeems the ubiquitous backyard gardening aggravation of kinks developing

in this object that cut off the water supply. One might argue that

without the implicit and unforced levity of Smith’s gestures, the whole project

might otherwise read as impossibly maudlin.

In its own humble and entirely unprepossessing way, Smith’s work offers

a bracing riposte to the high production values of spectacle culture—to

which much contemporary art practice is not immune—and an urgently

relevant reminder of the value in looking at the overlooked. This extends

to a use of exhibition space that reinforces this notion, one that is theatrical,

yet only insofar as the “theater” provides its own unadulterated and

unenhanced stagecraft. Just as Smith allows and encourages the spaces

to be what they are and achieve their latent potential, so too does he give

materials, objects, substances, and situations the liberty to become what

they’re going to become and realize themselves within the context of art.






Thollem McDonas and

Detroit Improvised Music

Brad Duncan

Photo Credit: Angela C Villa

Photo credit: Angela C. Villa


Pianist Thollem McDonas, 45, is considered

one of the rising stars of adventurous music.

Perhaps he is the Roman candle of the contemporary

improvised music scene. Over the

last few years Thollem’s growing stature as a

daring pianist has afforded him the opportunity

to record and perform with experimental music

mainstays such as guitarist Nels Cline, bassist

William Parker, percussionist Susie Ibarra, and

legendary composer/theorist Pauline Oliveros.

Thollem won his renown the old fashioned

way: with a grueling touring schedule, a punkinspired

work ethic, and an open-hearted desire

to collaborate and perform with whomever

and wherever the music demands. It is impossible

to understand Thollem’s artistic practice

separate from his relentless touring and knack

for collaborating. Thollem’s fi rst visit to Detroit

seven years ago was supposed to be yet another

gig on a cross-country tour. Instead, he

immediately connected to a city and an artistic

community that would profoundly impact his

work and set the stage for some of his most

vital and substantial collaborations yet. Just as

Thollem McDonas bear hugged Detroit’s tightknit

improvised music community, the community

itself fell for this charismatic pianist who

had arrived in their midst. It was pure chemistry.

Thollem’s emergence as a troubadour of wild,

joyous, and often jagged piano improvisations

stands in stark contrast to his formative

years as a disciplined conservatory student

immersed in his training. His entire youth was

focused on mastering the classical piano repertoire,

spurred on by his pianist mother and

surrounded by dedicated musicians. But the

wave of jingoism and militarism that swept the

country in the lead up to the 1991 invasion of

Iraq was too disturbing for Thollem to ignore.

Soon he would drop everything to become a

full time activist in the anti-war and radical environmental

movements, effectively ending his

promising career as a concert pianist. Thollem

spent most of the 1990’s at the heart of the

West Coast radical activist scene, from Earth

First’s Redwood Summer project to a fi ve day

march on the Nevada nuclear test site on Shoshone

land. When he eventually reemerged

as a full-time musician he found a home in the

Bay Area’s vibrant and decidedly unorthodox

improvised music community.

To understand how Thollem McDonas could

fall under Detroit’s spell it is essential to look

at the music community he discovered upon

arriving in 2006. Thollem’s fi rst gig in Detroit

was at the Bohemian National Home, a decaying

1900’s social hall on Detroit’s Westside

that musician Joel Peterson had re-opened

as a music and art venue. The massive brick

building was oddly quite homey, with couches

and bookshelves and an upstairs ballroom.

Raw to be sure, but also glowing with possibility.

Joel Peterson, a multi-instrumentalist and

promoter with roots in the Free Jazz scene,

was booking all sorts of challenging artists,

from jazz legends like Marshall Allen and

Henry Grimes to avant-rock acts like Can’s

Damo Suzuki and Mission Of Burma, along

with everything from Arabic folk music to the

unclassifi able Eugene Chadbourne. But most

importantly Peterson was using the Bohemian

National Home as a home base for Detroit’s

jazz-infl uenced avant-garde improvised music

scene. Too few Detroit jazz clubs open their

doors to the children of Albert Ayler and Sun

Ra. Joel Peterson’s Bohemian National Home

became their clubhouse.

Thollem McDonas’ music does not slip silently

into genre classifi cation. Fans of 20th century

classical music marvel at his arresting technique,

while devotees of fi re-breathing free

jazz eat up his manic energy. His music touches

on all of those schools but insists on independence.

Detroit’s improvised music scene

has distinct roots stretching back to the birth of

the “New Thing” in jazz in the 1960’s. Detroit

has never suffered from a lack of dedicated

improvisers, but it has


continuously suffered a lack of attention from

the national music scene. The result of being

overlooked is that Detroit’s music scene develops

in splendid isolation, void of industry

opportunism but also at times insular. Where

Thollem saw Detroit’s scene as a family of unspoiled

true believers, Detroit’s improvising

musicians came to view Thollem as an utterly

refreshing blast of new energy and new ideas.

By his second gig at the Bohemian National

Home later that year (with the Bloom Trio, featuring

fellow Bay-Area improvisers Jon Brumit

and Rent Romus), McDonas was right at

home. Before long Thollem seemed to play

with everyone in town with a sense of adventure:

trumpeter and composer James Cornish,

cellist Abby Alwin from near by Ann Arbor, vocalist

Jennie Knaggs, inventor/instrumentalist

Frank Pahl, and kindred piano-tweeker Clem

Fortuna. Spending a week or two in Detroit at

a time, and dropping in every couple months,

Thollem was building a dedicated audience

and a musical family in Detroit. In addition to

the cast of occasional collaborators and dropin

partners, there was a growing cadre of Detroit

players with whom Thollem cultivated a

deeper relationship still.

More than any other single musician it was

bassist Joel Peterson that facilitated Thollem’s

embrace of Detroit’s music scene (and visa

versa). The two became true comrades and

co-thinkers, leading Thollem to include Joel’s

considerable playing in nearly every one of

his prolifi c Detroit sessions. It was also Peterson’s

intimate relationship with the many

divergent strains of Detroit’s music underground

that enabled Thollem to cast such a

wide net and perform so regularly in the city.

Peterson has spent years playing Balkan folk

music with the Immigrant Suns, Nigerian Afrobeat

with ODU Afrobeat Orchestra (featuring

one of Fela Kuti’s protégés), in addition to

his long jazz apprenticeship and his work as

a composer (the latter earned him a Kresge

Foundation arts fellowship in 2010). Peterson’s

far-fl ung musical background and focus

on free improvisation has made him Thollem’s

central Detroit foil.

Among Thollem McDonas’ other Detroit soulmates

are Marko Novachcoff, a daring multiinstrumentalist

with an attic full of rare instruments;

percussionist Kurt Prisbe (“one of the

most sensitive drummers I’ve played with”);

Michael Carey, a seasoned tenor saxophonist

who carries the banner of Archie Shepp

and Pharoah Sanders; and Skeeter Shelton, a

sensitive and intuitive sax player whom Thollem

regards as an effortless collaborator. And

then of course there is the late Faruq Z Bey.

As a founder of Griot Galaxy in the 1970’s, Faruq

Z Bey was Detroit’s avant-jazz ambassador

for decades, as well as its great professor.

Performing on stage with Faruq Z Bey, Skeeter

Shelton, and Michael Carey allowed Thollem

to interact—playfully and earnestly—with

Detriot’s living avant-garde and experimental

music traditions. Thollem played with Bey on

many occasions, including a gig at Lo & Behold

Records & Books in Hamtramck just a

few weeks before Bey’s death in the spring of


A warm, freewheeling social web that Thollem

spun across the city increasingly surrounded

all of this artistic ferment. Musicians

knew when he was coming to town and came

out of the woodwork accordingly. The Bohemian

National Home was the hub, but soon

the Edwin Gallery in Hamtramck emerged

as a spot for McDonas’ regular gigs, and the

Corktown home of Joel Peterson and his partner,

deputy-director of MOCAD and Detroit art

stalwart Rebecca Mazzei, also became a de

facto Thollem clubhouse. Over the course of 7

years Thollem has more than just carved out

a niche for himself in Detroit as an artist. He

has cultivated his own musical eco-system.

These organic connections to Detroit have

now sprawled all across Michigan.


Not only has Thollem performed in Ann Arbor’s

EdgeFest avant-garde festival (his second

appearance at EdgeFest will be this fall),

but he is now collaborating with revered modern

dancer, video artist, and Martha Graham

protégée Peter Sparling at the University of

Michigan. It was Thollem’s vibrant connections

to Detroit which landed him one of his

most extraordinary gigs yet: KHU, a truly epic

opera and fi lm by artist Matthew Barney, KHU

shot in old factories around Detroit and at sites

along the Rouge River in October, 2012.

Thollem’s immediate and deep connection

with Detroit might also grow from his political

vision and background in grassroots activism.

Long before Thollem was touring as an

improvising pianist he worked with the radical

green movement on the West Coast, doing

everything from building opposition to deforestation

to “guerrilla gardening” aimed at stopping

the environmental degradation of urban

communities. His work regularly takes on

themes related to austerity, poverty, and economic

violence; all of which are felt in the air

in Detroit upon fi rst arrival. Eventually Thollem

introduced Detroit to his band Tsigoti, a

punk-inspired band made up of Italian improvisers

who share his radical left ethos. Far

less subtle than other McDonas projects,

Tsigoti’s music explicitly attacks war and austerity.

Thollem’s recorded works produced

in Detroit echo these issues, from the instrumental

disc PoorStopKillingPoor to the visceral

and triumphant TwoRevolutions, which

includes a spoken word contribution about the

revolutions against Portuguese imperialism in

Africa in the 1960’s and 70’s. Both CDs were

recorded live at the Bohemian National Home,

and both speak to the political inspiration Thollem

has drawn from Detroit and its long history

of struggle.

the Detroit Institute of Arts to lofts in Eastern

Market to Cliff Bell’s to the Old Miami in the

still-seedy Cass Corridor. It is perhaps harder

to calculate the number of duos, trio, quartets,

and on-the-fl y bands Thollem has assembled

during his prodigious time spent in Detroit.

Fortunately his relationship with Detroit has

produced some lasting groups, too. One of

Thollem’s “let’s invite everybody” jam sessions

at the Bohemian National Home became the

Box Deserter Ensemble, a group that has continued

to evolve and record. A smaller version

of Box Deserter Ensemble based around Thollem,

Skeeter Shelton, and Joel Peterson is

called Soar Trio. Soar Trio has toured the U.S.

quiet extensively and has a new recording being

released this year on Edgetone Records,

entitled Emergency Manager Heist. Their trio

format especially highlights Thollem’s delicate

and inspired interactions with Skeeter Shelton,

who remains a criminally under recorded


Thollem McDonas’ love affair with Detroit’s experimental

music scene continues unabated.

And the cream of Detroit’s avant-garde never

seems to tire of this buoyant piano savant who

rolls into town so very regularly. A few years

after losing the old Bohemian National Home

building, Joel Peterson has opened a new and

promising music/art venue on Gratiot in Eastern

Market called Trinosophes. Of course,

Thollem was ecstatic to be able to perform

at the new venue. And of course half of Detroit’s

most adventurous musicians came out

of the woodwork to watch him brilliantly deconstruct

modern piano music. They always

come around when Thollem’s back “home” in


It has become hard to count the number of Detroit

area venues that Thollem McDonas has

played in, from the Diego Rivera courtyard at


Interview with Elysia Borowy, MOCAD’s new Director

MOCAD’s new Executive Director, Elysia Borowy-Reeder, took up her post just before ArtX.

Detroit Research: Elysia, fi rst, welcome to MOCAD, welcome to Detroit! You will be hearing this

quite lot in the next few weeks and months.

How has it been these past few days since your arrival

Elysia Borowy: I read that Patti Smith said, “Don’t move to New York move to Detroit.” I totally

agree. I have done a few things since I arrived: found a CrossFit gym that I like a lot and found

my way to work via the expressway and via Woodward Ave! MOCAD has an amazing staff that

is really dedicated and doing interesting things outside of MOCAD – it has a political consciousness

that makes me think that it will be an interesting place to lead. Plus! Randy Kennedy from

the New York Times just called the Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead “the most provocative and

unclassifi able work of art in America.” So week two can’t have gone any better.

DR: I should share with our readers that I was fortunate enough to be on the search committee

(led by Marsha Miro) which found you, so, obviously, I have got to know you quite well in a professional

way, but can we start with you telling us something about your background.

EB: I was born in Detroit and lived in the metro area (Hamtramck, Royal Oak, Grosse Point)

and then moved to East Lansing where my mother worked at Michigan State University (MSU).

I loved growing up in a college town. Interesting people, interesting speakers, and ideas; going

there now it seems smaller, but growing up it seemed vast and vital. I spent a long time in graduate

school at MSU. When I fi nished with my degree at Antioch College I was not ready to stop

being a student. I thought I would either teach or work at a museum in the art education department.

As I completed that degree I decided that I needed an art history degree. As I completed

four years at MSU I started looking at museum work and I got a position at the MCA, Chicago

where I worked for seven years. It was an amazing work experience with a dedicated and

imaginative staff. I got to learn best practices and missteps. In many ways I learned how a solid

contemporary art museum can and should run by working at the MCA, Chicago. Everyday there

seemed to be something magical about the work that was happening there. It was compelling as

they presented work that was accessible and cutting edge contemporary art at the same time.

The MCA Chicago always put the visitor fi rst and had very radical performances and programming

to activate the museum.

DR: You come to us immediately from Raleigh, North Carolina. Can we talk a little more about

North Carolina You have had the important experience of being a founding Director of a signifi -

cant contemporary space in Raleigh. Can you tell us more about that experience

EB: CAM (Contemporary Art and Design) Raleigh is a special place for a few reasons. Contemporary

art was and still is very new to Raleigh. The building was a re-use project and helped create

a creative corridor in downtown and improve the economic landscape in downtown Raleigh

by being an attraction. Raleigh also had a robust art and design education department at North

Carolina State University, which is something that I am passionate about. As a program entity,

CAM Raleigh is able to work with lesser-known artists because, as a non-collecting museum,

it is neither burdened by the demands of caring for a permanent collection, nor bound by the

limitations of marketability faced by commercial galleries. They encourage artists to ambitiously

push themselves to new limits, empowered by an institution that bets its success on their ingenuity.

Practically speaking, CAM Raleigh provided these artists with fi nancial support for commissioned

works; an inspiring, open space to be used in a creative fashion; lengthier exhibition runs

than the standard gallery show; a professional museum staff for mentorship; the possibility for

scholarly publication; expanded audience exposure; and a fertile environment for public engagement

supported by robust, innovative programming. CAM Raleigh is [cheeky] enough to take

calculated risks while standing on a solid reputation as a high-caliber arts institution.

DR: Which one of your shows might you point to as especially emblematic of your taste in contemporary


EB: There are two exhibitions that I am deeply proud of. Not only did they stretch the audiencepreconceived

notions of what contemporary art is but also they transported visitors into deeper


I think José Lerma is one of the most interesting artists working today. He suggests a new way

to experience art and creates intricate installations that combine painting and non-traditional materials

such as refl ective fabrics and commercial carpet, relying on a compendium of mediums,

references, and elements that combine his personal history and extensive academic accolades

with his awareness of social history.

Lerma originally migrated from Spain to Puerto Rico and now lives between Chicago and Brooklyn,

and has multiple degrees in law and art. For the show that I curated at CAM Raleigh entitled

The Credentialist, he created a new body of eighteen artworks commissioned for the main gallery

and street level gallery space. This exhibition highlighted his ability to combine and collapse

facets of history from his personal viewpoint. Central to the exhibition is the notion of rising

and falling, particularly the precipitous demise of great historical fi gures. The records of these

fl uctuations are played out on various paintings, curtains, and carpets that occupy the space.

Four large canvases, which imitate ballpoint pen doodle, depict themes such as war, love, and

paradise while referencing paintings on the subject by Tintoretto and Piero della Francesca. In

his paintings, Lerma employs images of Baroque style portraits of historical, famous French

bankers from the 18th Century, which are signifi ed by wigged portraits. The artworks in this

exhibition were monumental, featuring a liberal use of brush strokes, doodles, and highlights of

paint to underscore the sketch-like quality of the drawings. By distorting and often erasing the

features of the faces, only leaving profi les or frontal views of wigs, Lerma’s work also references

the paintings of Francis Bacon and Philip Guston. Lerma places his large works on electronic



keyboards as a way of combining previous elements of his oeuvre. This provided a soundtrack

to each painting -- making the paintings active participants in the art. Through the use of acrylic

spray paint on canvas, he was able to reproduce the aesthetic of highlighters and pen scratchings

on a paper pad. His swirled scribbles are reminiscent of graffi ti while doodles reference

French political cartoon drawings. Lerma’s paintings meld these several diverse mediums to

create works that resemble portraits of bureaucratic fi gures while simultaneously appearing to

be topographical landscapes. Lerma builds up hues of paint and juxtaposes them alongside fl at

planes of white paint or ‘doodles’ of spray paint. The main gallery of CAM Raleigh featured a

large-scale carpet installation. Lerma paints and collages directly on inexpensive commercial

grade carpets. The scale of the rugs affects the physical relationship of the viewer to the work –

visitors physically walked all over King Charles II.

The second exhibition that I loved and worked very hard on at CAM Raleigh, was an election

show created by Jonathan Horowitz. Seeing North Carolina as a battleground state and Raleigh

being the capital of the state, I thought the community would be engaged in the political scene.

This exhibition took place at several art museums across the county and it was a reconfi guration

of an exhibition staged by Horowitz during the 2008 presidential election. The exhibition entitled,

Your Land/My Land, divides the gallery space into red and blue zones, refl ecting America’s

color-coded, political and cultural divide. Suspended in the middle of the installation are backto-back

televisions, one broadcasting a live feed of Fox News, the other, of MSNBC. The exhibition

transformed CAM Raleigh’s Street Gallery into a space for collective refl ection and debate

on both our political system. CAM Raleigh offered voter registration and hosted the presidential

debates, in an attempt to encourage engagement in the political process and dialogue among

community members.

DR: Can you share with us some thing of the curators you admire on the national / international


EB: MOCAD has the great pleasure of working with curator Jens Hoffman. Jens was one of the

major deciding factors on my decision to come to MOCAD. He presents exhibitions that have

such amazing history while facing forward. For the fall exhibition at MOCAD Jens is working on

an exhibition entitled The Past Is the Present.

The Past Is the Present invites a group of international, national, and local artists to conceive

new murals based on historical events associated with the city of Detroit. The inspiration for

the exhibition is Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry, a series of twenty fresco mural panels that he

completed between 1932 and 1933 in the Great Hall of the Detroit Institute of Arts. This site is

just two blocks north of MOCAD’s current location on Woodward Avenue in midtown Detroit.

Jens has an incredible ability to fi nd relevance and content that is sometimes not thought about

deeply enough. I also have a fondness for the Rivera murals, as growing up that was my favorite

place at the DIA. The murals are so grand. They engulf the viewer.


Elysia Borowy-Reeder,

Exec. Dir. at MOCAD,

directing project meeting

for the opening weekend

of Mike Kelley’s Mobile

Homestead project. Photos

courtesy of MOCAD.


Artists under consideration include: Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Julieta Aranda,

Kevin Beasley, Tania Bruguera, Nicolás Consuegra, Minerva Cuevas, Harrell Fletcher, Claire

Fontaine, Theaster Gates, Hans Haacke, Trenton Doyle Handcock, Maryam Jafri, William E.

Jones, Daniel Martinez, Adrian Piper, Pedro Reyes, Martha Rosler, Slanguage, and Hank Willis


DR: That’s quite a list!

EB: Exactly 80 years after Rivera’s mural, MOCAD is inviting this group of artists to each create

a new mural depicting an event from the history of Detroit. The objective is to identify some of

the key moments that have strongly impacted the development of the city, and may even still

affect how it is perceived and experienced today. The murals will depict and document the struggles

of Detroit, which in the 1930s and 1940s was one of the world’s premier industrial cities but

has subsequently had to deal with the dramatic decline of the automotive and other industries,

enormous losses in population, epidemic crime, unemployment, political corruption, and poverty.

I think it will provide compelling points for refl ections. I feel that we are all designers of our world

and need a mirror from time to time to make sense of the chaos.

The selected artists are not all necessarily associated with the making of murals, yet they all

engage with history in their work and regularly address, examine, and criticize the political and

social realities of contemporary society. Through the presentation of the exhibition, MOCAD is

taking this opportunity to re-establish and fortify the history of the mural in Detroit, encourage the

community to refl ect on the present state of murals, and shape the future direction.

DR: Now, here you are at MOCAD, in Detroit. MOCAD is at a crucial stage of its development /

growth. What does this represent for you What challenges do you see

EB: “What challenges do you see” I am not sure if I see challenges, I really see opportunity,

room for collaboration, I see change which is about how can we be the best museum and work

within the context of resources. We all dream big. I see a very smart engaged community, board,

and staff. Also, I am really happy that the community, staff, and board are vocal people. They

share their thoughts and perspectives and most importantly, when it really matters.

DR: Can we talk about “vision” Obviously, no one expects you simply to come in and say, Here

is my vision for MOCAD! Still, it would be nice to get a sense of how you think you might go about

acclimatizing yourself to (i) the Detroit scene and (ii) MOCAD’s possibilities in the larger ecologies

of national and international contemporary art

EB: MOCAD seeks to curate the most contemporary works of art including performance when

possible - those still emerging, growing, and living. It is my hope that we spark new thinking by

creating ever-changing experiences that explore the newest thoughts and ideas. We also like

to present art that is totally unexpected. Many times we will present artists that you have never

heard of. I like to say that we exhibit the Warhol’s of tomorrow.

On May 10, 2013 MOCAD launched a very special project by Detroit-born artist Mike Kelley.

Mobile Homestead is a permanent artwork by late artist Mike Kelley located on the grounds of

the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. It’s both a public sculpture and a private, personal

architecture – based on the artist’s childhood home on Palmer Road in Westland. MOCAD’s Department

of Education and Public Engagement programs the ground fl oor of Mobile Homestead

as a community space, as Kelley intended. The project was eight years in the making and will

serve as a hub for gatherings, conversations and displays that are created by and for a diverse

public, and is intentionally unaffi liated with the Museum’s exhibitions and public programming.

This project is just one of the many examples that show how Detroit is gaining culture power. It is

a city in the middle of everything and at the center of nothing. I think in many ways Detroit exists

in defi ance of the hype and showiness of cities like New York or Los Angeles. I think the MOCAD

board, volunteers, visitors, staff and I will enjoy writing and designing MOCOAD’s next chapter.


DR: And what about education / public engagement

EB: I think this is one of the most important aspects of a museum. MOCAD has a radical Department

of Education and Engagement. I consider MOCAD a laboratory for new ideas both in art

and design. There is a department of public engagement, along with a department of education

of which Katie McGowan is the curator, and both such amazing programs. Greg Baise curates

lectures and performances for every visitor and it is mind blowing. Next fall we plan on launching

a Teen Council and a Jr. Docent program which are programs that were very successful at CAM

Raleigh. I think the Jr. Docents will go through some highly transformative thinking when trained

on the mural exhibition. I often think about the visitor experience and what they walk away with;

it is for this reason I am particularly excited about the Jr. Docent program. The main goals of

this program are to enable the young MOCAD docents to develop the skills and confi dence

necessary to describe and interpret visual art; we will encourage students to think in new ways

about art and its relationship to their own lives. This in turn helps build confi dence in their own

interpretation of the world around them.

DR: The development of the Jr. Docent program would be a wonderful thing!

Your husband is the painter Scott Reeder - a very fi ne artist, if I may so say. Will he be engaging


EB: That is really nice to hear. Yes! He is tenured at SAIC [School of the Art Institute of Chicago]

and will be looking for a studio here in Detroit come the end of the school year. He is really happy

to be here where there is a strong art community both people like you, Michael, and other artists

who are makers.


Images courtesy of CAM Raleigh and the artist







Curtis McGuire

School of America Watch – Civil Disobedience. Nov. 18th, 2012, Fort Benning, Georgia

School of America Watch — Civil Disobedience. Nov. 18th, 2012, Fort Benning, Georgia


May Day – Officer Johnson, Barb & the NLG. May 1st, 2012, Detroit, MI

May Day - Officer Don Johnson gives fi rst warning with the LRAD 100x. May 1st, 2012, Detroit, MI


In late September of 2011, my housemates

Justin and Melissa had been urging me to

get involved with this thing that, they claimed,

had started to sweep the nation. They called

it Occupy. What a stupid name, I thought to

myself unenthusiastically. Yes, I was interested

in social justice in a generic sense, but

their explanations were not convincing me.

You sleep in a park Still not convincing me.

I was not a particularly political person. I didn’t

watch TV, listen to the radio, or read the paper.

Politics existed on the periphery of my

just-getting-by in Detroit existence. I knew the

“system” was not working for me – a College

for Creative Studies (CCS) college graduate

with a huge school debt and a less than exciting

fi nancial future. I had never felt like I

live in a just and equal country or world, but

I was willing to put my nose to the grindstone

and chip away at that school debt and socialize

with other friends who were making Detroit

work for them. Over the next weeks Justin

and Melissa talked fast and hard enough

so that on October 14th, 2011 I ended up in

Grand Circus Park, downtown Detroit camera

in hand, hoping to get a few good shots. We

rolled in on bicycle, locked up and headed

into the massive crowd of 1500 plus people.

My skepticism was still intact as I began to

wander, talk, and listen to the people in the

park. I can’t point to one conversation or one

aha moment that turned me. But by the end

of the day, after overhearing and participating

in innumerable conversations regarding

social and economic justice, I was converted.

I had a deep-boned sense that I had found

my people, and that this movement really

was going to change, if not the world, then

. . . well . . . me. I went home that night to

start organizing my schedule so that I could

sleep in the park with my new found family.

That day, at Occupy, everything changed.

There was so much excitement, and more

than excitement, there was hope: hope

for a future not blighted by economic slavery

or the structural racism that is so tied to

our economic system of class entitlements.

Over a year has passed since I fi rst slept in

Grand Circus Park. There were never hundreds

or thousands there at night - at its peak,

about seventy fi ve people camped out. Those

seventy fi ve people were the core of Occupy

Detroit. We entered the park on October 14th,

2011 and vacated on November 21st. Thirty

eight days of wild and life-changing activities.

Living in that environment was like trying to

live in fast-forward. I would go home to shower,

only to come back to a massive overhauling

of the campsite. The camp was a living

thing, rapidly expanding, evolving, and growing.

On the fi rst day the kitchen was a little 10

x 10 pop up tent. At its peak the kitchen was

twenty times that size or larger, including massive

prepping areas with industrial tarps tied

to trees twenty fi ve feet above the ground protecting

us from the elements. It was, in a word,

glorious. Resources from supporters were

pouring in all day and night. People who could

not stay all night came during the day to participate

in the Occupy Movement in what ever

way they could. Those of us that experienced

living in the camp have become bonded for life.

May Day 2012, the National Day of Action for

Worker Rights, found Occupy Detroit marching

the three miles from Clark Park to Grand Circus

Park, our birthplace. There were speeches,

activities, music, and overall good times to

be had. We planned to end the night with a

24-hour temporary camp as an ode to our original

occupation. The police, who for the original

thirty eight days had given us an autonomous

zone, made it clear that they would not permit a

24-hour campsite. At 10 pm, they rolled in and

fl exed. Twenty three police cars, over fi fty police

offi cers, a paddy wagon and the latest military

protest-control equipment – the Long Range


Acoustic Device 100X (LRAD), a hand held

sound canon with an output of 137 decibels.

About twenty of us stayed, determined to

sleep in the park if we could. The police swept

the park and gave us our warning. When it

became apparent that the protesters were not

going to listen to the initial warnings, Officer

Don Johnson, the policeman charged with

overseeing the Occupy protests in Detroit, approached

us and pleaded that we go home.

Which, thanks to Erik, an Occupy Detroit veteran

and video journalist, we left. Erik probably

single handedly prevented the arrests

of our entire group. Recently fi les were released

showing that the FBI enacted a coordinated

strategic plan with state and local police

around the country during the duaration

of the Occupy Movement, demonstrating that

the mass arrests in New York and California

in early Occupy months were an intentional

scare tactic for Occupy Movements everywhere.

Thousands of people were arrested

and made examples of in order to keep the

movement from growing in popularity. In Detroit

we saw the scare tactics in action on May

Day with the mass response the Detroit Police

Department had to twenty people in a park

for one night. Technology sometimes serves

us well – we see all the new, top of the line

products that make our lives easier. What we

don’t see every day is the technology used

for devices such as the Long Range Acoustic

Device, something that can be turned on and

used against small, peaceful groups of demonstrators

to intimidate and injure.

Over the past year I have marched, participated

in non-violent direct actions, worked as

both a volunteer and a professional organizer,

and have travelled all over our country to assist

in building long distance coalitions. I was

in St. Louis when the police batoned several

Occupy demonstrators bloody; in Charlotte,

North Carolina, as a shareholder attending the

Bank of America shareholder meeting; and in

Lansing when our Governor and State Legislature

showed contempt for the working men

and women who pay their bills by making our

state a Right to Work for Less state. I’ve stood

with families in driveways, preventing evictions

from moving forward, and cried with undocumented

immigrants, who fought the order

to be separated from their family and leave our

country. I’ve sung union hymns and new anthems

with the Occupy Choir, participated in

teach-ins and lectures. You can’t participate in

these things and not be changed, fi rmly, and


Today, a little over a year later, Occupy no

longer is featured in the headlines; we are the

99% has become part of our lexicon, but many

have written the movement off as dead. Do not

be so foolish. Those of us who experienced

Occupy in its fullest forms will never again be

who we were, and Occupy exists within the

solid, determined hearts of those who work on

the Occupy Detroit Eviction Defense committee

– a very active group that has been successful

on every eviction defense which they

have taken on. Occupy veterans have created

new organization such as This Hood of Ours,

Plan it for Planet, the Occupied Detroit Free

Press, and Free Detroit. While 5900 Michigan

Avenue, once known as the 5900 Activist Center,

holds only ghosts of the Occupy Midwest

Regional Conference, and the many other activities

that were held there, Occupy Detroit

still holds regular General Assemblies (GA) at

the 1515 Broadway Café, and while the group

is smaller than a year ago, they are just as


Technology and Occupy are tied together. Occupy

swept the nation because of the Internet

and social media. Most power relationships we

interact with daily are top down, meaning those

at the top benefi t from those at the bottom.

However, the Internet doesn’t have much of a

boss - yet. The Internet gives this generation


Abel Speaks. May 21st, 2012, Washington DC

May Day - Mounties. May 1st, 2012, Detroit, MI


May Day – Three Mile March. May 1st, 2012, Detroit, MI

Gov. Snyder Receives honorary doctorate of laws from MSU – Dec. 15th, 2012, Lansing, MI


Durbanville – Pop Up Shanty Town and Soup Line. Dec. 6th, 2012, Chicago, Illinois

School of America Watch – Civil Disobedience. Nov. 18th, 2012, Fort Benning, Georgia


an opportunity that our foremothers and forefathers

in social justice did not have: we are

the turning point that is the catalyst for horizontal

power structures in the forthcoming Age

of Information. The signifi cance of this point

cannot be overstated, so let me say that again.

Occupy, the Indignados, the Arab Spring, the

fi ght against SOPA and PIPA, all the efforts

and burgeoning movements of the last few

years are the writing on the wall: a global will

exists to transition from power-over systems

to power-with systems, and we currently have

the tools to bring that dream to fruition.

Detroit’s current political state is ripe for this

fi ght. It is unique in its geographical location,

being the only industrial city alongside the

greatest source of fresh water on the planet,

with an international boarder with Canada. It is

also unique in its lack of functioning infrastructure

and law. In the 2012 general election,

Michigan faced and surprisingly defeated the

Emergency Manager Law PA4, which would

have taken away our ability to publicly elect

offi cials. That would be dictatorship, plain

and simple. There are blatant corporate land

grabs occurring around the city. The Huffi ngton

Post reported that Detroit is considering

a one billion dollar proposal to turn Belle Isle

into a commonwealth, with its own currency,

its own laws, and could house up to 35,000

people. A more recent land grab was Hantz

Farms, which purchased one hundred and

seventy acres of Detroit land for $586,800.

Then there is the Detroit Fairgrounds, which

sold for a whopping $1.00 for a shopping mall.

world positively change around us by our

friends and neighbors every day.

And here, among these challenges, Occupy

still exists, doing what it has done in the past:

Getting in gear, doing the groundwork. Fighting.

This year the National Occupy Gathering

will be in Kalamazoo, Michigan on August

24-26. I, and others in the movement, will be

there, determined to carry on.

Eviction Defense Ralley -

Eviction Homeowners, Defense Mr. Rally and – Mrs. Homeowners, Garrett. Mr. and Mrs. Garrett.

Jan. Jan. 31st, 31st, 2012, Detroit, MI MI

Detroit is also the city where residents are

turning to their own communities to solve

problems such as access to affordable healthy

food through urban community farms, owned

by the neighbors who work them, locally organized

neighborhood watch programs, and

crime fi ghting organizations like The Detroit

300. Those of us who live in Detroit see the


Eviction Defense Rally – The Crowd. Jan. 31st, 2012, Detroit, MI

State rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks - ICE takes undocumented parents while they

drop their kids of at school. Oct. 17th, 2012, Detroit, MI





Michael Stone-Richards

[T]he collaborative work artists do to effect public life is

intimately linked to the performance and play of conversation

– those that we have between ourselves and our


Doug Ashford, “Finding Cytherea: Disobedient Art and

New Publics,” Who Cares, Creative Time, 2006

Unlike its avant-garde predecessors such as Russian

Constructivism, Futurism, Situationism [sic], Tropicalia,

Happenings, Fluxus, and Dadaism, socially engaged art

is not an art movement. Rather, these cultural practices

indicate a new social order – ways of life that emphasize

participation, challenge power, and span disciplines

ranging from urban planning and community work to theater

and the visual arts. 1

Nato Thompson, “Living as Form,” in Living as Form,

Creative Time, 2012

Part of what it is to be a modern artist, and part of the

transmission from the modern to the contemporary, is to be selfconscious

in the construction of the history of one’s practice. The

Surrealists, from the moment of their establishment between

1922 and 1924, set up a Bureau of Surrealist Research; Tristan

Tzara, Raoul Haussman, Georges Hugnet, amongst others, very

quickly, before the entry of the academics, began to write the histories

of Dada; whilst Guy Debord of the Situationist International

and George Manciunas of Fluxus would spend much time constructing

very precise genealogies and histories. With the advent

of performance art Marina Abramović would do the same and

eventually begin her own school to ensure the transmission of

her thought. It matters little that critics, historians and other actors

from the original formations would also add to, contest or upset

the often too neat or self-serving constructions; what mattered,

and matters still, is that the thinking called art-making was seen to

be a reflexive activity and as such an activity that could not, once

and for all, be settled, an activity, in other words, that could not be

foundationalist in conception. (It is for this reason that Duchamp

would have no time for what he called the little recipes of studio

art.) We might put this by saying that modern art introduces the

idea that all art-practice, and hence all historiography or art, is

necessarily a meta-history and meta-practice in the service of a

particular meta-theory of art. This is so, with no little irony, even

when art-practice seeks to break out of the studio and enter –

where – into The City, having left behind what – the frame.


The latest claimant to the mantle of innovation

– aesthetically and ethically – in this tradition of

art-thinking has various and varying names as

well as various and varying paths of inheritance:

public practice, community-based practice, and

cultural activist practice. 2 This variance of naming

should suffice to tell us that though the practice is

identifiable, and clearly so, it is not yet settled on

a self-understanding. One can, however, say that

two names for this practice have emerged: in the

United States the dominant term has become Social

Practice, the equivalent of which in Europe is

Participatory Art. Both terms speak of the distance

from an art of the studio, and of engagement with

the audience and “community” – indeed, no term

is more used and possibly over-used than the term

community, 3 and one which is rarely explicitly defined.

As Joshua Decter put it in an essay for the

Dutch / American exhibition catalogue Heartland:

There has always been some acrimony

about what actually constitutes “public

practice,” “community-based practice,”

and “cultural activist practice.” At times,

this becomes a debate regarding who

has the right to articulate the interests of

a community and whether so-called outsiders

have the legitimacy to work with a

particular community; this may ultimately

be a question of cultivating trust, one of

the most complex challenges facing artists

who seek to work with, or in relation

to, citizens and their life-spaces. 4

These key terms, trust, community, relation, citizens,

and life-spaces point to a precise space of

practice, albeit one whose epistemology and genealogy

are not wholly agreed upon. 5 Before Social

Practice / Participatory Art became self-consciously

such, there was Relational Aesthetics – a term

still used by practitioners such as the conceptual

and food artist Jennifer Rubell – which re-situated

practice away from the studio to the site of production

and the audience; but Social Practice, beyond

Relational Aesthetics, seeks to engage the citizen,

in trust, and to be legitimate, so that its practice

will be seen to be of the community, and as such it

calls for, even, seeks to facilitate, the construction

of a relational subject, 6 one that will be the subject

of care and as such a subject that sees itself also

in relation to its environment, that is, the threatened

life-spaces, whence the implicit connection

between Social Practice and Biopolitical thought,

even if only as a logical entailment and not a

self-conscious problematic for all practitioners. 7

It would take more space to flesh out and make

the argument that the subject of Social Practice as

a distinctively new practice of thinking in art is an

ethic of care, but the time is right, and the material

is available for this investigation to begin, not

least because this practice of art has become the

prevalent and most urgent form of art-practice in

Detroit from the Heidelberg Project to the Power-

House Project, to the role of urban gardening of

which Kate Daughdrill and Mira Burack’s Edible

Hut can be taken as an exemplar, to the practice

of conversation found in Detroit Soup curated by

Amy Kaherl, to the experiments in communal living

practiced by the Grace Lee Boggs and friends at

the Grace Lee Boggs Center. It is, after all, Boggs

herself who said in an interview with Democracy

Now that “The only way to survive is by taking care

of one another.” Here is her full statement:

What happened in 2001 in Porta Legra,

Brazil, when people gathered to say: Another

world is necessary, another world

is possible, and another world is happening,

I think that that’s what’s happening

in Detroit in particular. People are beginning

to say: The only way to survive is by

taking care of one another; by re-creating

our relationships to one another; that we

have created a society, over the last period

in particular, where each of us is pursuing

self-interest. We have de-volved

as human beings. 8

It can reasonably be argued that the Diego Rivera’s

Detroit Industry mural, 1932-33, in the DIA is the

allegory and Ur-scene – even the primitive scene

in terms of representation – of Social Practice in

Detroit with its hymn to an idealized community of

workers and producers where the iconography of

the fresco cycle depicts not only harmony amongst

workers but a harmony of workers (say, Man)


with technology (say, Machine) in “the transfer of

energy from raw materials into machines of great

power through human strength and ingenuity.” 9

This harmony, and its evocation of a Golden Age in

the iconography of the work, the harmony, for example,

of the four “races” of White and Yellow (the

South Wall fresco) and Red and Black (the North

Wall fresco) is an intentional irony within the Detroit

Industry mural as the cycle of harmony depicted

is in stark contrast to the social and economic

realities for workers at the time of the creation of

the fresco cycle, for 1932-33 was the height of the

Depression. As Linda Bank Downs comments:

Rivera reconciled the concept of modern

industrial processes with ancient beliefs

at a time in Detroit’s history when industrial

systems had failed the the worker. The

Depression created self-doubt, fear of the

future, and blame of the industrialists. The

Detroit Industry murals present a modern

golden age, before the 1929 stock market

crash, when industrial productivity, employment,

and wages were at their height and

Detroit was a boom town. Rivera created a

nostalgia for a culture of work and labor in

the automotive industry that had been radically

transformed by the Depression, which

created a climate where industrialists were

despised as being reckless capitalists who

abdicated moral economy. Moral economy

holds that industrialists have an obligation

to control the production, manufacture, and

sale of commodities in order to protect the

interests of the community of consumers.

Moral economy was bankrupt in 1932 –

1933 Detroit. 10

stills from Finally got the news

There is a pendant to this persistent topos of an

ironic Golden Age, and it is the extraordinary film

Finally got the news, made by the League of Revolutionary

Black Workers in 1969-1970 and which

opens with the verses of the blues song “Detroit, I

do mind dyin’”:

Please, Mr. Foreman, slow down your assembly line.

Please, Mr. Foreman, slow down your assembly line.

No, I don’t mind workin’, but I do mind dyin’. 11


The League of Revolutionary Black Workers were

workers within the automotive industry of Detroit

when they made this film of radical expression.

Within two minutes or so of the opening of the film

there is an extended use of the iconography of

the Detroit Industry mural to situate the continuing

struggles of the contemporary work force, to show

how at the heart of wealth creation there is waste,

the waste of lives, all the more so when human

lives, no longer ends in themselves but means,

are reduced to resources – as the song says, “No,

I don’t mind workin’, but I do mind dyin’.” That their

use of the iconography of Detroit Industry leaves

out the mural’s iconography of medicine and birth

and Calla Lilies is not, however, an accident and

points to the internalized fractured and damaged

nature of representation, what the late Gillian

Rose called diremption, which has been inherited

by Social Practice / Public Engagement in its need

to gender not only Care but protest in the movement

away from aggressivity to connectedness,

not only a connectedness to others but to environment

as well. (Here one cannot but refer to the

essay by Biba Bell on Belle-Isle in this issue of

Detroit Research motivated as it is by the masculine

gendering of space and protest in Detroit progressive

practice along with the marginalization of

the domestic.)

the more so after its support of Paul Chan’s Waiting

for Godot in New Orleans.

Taking these three books as points of departure,

Detroit Research invites critical submissions on

the question of Social Practice / Participatory Art

for its Spring 2015 issue.

The recent publication of three important and

different books bearing on the nature of Social

Practice provides an opportunity for critical reflection

on this form of thinking and engagement:

(1) Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art

and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso,

2012) is the first book length intellectual history of

Participatory Art / Social Practice; The Museum

of Contemporary Art, LA, Engagement Party: Social

Practice at MOCA, 2008-2012 (L.A.: MOCA,

2012) is the first full self-conscious exploration

by a major museum of the implications for its future

and institutional identity of Social Practice; 12

and (3) Nato Thompson, editor, Living as Form:

Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011 (New York:

Creative Time, and Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT

Press, 2012). It would be fair to say that no single

organization has become as clearly identified with

Social Practice as Creative Time in New York, all

Fig. 15. Ziggurat, East, Summer, 2008 – from Ziggurat

and FB21, 2007-2009



Of course, Dada, Surrealism, and the Situationist International

went out of their way to say – protest – that they were

not art movements.


Here consider Nato Thompson: “The veritable explosion of

work in the arts has been assigned catchphrases, such as

‘relational aesthetics,’ coined by French curator Nicholas

Bourriaud, or Danish curator Lars Bang Larsen’s term ‘social

aesthetics.’ We can also look to Suzanne Lacy’s ‘new genre

public art,’ or the commonly known West Coast term ‘social

practice.’ Other precursors include Critical Art Ensemble’s

activist approach called ‘tactical media’ and Grant Kester’s

‘dialogic art,’ which refers to conversation-based projects. We

can also go back to Joseph Beuys’s ‘social sculpture.’ Numerous

genres have been deeply intertwined in participation,

sociality, conversation, and ‘the civic.’” Nato Thompson, “Living

as Form,” in Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from

1991 – 2011, ed. Nato Thompson (New York: Creative Time,

2012), 19.


But cf. the seminal work of Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative

Community, trans. Peter Connor and others (Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press, 1991), and Miami Theory Collective,

Community at Loose Ends (Minneapolis and Oxford,

OH: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).


Joshua Decter, “Art, Urban Rebuilding, Social Justice, and

Sustainability: Toward a Case Study of New Orleans,” in

Heartland, ed. Charles Esche, Kerstin Niemann, and Stephanie

Smith (Chicago: Smart Museum of Art, and Eindhoven:

Van Abbemuseum, 2009), 37.


Linda Bank Downs, Diego Rivera: The Detroit Industry Mural

(New York: The Detroit Institute of Arts and Norton, 1999),



Downs, Diego Rivera: The Detroit Industry Mural, 168-169.


Song composed and recorded by Joe L. Carter, 1965, quoted

in Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, “Finally Got the

News,” Detroit: I do Mind Dying. A Study in Urban Revolution

(Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 1998), 107. The

film Finally got the news can be watched at http://vimeo.



No museum, no gallery, has yet worked out how to put

such practices on effective display – see Boris Groys above

about the role of documentation in contemporary art - and

very few museums are willing to envisage the possibility that

the idea of the museum as currently figured - a box for the

public display of wealth; a place for the encounter with works

of seminal thought; a place to learn the art of attention at the

core of aesthetic conversation – may be conceptually redundant.

MOCA, LA in its Engagement Party, reflexively tracking

its own engagement with this kind of art practice, is opening

itself to the possibility that it, and the Museum, may learn how

to transform itself from built-in redundancy to rejuvenated living

form…But it remains an open question, of course.



Cf. Boris Groys, “A Genealogy of Participatory Art,” Introduction

to Antiphilosophy, trans. David Fernbach (London

and New York: Verso, 2012), 197-217, as also Groys’ essay

on Biopolitics and the prevalence of documentation in contemporary

art, “Art in the Age of Biopolitics: From Artwork to

Art Documentation,” Art Power (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT

Press, 2008), 53-65.


Cf. Elena Pulcini, Care of the World: Fear, Responsibility

and Justice in the Global Age, trans. Karen Whittle (Dordrecht

and London: Springer, 2013).


On Social Practice and care, cf. Michael Stone-Richards,

Care of the City: Detroit and the Question of Social Practice,

forthcoming Artifice/Black Dog Publishing, and the set of conversations

curated by Creative Time, Who Cares (New York:

Creative Time, 2006), as also Groys, “Art in the Age of Biopolitics:

From Artwork to Art Documentation.”


Grace Lee Boggs, “The Only Way to Survive is by Taking

Care of One Another,” Democracy Now, April 02, 2010, http:// Accessed




Samantha Bez

on Paul Chan’s

Waiting for Godot in New Orleans



Paul Chan's Waiting for Godot in New

Orleans: A Field Guide 1 arrives on my doorstep

two months late, but any complaints over the

byzantine process of online ordering fall to the

wayside as I tear off the wrapping. The binding

is beautiful and intimidating in its simplicity. I

feel its weight in my hands like a stone dropping

into my stomach. It is a confirmation of my expectations:

the simpler a beauty is, the more formidable

it becomes. The lack of ornamentation

sets me off balance for another reason, however

– one that deals primarily with my understanding

of the nature of art. Looking at the stark blue

covers, I can hear the challenge that would trouble

me for weeks to come in a seminar on social

practice: art isn't at all what you think it is.

My view of art is a common one that has

gone relatively unchallenged during my time as

a student at the College for Creative Studies in

Detroit. When I hear the word "art," I think of museums

and galleries. I think of installations and

performances. I think of very wealthy people

spending millions at auctions. I think of an exclusive

world with its own language and customs

that I neither speak nor understand. When I hear

the word "art," I also think of animation, of advertising,

of comic books, of visual effects. I think of

Hollywood, and I think of people hunched over

computers kerning lines of text. But all of this can

be boiled down to an additive process based on

skills and tradition: drawing well, making a nice

sculpture, creating something that is beautiful

and permanent.

I open the book, and my fingers notice

the cut running down the spine, sharp and clean.

The incision cracks and widens every time I turn

the pages, and I find myself burdened with destructive

power. By reading, by bearing witness

to the documentation of the staging of this performance,

I hasten the inexorable collapse of the

book's structural integrity. I alter the very thing I

am trying to observe.

The difficulties inherent to observation

are sources of conflict throughout the staging

of Waiting for Godot. The book wastes no time in

addressing this struggle, quoting Susan Sontag's

On Photography:

Although the camera is an observation

station, the act of photographing is more than

passive observing. Like sexual voyeurism, it is

a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly,

encouraging whatever is going on to keep

on happening. To take a picture is to have an

interest in things as they are, in the status quo

remaining unchanged (at least for however

long it takes to get a "good" picture), to be in

complicity with whatever makes a subject

interesting, worth photographing – including,

when that is the interest, another person's

pain or misfortune. 2

This phenomenon is not limited to photography,

or even to art. The observer effect, the idea that

observation changes the very thing being observed,

is an integral obstacle in physics, and in

partiuclar quantum mechanics. I am fascinated

by the parallels between the artistic observation

of individuals and the scientific measurement of

fundamental, subatomic particles. Measurement

simply cannot be unaffected by observation –

there is inevitably an impact, one that must be

taken into account in order to understand that

which one is observing and to inform the process

of observation itself. There must be interaction to

have any understanding, even if that understanding

must necessarily be incomplete.

I confess that this was a point of concern

in reading this book. I have seen and heard

countless stories of artists who made no effort

to connect with the places and people

with which their work dealt, who could not see

that the absence of care can have as great an

impact as care itself. The consumers of art are

complicit in this deception. "When the viewer

views The Documentary," says Cauleen Smith,

who filmed the documentary of the making of

Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, "she mistakes

the experience of watching wretchedness for the

experience of having done something to correct

wretchedness." 3 Smith explains that through the


consumption of a work that frames the experience

of the Other, the totality of that experience

is erased. In New Orleans, that frame becomes the

dominant voice in the discourse at the expense

of those who have gone through the experience.

Chan agrees "All of those news images are true in

the sense that they documented facts. But they

may not add up to a truth. And I think a truth,

then, is something much more full-bodied." 4 Art

without care can very easily put distance between

people, reinforce and perpetuate this narrative of

"Otherness," and make future-art-with-care less

worthy of trust.

There is a reason why I see so little care

in art: it is difficult. Waiting for Godot in New Orleans

is an intriguing blend of documentation of

art and art as documentation, and as I read the

book I discover how much work goes into care.

It is not just documentation of the play itself - it

is documentation of the planning of the play, it

is documentation of time, of location, of people.

There are diagrams, schedules, essays, photos,

photocopies of newspaper articles on Katrina,

New Orleans, reviews of the play, and profound

moments of self-reflection. We see that the conceptualization

of the idea, the social interaction

with the local community, and the reflexivity involved

in understanding what such a production

requires, is of paramount importance. The book

that documents the art of process becomes part

of the art itself, participates in the very thing that

it describes. This creates an experience of a work

that is distinct from the work itself, but at the same

time nested inside it - a book about the making

of a book, a matryoshka doll of art within art.

One of the first examples of documentation

I encounter is in the first ten pages of the

book – pages upon pages of scans of newspapers

from the day hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans

and the immediate aftermath, headlines describing

the violence of the event and the desperation

of the people. I see bold, capitalized words

like "catastrophic," "ravage," "ruined," "chaos," and

"despair." On pages 11 and 12, the headlines shift

to "glimmers of hope" and George W. Bush's infamous

belated promises to "fix" the situation.

Photos feature heavily in these articles, and I

move from images of flooding to images of destruction

to images of despairing, displaced people

in New Orleans, mostly black. The last photo

delivers the final punch: it depicts a New York Post

front page of Bush with a white man – not in New

Orleans but in Biloxi, Mississippi – assuring the

man that the federal government was sending

relief. 5 This is one of the first things I see when I

begin the book, and these articles from eight

years ago still evoke anger and sadness. The destruction

feels very present, and it is very present

for many people.

Photos are a major form of documentation

throughout the book. They show the full

process of staging the play. In the first section

we are introduced to brief snatches of images:

grafitti, a crossroads, a man, a FEMA trailer. 6 In the

"Organize" chapter (87-147), however, the photographic

documentation becomes more comprehensive.

The outreach to the community begins

to be depicted through images of Paul Chan's

lectures on contemporary art given at the Unviersity

of New Orleans and Xavier University, rows of

seats filled with students, discussion circles, notetaking.

7 Then the photos move to acting workshops

with community theater groups, open rehearsals,

members of the cast and crew working

with high school students. 8 The last photos in

this chapter are of potluck dinners. 9 The pages fly

by in a sea of faces, serious and laughing and varied,

but with a constant sense of movement and

interaction and exchange. The next section feels

more still, particularly the photos of the "A country

road, a tree, evening" signs next to the quiet

roads. 10 The photos on-site always seem heavy

with emptiness. The photos of the nights of the

actual production, however, are overwhelmingly

filled with noise and action – people dancing,

eating, moving, chatting in their seats, the actors

moving through the stage.


The articles and written content, pulled

from a variety of sources, provide a different sort

of context and insight into the staging of the play.

Kalamu Ya Salaam writes from the perspective of

a resident of New Orleans, specifically the rich

but self-contained subculture of the poor black

residents that one cannot truly understand from

reading newspapers or watching television. 11

There is an article, noticeably reprinted from New

Left Review, by the distinguished literary critic

Terry Eagleton providing biographical and historical

context to Samuel Beckett and Waiting for

Godot. 12 This is followed by a photocopied article

by Alain Badiou. 13 This in turn is immediately followed

by a reprint of Susan Sontag's famous essay

about her own staging of Waiting for Godot

in war-torn Sarajevo in 1993 – documenting (albeit

on a much smaller scale) her experiences in

much the same way that Paul Chan does in this

book. 14 Even reviews of the New Orleans staging

are included – some glowing, some conflicted. 15

The final chapter "Reflect" (273-321) contains

four interviews and thus four different socially

placed positions of reflections on the process of

Waiting for Godot in New Orleans.

The most challenging kind of documentation

for me to describe are the many, many

pages devoted to organization. It is remarkable

to look at, the sheer amount of paper that went

into this play, but it also makes it incredibly personal.

The photos are a more obvious choice for

the most human kind of documentation, however,

I am inclined to give that title to the to-do lists

that are starred and scribbled out and doodled

on. 16 The notes on loose-leaf littered with arrows

and circles and question marks. Bureaucratic applications.

Printed out schedules that are spilled

on, written on, edited, amended. Many, many

maps – photocopied road maps, aerial images

of New Orleans, and, my favorite, roughly drawn

staging plans by Gavin Kroeber. 17 A massive sixpage

list of contacts, organized alphabetically

by name, marking their phone number, organization,

location, category (it leads me to wonder

which named go with which of the photographed

faces). 18 Chan includes his syllabi for his

seminar at the University of New Orleans and the

workshops at the Xavier University. 19 We also see

his schedule for "community and school work." 20

Casting notices. Demoltion signs. Rehearsal

schedules. Advertisements. It goes on. It is overwhelming

to look at, and I cannot help but feel

the weight of the challenge that Chan took on in

doing this. That he even kept all of these loose

sheets of paper is intimidating to a person as disorganized

as me. The only major piece of documentation

absent is, understandably, video of the

play itself, though we await The Fullness of Time,

Cauleen Smith's documentary of the process. 21

The quantity of documentation and its connection

to art is, to me, illustrated by Chan's statement

about the art and politics: "Art is whatever

they looked at or read that gave them the courage

to laugh or think or go on. And the art did

not have to be directly connected to the political

work they were doing." 22 There is a layered, reflexive,

and deeply thoughtful quality to Chan's work

that goes beyond the merely skill-based toiling

that still passes for art in many art schools. Chan's

kind of art, the kind of art practice supported by

Creative Time, sometimes called social practice,

cannot be thought of in such simple-minded

terms. It is art that acknowledges the interaction

necessary to the production of soemthing

worthwhile. It is art that understands the great

responsibility of being trusted with another's

story and experience. Responsibility is intrinsic to

care, and Chan knows this well. When discussing

what aspects of the process have lingered with

him, he states,: "The relationships are the best of

what remains with me. The people I met, became

friends with, and who I'm beholden to. Now I'm

responsible for them, as they are responsible for

me. And I think that's a good thing." 23 This statement

reminds me of Le Petit Prince, in which the

fox tells the prince that it is "the time you have

wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important."

The fox goes on to say, "You become

responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." 24

I would not apply the word "tamed" to the pro-


cess of staging this play, as I dislike its connotations

of dominance, but the message of taking

time to cultivate relationships with the people

around you (and the reciprocal responsibility inherent

in such an act) has the ring of truth. A man

told Paul Chan, "If you want to do this, you got to

spend the dime, and you got to spend the time." 25

As I read, I temporarily manage to keep

the spine from falling apart, but I cannot seem to

allay the discomfort of my crumbling certainty of

what art is. The theme of destruction and impermanence

is laced throughout Waiting for Godot.

Instead of handling the book with greater care,

the threat of ruin only hastens the speed and

recklessness with which I read. The field guide

only challenges me further: "It is fashionable today

(still) to claim that there is nothing new beyond

our horizon of art, that everything worth

doing has been done. But this seems to me an

altogether specious claim, for it ingored the vast

undiscovered country of things that ought to be

undone." 26 "Undoing" is a word I encounter often

as I read the book, but in an unfamiliar context,

imbued with a strange creative potential. 27

This art of social practice strikes a precarious

balance between creation and destruction;

both are necessary, but both are also dangerous.

The stakes are high when work deals so intimately

with one's fellow man. The phrase "creative

destruction" is used in economics to describe

the emergence of new economic orders from the

destruction of previous orders. Art is a tool with

vast power, both to make and to undo, for better

or for worse. The artist, then, must identify what

must be dismantled, what must be built, and how

to achieve it. Waiting for Godot in New Orleans: A

Field Guide certainly demonstrates the amount of

planning, thought, people, time, and money that

the staging of the play required. (And to think that

the 300+ pages are just a sampling of the documentation!

the body of which is now housed in

the archives of the Museum of Modern Art in New

York.) Social practice requires investment, and success

is not guaranteed. It is a daunting prospect.

My fellow students are divided on the

importance of investing such non-technical resources

– care, reciprocity, responsibility, representation

- into their art. Time and money, in a

superficial sense, are always present in the production

of art, but is it enough I think that it's

not. Art all too frequently flattens that which it

is depiction into an easy-to-swallow pill, a onedimensional

narrative meant to please and entertain

instead of challenge. Chan defines beauty's

sole purpose as allowing us "a glimpse of

what is unbearable." 28 Social practice addresses a

uniquely unbearable notion: complexity.

People are naturally resistant to complexity.

Simplification and categorization are a

means of quickly processing our experiences of

the world around us. All of the sensory input,

all of the patterns of social interaction, all of the

situations we encounter, are broken down and

sorted into groups for ease of understanding.

Artists (myself included) and consumers of art

alike struggle ith complexity, particularly of complexity

beyond the scope of our own familiarity.

But humans are greater than the sum of their

parts, as are cities. Chan explains, "The worst

thing in the world is to reduce what it means to

be a human being. To me it means being as complex

as possible." 29 To face complexity is to challenge

one's perception of the world, and that

is a difficult thing to do. It is an act of creative

destruction that changes everybody involved.

Kathy Halbreich and Paul Chan discuss this:

Paul: I know I couldn't be that Paul in

New York who spends fourteen hours in a

studio drawing or making things alone. I

had to be someone else.

Kathy: You had to undo yourself.

Paul: I had to find another road to

Damascus. 30


To make something worthwhile, something

beautiful, Chan was forced to confront himself

and remove himself from what was comfortable,

from the studio. Long before the community outreach,

long before the college lectures, long before

the shadow fund, and long before the play

was staged on the roads of New Orleans, this destructive

artistic process was an internal one.

During the process of reading this book,

I have dealt with a number of internal battles,

the first being how I define art. The other major

conflict is how I define myself as an artist. As a

student studying the very commercial art of 3D

animation, I have been hesitant to consider myself

part of the "art world," a somewhat mythological

place I've never been able to fathom. That

which self-describes as "art" has always seemed

very lofty, very distant from me. I liked the idea

of studying animation because of the motional

connection I was able to make with it early on in

my life – but perhaps that reasoning was an act

of conceit. When I look at the art of social practice,

so deeply rooted in interpersonal relationships

and the sharing of experiences, animation

and other forms of commercial art become just

as lofty and distant as the installations in galleries

or performance-based pieces. It is possible

that the difference between social practice and

other forms of art is not the medium of the final

product, but the process. Exchange the play with

a mural, or a film, or a photograph, or a song, and

the impact would remain more or less the same –

it is the conceptualization, the organization of resources,

the outreach, which is the real art of social

practice. It is firmly based in the involvement

of the community, the location, and the people.

It does not simply frame and package an experience

for public consumption; it is participation

in the experience itself. It is transcendence of the


Transcendence is an idea that pops up

frequently in Waiting for Godot. The landscape

of New Orleans is repeatedly described in terms

that evoke a sense of surreal science fiction,

but Chan asserts that his work deals with this

reality. Instead of "otherwordly," he aims to make

things that are "unwordly," things with their "own

innder shape." 31 This, in some ways, mirrors Michel

Foucault's concept of "heterotopia," spaces

of otherness that are both real and unreal. 32

The sites of the play, where the audience came

together to eat and watch the performances,

were heterotopias. The stages where the play

was performed were heterotopias within a heterotopia,

as were the risers where the audience

experienced the play. Chan created transient heterotopic

spaces where art could take place. But

it doesn't simply deal with in-between spaces,

it also deals with in-between times. Chan's artist

statement reads, "The longing for the new

is a reminder of what is worth renewing." 33 This

ambiguity in time is echoed as Chan effortlessly

tosses out a Faulkner quote mid-interview: "The

past is never dead. It's not even past." 34 When

Kathy Halbreich describes his work as utopic,

he quickly contradicts her: despite the "otherness"

of the experience, it was firmly rooted

in reality. 35 There was no vision of a perfected

society, which cannot exist in any real space.

After finishing this Field Guide and putting

some distance between it and myself, I find that

I'm less conflicted than when I began reading. Art

is far more massive a topic than I had previously

imagined, but I'm not as disturbed by this fact as

I once was – it's actually quite exciting. Stories

about borders and in-between places have always

been the ones I find most compelling, and

social practice sits comfortably on the boundary

between art and activism. As somebody who has

always felt pulled in many directions (law school,

journalism, art), it no longer overwhelms me to

imagine art, as powerful as it is, as similarly multilayered.

Embracing the complexity of humanity

requires one to understand the art humanity

creates as equally complex. I love how collaborative

social practice is, how rooted it is in space

and time, how introspective it is, how it makes

care (of people, of places, etc.) a priority. But this

is a kind of art than cannot be done alone – by

nature it requires like-minded people who are


willing to "spend the dime, spend the time." In

Detroit, I am beginning to see such people. But

at school Not yet. My cracked book in hand, like

Didi and Gogo in Beckett's great play, I wait.



The colophon for this book reads: "Waiting for Godot in

New Orleans: A Field Guide. This publication was prepared

on the occasion of Waiting for Godot in New Orleans: A play

in two acts, a project in three parts, by Paul Chan." (New York:

Creative Time, 2010), 337.


Susan Sontag, quoted in Waiting for Godot: A Field Guide,

ed. Paul Chan (New York: Creative Time), 38.


Cauleen Smith, "Constellations Around the Making of The

Fullness of Time," in Chan, Waiting, 249.


"Undoing: A Conversation between Kathy Halbreich and

Paul Chan," in Chan, Waiting, 307.


Cf. Chan, Waiting, 12.


Cf. Chan, Waiting, 17-19.


Cf. Chan, Waiting, 109-115.


Cf. Chan, Waiting, 120-133.


Cf. Chan, Waiting, 134-137.


Cf. Chan, Waiting, 152-160, 168-169, 174-177, 180-185.


Cf. Waiting, 13.


Cf. Terry Eagleton, "Political Beckett" in Chan, Waiting,



Alain Badiou, "What Happens," in Chan, Waiting, 63-66.


Cf. Susan Sontag, "Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo," in

Chan, Waiting, 66-106.


Cf. David Cuthbert, "Godot is Great (The Times-Pacayune,

November 6, 2007)," in Chan, Waiting, 214-217; Anne Gisleson,

"That Tree, that Levee," in Chan, Waiting, 233-238;

Andrea Boll, "Puking my Puke of a Like (NOLAFugees.

com, November 20, 2007)," in Chan, Waiting, 239-241, and

Jed Horne, "Is New Orleans Waiting for Godot (The Huffington

Post, November 14, 2007)," in Chan, Waiting, 242-



Cf. Chan, Waiting, 90.


Cf. "Drawing for staging Gentilly Godot by Gavin Kroeber,

2007," in Chan, Waiting, 162.


Cf. "New Orleans Contact Sheet," in Chan, Waiting, 100-




Cf. Chan, Waiting, 108, 112.


Cf. Chan, "schedules," Waiting, 117-119.


Here, cf. "Film," in Chan, Waiting, 245-272.


"Undoing: A Conversation between Kathy Halbreich and

Paul Chan," 319.


"Undoing: A Conversation between Kathy Halbreich and

Paul Chan," 311.


Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Le Petit Prince (New York: Harcourt,

1943), 87-88.


Chan, "Waiting for Godot in New Orleans: An Artist Statement,"

Waiting, 27.


Chan, "Waiting for Godot in New Orleans. An Artist Statement,"



In the seminar Care of the City: Detroit from Winter 2013

(taught by Michael Stone-Richards at CCS), one learned of

Maurice Blanchot's term désoeuvrement which can variously

be translated as unworking, undoing. In recent architecture

theory of the 1990s there was much talk of unbuilding

or undoing as an architechtural activity. See Dan Hoffamn's

"Erasing Detroit" in this issue of Detroit Research. In emphasizing

the work of the negative in un-doing, Chan's work

can be situated in these critical discourses.


"Undoing: A Conversation between Kathy Halbreich and

Paul Chan," 315.


Paul Chan, quoted in Lolis Eric Elie, "Bringing the Corner

back to Life, The Times-Picayune (October 29, 2007)," in

Chan, Waiting, 187.


"Undoing: A Conversation between Kathy Halbreich and

Paul Chan," 317.


"Undoing: A Conversation between Kathy Halbreich and

Paul Chan," 312.


Cf. Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," Architecture, Mouvement,

Continuité, 1984, accessed April 12, 2013, http://


Chan, "Waiting for Godot in New Orleans: An Artist Statement,"



"Undoing: A Conversation between Kathy Halbreich and

Paul Chan," 317.


Cf. "Undoing: A Conversation between Kathy Halbreich

and Paul Chan," 313.




From the filmed archives of the Media Service of the INS

(Immigration and Nationalization Service), used in Chantal Akerman, De l’autre côté, 2003.



Notes on Biopolitics.

On a posthumously published text by Guy Debord

Michael Stone-Richards

What’s yet in this that bear’st the name of life

Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act. III, scene 1.

Probably the most disquieting aspect of Debord’s books is the fact that history seems to

have committed itself to relentlessly confirm their analyses.

Giorgio Agamben, “Marginal Notes on the Society of the Spectacle.” 1


Wherever we turn in the thinking of the art-life

nexus or practice the name of Guy Debord

or the Internationale situationniste cannot

easily be avoided. The recent publication of

Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells: Participatory

Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (2012),

a study in the genealogy of social practice /

participatory art, bears out the omnipresence

of the name of Debord. Mapping Dérive

The image of the city Commodification Repurposing

(the poor man’s détournment)

Ecology and representation in the terms of a

sick planet The ethics and politics of time,

indeed, an anthropology of time The role of

secrecy / disinformation in the formation and

maintenance of ignorance The sense of a

politics of loss Most, if not all, of the terms

of thought in contemporary advanced art and

theory of representation find themselves at

the least genealogically anchored in Debord’s

formulations. Even as Debord’s much misunderstood

language of failure and pessimism

comes more and more to be acknowledged

– and in many quarters deeply resented – it

still remains that his name, and the practices

long associated with it, cannot escape invocation,

whence Claire Bishop, at the very

opening of chapter 1 of her Artificial Hells:

A recurrent set of theoretical reference

points governs the current literature onparticipatory

and collaborative art: Walter

Benjamin, Michel de Certeau, the Situationist

International, Paulo Freire, Deleuze and

Guattari, and Hakim Bey,to name just a

few. Among these, the most frequently cited

is the French filmmaker and writer Guy

Debord, for his indictment of the alienating

and divisive effects of capitalism in The Society

of the Spectacle (1967), and for his

theorisation of collectively produced ‘situations’.

For many artists and curators on the

left, Debord’s critique strikes to the heart of

why participation is important as a project: it

rehumanises a society rendered numb and

fragmented by the repressive instrumentality

of capitalist production. 2

Bishop is correct in her assessment of the

extent to which Debord’s formulations have

become terms of reference, even reflexes for

many contemporary art theorists and practitioners,

but the problem, which she herself does

not address, is that the Debord of contemporary

art imaginary is in any case deeply misread, curiously

dated, almost something preserved in

aspic, a nostalgia for revolutionary enthusiasm.



The publication in 1988 of Debord’s

Commentaires sur la Société du spectacle

made clear that Debord still held to the theses

of the La Société du spectacle, the central

argument of which states that social relations

are mediated by images in such a way that the

structuring of representation takes on a (spectral)

life of its own, deriving its energies from a

life increasingly unknown to itself, culminating

in an autonomy not merely of image but of the

commodity (form) always doubling with that on

which it feeds:

The individual whom this impoverished





whom this



marked in


depth, and


more than








depth, and




than any







ning becomes

of his formation,



in the






the established

becomes placed




the service

as his sub



















the contrary

was able

of such

to be com

an out


come. 3 the contrary of such an out

come. 3

The Commentary deepens the connection between

Commentary spectacle, image, deepens and the commodity connection in be-



tween direction spectacle, of life itself, image, its and impoverishment commodity in and the

direction endangerment: of life itself, its impoverishment and


The spectacle does not conceal that certain

dangers surround the marvelous order

which it has established. The pollution

of oceans and the destruction of equatorial

forests threaten the renewal of oxygen

for the Earth; its ozone layer scarcely

resists industrial progress; radiations of

nuclear origin accumulate irreversibly.

The spectacle simply concludes that this

is without importance. (Commentaires,


The most significant development in Debord’s

thought since The Society of the Spectacle is

the clearer emergence of a Biopolitical dimension

always implicit in his thinking. 4 Though

there are many sources for the development

– in Hans Jonas, in Hannah Arendt, for example

– Michel Foucault can rightly be taken as

the figure who has formulated the terms of a

development of the critical theory of late modernity

/ neo-liberalism in terms of Biopolitics.

This was the project of Foucault’s late work,

that is, the lectures of the Collège de France.

When Foucault comes to define the Biopolitical,

it is part of his argument that the distinctiveness

of late modernity, as this emerges

from Enlightenment forms, is decisively not

the power over death – the prerogative and

core of classical notions of sovereignty - but

rather a set of interlocking systems of knowledge

and power (the development of the life

sciences, for example, such demography, anthropology,

social science, improved medicalclinical

care) which bear upon life itself:

It appears to me that one of the fundamental

phenomena of the 19th-century

has been what one could call the taking

into account of life by power: if you

wish, an assumption of power [une

prise de pouvoir] over man qua living

being, a sort of nationalization by the

state [etatisation] of the biological.


The development of the new knowledges of

the social goes hand-in-hand with new a new

technique / technology which addresses directly

“the life of men, or further, if you wish,

[this new technique of non-disciplinary power]

addresses itself not to the body-man, but to

living man, to man the living being; at the limit,

if you wish, to species-man. (Cours, 216.)

A necessary implication of these techniques

applied to life, to what is living in man, is the

standardization or normalization of forms to facilitate

the accessibility and expansion of such

techniques, hence as (human) beings become

standardized life itself becomes shaped

by this process of technical and technological

standardization, by the statistical which is the


method for study not of the individual (thing

or item) but of populations (regularities as distributed

over large groups): “It’s at that moment,

in any case, that the statistical measure

of these phenomena along with their first demographies

begins to be put to work.” (Cours,

216.) For Foucault, modernity is precisely this

situation in which “For undoubtedly the first in

history, the biological becomes thought with

the political [se réfléchit dans le politique]; the

fact of living is no longer this inaccessible underground

which only emerges from time to

time, in the hasards of death and its fatality;

for one thing it passes into the controlling field

of knowledge and the intervention of power.” 6

Here Foucault makes the internal connection

between a new conception of history and a

new conception of the political for the comprehension

of modernity (and subsequently the

age of neo-liberalism):

If one can call “bio-history” the pressures

by which the movements of life

and the processes of history inter

fere with each other, it would be nec

essary to speak of the “bio-political” in

order to designate that which makes

life and its mechanisms enter into the

domain of explicit calculations

and makes of knowledge-power

an agent of the transformation of

human life. (L’Histoire de la sexualité,


Henceforth “man” is no longer, according to

the Aristotelian formula, a speaking, rational

animal capable of a political existence; rather,

“modern man is an animal in whose politics

his life of being alive is in question.” (L’Histoire

de la sexualité, 188.) It is not sovereignty or

even the development of the State which defines

the distinctively modern on Foucault’s

account, but rather the development of a technology

centered upon life itself (L’Histoire de

la sexualité, 190) in such a way that agency

will progressively move away from subjects

and even States and into technology itself now

become part of complex networks beyond the

control of the State. The spread of technological

agency beyond the control of the State

will at first be associated with forms of outlaw

practice and para-State entities – multi-nationals,

say, but also mafias and cartels of all sorts

– but eventually the distinctions between State

and para-State actors will become blurred or

non-existent (something which has long been

the case in any situation in which the extraordinary

doctrine of “national security” is invoked)

as actions more and more bear on the control

and exploitation of life as made possible by

technological capacity and projection and the

conception of life as a resource – whether in in

terms of human labor/energy, genetic manipulation,

or ownership of nature. “For undoubtedly

the first in history, the biological becomes

thought with the political [se réfléchit dans le

politique]; the fact of living is no longer this inaccessible

underground which only emerges

from time to time […]; it passes into the controlling

field of knowledge and the intervention

of power.” (L’Histoire de la sexualité, 187.) In

this conception of the late modern, politics are

no longer about the struggle over the distribution

of resources within even a notional sovereignty

of the people, rather, the political has

become the network of power through which

instrumentality over life itself is exercised, but

this is not a care of life but a politics over life

- “For undoubtedly the first time in history, the

biological becomes thought with the political

[se réfléchit dans le politique]” - in which life

itself is endangered and uniquely so by man.

There are many areas where Debord and Foucault

disagreed but on this point of the new

way in which life itself is endangered by a new

conception of the political they are fundamentally

in accord.



In a quite extraordinary text – a set of “Notes

pour Mezioud” 7 – on the problem of immigrants

and immigration in France, or rather,

the discourse on immigrants and immigration,

from 1985 posthumously published in 2006,

Debord makes clear the implicit connection

between pollution and spectacle in the production

of waste: the pollution that makes

waste of the earth is structurally equivalent to

the pollution that turns human lives to waste. 8

Immigrants are the waste of the contemporary

world order. Here is how Debord puts it:

Like the wastes of the atomic industry

or oil in the Ocean – and here the

thresholds of intolerance are being de

fined less and less “scientifically” –

immigrants, products of the same ad

ministration of modern capitalism, will

remain for centuries, for millennia, al

ways. 9

Immigrants, then, cannot be expulsed or got

rid of – there is, in other words, a politics of visibility

at work here: we try to hide that on which

we have come to develop a dependence, fail

to acknowledge what we have made resistant

presence in our midst, whose expulsed

absence allows us to feel more than simply a

part or moment of larger autonomous structures

(“products of the same administration of

modern capitalism”). But what is the function

of the contemporary immigrant – the sanspapiers,

as they are called in France, or the

undocumented as they are called in the United

States – this is Debord’s question. The usual

way of addressing the question of “immigration”

is one in which, says Debord, “One discusses

nothing but idiocies. Should we keep

or eliminate immigrants […] Should we,

then, assimilate them or “respect cultural diversities””

(“Notes,” 1588.) These questions

may sound pragmatic, even legitimate though

harsh, but, argues Debord in his “Notes pour

Mezioud,” they are specious, indeed, idiocies

which serve only to conceal the gravity and

near uselessness of the situation. How can

there be talk of assimilation – whether for or

against – when it is no longer possible to assimilate

since the model upon which assimilation

was predicated is no longer viable, for it is

not only immigrants (or refugees) who are excluded:

“We can no longer assimilate anyone

[personne]. Not youth, nor French workers, not

even provincials or old ethnic minorities (Corsicans,

Bretons, etc.).” (“Notes,” 1588.) (Debord’s

argument, it should be clear, is a structural argument

about the effects of late capitalism and

so it should be easy to fill in our own examples

of excluded youth, of Native American reservations

(or are they sovereign nations), or the

long-term unemployed who, as it is said in the

monthly unemployment statistics in the United

States, have been so long unemployed they

no longer figure in the statistics because they

have given up looking for work and as a result

become unassimilable to society.)

Debord gives a singular – and fascinating – reason

as to why the very idea of assimilation is

no longer viable as a national or cultural model

for the creation and transmission of identity:

it is because “Paris, destroyed city, 10 has lost

its historic role which was to make Frenchmen.”

(“Notes,” 1588.) We might understand

this statement, that “Paris, destroyed city [or,

devastated city], has lost its historic role which

was to make Frenchmen” by considering the

famous statement made by Massimo Taparelli,

Marquis d’Azeglio, upon the creation of the nation

of Italy in 1861: “L’Italia è fatta. Restano da

fare gli italiani,” which has come to be known

in the following translation: We have made Italy,

now we must make Italians. Consider, for

a moment, the question, How are Americans

made and the answer to this question, one

in which the Detroit of Fordism plays a central

role historically, cannot but be along the

lines of: The creation of the middle class is the

way in which America made out of many one.


In short, Americans were made by the creation

of a middle class. There is no city in America

whose structural and cultural role is even

vaguely comparable to Paris; there is no author

– no Dante, say – who functioned as a

symbol of the importance of the vernacular

language in national identity-formation, hence

the fact that to this day there is not – and there

is no need for – a Homer, a Virgil, a Dante,

a Shakespeare, a Racine, a Cervantes (for

Castilian, not Spanish), a Goethe, a Mickiewiecz,

a Mácha, that is, a National Writer, in the

United States of America. In the United States

of America, more decentralized than any European

country with the possible exception

of Germany, no city, no language played the

role of bonding agent in the creation of national

identity, for that role was taken by The

American Dream, or, the creation of the middle

classes. With the collapse of the industries

for the creation of a middle class - Detroit and

every other post-Industrial city – and the difficulties

in maintaining the myth of the middle

class in the face of increasing inequalities it

becomes ever easier to see that the middle

class, that invention of the modern world and

the nation-state, in other words, a form of life

of very recent invention, may have reached its

end, may be dying. The crisis of America is, in

other words, the crisis represented by the inability

to sustain the middle classes and with

it a certain idea of America. It is in this context

that the (victimized) immigrant becomes, in

Debord’s telling characterization, the figure of

dispossession in a society and a world of dispossession,

wherever the conditions of modern

production prevail, that is, the society of

the spectacle:

Immigrants have the perfect right

to live in France. They are the representatives

of dispossession; and dispossession

is at home in France, so long

as it is in the majority, and almost universal.

Notoriously, immigrants have lost

their culture and their country, without

being able to find others. And the

French are in the same situation, and

scarcely more secretly. (“Notes,” 1592.)

(A not dissimilar point is made by Hannah

Arendt in her final interview, given in 1973 to

French television, when her interviewer Roger

Errera asked her: “What does it mean for Jews

to be assimilated into American society,” to

which she replied: “Would you kindly tell me to

what the Jews should assimilate here To the

English To the Irish To the Germans To the

French To the … you know, whoever came

here” 11 ) On this line of argument – which can

be found in the work of a Zygmunt Bauman or

an Agamben and many whose development in

Critical Theory extends to Biopolitics - the immigrant

is the figure of what will become the

norm in the near future of a world where power

and technology are centered upon life as a resource

for the grand narrative of the middle

class has run its course and may no longer

be viable. To grasp the way in which the immigrant

may be the figure of dispossession in

a near future, we need only consider that all

of the practices of control which are at first exercised

and perfected upon marginal groups

– immigrant specific laws, refugee laws, but

think, too, the Patriot Act for terrorists – will

eventually move to the center and, having being

tried out and perfected, become the norm

(think, again, the Patriot Act and the NSA spying

on American and world communications at

every level in part simply because the technology

makes it possible so to do even as the individuals

who run the NSA do not yet have the

capacity to use all the information which their

systems can capture).

The unassimilable – the unemployed, youth,

no less than immigrants – is the figure of dispossession

within a society and a culture in

decomposition as Debord uses this Situationist

term ("Notes," 1590) and as such it is a


society prone to sudden explosions: “Thus

its décor everywhere becomes inflammable

like a high school in France [comme un collège

en France].” (“Notes,” 1590.) Barely

twenty years after writing these words, in October-November

of 2005, France, Republican

France, France laïque (secular), color-blind

France where it is illegal for government research

to ask racial questions or collect data

based upon race, would be traumatized by the

spontaneous outbreak of urban violence and

arsons in the blue-collar outskirts of Paris (the

banlieues) started by the unassimilable youth

from a “collège [high school] en France,” second-generation

immigrants. 12


Guy Debord committed suicide in November

1994. Before his death, he had carefully prepared

for transmission all areas of his life which

mattered to him: works which previously had

been copyright-free were brought into copyright

to be controlled by his wife Alice Debord;

henceforth Gallimard would be the house responsible

for the publication of his works; his

archives were organized, etc. One thing that

he also undertook was to co-operate with the

film-maker Brigitte Cornand in the making of

a documentary of the life, Guy Debord: Son

art, son temps, by agreement to be screened

after his death, which it was in January, 1995.

One of the most powerful, troubling, and disturbing

parts of the film is an approximately

nine minute section showing the rampant, utterly

depressing illiteracy of the French school

system (the “collège en France”) in the banlieues

(outskirts) of Paris. 13 Female students

of African and Islamic descent cannot readily

say that a novel by Zola – Au Bonheur des

Dames! –published in 1883 means that it was

published in the nineteenth-century. When

asked by the instructor what century this

would be one student – whilst others play with

their hair – responds, “Oh là là!” as if this might

be a problem in higher mathematics. And it is

downhill all the way from there as the film deploys

documentary footage of the decomposition

into violence of the public school system

of the banlieues (a homemade bomb is set off

in one school, for example) – as the voice over

says at one point: in the mid-nineteen eighties

Parisian schools were safe, “Since then

the violence of the street has entered into the

school,” and “the violence of the language of

the street has entered into the school.” 14 At the

end of this extended passage of the learning

of illiteracy – “The French [send their children

to school] to learn illiteracy,” wrote Debord in

the “Notes pour Mezioud” in a context that is

not racialized (“Notes,” 1591) – there appears

an inter-title evidently composed by Debord

(and not Cornand) which says that the preceding

documentation illustrates with exactness

Hobbes’ great saying about life before and

outside civilization and the state: solitary, dirty,

bereft of pleasures, brutish, and short. 15

To say that this scene from Guy Debord: Son

art, son temps has occasioned controversy

would be an understatement. There are those

who believe that this passage of film demonstrates

Debord’s elitism, even racism. Of

course, it does nothing of the kind. There are

formal, diagetic, and intertextual factors to consider

in understanding what is being performed

with this passage of film on the decomposition

of education in a “collège en France.” First,

it is a détournement, found footage that has

been re-presented within a new framework in

film, which Debord had long believed was the

most effective medium for détournement: “It

is obviously in the cinematic framework that

détournement can attain its greatest efficacity,

and without doubt, for those occupied by the

matter, also its greatest beauty.” 16 More specifically,

the found footage is not an example

of what Debord and Wolman, in their earliest

conception of the practice of détournement,

called détournement mineur, that is, where the


F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, 1921. Public domain.


détournement “is the détournement of an element

which has no particular importance”; 17

instead, this re-use of the found footage is an

example of “Abusive détournement […] when

an element significant in itself is the target (fait

l’objet); the element which will draw from the

new rapprochement a different significance.” 18

What, though, is the different significance to

which this found footage is put in Guy Debord:

Son art, son temps It is assuredly a cruel

representation, but the cruelty resides not in

the intention of the author but within the originating

social complex captured in the used

footage. Where the original footage is meant

clearly to show the sorry state of the school

system in the banlieues where teachers are

threatened, bombs are set off, guns carried to

schools, where sexually aggressive and violent

messages are left on the answerphones

of female teachers, where, in short “the violence

of the language of the street has entered

into the school,” as a means of generating

identification with the plight of the teaching

profession, Guy Debord: Son art, son temps

re-directs the significance elsewhere. This is a

classroom scene, a genre that has a key role

within modernist and avant-garde sensibility in

Mallarmé, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meulnes

(1913), in the Dada and Surrealist iconography

of Max Ernst, André Breton, and a painter

such as Toyen, but especially so in the work

of Lautréamont, 19 for the classroom is not

only the space of inculcation, it is the space of

childhood and in modernist and avant-garde

thought it is a privileged space for the figuration

of the growth of sensibility as childhood

develops into self-awareness, spiritual growth

with the birth of new capacities, desires and

symbolization, and eventually the loss of the

condition of childhood through separation.

The youth depicted in the film passage under

discussion is astonishing for its absences – of

innocence, security, and childhood 20 – which

precede its arrival in the classroom, hence,

again, in the “Notes pour Mezioud,” Debord

observes, again in a context that is not racialized,

that “The ghetto of the new spectacular

apartheid (not the local, folkloric version of

South Africa) is already here, in contemporary

France: the immense majority of the population

finds itself there enclosed and brutalized;

and everything would happen the same even

if there were not a single immigrant.” (“Notes,”

1591) And here is how Debord argues that the

violence of the new form of childhood marked

by dispossession precedes and is carried into

the classroom:

The French can no longer bear their

children. They send them to school

from the age of three, and until they are

at least sixteen, in order to learn illiteracy.

And before they may be three,

more and more numerous are the

people who find children “unbearable”

and hit them with a greater or lesser degree

of violence. (“Notes,” 1591.)

The original footage from which Guy Debord:

Son art, son temps derives this classroom

scene would make it seem that the problem of

the French school system is the fault of, due

to the presence of, immigrants, but the same

footage détourned shows the immigrant children

as bouc-émisaires, that is, scapegoats.

There is a telling passage in Mezioud’s book

Le Cauchemar immigré dans la décomposition

de la France – the Mezioud for whom Debord

wrote his “Notes pour Mezioud” – which could

function as subtitles to the nine minutes of footage

used in Guy Debord: Son Art, son temps. I

quote Mezioud in extenso:

There is a quite widespread opinion

which would attribute the breakdown of

teaching in France to a too strong presence

of immigrant children in the

schools. These children are generally

thought of as congenitally feeble and

who inconvenience the overall


functioning academic institution at all

“levels.” In a word, immigrants not only

steal the livelihood of the French; by

a kind of contamination, they permanently

condemn the French to certain

mental regression. But one need only

consider what songs French youth listen

to; what religious sects infinitely

more ridiculous than Islam for which it

is a source of adepts; indeed, to what

Ministries this youth must submit teaching

reforms and counter-reforms in order

to comprehend and clearly see

who is responsible for so many ravages,

without immigrants – even if some

people wished it – from near or far being

brought into the mix. Or, if they are

brought into the mix, it is to the same

extent as French youth, as victims. 21

It is no longer, if ever it was, a loss and dispossession

uniquely typical of the immigrant experience.

It is a loss shared by many, indeed,

all on Debord’s argument. The type of political

thinking required to make sense of this condition,

though, can no longer be classical politics

but a thinking of the Biopolitical, hence in

“La Planète malade” (1971) Debord speaks of

“The period which has all the technical means

to alter absolutely the conditions of life over all

the Earth” 22 being also a period in which there

is a radical narrowing of political choices:

Concerning an environment, whether

“natural” or constructed, of natality, of

biology, of production, of “madness,”

etc. the choice will not be between joy

and sorrow [la fête et le malheur] but,

consciously and at every intersection,

between, on the one hand, a thousand

happy or disastrous possibilities relatively

corrigible, and, on the other hand,

nothing. The terrible choices of the

near future leave this one alternative:

total democracy or total bureaucracy.

(“La Planète malade," 1069.)

The immigrant is the figure of this Biopolitical

near future. 23


In 2009, the French director Jean-Paule Lilienfeld

made a film, Journée de la jupe (American

Skirt Day), starring the incomparable Isabelle

Adjani as Sonia Bergerac a high-school teacher

“dans un collège ‘difficile’ (in a ‘difficult’ high

school)” in which the class cannot and will not

be taught. When a gun drops from the bag of

one of the students she quickly takes it and

holds the class hostage saying, “On va pouvoir

faire un cours (We are going to be able to have

a class),” gun in one hand and Molière in the

other. She is also on the edge of a nervous

breakdown. The film caused a furore in its aim,

as Isabelle Adjani put it in an interview, “to render

visible what one does not wish to accept

as existing.” The practice of détournement can

be grasped in this context as part of a practice,

an ethic and politics of visibility where immigrants

would be made scapegoats and invisible

in their alterity. The figure of this alterity, of

this falling below the threshold of visibility, of

personhood, has been conveyed with an unsurpassed

power, intelligence and pathos in

the Belgian film-maker Chantal Akerman’s film

De l’autre côté (From the Other Side), 2003,

through a stunning use of détournement.

Concentrating on the border crossing between

Arizona and Mexico, Akerman’s De l’autre côté

is a slow series of interviews in which an unmoving

camera concentrates on the faces and

seated bodies of immigrants – mothers, grandmothers,

sons, fathers, both in Mexico and

Arizona – who are invited to tell their stories

with minimal interference from an off-screen

Akerman. A film could not be more austere yet


pregnant with the poetry of silences and empti

ness in landscapes and lives. The quiet sense

of proleptic tension which is characteristic of

Akerman’s film aesthetic finally finds its form

– figural, symbolic, and anthropological – in an

extended scene of found footage. The found

footage comes from the filmed archives of the

Media Service of the INS (Immigration and Nationalization

Service). Shot in black and white

night vision it shows an INS helicopter pilot

surveying the border landscape. His camera,

with crosshairs, moves unevenly, when suddenly,

rapidly, jerkily it turns back upon itself

and there we see what was there all along but

which had passed unnoticed: a line, a long line

of (white) ghosts moving slowly, painfully slowly

across the landscape in gleaming negative

white and black. The pilot lets out a scream of

delight – that is the mark of the spontaneous

– and recognition, matching the equal recognition

of the viewer (in startled shock), and lets

his camera linger over this undulating line of

ghosts. The scene is shocking and moving –

here, you think, is as clear an example of the

logic of (in)-visibility at play – but it becomes

affectively stunning as it dawns on one that

what the scene evokes simultaneously is another

great moment of negative in film history,

namely, the moment in F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu

(1921) where the carriage drivers, taking

their mortal passenger to the meet Nosferatu

the vampire, arrive at the bridge, 24 the place of

transition and passage, and say to their passenger:

“We will go no further. Here begins

the land of phantoms.” And as the passenger

is met by Nosferatu’s carriage the movement

into the land of phantoms, the movement to

the other side, is conveyed through a landscape

effulgent in negative light as almost to

suggest acoustic qualities. Not only are the

ghosts and vampire figures of alterity, the

landscape, too, the territory, is an estate of

alterity. Such a re-cognition is not, however,

the preserve of film-makers of the caliber of

Debord or Akerman. In a recent article by Rory

Carroll in the London Guardian on American

immigration, we learn of one Crisanta Ramos,

a mother of three, from Guatemala who, “[after

the death by drowning of her partner Benjamin

Roldan Salinas], was granted provisional

permission to stay [in the United States]. But

she felt haunted.” Estanislao Matias, a twenty

four year old Guatamalan, undocumented immigrant

in the United States, is quoted by Carroll

as saying that “In our imagination we think

of the marvels awaiting us. That’s why we risk

everything to come.” But, concludes Matias,

“It was like a horror movie.” 25

Behind us, beyond us now

is phantom territory.

Robert Hayden, “Travelling through Fog”




Giorgio Agamben, “Marginal Notes on the Society

of the Spectacle,” Means without End: Notes

on Politics, trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare

Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

Press, 2000), 80.


Claire Bishop, “The Social Turn: Collaboration

and Its Discontents,” Artificial Hells: Participatory

Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso,

2012), 11.


Guy Debord, Commentaires sur la Société du

spectacle, XI (Paris: Gallimard, 2006). Roman numerals

refer not to page numbers but to Debord’s

numbered commentaries.


Cf. Guy Debord, “La Planète malade” (originally

intended for what would have been volume 13 of

the Internationale situationniste) in Guy Debord,

Oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard, 2006), 1063-1069, and

“Abat-faim” (1985, Oeuvres, 1582-1587. In each

of these works, and increasingly in Debord’s work

from 1969 onward, the relations among technology,

life, food, and pollution become more insistent.


Michel Foucault, Il faut défendre la société :

Cours au Collège de France, 1975-1976 (Paris :

Gallimard, Seuil, 1997), 213.


Michael Foucault, “Droit de mort et pouvoir sur la

vie,” L’Histoire de la sexualité, vol. 1. La Volonté

de savoir (Paris : Gallimard, 1976), 187.


Guy Debord, “Notes sur la «question des immigrés»:

Notes pour Mezioud,” Oeuvres (Paris: Gallimard,

2006), 1588-1592. Mezioud is Mezioud

Ouldhammer, Le Cauchemar immigré dans la décomposition

de la France (Paris: Editions Gérard

Lebovici, 1986). An English translation of Debord’s

“Notes” is available as “Notes on the ‘immigrant



On this thinking of human lives in late modernity

as waste, cf. Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives:

Modernity and its Outcasts (Cambridge, Mass.:

Polity, 2003).


Guy Debord, “ Notes sur la «question des immigrés,»

Œuvres, 1588.


It is in his Panégyrique (Paris: Gallimard, 1993)

that Debord reveals his admiration for Louis Chevalier’s

L’Assassinat de Paris (1977).


Hannah Arendt, “The Last Interview,” The Last

Interview and Other Conversations (Brooklyn and

London: Melville House, 2013), 127.


Here are the opening two sentences to the Wikipedia

entry for “2005 French riots”: “In October

and November 2005, a series of riots by mainly

Arab, North African, and black French secondgeneration

immigrants occurred in the suburbs

of Paris and other French cities,[1][2] involving

mainly the burning of cars and public buildings at

night starting on 27 October 2005 in Clichy-sous-

Bois. Events spread to poor housing projects (the

cités HLM) in various parts of France.” http:// accssed

5-11-14. Cf. Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, La Psychose

française: Les banlieues: le ban de la République

(Paris : Gallimard, 2006).


This extract of Guy Debord: son art, son temps

can be viewed at YouTube:



Here Agamben’s observation that the spectacle

is language is utterly correct. “It is evident, after all,

that the spectacle is language, the very communicativity

and linguistic being of humans.” Agamben,

“Marginal Notes on the Society of the Spectacle,”



Here I translate back from the French of Debord.


Guy-Ernest Debord and Gil. J. Wolman, “Mode

d’emploi du détournement,” Les Lèvres nues, no.

8 (May 1956) :6.


Debord and Wolman, “Mode d’emploi du détournement,”





Debord and Wolman, “Mode d’emploi du détournement,”

4. My emphasis.


On the significance of the classroom in Lautréamont,

cf. Gaston Bachelard, Lautréamont (Paris:

José Corti, 1989). Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée

(1982) in its opening pages – like Alain-Fournier’s

Le Grand Meulnes – is a fully self-conscious

assumption and exploration of the topos of the

classroom, one of the most powerful in recent late

modernist writing.

Lee Boggs School where a new experiment in

education for Detroit children has begun.


In 1936 Yves Tanguy would construct a Surrealist

object bearing the title De l’autre côté du pont,

clearly inspired by Nosferatu.


Cf. Rory Carroll, “ ‘It was like a horror movie’

– The undocumented Latinos living in fear,” The

Guardian, 4-9-14.


At Culture Lab Detroit in April 2014, an audience

member asked the panel (Theaster Gates, David

Adjaye, and the Campano brothers) how, in terms

of Social Practice, humanity, one may address

children who live in and must daily walk through

landscapes of blight, ugliness, and violence. With

great tact and subtlety, Theaster Gates took up the

question and re-formulated it in terms of environments

of psychic trauma. This is how Guy Debord:

Son art, son temps looks at the schools of Paris.


Mezioud Ouldamer, « Les Immigrés existent,

tout le monde les a rencontré, » Le Cauchemar immigré

dans la décomposition de la France (Paris:

Editions Gérard Lebovici, 1986), 85. My emphasis.


Guy Debord, “La Planète malade,” Œuvres,



From a school system predicated upon wasted

lives to the prison-industrial system for the warehousing

of wasted lives is a logical step, as Grace

Lee Boggs, amongst many, recognizes, when she

speaks of “the cancerous growth of the prison industry”

and how “prisons clearly serve as warehouses

for the millions whom capitalism has made

expendable.” Grace Lee Boggs, “Let’s talk about

Malcolm and Martin,” The Next American Revolution:

Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First

Century (Berkeley: University of California Press,

2011), 104. On the need and possibility of new

forms of schooling, cf. Boggs, “Detroit, Place and

Space to Begin Anew,” The Next American Revolution,

105-134. Since the academic year 2013-14

there has opened in Detroit a James and Grace





“Perhaps our life

is still governed

by a certain

number of oppositions

that remain


that our institutions and practices have not yet dared to break down.

These are oppositions


we regard as

simple givens:

for example between private

space and public

space, between family

space and social space,

between cultural space

and useful space, between

the space of leisure

and that of work.

All these are still nurtured by




of the sacred.”

-Michel Foucault


“The space in which we live, which

draws us out of ourselves, in which the

erosion of our lives, our time and our

history occurs, the space that claws

and gnaws at us, is also, in itself, a

heterogeneous space. In other words,

we do not live in a kind of void, inside

of which we could place individuals and

things. We do not live inside a void that

could be colored with diverse shades

of light, we live inside a set of relations

that delineates sites which are irreducible

to one another and absolutely

not superimposable on one another.”


“There are also, probably in every culture,

in every civilization, real places

— places that do exist and that are

formed in the very founding of society

— which are something like countersites,

a kind of effectively enacted utopia

in which the real sites, all the other

real sites that can be found within the

culture, are simultaneously represented,

contested, and inverted. Places

of this kind are outside of all places,

even though it may be possible to indicate

their location in reality. Because

these places are absolutely different

from all the sites that they reflect and

speak about, I shall call them, by way

of contrast to utopias, heterotopias.”

“The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing

in a single real place several

spaces, several sites that

are in themselves incompatible.”

“The last trait of heterotopias is

that they have a function in relation

to all the space that remains.”

-Michel Foucault


“...and if we think, after all, that the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that

exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the

sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies

in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand

why the boat has not only been for our civilization, from the sixteenth century until the present,

the great instrument of economic development (I have not been speaking of that today), but has

been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence.

In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure,

and the police take the place of pirates.”

- Michel Foucault, “Des espaces autres”

L’Internationale situationniste, No. 1, 1958


Shirin Neshat, Rapture, 1999, video still.

There is a world elsewhere….

I was fortunate to see again, at the recent DIA retrospective of Shirin Neshat, the two- channel

video installation Rapture, B&W, 1999. One channel contains a group of muslim men dressed in

white shirts and trousers, whilst the other channel is occupied by muslim women, the concluding

scene of which begins with a large group of abaya clad women gathering around a boat at the

edge of the ocean. Six alone of that larger group of women get into the boat – it is a simple boat,

without sails, but with a modest engine – and are pushed out to sea by the women who remain

behind. The work ends with the six or so women in the boat moving simply out across the currents

upon the ocean. Such is hope.

Transfixed by the pathos of this separation – from shore, from land, from oppression – I recalled

another boat, this time one which carried me as both participant and viewer or, may be, better,

witness: the boat on the Detroit Rouge River in October 2010 as part of Matthew Barney and

Jonathan Bepler’s film opera KHU, the guiding movement of which was the resurrection from the

depths of the Rouge River of the god Osiris manifested as a broken Chrysler Imperial … From

there the swift and sudden transitions to Foucault’s deeply felt sentiment of boat(s) as reserves

of the imagination, of Debord’s feeling for water and boats in the baroque imaginary – images of

the movement of time and liberty – passing by Scott Hocking’s boat on dry land in Detroit - “In

the Long Run, to be Stranded” is the title of one of J.H. Prynne’s great poems from The White

Stones - no less than the iconography of the boat used in the Detroit journal (S)trait(s) – a partial

translation of the French word Dé-troit, and as such a figure of in-betweeness, transition.

Woman. God. Transition. There is a world elsewhere…

Michael Stone-Richards


Reprinted courtesy of Glen Mannisto, from Straits Vol.1, 1982


"What I like is the solution is the boat.

What is the definition of the boat

It's that it doesn’t have roots.

It's rootless. It floats around.

That’s the solution.

We must really accept how we are rootless.

This is for me the meaning of this wonderful metaphor- boat.

Boat is the solution, boat – in the sense of: you accept rootless / free floating.

You cannot rely on anything.

You know, it's not a return to land.

Renewal means you cut your roots."

-Slavoj Žižek


Petrova Giberson

Country Women


Images courtesy of the artist

Country Women (The Floor of the Room/Ocean), 2010

ink on newsprint

35 x 24"


Country Women (What We Were Looking For), 2010

ink on newsprint

35 x 24"

Country Women (We Have More Time), 2010

ink on newsprint

35 x 24"




An Observation by Scott Hocking, 2004

The depopulation of Detroit City has created a gleaner’s goldmine, birthing a

subculture of salvage like no other. While the suburban commuter sees an

apparent ghost town from the expressway, these tens of thousands of vacant

buildings have produced a viable niche for inner- city scavengers. Through my own

hunting & gathering explorations I have encountered those who live in this

invisible world and rely on this niche. Specifically, the homeless men who have stripped

these urban ruins of any valuable scrap metal: the men who call

themselves Scrappers.

Caught within a bizarre cycle for survival, Scrappers depend almost entirely on the

abandonment and neglect of Detroit’s landscape. They have found ways to enter and

remove metal from the majority of vacant homes and industries, often

using only orphaned shopping carts to transport their spoils. By clearing pathways

through debris, covering and bridging dangerous holes, and rigging rooftop pulleys,

they have reaped and scavenged throughout the 140 square mile city. I have found

evidence of scrapping within every building I’ve explored. They work constantly, barehanded

with makeshift tools, pushing their loaded carts for miles to the

nearest buyer. They earn just enough cash to survive, but not enough to escape their

Sisyphean routine. They do not dare to protest when scrap buyers rig the scales, nor do

they question a middleman who rips them off during a desperate midnight exchange.

Due to the questionable legality of the acquisition and sale of this metal, the scrapper

and buyer have trouble trusting each other. Regardless of what brought them to this

lifestyle, they are workers, not beggars, who simply

cannot afford to be junkies or alcoholics. Often solitary, they need to stay positive to

survive. There is no time for rest and relaxation, no day off, especially throughout a

harsh Detroit winter. They live day-to-day, without heat, electricity, running water, or

any sense of security. Their shelters are collapsing structures of the past, soon to be demolished

through gentrification. They are ghosts living in Detroit’s remaining haunts.

They don’t exist.

It is hard to give an outsider a true understanding of how expansive Detroit’s

wasteland is. In the past 50 years, the inner-city has lost over 1 million people.

Skyscrapers became homeless hotels, houses became Devil’s Night bonfires,

alleys became dumping grounds, vacant lots became prairies, and factories became

greenhouses. Although scrapping exists in every city, Detroit’s abundant ruins have

given rise to armies of scavengers and urban spelunkers (like me). There are easily hundreds

of cart-pulling scrappers in the city.


Scott Hocking | Scrappers page 2

In buildings such as the enormous Studebaker Corporation complex, scrappers have

made In buildings pathways such through as the enormous a maze Studebaker of detritus, Corporation often bridging complex, over scrappers collapsed have floors made and

roofs, pathways and through utilized a crumbling maze of detritus, walls often as exit bridging ramps over for collapsed scrap. Scrappers floors and have roofs, come and utilized and





this building

as exit ramps

for years,

for scrap.



most of what

have come

is left


is useless

gone from

to them.

this building



years, and most of what is left is useless to them. However, like most buildings that I explore, I

like most buildings that I explore, I owe much to these men for making such sites accessible

Along with and Ford laying and down Fisher somewhat Body, the Studebaker safe paths. complex Along made with Piquette Ford and Street Fisher the Body, focus of the

owe much to these men for making such sites accessible and laying down somewhat safe paths.

Studebaker Detroit’s budding complex auto industry; made Piquette but you Street would never the focus know of it. Detroit’s budding auto industry;

but you would never know it.

With this improvised ramp behind a demolished wall, a scrapper has created an exit from the Studebaker

With this improvised ramp behind a demolished wall, a scrapper has created an exit from the Studebaker Corporation complex.

Corporation complex. All images courtesy of Scott Hocking.


(7) Everyday Survival | > Detroit page 3

Scrapper "Country" burning the plastic coating off of copper cable.

Scrapper "Country" burning the plastic coating off of copper cable.

Fisher Body Plant No. 21, 350 thousand square feet in size, is located just blocks away

from Fisher my Body studio/home. Plant No. 21, Still 350 as thousand a mountain, square it foot is another in size, is casualty located just along blocks a street away from and railway



that virtually

Still as


a mountain,

the Motor

it is another

City. I


have been



a street

it as



railway that




defined the Motor City. I have been using it as inspiration and medium for years, and I know

for years, and I know every corner of its vast expanse. Through my constant visitation, I

every corner of its vast expanse. Through my constant visitation, I have become friends with the

have permanent become resident friends scrapper with of the this permanent site, who goes resident by the scrapper name Country of this Boy. site, He who continues goes by to the

name make it Country through the Boy. brutal He continues winters, amassing to make furniture, through clothing, the blankets, brutal winters, and even amassing a barbecue. furniture,

Although clothing, others come blankets, and go and through even this a barbecue. building, this Although is Country’s others home. come and go through

this building, this is Country’s home.

The vacant lots just east of the Fisher Body Plant are favorite locations for scrappers such as

The Country vacant Boy lots and just James east to of burn the the Fisher plastic Body coating Plant off are of valuable favorite copper locations wiring. for With a surplus

of shopping carts at their disposal, they ignite a cart full of cable, remove the smoldering metal,

scrappers such as Country Boy and James to burn the plastic coating off of

and haul it to a scrap-yard in another cart.

valuable copper wiring. With a surplus of shopping carts at their disposal, they ignite a

cart This full copper of cable, is the most remove precious the metal smoldering scrapped metal, on a regular and haul basis. it to For a example, scrap-yard high-quality in another

cart. copper wire (after burning) can fetch up to $0.75 a pound from an honest buyer, if one is lucky.

Most often a scrapper will get the low-quality price (about $0.10 less per pound), depending on

This "reputation copper and is the business most history" precious throughout metal scrapped the community, on a regular or will basis. settle for For the example, half-price of a

high-quality copper wire (after burning) can fetch up to $0.75 a pound from an

honest buyer, if one is lucky. Most often a scrapper will get the low-quality price (about

$0.10 less per pound), depending on "reputation and business history" throughout the

community, or will settle for the half-price of a

Scott Hocking | Scrappers page 4


Stripped copper roof of the Lee Plaza high-rise.

Stripped copper roof of the Lee Plaza high-rise.


midnight middleman.






100 pounds

100 pounds

of copper




is rare,





rare, and

definitely not to be found not to in any be long found abandoned in any long buildings. abandoned Aluminum buildings. siding is far Aluminum more plentiful, siding but is it far is

more worth plentiful, roughly $0.45 but it per is pound worth and roughly weighs $0.45 considerably per pound less. and Other weighs metals such as nickel and

considerably brass are welcome, less. but Other hard metals to find, such whereas nickel inexpensive and brass and extremely are welcome, heavy but cast hard iron is to find,

whereas generally inexpensive a last resort. and extremely heavy cast iron is generally a last resort.

Country Boy














10 years

10 years





his copper

his copper


technique. On this night he has "acquired" over a hundred pounds of plastic-coated copper

smelting technique. On this night he has "acquired" over a hundred pounds of

wiring, which he ignites to burn away the plastic, reveal the high quality copper, and receive

plastic-coated more cash. The copper highly toxic wiring, black which smoke he billowing ignites to from burn the away flaming the plastic plastic, is the reveal least the of high

quality Country’s copper, worries. and When receive he is more satisfied cash. with The the highly process, toxic he extinguishes black smoke the billowing fire with water from the

flaming from a clogged plastic sewer is the nearby. least of At Country’s this time of worries. night, Country When can he is take satisfied his scrap with to a the local process,

he ‘middleman’ extinguishes who the will fire pay with him only water about from half a price. clogged Unfortunately, sewer nearby. in this At business, this time one of cannot night,

Country wait around can until take morning his scrap for to the a local higher ‘middleman’ paying (and somewhat who will pay legitimate) him only scrap about yards half to open. price.

Unfortunately, in this business, one cannot wait around until morning for the higher

Scrapping is a competitive business. For example, The Lee Plaza is an abandoned high rise with

paying (and somewhat legitimate) scrap yards to open.

a copper roof. Through a hole in a cinder block wall, scrappers have accessed an emergency

stairwell and climbed 16 flights in utter darkness, to reach the precious roof. Hauling the heavy

Scrapping metal back is down a competitive once is enough business. work for For most, example, not to mention The Lee that Plaza the Plaza is an is abandoned no where near high a

rise with a copper roof. Through a hole in a cinder block wall, scrappers have accessed

an emergency stairwell and climbed 16 flights in utter darkness, to reach the precious

roof. Hauling the heavy metal back down once is enough work for most, not to mention

that the Plaza is no where near a


(7) Everyday Survival | > Detroit page 5

A scrapper's burning site.

A scrapper's burning site.

scrap yard. Although all the copper has been peeled from the inner roof, not even the most

scrap-yard. Although all the copper has been peeled from the inner roof, not even the

enterprising scrappers have risked scaling the peaks or outer slopes for fear of one slip. There is




a bed in one of


the peaks.

have risked scaling the peaks or outer slopes for fear of one

slip. There is even a bed in one of the peaks.

In Detroit, as in many shrinking cities, there are many abandoned factories lining old railways.

In Along Detroit, the east in side many of shrinking overgrown cities, section there of Grand are Trunk many Railroad abandoned sits “the factories Old Mill,” lining where old

railways. many scrappers Along live the and east work. side Just of an west overgrown of the tracks section there are of many Grand restaurants, Trunk Railroad shops, sits a fire “the

Old station, Mill,” and where a bustling many weekly scrappers marketplace. live and Still, work. the Just men who west live of and the work tracks here there have are done many so

for years, invisible and/or ignored. It is good location, walking distance from the local scrap

restaurants, shops, a fire station, and a bustling weekly

yard, with plenty of space to share. The large silos, which they call “the burners”, are perfect for


smelting metals,



the men

they do


at night

live and

to avoid





have done

by their



for years, invisible



or Men ignored. like Jay, It is Stacey, a good and location, Slim have walking been resident distance scrappers from at the the local mill for scrap years. yard, with plenty

of space to share. The large silos, which they call “the burners”, are perfect for smelting

metals, The scrap-yard which they located do near at night the Old to Mill avoid is being frequented noticed by local by their scrappers, who leave their carts

firefighting behind once neighbors. they’ve been Men paid. like It is Jay, never Stacey, a problem and Slim to find have another been cart. resident Although scrappers this method at the

mill of scrap for years. buying/selling is questionable, scrap-yards rarely deny their homeless customers.

Plundering the same scrap-yard that buys one’s metal, however, is clearly risky. Still, this notion

does not stop a scrapper named Slim from slipping through a rusted steel wall behind the scrapyard,

painted with an ironic “Have A Nice Day” smiley face.

The scrap-yard located near the Old Mill is frequented by local scrappers,

who leave their carts behind once they’ve been paid. It is never a problem to find

another cart. Although this method of scrap buying/selling is questionable,

scrap-yards rarely deny their homeless customers. Plundering the same

scrap-yard that buys one’s metal, however, is clearly risky. Still, this notion does not stop

a scrapper named Slim from slipping through a rusted steel wall behind the scrap- yard,

painted with an ironic “Have A Nice Day” smiley face.

Scott Hocking | Scrappers page 6


The sign "We "We pay pay cash cash for scrap!" for scrap!" attracts many attracts scrappers. many They scrappers. know that They they can know make that quick they money can without make being quick hassled money or

without having to answer being any hassled questions. or having to answer any questions.

Attempts are made to stop the scrappers from scrapping from the scrap-yards. Often cameras or

armed guards are employed to protect businesses from greedy scrappers. In most cases, it is not

Attempts the solitary are homeless made scavenger to stop the who scrappers would risk from a breaking scrapping and entering from the charge; scrap-yards. rather, it is Often

cameras organized or groups armed with guards vehicles are for employed quick getaways. to protect Nevertheless, businesses scrappers from greedy are nocturnal scrappers.

In opportunists, most cases, and it no is not painted the wall solitary alone homeless will stop them. scavenger who would risk a breaking and

entering charge; rather, it is organized groups with vehicles for quick getaways. Nevertheless,

The scrap scrappers metal business are nocturnal is a lucrative opportunists, one. The buyer and entices no painted the scrapper wall alone with will “Cash stop For them.

Scrap” signs that imply “no strings attached.” A homeless or impoverished scrapper knows that

he/she can make quick money, no matter how he/she acquires their metal. In essence, the scrapyard

scrap is selling metal their business scrap to a is bigger a lucrative company, one. and The so buyer on, until entices the metal the is scrapper shipped and with reused, “Cash


For often Scrap” overseas; signs So that the worker imply “no bee strings that does attached.” the dirty work A homeless of excavating, or hauling, and selling to a

impoverished local scrap-yard scrapper is nothing knows more than that cheap, he/she untraceable can make labor quick for money, the top companies. no matter Perhaps how he/

she this acquires is why scrappers their metal. go unnoticed In essence, by gun-toting the scrap-yard law enforcement is selling their scrap to a bigger

company, and so on, until the metal is shipped and reused, often overseas; So the worker

bee that does the dirty work of excavating, hauling, and selling to a local scrap-yard

is nothing more than cheap, untraceable labor for the top

companies. Perhaps this is why scrappers go unnoticed by gun-toting law



(7) Everyday Survival | > Detroit page 5

A scrapper named "D" removing the materials he has plundered on Devil's night.

A scrapper named "D" removing the materials he has plundered on Devil's night.

If the remote inner regions of Detroit can be likened to a ghost town, here is a ghost: I

If the remote inner regions of Detroit can be likened to a ghost town, here is a ghost: I caught this

caught scrapping this scrapping apparition on apparition a night when on there a night are literally when hundreds there are of volunteers literally driving hundreds throughout of

volunteers the city in driving cars with throughout little flashing the roof-lights, city in looking cars with for any little suspicious flashing activity. roof-lights, Devils Night

looking (October for any 30 th – suspicious Halloween’s activity. Eve) has become Devils such Night a legendary (October arson-ridden 30th – Detroit Halloween’s holiday, Eve) that has

the city has renamed it “Angels Night,” stepped up police and fire department patrols, and

become such a legendary arson-ridden Detroit holiday, that the city has

instilled strict curfews, hoping to curb crime. Yet, a scrapper named “D” pulls 20 ft. lengths of

renamed aluminum it “Angels siding upon Night,” his noisy stepped shopping up cart police at nearly and 3 fire a.m., department and no one notices, patrols, as if and he is

instilled invisible. strict After curfews, developing hoping these to images, curb crime. I think he Yet, may a scrapper have been. named “D” pulls 20 ft. lengths

of aluminum siding upon his noisy shopping cart at nearly 3 a.m., and no one notices, as

if he is invisible. After developing these images, I think he may have been.

Detroit is changing. It appears that the Renaissance City may actually be in the midst of rebirth,

which could be good, could be bad, depending on one’s perspective. Long abandoned landmarks,

such as the Michigan Central Train Station, are being renovated, while derelict structures are

being razed everyday. Scrappers are running out of old buildings to shop at, which is leading

many of them to stealing from new construction sites instead. Their niche, once flourishing and

new, now seems to be disappearing just as naturally as it appeared; and if the scrappers cannot

adapt, will they disappear too Many of them doubt that the city can ever be resurrected, and

they say they’ve seen it all before. They can only wait and see, again.

Detroit is changing. It appears that the Renaissance City may actually be in the midst of

rebirth, which could be good, could be bad, depending on one’s

perspective. Long abandoned landmarks, such as the Michigan Central Train Station,

are being renovated, while derelict structures are being razed everyday. Scrappers are

running out of old buildings to shop at, which is leading many of them to stealing from

> Taken from the English version of Shrinking Cities Volume 1: International Research text. Chapter 7 – Everyday Survival / Do It

new construction Yourself; Pages sites 470 – instead. 477; Editor - Their Philipp Oswalt; niche, Published once by flourishing Hatje Cantz, 2005. and new, now seems to be

> Originally published in German as Schrumpfende Städte Band 1: Internationale Untersuchung, by Hatje Cantz, in 2004.

disappearing just as naturally as it appeared; and if the scrappers cannot adapt, will they

disappear too Many of them doubt that the city can ever be resurrected, and they say

they’ve seen it all before. They can only wait and see, again.

> Taken from the English version of Shrinking Cities Volume 1: International Research text. Chapter 7 – Everyday

Survival / Do It Yourself; Pages 470 – 477; Editor - Philipp Oswalt; Published by Hatje Cantz, 2005.

> Originally published in German as Schrumpfende Städte Band 1: Internationale Untersuchung, by Hatje

Cantz, in 2004.



Addendum, Summer 2006

Just two weeks ago a scrapper was spotted on the roof of my studio, attempting to take a portion of my phone

line. My neighbors flagged down a cop and he was caught quickly – they say he even had a gun, which he threw

under a car... Hours later, when I got home and inspected the scene, I found that he had cut only the unused

phone line that was raveled up and fastened with pigtails to the side of my building. The ‘gun’ he supposedly

had was most likely wire cutters – but who knows. Regardless, what is certain is that scrapping is getting out of

control. There are too many guys competing for scrap, and not enough places to get it anymore. Abandoned

buildings are stripped bare, and being demolished. Even the 14 story Lee Plaza’s copper sheathed and formerly

untouchable peaks, severely sloping to a certain death, have been gleaned. City issued garbage cans are routinely

stolen and used as dollies. These younger groups of neo-scrappers are getting bolder and bolder – these

guys are flat out thieves – and, apparently electricians. A Detroit Edison substation down the street from me was

virtually stripped a month ago – and this place was up and running! One of the main reasons for this frenzy is

the high price of copper right now – apparently directly connected to current military and weapons demands.

It’s crazy when you think about it, where this scrap ends up.

So here I am, up on a ladder, removing the dangling phone line from the side of my building (finishing the job,

really), and along comes Country Boy. He’s pulling a stolen city trashcan, full of scrap, and asking if I’ve got anything

for him. I give him the phone line. Well, at least he asked...

> Originally published as addendum to “Scott Hocking: Pictures of a City – Scrappers,” in Dispatch Detroit, Volume 8, pages

34-51. Editor, Christine Monhollen. Doorjamb Press, 2007. Reprinted courtesy of Scott Hocking.


I’ve been living in the same building for twelve years now – my bed plopped down in the midst of

what has become an indoor junkyard of dismantled installations. This is the longest I’ve ever lived in

one place. And a lot has changed during that time. Detroit has been through an economic collapse,

an auto industry bailout, a multi-faceted government corruption scandal, an emergency financial

manager, and many other problematic storylines that make it easy for lifelong residents to remain


Yet, despite a continual drop in population, the inner city is gaining new residents from all over the

world. It’s more diverse and integrated than I’ve ever known it. I can’t keep up with all of the new

coffeehouses and start-up businesses. Community gardens are everywhere. The press and media

consistently focus on Detroit’s transition from decaying auto capital into burgeoning artist Mecca.

And there’s something intangibly different: an energy shift. Nostalgic memories of the heydays are

fading away, but so are the rock-bottom memories of the last decades, and people are focusing on

the future. It’s springtime as I write this; I’m surrounded by change.

Still, I can hear the cacophony of a metal-filled grocery cart being slammed over the potholes of my

alley in the middle of the night – just as often as I did twelve years ago.

Same alley. Same scrappers. Same middleman. Well, not the same exact guys – except for

Country, who passes by every now and then. But the routine is still there, and the metal

is still coming from somewhere. Anywhere, in fact, they can find it. As I read my account

from 10 years ago, much like reading an old diary, it’s striking how different some

things are these days. Many of the buildings I listed are gone. If they’re still around, they are

stripped clean, and they just aren’t squatted by scrappers anymore. You’ll find more urban

explorers in abandoned buildings than homeless guys nowadays. In fact, so many people have

flocked to photograph Detroit in the last decade, a new term was coined: ruin porn. Guys like

Country are disappearing, too. Junkmen from a different time, I suppose. Younger men,

hustling along, sometimes in groups, have replaced most of the older cart pullers. Crews

with nice tools seem to play by a different set of rules than those old guys. Last winter, multiple

bronze doors were stolen from the crypts of Detroit’s oldest cemeteries. Horrible.

About a week ago, a scrapper died in a sewer, apparently killed while trying to rip out the wiring

from beneath street lamps. That’s a new one. Though, going underground seems to be

the next logical step, since sewer grates and manhole covers have been scrapped for years

as well. Hell, my absolute piece-o-shit van was stolen for scrap last year. It feels a bit more like

‘anything goes,’ these days.


Spring 2013, Ten Years later

But I guess that’s the natural cycle at work. As the city grows and renews in many pockets,

the scrappers continue to evolve with it. It’s a kind of balance. Maybe even a fight. One of the

most telling examples of this dynamic happened while I was building a pyramid inside the

long vacant Fisher Body Plant 21 (where else would one build a pyramid). A group of scrappers

were cutting down huge galvanized pipes from the ceiling using gas-powered saws,

when suddenly the saws stopped, and all of the men got quiet. When I asked what was up,

one of the guys pointed out that the entire building was currently being re-fenced by city

workers. We were being fenced in. So... I got the hell out of there. The next day, I came back to see

if I could still get inside FB21 and continue my project. Yep. I could. No problem. Not only did this

band of gas-powered scrappers escape the newly fenced building with their metal – they scrapped

the new chain link fence, too. Cut it off, rolled it all up, and drove away.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


My Own




Image courtesy of the artist

Biba Bell


From Detroit arises a proliferation of images that detail its extreme economic, material, social

and historical conditions. The si(gh)ts of broken down factories, homes with trees growing

through roofs, vast expanses of land returning to nature, packs of wild dogs, discarded piles of

belongings, etc., bellow a great noise marking the arrival of the decline of capitalism while letting

loose these images to roam the interweb and its reaches. Frequently arises the interjection, Oh,

but I hear it is a great place for artists. Art and the City invite the imaginaries of expansive, empty

spaces, open and unencumbered. The cityscape becomes a site of production where the factory

once was, now derelict and falling away. But, instead of repurposing vacancies to the romantic

melody of the arts, I’d like to leave you with a different set of images with which I am thinking

through the generative potential of an artist’s (and in my case a choreographer’s) studio at this

moment: the Anna Scripps Whitecomb Conservatory on Belle Isle.

Perched within Detroit’s great city park Belle Isle, this conservatory, designed by Albert

Kahn (who also designed a great many automobile assembly plants) in 1904, stands quietly to

absorb the changing of seasons and the handful of visitors who, whispering, pass throughout

its halls. Like much of Detroit in the past 40 years or so, this Conservatory (and its inhabitants)

has been left largely to its own

devices. Run by volunteers

with little to no money from

the city, it illustrates another

version of urban negligence.

Teeming with plants, trees

and flowers from around the

world, a great jolt of oxygen

and fragrant, moist air is the

first confrontation upon arrival.

Trees graze the ceiling

and begin to curve along its

edges. Vines grow embedded

within the structural bars

along the walls. Fruit ripens

and is harvested or falls to

decompose on the dirt floor. Cacti accumulate etchings of a crush’s name like a wooden desktop

would, carved into its grain at a junior high school.

When I enter this space I am reminded of the strangely narcissistic characteristics of a

dance studio, all mirrors and sprung floors. It is a space strategically designed for the arousal

of life energy, a well of creativity. It is a space for movement. Yet, this energy is corralled and

multiplied; it overflows with excess while also keeps to itself. I am reminded of domestic spaces

where privacy veils sensual, relational, and intimate bodily states engaged in a social and corporeal

history of affective and reproductive labor. Where what is produced is intangible, immaterial.

It is a world of scents and colors, of contemplation and sensuality. The Conservatory is a

fertile studio, sanctioned yet unruly, left alone yet filled with life. This is a studio that has been left

outside. This site is my own private dance studio. Windows reveal not the luminosity of what is

beyond, but multiplicity of life within. Alone in the studio I am reminded that I am never alone in

the studio. Within a city that has been left alone, this green house is an ecstatic assemblage of

movement and materiality. Upon entrance the senses awaken: a sensuous intoxication.

Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist

The modernist

artist studio developed

in tandem with the age

of industry. As much as

we are in a post-factory

condition, we are also

post-studio. Yet, poststudio

is also an art historical

situation. It can

be thought alongside

post-Fordism, occurring

at a similar aesthetic

period, marking movements

from material to

immaterial, from objects

(commodities) to intangibles

edges, languages,

codes, information,

affects—here I’m calling

upon potential elements

of the Common

(knowledges, languages, codes, information, affects—here I’m calling upon potential elements

of the Common as Negri and Hardt would have it). 1 The post-studio attends to the call of Robert

Smithson, “Deliverance from the confines of the studio frees the artist to a degree from the

snares of craft and bondage of creativity.” 2 The studio as snare. It is to critique the cube, its

whiteness and geometry. The sterility of its surfaces. In an art historical context the move from

studio to post-studio can also be about necessity… a move to the streets (in the words of Carl

Andre) 3 or the kitchen table (for Felix Gonzales-Torres), “I’m sorry. I don’t have a studio. I’m just

a kitchen-table artist.” 4

For the dancer it is to dislocate from the reflected image, to forget frontal orientation, to

dislodge the fourth wall, to lose step without the aid of the sprung floor, trip on the surface, or

slide as the frictionless ground plane falls away…

Para is call of the contemporary.

Giorgio Agamben discusses the contemporary as a particular “untimeliness.” As “a singular

relationship with one’s own time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance

from it. More precisely, it is that relationship with time that adheres to it through a disjunction and

an anachronism.” 5

“Those who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither

perfectly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands.” 6

1 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,

2009), 132.

2 Wouter Davidts and Kim Paice, The Fall of the Studio: Artists at Work (Amsterdam: Antennae, 2009), 28.

3 Barbara Rose, Carl Andre,

4 Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner, The Studio Reader: On The Space of Artists (Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 2010), 119.

5 Found emphasis. Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 41.

6 Agamben, What is an Apparatus, 40.

He goes on, but let me just roughly summarize that his discussion of what it is to be contemporary

indicates a temporal movement slight outside, sidestepping, or adjacent to the present.

I choose to spatialize this question which moves me to wonder: Where is slightly outside,

adjacent to, side-stepping dance – as a form or discipline, as a practice, as a way of life, as an

object… a process, an event. And can this step, to the side, replace the more common preliminary

action in creating, rehearsing, or watching a dance, which would entail stepping into a

room and then closing the door What does a movement outside look like Where does it go

Can we step outside of disciplinary boundaries just a little bit Would we want to In order to

stretch them, melt them, or knock down a wall (or for dance this might better be a disruption of

the floor) Or could we locate this outside within the big empty room with a sprung floor 1 (For

this I may want to turn to Derrida.)

If we consider architecture as Bernard Cache would, frames of probability, I imagine the

Conservatory as opening up the potential for sidestepping the struggles and complicated fabric

of the City. 2 It creates a room for rethinking the spaces of aesthetic production, and the critical

imperatives lodged in the politics of excess and lack. Whether work is made in or outside of this

studio, the Conservatory brings me back to the para, what is alongside, accompanying our creative

processes. As a space so intimate and populated, a sanctuary that filters the outside in, it

invites the body into a boldly dynamic, moving surround.

(I repeat) The studio as snare. Gilles Deleuze discusses the snare as a type of trick,

as a cliché that exists in ways similar to probabilities (“which concern the dice before they are

thrown”) that are already embedded within the (seemingly) empty canvas. 3 The canvas is always

already full. There is no empty canvas, here or anywhere. The snare guides and obstructs, but

it also stalls and sets things into motion. We are not here to dance through empty spaces, we

have always already populated the studio (and the City) before even stepping a foot inside.


1 Choreographer William Forsythe discusses the ground plane or the floor as the primary architectural surface

that comprises a “dancerly room.” See “Planning the Unpredictable: A Dialogue between Nikolaus Hirsch and William

Forsythe.” Nikolaus Hirsh, On Boundaries (New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2007), 22.

2 “It is the flatness of the stage that makes choreography probable, just as it is the flatness of the stadium that

increases the probability of athletics. The ground plane rarefies the surface of the earth in order to allow human

activities to take shape.” Bernard Cache, Earth Moves: The Furnishing of Territories (Cambridge: MIT Press,

1995), 25-26.

3 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 78.


Image courtesy of the artist

Image courtesy of the artist






Livonia, Livonia

Andrew Mehall


Livonia, Livonia ...

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas swell

And the profit and loss.

A current under sea

Picked his bones in whispes. As he rose and fell

He passed the stages of his age and youth

Entering the whirlpool.

Gentile or Jew

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you. 1

A void, simply put, is a defined space

where there is a defined no-thing. Voids can have

a history, and be a cavity, a place where something

had previously occupied it, but voids are

always a place yet to be occupied. A burp in my

mouth. In astronomy voids can be identified, and

possess a rigidity in scale and structure. We can

then consider voids in terms of possessing material,

and we find they are comprised of either

time or space, both, or a lack of these "materials."

Furthermore, these two materials are the chief

entropic vehicles of the universe, and we must

understand entropy's one, self-perpetual objective

is to render all it can into one sprawling, yet

super-dense void, one which Robert Smithson

dubbed "an all-encompassing sameness." 2 As

ambivalently unyielding of a force the universe

has, we as human beings fart away, and calculate

new strategies in an attempt to conquer entropy,

to perhaps exist outside of its agenda.

The entropic process, may be viewed as

an infinitely patient, ever-present swalloing, and

is thus described by its founder Rudolf Clausius

in his book On the Mechanical Theory of Heat: "the

entropy of the universe tends to a maximum." 3

Whilst it's certainly possible for the degeneration

(or we can use the more poetic Smithson term,

energy drain) to occur in sudden, intense explosions

of energy, like wildfires or hurricanes, the

universe tends to prefer a more methodical approach,

one of aphid-like penetration. A network

of voids over time is carved around, which can

then ultimately collapse into one deep pothole,

and yet still we so naively deny our free-fall. No

one has been able to reverse the trajectory towards

this entropic future, but through his strategies,

man has, perhaps by accident, succeeded

in suspending himself in arrhythmia with his future.

In The Illusion of the End, Jean Baudrillard observes

that "We are, then, unable to dream of a

past or future state of things [...] neither finished,

nor infinite, nor definite, but de-finitive that is,

deprived of its end." 4 Can the present be used to

hide the shadow of the past, like breakfast while



In a city like Detroit, where manifestations of its

own mistakes are as common as the purple lips

of Joumana Kayrouz, entropy has a stranglehold.

There is hardly a "present" in Detroit, just a past

and a future that are not mutually exclusive. Overgrown

weeds, cutting through cracked concrete,

make for quite a romantic image, and the shitty

graffiti-covered halls of Michigan Central Station

is the perfect set for an Eminem music video. The

ruins of Detroit are the perseverance to make

funny faces despite the warnings of your mother:

"If you keep doing that, your face is going to

stay that way!" In many ways, its face has stayed

scrunched, lips puckered, and eyes crossed. What

an unreal place, where we still hang out hat on

tenacity, "blue-collar," "going to work" and of

course so much work has been done here, yet we

have really what to show Not much more than

somone who never goes a day without masturbating,

and has stiff bed sheets to prove it - is

that not admirable work ethic! An interesting act

to consider, masturbation - a physical stimulation

of the body, performed with the body that

is mediated by the virtual, memory refreshed, an

object or a real partner; all of which must remain

in some way remote. An ex-girlfriend's sheets

from KOHLS can be recalled, perhaps more vividly

through a simple fifteen minute afternoon

session, where pathetically they will slide away

from your ugly thighs back into the archives of

memory leaving you cooly recalling why you so

desperately wanted her to dump your ass so long

ago. That is, of course, not to say that these memories,

while specific, are always perfectly bound

to the experience from which they originally

were generated. What's inside your skull doesn't

just do things "right." Binary is tidy and was not

modeled after the brain. Therefore we must consider

fidelity, for memories are not true fascimiles

of expereince, properly achieved. They are more

dynamic, built things, by us - congruent to experience.

They remain warm like the sound of a record,

they are analog in space, they do not understand

threshold. All of these things, however, are

vestiges of a time extinguished, historical avatars,

reminding us how in the end the sun bleaches

even the brightest of colors. Of course there is

a temporary charm in the spectacle of the ruin,

but this charm is subject to a proximity. No

one wants to live next to a funeral home, and

have to consider the indiscriminate indifference

of the universe over their morning coffee.

And once the nostalgia bleeds out, the blue

and yellow letters of IKEA appear that much

more vivacious in the minds eyes, and frozen

"Swedish" meatballs can seem exquisite.

This is the Eternal City, where history has

been rendered a fiction, no more real than a Rob

Zombie film, a perverse yet novel sentimentality.

The future within the eternal city is simultaneously

being attained and yet it retains a romantic

remoteness. Disposability means inherent

renewal in this place, and the representation of

resilience means a built-in, increasingly shorter,

increasingly brighter half-life. Italo Calvino's novel

Invisible Cities creates a place similar to this:

Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams:

with one difference. The dreamed-of city

contained him as a young man; he arrives at

Isidora in his old age. In the square there is the

wall where the old men sit and watch the

young go by; he is seated in a row with them.

Desires are already memories. 5

This is the Eternal City; Livonia, Michigan,

just as it used to be Rome, or to Robert Smithson,

Passaic, New Jersey.

We're on so many drugs, junkies for what

constantly eludes us, energy and time. Through

highly advanced modern technology we've managed

to fabricate "energy," even sugar-free - "NO

CARBS NO CRASH LATER." Much in this same vein,

our greatest triumph may be mastering time,

which the suburbs provide a zone for. A sort of

synthetic "anti-entropy" exists here, a fascimile

modeled after its namesake, where the instant a

crack appears, the cavity is immediately filled by

something else, and this something cannot be a

true progression, but a latex Halloween mask.



life is an

tiful places

eered with

adent, and

a hygienic

tle there is

, sprawling

York, like

try like an

can exist,

a shell, a


rolls of toilet paper over/around/in trees, on cars, over the house, and on the lawn

Image courtesy of the artist

aidon, 2003),


Shopping malls came to my hometown of Livonia

before I was ever born, and I experienced them

not as bustling centers of modern commerce

but in their waning twilight, and fleeting destiny.

While still in the throes of its death, plans were

made to replace Livonia Mall with a more viable,

new structure:

The Wal-Mart, slated to fill 180,000 square feet

at the shopping center, would become the

second built recently at the site of a former

Livonia shopping mall. Another Wal-Mart

opened two years ago near Plymouth and

Middlebelt roads, at the former site of

Wonderland Mall. It is about four miles from

the new complex. 6

Leading up to its demolition in 2009, the mall

became a tomb, a ghost condemned to whisper

its memories of a once-opulent life and its legacy

of an inevitable obsolescence. Each passing

day the mall also took on the image of a monument

of our failure and a burgeoning reminder

of our knack for the unsustainable. And so what

one-day was a cemetery sinking swamp, the next

day was a Wal-Mart so new, and so bright that

it looked more like a distant giant diorama. The

Architecture is just modern enough, we've all

but forgotten Livonia Mall, but certainly not romantic

enough to where it's ultimate demolition

will be such a shame. Jerry Herron characterizes

this as "the humiliation of history; not the 'lessons'

of the past, but the mastery of ownership." 7

What was a dying mall, where I'd hide in clothes

racks from my mother as a child, where the depressingly

dim lighting didn't seem dim to me

as a teenager, now is "The Livonia Marketplace."

Time is invisible, and is only a discernible

"thing," thorugh the effects and traces of

temporality, the recess in a pillow. While overtly

obvious, it's worth stating: time cannot truly be

suspended, thus the rhetoric of a suspension of

time is merely a misrepresentation, a constructed

illusion (constantly controlled) that temporality

persists, even beneath the translucent veil.

At their very core, no matter how modest,

a house is a structural defiance of nature

and from the moment it is deemed "indoors," so

begins the universe's slow, yet assured assault.

"Gravity can't forget," and water will prove to be

the most dogged of adversaries. Concrete, drywall,

or laminate are no match for soemthing that

operates without the burden of time. It absorbs,

it makes "the missing linked."

By implanting impermanence into the

structures around us, it grants us a certain flexibility.

When we become the designers of our reality,

we maintain a constant control of the world's

bleeding density (and how we perceive it) around

us. Nature is not permitted to seep its way in, as

it has so many times in the past. We provide the

course for buildings to ru(i)n, so once malls become

a dated concept, the location of the void

is frozen, like a wart, before its collapse, and a

CVS pharmacy takes the land on a loan. Robert

Smithson documented this phenomenon which

he dubbed "ruins in reverse" within his suburban

hometown in his "A Tour of the Monuments of

Passaic, New Jersey" (1967):

A Utopia minus a bottom, a palce where the

machines are idle, and the sun has turned to

glass [...] Time turns metaphors into things,

and stacks them up in cold rooms, or places

them in the celestial playgrounds of the

suburbs [...] all that existed were millions of

grains of sand, a vast deposit of bones and

stones pulverized into dust. Every grain of

sand was a dead metaphor that equaled

timelessness, and to decipher such

metaphors would take one through the false

mirror of eternity. 8

While Smithson articulated these observations

in a way that would suggest a disconnect

or resentment, his relationship with the suburbs

was a paradoxical one, it was this place that was

in a constant dialogue with his work, and provided

him with his true reality.


My experience in living in the suburbs of

Detroit my entire life is an estranged sentimentality

to the physical world around me. Truly

beautiful places belong to my parent's history.

My elementary school was engineered with banality

in mind, and the church I was baptized in

is anything but decadent, and more "ick" than

Gothic, what Gordon Matta-Clark described as

"a hygienic obsession in the name of redevelopment

which sweeps away what little there is of

an American past, to be cleansed by pavement." 9

This is the true, sprawling shallowness that is suburbia.

You can be perfectly excessive in New York,

like one of Andy Warhol's "Superstars," or beautifully

austere in the country like an Andrew Wyeth

subject. Or somewhere else altogether, where

neither can exist, in Livonia. There is undoubtedly

a void here, a sad reminder, a shell, a projection of

a focused, operational thing that's really fixed in a

pathetic, fashionable futile synapse. 1



T.S. Eliot, "Death by Water," Collected Poems: 1909-1962

(London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1963), 75.


Robert Smithson, "Entropy and the New Monuments," in

Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Los

Angeles: University of California Press, 1996), 10.


Rudolf Clausius, The Mechanical Theory of Heat, ed. Thomas

Archer Hirst (Harvard: J. Van Voorst, 1867), 365.


Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, trans. Chris Turner

(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 108.


Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,

1974), 12.


"Livonia Marketplace groundbreaking set for Thursday,"

Crain's Detroit Business, posted August 24, 2009. Accessed




Jerry Herron, "Three Meditations on the Ruins of Detroit,"

in Stalking Detroit, ed. Georgia Daskalakis, Charles Waldhein,

and Jason Young (Barcelona: Actar, 2001), 35.


Smithson, "A tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey,"

in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 72.


Gordon Matta-Clark, quoted in Corinne Diserents, Gordon

Matta-Clark (London: Phaidon, 2003), 188.


Up North

Jessica Newberry

I took these photographs last summer while exploring the Northern coast

of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The cliffs are called the Pictured Rocks,

and setting off from Munising they extend for forty miles along Lake

Superior. As we paddled closer the red underbelly of the cliff revealed

itself, indicating a large amount of iron in the groundwater which seeps

slowly and unceasingly out of the rock. Up close the cliff was bright as

blood but impossible to photograph from the boat. There was also yellow

and brown from limonite, and pink and green from copper looking like

fresh paint creeping down the sides of the cliffs into the water. The rocks

themselves are made of Jacobsville sandstone at least 500 million years

old, from the Cambrian era. Farther up the shore black and white

splotches appeared from manganese and lime. The colors staining the

Pictured Rocks give testimony to the passage of time, revealing a silent

history marked most recently by the presence of human beings. Like the

lyrebird who weaves into its song the sound of chainsaws hacking down

trees, or the Peppered moth that has quickly evolved from a speckled

white to ashen black in order to blend in with soot, the colors of the

Pictured Rocks have been affected by the introduction of toxins and air

pollution. With lake temperatures slowly rising and tourists harvesting

rocks illegally, large slabs of the cliffs have begun to tumble to the bottom

of Lake Superior, taking with them everything they would tell us about the

world with their ancient display of colors.

Photos courtesy of the artist



>Originally published in Stalking Detroit, 2001. Reprinted courtesy of Dan Hoffman





Barrett Watten



Driving outside of myself. Into the social space of Detroit. A network of concrete

radiating outward from a collapsed center. This is the urban landscape Henry Ford built

on the basis of mobile transportation, now an immobile and unfixable infra structure.

Once locked into place, forms of desire are abandoned and crumble to dust: urbanized

wildlife traverses the spaces between them.... Driving the Lodge Freeway at night, the

intermittent stream of traffic. Frontal flare-ups of headlights and departing streaks of

taillights. Who are these drivers, from what grid-locked suburb to what desiring end

Restaurants, bars, casinos, and entertainment. Aber rant drunk on wrong side of the

road passes drug-related police event in progress. Tanker truck explodes, to become the

defining moment of the news cycle.

—Barrett Watten,"Double Negative" 1

This passage on Detroit from Grand Piano 9 locates

the critical and poetic intersection between

negativity and social space I have been exploring

since well before arriving in Detroit, beginning

with the postmodern


of the

West and their

ground zero in

Los Angeles.

Writing on


it was the


prolifera tion of

the built environment,


landscape of

frozen mobility

and posturban




princi ples first

realized in Detroit, that suggested a poetics of

“Non-Events” as correlative to the postmodern

lifeworld. A line like “But the job of the driver is

to muffle the sound of the new car turning into

parts” may have seemed a self-referential,

automatically generated example of “the New

Sentence,” but it was also an index of the

entropic decay (in the manner that sound decays

in an echo chamber) of objects into parts, commodities

into materials, fixities into uncertainties,

and rationality into negativity as the given

structure of lived

experience. 2

Moving to Detroit,

for a job at

Wayne State University

in 1994,

seemed equally

a moment of decay

in that sense,

recalling Charlie

Anderson’s hubris

in John Dos

Passos’s The Big

Money: “You and

me Bill, we’re in

production, and

by God I’m going

to see that we

"Looking east out of one of Lee Plaza’s gaping windows towards the landmarks

don’t lose out. If

in Detroit’s New Center neighborhood..."

they try to rook

us we’ll fight, already I’ve had offers, big offers

from Detroit ... in five years now we’ll be in the

money”—fatal words for the hero, it turns out.

If at the apex of Detroit’s fortunes, production

equaled consumption (with the 1949 Treaty of

Detroit, the labor peace between auto unions

and the Big Three brokered by Walter Reuther

Image originally printed in Lost Detroit, 86. Reprinted courtesy of Dan Austin and Sean Doerr/SNWEB.ORG


that was the foundation of the transition from war

to postwar economies), since its boom years it

has led to an economics of overproduction, outsourcing,

displacement, and decline. Not progress

but negativity is Detroit’s most important product,

a nega tivity that is both sensually evident and

lived—not just a theoretical (non)concept but the

traumatic landscapes and fragmented communities

we deal with here as a condition of everyday

life. Since being in Detroit I have had numerous

opportunities to access its negativity in my critical

encounters with its cultural forms; given the reproductive

stability of the Fordist mode of production,

the results seem as relevant today as when I first

wrote them in the preceding decades. If there is

any geopolitical landscape that makes one skeptical

of narratives of progress (outside the former

Eastern Bloc, but sharing key features), it is Detroit.

Seeking not so much progress in learning

from Detroit, but to report on new perspectives

and recent developments, I will take up the

currently engaged debates surrounding “ruin

pornography”—the uncritical and exploitative celebration

of Detroit’s postindustrial landscapes.

The term “ruin porn” has become the iconic genre

for representing the city since the last shoe outlet

closed on Woodward in 1994 or Hudson’s department

store was

demolished in 1998

(Detroit has no Zero

Hour, a punctual moment

of destruction,

but a series of moments

on a timeline

beginning with the

1967 riots). What is

clearly missing in

the “ruin porn” debate

is an adequate

account of representation

itself: negative

images of De troit are typically discussed primarily

in terms of their referents, not in terms of the

aesthetics of documentation, the desires enacted

or displaced by visual images, the history

of representations of the negative (from romanticism

to the present), or finally the many

theoretical and historical arguments that can

be derived from these im ages. “Ruin porn” as a

term is as reductive as the images it criticizes—

with the best of intentions, but with the nar rowest

of aims. In order to get past the impasse of “ruin

porn,” I want to fix it between two outside registers:

the 1972/77 investigation into the negative terrains

of the postmodern, Learning from Las Vegas, and

the architectur al fantasies of Michigan/New York

architect Lebbeus Woods—to arrive at a present

reformulation of Detroit nega tivity in the Dequindre

Cut (2009), a 1.2-mile bike trail built on a disused

rail line in an industrial area that points past the

melancholy of ruins to the critical deployment of

the negative in Detroit.

"Ravaged by vandals and scrappers,

the Grande’s condition belies its past..."

Image originally printed in Lost Detroit, 70. Reprinted courtesy of Dan Austin and Sean Doerr/SNWEB.ORG



A current truism circulating in the political counterculture

of Detroit—from an ideological perspective

that embraces small-scale participation such as

urban gardening, bicycling, community activism,

Facebook networking, and the $100 house as preferred

weapons in the fight against Fordism—has

been suspicion of the commodification of negative

images of the city. This local hostility to large-format,

high-definition, glossy color photographs of

destroyed manufacturing and neighborhood spaces

in Detroit stems in part from their predictable

range of strategies—straight shots of evacuated

spaces filled with detritus, often without any human

presence, in coffee-table editions like Yves Marchand

and Romain Meffre’s The Ruins of Detroit or

Andrew Moore’s Disassembling Detroit, and in

part from their outsider perspective. 3 To many residents,

these images are predictable and cli chéd,

part of an endless narrative of decline cranked out

by the New York Times and other media, scarcely

offset by the recent trend toward more nuanced reporting

in the Huffing ton Post, with its local bylines.

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary Detropia

(2012) barely makes a dent in this iconography,

even if they manage to create sites of hu man

identification in a few cameo portraits. In fact, it is

the question of identification that is crucial to “ruin

porn” formulation—the ascription of pornography

to what are after all visual clichés is proof positive

of the “obscene gaze” of outsiders who “don’t get

Detroit” and cannot because they have no memories

of the former “Paris of the Midwest” or wait ing

for their mother by the clock outside Kern’s drugs

on a shopping trip to Hudson’s. In this view, outsiders

have no memorial register for what was lost

in Detroit that subtends any image of it as negative—they

can only gawk at the negative without

interpretive con text or background, perpetuating

it in turn as a form of denial. On the other hand,

a politi cal use of documentary evidence over the

past decade has raised the level of visual litera cy

on urbanism and Detroit and created a strong relationship

between representation and activism, particularly

after the opening of MOCAD (the alternative

Museum of Contempo rary Art, Detroit), with its

use of conceptual strategies of documentation and

information display, and particularly its staging of

Shrinking Cities, a four-city investigation of postindustrial

decline also exhibited in Manchester, U.K.,

Halle/Leipzig, Germany, and Iva novo, Russia. 4

As well, emerging cultural and political formations

such as Occupy, the ur ban gardening and bicycle

movements, new gallery and performance spaces,

and public art initiatives such as Movement (the

techno festival operating since 2000) and Dlectricity

(site-specific light projections) work to offset the

clichés of its monumental negativity.

In the view of new activists in Detroit, what

is misrecognized is the city’s livability, even in its

present condition, rather than the forbidding, inaccessible

scale of the postindustrial sublime.

This emphasis on habitability rather than decline

seems a heroic rejection of Detroit’s “damned demographics”

(after former Mayor Coleman Young):

from a peak population of 1.8 million in the 50s and

60s (the boom years of the auto industry), Detroit

shrank by 50% to 900,000 residents by 2000; in the

last ten years, the city lost an additional 25% of its

population, 80% of them African-American, while

the downtown and midtown core has gained 15,000

new residents, many of them educated and white.

Given these numbers, the assertion of livability often

seems a rhetoric of renewal that is a cliché in its

own right; in a newsreel after the 1967 riots, former

Mayor James P. Cavanagh be came one of the first

of a series of mayors—since 1994, Dennis Archer,

Kwame Kilpatrick, and Dave Bing—to trade on

boosterism as their city literally melted away under

their feet. The sensory evidence and lived experience

of Detroit’s manufacturing decline, residential

depopulation, neighborhood deterioration, tax base

erosion—in short, social negativity—is important,

first of all, for undercutting the twin illusions of progress

and hope, always kept alive, always around

the corner, always about to be reborn, but always

deferred. Un dermining this false positivism—of

progress and hope ad infinitum—is the first critical

task of ruin photography: to offset the status quo of

political denial that has kept Detroit barely together

over four and half decades. Given the obviously

dysfunctional gap between such totalizing narratives

and local conditions, grand metanarratives

and gaps in expectation, it is thus odd that “ruin

porn” critics do not see the undoing of pro gressive


Taisho Kimono Shop

Image originally printed in Hiroshima: Ground Zero, fig. 0.16. Reprinted courtesy of the International Center for Photography


metanarratives as a primary task of the

negative. In John Patrick Leary’s essay

Detroitism,” arguably the best formulation

of the “ruin porn” critique, we find:

“much ruin photography and ruin film

aestheticizes poverty without inquiring of

its origins, dramatizes spaces but never

seeks out the people that inhabit and

transform them, and romanticizes isolated

acts of resistance without acknowledging

the massive political and social

forces aligned against the real transformation,

and not just stubborn survival,

of the city” 5 . Metanarratives of progress,

origins, and transformation are defended

here as opposed to forms of aesthetic

denial: romantic rebel lion, theatricality,

and aestheticization. If the two forms of

positivism seem inadvertently close,

Nietzsche’s “monumental history” explains the ruins’

betrayal of hope and their cri tique.

To begin with, there is no one-sized-fits-all

aesthetic practice of ruin photography; we must

look within the formal values of the photographic

image and out toward a range of visual discourses

of the ruin. In putting the case for the aesthetics of

denial in “ruin porn,” Leary cites an egregious example

of image exploitation and narrative excess

in the following:

British filmmaker Julien Temple’s documentary, Requiem

for Detroit, and his ac companying Guardian

essay, “Detroit: The Last Days,” are the quintessence

of the Detroit Lament. “Approaching the derelict shell

of downtown Detroit,” Temple breathlessly writes, “we

see full-grown trees sprouting from the tops of deserted

skyscrapers. In their shadows, the glazed eyes of the

street zombies slide into view, stumbling in front of the

car. Our excitement at driving into what feels like a manmade

hurricane Katrina is matched only by sheer disbelief

that what was once the fourth-largest city in the U.S.

could actually be in the process of disappearing from

the face of the earth.” This is the style denounced locally

as “ruin porn.” All the el ements are here: the exuberant

connoisseurship of dereliction; the unembarrassed

rejoicing at the “excitement” of it all, hastily balanced by

the liberal posturing of sympathy for a “man-made Katrina,”

and most importantly, the absence of people other

than those he calls, cruelly, “street zombies.” The city is

a shell, and so are the people who occasionally stumble

into the photographer’s viewfinder. [“Detroitism”]