Detroit Research Volume 2

detroitresearch

VOLUME TWO / SPRING / FALL 2016


DetroitResearch /On Dance


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Culture Lab Detroit’s 2016 focus looks at people who communicate

and practice their particular art by expressing themselves on a

wall—people that are philosophically aligned with Detroit and have

a keen understanding of the challenges and opportunities that this

city faces. Dialogues and other projects will address the issues

of empty spaces, changing population, urban renewal, and the

struggle to define a new environment of collaboration and respect.

www.culturelabdetroit.org


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

SANFORD BIGGERS:

SUBJECTIVE COSMOLOGY

On view September 9, 2016 through January 1, 2017

MUSEUM OF

CONTEMPORARY

ART DETROIT

IMAGE: Sanford Biggers, Shatter, 2015, production still. Courtesy of the artist.

This exhibition has been organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

and is curated by MOCAD’s Executive Director Elysia Borowy-Reeder. Born out of

experimentation and a desire to create a new platform for engagement, this project

and exhibition is supported by the Joyce Foundation, the National Endowment for

the Arts, Massimo De Carlo Gallery, and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

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VOLUME TWO / SPRING / FALL 2016

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.

e: DetroitResearchjournal@gmail.com

w: Detroitresearch.org

fb: @DetroitResearch

Detroit Research has been made possible with support from

Cover Photo

Marie T. Hermann, Stillness in the Glorious Wilderness #1, 100x100x-

11cm, Stoneware, 2010. Photo by Tim Thayer, courtesy Marie T. Hermann

Inside Cover Photo

Leyya Mona Tawil, DANCE ELIXIR, Day of the Innocents [Enter The Martyr]

Photo by Ricardo Esway Photography

Back Cover Photo

Biba Bell, It Never Really Happened, Detroit, 2015. Video still by Christine

/Hucal, courtesy Biba Bell


Editor

Michael Stone-Richards

Assistant Editors

Marissa Jezak

Jessica Newberry

Web Designer & Manager

Curtis McGuire

Social Media Manager

Kristin Wellmer

Editorial Board

Addie Langford

Biba Bell

Kevin Beasley

Design Lead

Joshua A. Smith

Layout Design

Lisa Nettler

Alicia Stocker

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Susanne Feld Hilberry at the launch of Detroit Research, vol. 1, MOCAD, March 2015. Photo courtesy Shanna Merola.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Detroit Research will publish

Vito Acconci

Taylor Aldridge

Shiva Amahdi

Mary Elizabeth Anderson

Toby Barlow

Kevin Beasley

Biba Bell

Francesca Beradi

Maurice Blanchot

Jon Brumit

Joyce Cheng

Mitch Cope

Steve and Dorota Coy / Hygienic Dress League

Kate Daughdrill

Georges Didi-Huberman

Pierre Fédida

Vievee Francis

Petrova Giberson

Bill Harris

Jerry Herron

Scott Hocking

Tony Hope

Amy Kaherl

Leith Karmo

Sarah Kofman

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe

Ralph Lemon

Aaron Levy

Kate Levy

Monty Luke

Jean-Hubert Martin

Chris Monhollen

Marsha Music

Scott Northrup

Charlie O’Geen

J.H. Prynne

Samantha Schefman / Playground Detroit

Gina Reichert

Chris Scoates

Mike Smith

Mistinguette Smith / the Black Land Project

Chris Tysh

Sarah Wagner

Sarah Wilson

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Contents

Introduction

Michael Stone-Richards

1 /On Dance /016

On Dance: A Politics of Rhythm

Michael Stone-Richards

A Dancerly Divining Rod

Biba Bell

Liquor Store Theater: Dancing with

Gentrification in post-Bankruptcy Detroit

Maya Stovall

Ten Statements on Art and Culture

Mårten Spångberg

a photo essay: terry2day

Hamilton Poe

Sparkle, Glitter, Pop...or A Field Guide

for Spatial Transgression

Allen Gillers

We Place Ourselves

Leyya Mona Tawil

4 Poems

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko

#negrophobia

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko and Kate Hess

“Bad Bitches”

Michelle Cowin-Mensah

A Butterfly in a Jar: Where the twirlers lie...

Christopher Braz

Drawings

Ralph Lemon

Infinite Work: A Selection of Writings by Biba Bell

Matthew Piper

Biba Bell:

Notes on Dancing in Detroit

Curating a Collision

MGM

Slow Work: Dance’s Temporal Effect in the Visual Sphere

How it Happened Revisted. Biba Bell in Conversation

with Matthew Piper

2 /Research /138

Blues & Roots: Fragments of a History

of the Detroit Artists Workshop

George Tysh

Photographer of a Revolution: The Girl with the

Camera, the photography of Leni Sinclair.

Emi Fontana

A Coversation with Carlos Diaz

Mary McNichols, Ph.D

3 /Drawing Detroit /174

Drawing Detroit

Jennifer Junkermeier and Ryan Harte

4 /Public Engagement /188

St. Louis County police responding to

the Ferguson Uprising...

Curtis McGuire

5 /Notes on Social Practice /194

Building on ‘Notes on Social Practice’:

On the Theoretical Unconscious of Social Practice

Hammam Aldouri


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

6 /Collections /204

In Correspondence with the Vessel:

The Collection of Joy and Allan Nachman

Addie Langford

7 /Marie T. Hermann /232

The Discreet Music of Marie T. Hermann's Objects

Michael Stone-Richards

Marie T. Hermann in Conversation

Glenn Adamson

Stillness in the Glorious Wilderness

Glenn Adamson

Toccata 570

Rebecca R. Hart

Metabolic Décor

Ezra Shales

That Which is Drawn Away

Anthony Marcellini

And dusk turned dawn, Blackthorn

Shelley Selim

After M.T.H. Exhibition: And dusk turned

dawn, Blackthorn

Lynn Crawford

8 /Jessica Stoller /306

The Delicate Monster: Recent Work by Jessica Stoller

Jane Ursula Harris

9 /Tony Hepburn /316

A Midwife to Ideas: Tony Hepburn

Addie Langford

Tony Hepburn at Cranbook Academy of Art

Marsha Miro

Recent Work (Materials Pieces),

Camden Arts Center 1971

Tony Hepburn

Tony Hepburn: Vignettes

Ben Teague

Encountering Tony Hepburn

Tom Lauerman

Tony Hepburn in Correspondence

Addie Langford

Tony Hepburn. An Obituary.

Paul Kotula

10 /Susanne Hilberry /360

In Memoriam Susanne Feld Hilberry

Marsha Miro

/Reviews /364

Play Time

Kim Harty

Hamtramck Ceramck

Marissa Jezak and Jessica Newberry


DetroitResearch /On Dance

VOLUME TWO / SPRING / FALL 2016

When, sometime in 2012, Addie Langford

and I sat down with a group of friends

and former students (Biba Bell,

Jessica Newberry, Marissa Jezak, Andrew Mehall,

Dan Steadman, and Kevin Beasley) to discuss

the landscape of art writing in Detroit, there was

relatively little at the time that could be said to be more

than documentary or occasional writing, rather than

writing that sought to develop a critical language,

history, and theory about developing practices in

Detroit since the heyday of Cass Corridor artists. 1 In

order for artworks to have a future, it has been said,

not only must they be made, collected and exhibited,

they must also be written about and become part of a

discourse and conversation about value. Sometimes

the critical language is ahead of the art (as may have

been the case with New York art-writing in the 1980s

and 1990s), at other times (as was the case with

Cubism in pre-World War I Paris, say) the art is ahead

of the language and it takes decades to find the right

language and strategies for talking about the art and

its possible subjects. (One of the least compelling

things that can be said about any work of art is that it

speaks for itself, hence the largest part of any history

of art is the history of forgotten objects.) Today, as

the second volume (Spring-Fall) of Detroit Research

appears there is a veritable flowering of art writing in

Detroit as witnessed by an article by Michael Hodges

for The Detroit News when he asks, writing in April,

2015:

Want more proof of the quickening in the

Detroit art scene? Consider the small explosion

of local art journals that have popped up in the

past year or two.

“It's like mushrooms after a rain,” says Royal

Oak artist Mary Fortuna, who edited the mid-

1990s journal Ground Up. “I am delighted by

the breadth and variety, and the somethingfor-everyone

quality.”

The newest of the bunch, Detroit Research

[the most academic], just launched a month

ago, joining other recent arrivals Infinite Mile,

Essay'd, The Periphery, Detroit Art Review,

and ZIPR. 2

The landscape - the political, economic, and cultural

landscape - between 2012 and now could not be more

different: the inaugural issue of Detroit Research in

2015 began with an extended reflection on art in the

context of Detroit’s Emergency Manager Law, the

Grand Bargain (and the extraordinary role played by

the DIA and its donors therein), and art as a symptom


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

or medium of representation of social and political

tensions. The first issue of Detroit Research also

contained a brief essay by Mary Fortuna on her journal

Ground Up and the challenges facing her and her peers

in keeping up a critical reflexive practice in the Detroit

of the mid-1990s. If bankruptcy – both economic and

political – was a keynote of conversations but a few

years ago, today the conversation and cultural

landscape are markedly different: now, political and

social talk is dominated by the image of Midtown,

Downtown and environs 3 – the names are contested,

so for some “Midtown” is really “Cass Corridor” –

and the need for economic resources to reach the

neighborhoods, since it is all but agreed that the city

core of Detroit is well on its way back to economic

sustainability. Today, the conversation is race and

demographic displacement in light of vastly increased

property values; 4 likewise is the contemporary art

scene the subject of much conversation both in and

outside Detroit, and which is in no small part a function

of the considerable social and capital investment made

over many years by foundations – Kresge, Knight,

Erb and many more – and often in innovative ways.

Detroit Research, Infinite Mile, Essay’d, some of the

new forms of art writing in Detroit straddling the web

and physical copy, for example, are either recipients

of Knight Foundation Art Challenge Grants or

applicants. Since being invited to guest edit this issue

of Detroit Research on Dance, Biba Bell – about to start

her new life as Assistant Professor of Dance at Wayne

State University! – has become a Kresge Fellow (2016),

and Leni Sinclair, the great photographer of Detroit,

on whom, I am proud to say, we had long planned two

articles, has become a Kresge Eminent Artist (2016),

and the Danish-Detroit ceramicist Marie T. Hermann

(and most recently Visiting Assistant Professor

and Head of Ceramics at the College for Creative

Studies), the featured artist in this issue, is a Kresge

Fellow of 2013. It is scarce possible to think of any

accomplished artist on the Detroit scene who has not

directly or indirectly benefitted from the considerable

investment made by the foundations in the various

The launch of Detroit Research, vol. 1, MOCAD, March 2015. Photo courtesy Shanna Merola.

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

art practices of Detroit – social practice, community

arts, post-studio practice, architecture, film, music

and performance, writing, and yes, painting and

traditional studio practices. The investment in the

arts of Detroit has also, most importantly, served

to attract talent from outside Detroit and many

such people have become part of the practice – or

the politics - of staying, as Rick Lowe of Project Row

Houses has so tellingly put this as the core of any idea

of social practice. For these and many more reasons –

some of them structural, to be sure – the writing and

conversation about art in Detroit has qualitatively

changed since this journal was but a conception and

the many forms of art writing now available testify to

this change, are, indeed, themselves both symptoms

and agents of such change. The local economies of art

and art writing are reaching a new complexity and so

inevitably will seek to capture different if overlapping

concerns and this issue of Detroit Research devoted

to dance and ceramics, with a tribute to the late Tony

Hepburn, former Artist-in-Residence in Ceramics at

Cranbrook, will be our attempt to give representation

and visibility to an emerging discourse, as well as to

join with our friends in other new art writing ventures

in building new archives for the future (l’à-venir, that

which is yet to come).

For its part, Detroit Research aims to situate the

recent art practices of Detroit within a national and

international setting: we expect each issue to reflect

this dialogue between the national and international

even more beginning with volume 3 devoted to The

Art of Sound, to be guest-edited by the inter-media

artists Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus of

the Detroit-based electronic band Adult., and will

include, we hope, Kevin Beasley, as the featured artist

(to be curated by Dick Goody and Monica Bowman),

and essays by the great French curator Jean-Hubert

Martin, and the French philosopher and art historian

Georges Didi-Huberman. In each issue we shall have

a historical section on a Detroit journal or art event

(in this volume George Tysh writes on the Detroit

Artists Workshop with photography by Leni Sinclair),

a Detroit art collection (here Addie Langford writes

on the Joy and Allan Nachman collection; Taylor

Aldridge will be our next writer on a significant art

collection), and topics on drawing Detroit, public

engagement, social practice, and Biopolitics. The aim

is not simply to capture or to report or describe but

to develop a critical language anchored in Detroit’s

emerging art practices as the basis of a critical theory

of social practice broadly conceived since “life too is a

form of art [approached through] the study of places

and people.” 5

Many individuals, communities, and institutions

combined have worked together to make Detroit

Research possible. First and foremost, we should like

to acknowledge the crucial interest of Katy Locker,

Knight Foundation Program Director for Detroit and

the indispensable support of the Knight Foundation

in the form of a Knight Art Challenge Grant in 2015.

With volume 2, Detroit Research is produced in

collaboration with the College for Creative Studies

(CCS) whose President Rick Rogers has given

unstinting support along with Nina Holden, VP of

Institutional Advancement at CCS and her colleague

Shannon McPartlon, Director of Foundation

Relations, at CCS. Sooshin Choi and Vince Carducci,

Provost and Dean respectively of CCS, have also been

highly supportive of this project. Many artists and

friends across the community - and indeed beyond

Detroit - have also donated artwork, money, and time

to make this project possible, amongst them those we


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

have come to consider as our Founding Members (or

Art Angels): Barbara Estrin, Dr. Norris and Mrs. M.

Langford, Marie T. Hermann, Jane Schulak, Gayle

and Andrew Camden, Marc Schwartz, Toby Barlow,

Marsha Miro, Linda Dresner, Lois Cohn, McArthur

Binion, Michael E. Smith, Scott Hocking, Vievee

Francis, Nicola Kuperus, Adam Lee Miller, Chris Tysh,

George Tysh, Paul Kotula, Greg Fadell, and Biba Bell.

The Episcopal Cathedral Church of St Paul Detroit, and

the Rev. Dr. William Danaher, Rector of the Episcopal

Christ Church, Cranbrook were generous in their

support of this project. We have also been fortunate to

receive corporate support from Avanti Press and Wells

Fargo. To the gallerists Michelle Perron of Center

Galleries, CCS, Hazel Blake of the Susanne Hilberry

Gallery, Christine Schefman of the David Klein

Gallery, and Simone DeSousa of the Simone DeSousa

Gallery we express our heartfelt thanks for their

continued support. Dr. Nii O. Quarcoopome, Co-Chief

Curator of the DIA, was exceptionally generous of his

time in helping us with several key works from the

Ceramics Collection of the DIA for use in our section

on the work of Marie T. Hermann. The design work for

Detroit Research has been a labor of love and the team

that pulled it together nothing less than exceptional:

our lead designer Joshua Smith, Assistant Editors

Marissa Jezak and Jessica Newberry, our web designer

Curtis McGuire, and our social media / Indiegogo

magician Kristin Wellmer. All are alums of the

College for Creative Studies – and as it happens,

all have worked in Critical Theory at CCS and their

continued presence through the journal will be

felt as the College makes steps toward the invention

of new approaches to Critical Studies. I cannot thank

them enough. The list could continue – and will need

to do so if the journal is to be produced at this level –

but it is sufficient to show what it has taken to make

this work possible.

Michael Stone-Richards

Editor, Detroit Research

Chair, Committee on Critical Studies

College for Creative Studies

2 Michael Hodges, “New Journals showcase Detroit Art

Scene,” The Detroit News (April 14, 2015).

3 When will someone write a cultural essay on the new

restaurants (and restaurant architecture) of Detroit as

image of the changing relations to the suburbs and the

image of Detroit to itself?

4 Since, however, nothing is simple, cf. Kelefa Sanneh,

1 In 2007, Craig Fahle at WDET’s Detroit Today, convened a

panel discussion on arts writing in Detroit in the light of the

recent opening of MOCAD in 2006 and new developments on

the art scene. Listen to a recording of that conversation with

Nick Sousanis, Rebecca Mazzei, George Tysh, and Michael

Stone-Richards here at http://www.michaelstonerichards.

com/audio.html

“Is Gentrification really a Problem?” The New Yorker

(July 11 and 18, 2016), http://www.newyorker.com/

magazine/2016/07/11/is-gentrification-really-a-problem.

Accessed 08-01-16, and Michael Stone-Richards,

“Thoughts Propadeutic to Talking about Gentrification,

or, The Coruscant Effect,” Infinite Mile, no. 16 (April 2016),

http://infinitemiledetroit.com/Thoughts_Propaedeutic_to_

Talking_about_Gentrification,_or,_The_Coruscant_Effect.

html. Accessed 08-01-16.

5 Arthur Symons, “Preface,” Plays, Acting, and Music

(London: Constable & Company, 1909), viii.

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DetroitResearch /On Dance


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

1

/On

Dance


DetroitResearch /On Dance

On Dance: A Politics of Rhythm

/ MICHAEL STONE-RICHARDS

The abstract thinker, to whom the question of practical morality is indifferent,

has always loved dancing, as naturally as the moralist has hated it.

Arthur Symons, “The World as Ballet,” 1906

I

At the end of February into early March of 2015, there

occurred in Detroit an art event that for many of us

was of a kind of which one will either say, “I was there,”

or, “I was not there.” Biba Bell, dancer-choreographer-scholar –

the very image of what the new dance studies since Judson has

sought to produce – mounted a choreography called It never

really happened (Part One), a site-specific dance made to be

executed in a fifth-floor corner apartment of the Pavilion high

rise designed by Mies van de Rohe. (Matthew Piper, with our

friends at Infinite Mile, produced a long and rich conversation

with Bell about the origin of this work and the concepts

explored through it, of which we reproduce an edited version

in this issue of Detroit Research. 1 ) The question of where and

when the dance began was built into the invitation itself (hence

the video of the dance begins with the outside of the building)

since there was a strict interval for arrival at the high-rise

building and for access to the apartment, where, upon arrival,

one was met by a hostess, performed by Nicola Kuperus, who

provided drinks and pointed one to the limited seating along

two walls, the other two planes of the room being sheet-glass

opening onto the nature and sky of Lafayette Park. The mixing

of guests and party-talk was also part of the performance – we,

as “audience,” would not be told, The performance is about to

start – very much like the choreography of party guests in Maya

Deren’s great mytho-poetic dance film Ritual in Transfigured

Time (black and white, 1946) where the use of slow motion and

freeze-frame serves precisely to expose to view the underlying

repetition of habits (of greetings and welcome) as already a

structuring choreography at once ordinary and latent with

ritual force and alterity (imagine, say, the Greek demand for

hospitality since one may never know that one is not meeting

a god), something signaled in the film’s language by the use

of negative light to mark the phenomenon of experience as

transition. The appearance of Biba Bell the performer simply

signaled the transition to another stage or phase of the dance.

We are fortunate in having a recording of the dance available

on the Detroit Research website – or at least a partial recording

– since not only the dance itself but the sound work composed

for the performance would need to be grasped for the fullness

of the work and its engagements to be articulated. And what

are these engagements? With It never really happened (Part

One), Bell made the most astonishing presentation of her work


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

and thought yet: presence of bodies to bodies (the compactness

of party-goers, the compactness of sitting on a bench with no

protective social space in between guests), post-studio dance,

the investigation of architecture, the foregrounding of an

aesthetics of domesticity as also an architecture of domesticity

(and what could be more domestic and yet intertextual than the

witty transposition of Yvonne Rainer’s Hand Movie to a Foot

Dance 2 ), and, in the final scene of Bell’s performance consisting

of a slow walking movement with the left hand of the dancer

moving along the two planes of sheet-glass, the appearance of

the trace upon the misted glass of the apartment as signal of

many other traces (of negative space, bodies, party detritus).

For the closing stages of the dance the hostess, having been led

slowly by the principal performer to a place of uneventfulness,

sits in stillness and looks on without affect, and it is difficult

not to see her as both audience and subject of the dance, at

once alienated and engaged, living only in movement. (But

what is life if not self-movement?) There was an intensity of

movement and presence without, though, the heaviness which

can scarce any longer be taken without irony; but above all, the

architecture of the compact – situation, room, and consent –

left one unable not to feel the affective embodiment of a shared

arc of desolation, mourning, celebration, and resignation.

Bodies generate metaphorical associations – trans-port – and

for this viewer, the ending tracing along steamed-up glass

evoked the poetry of clouds in a Baudelaire or the tradition

of mono no aware, at the same time that it made one feel the

affective and hence social depletion. It was an experience that

no one present would have missed, as the compact carried over

into re-entering the night of the city of Detroit.

Biba Bell, It Never Really Happened, 2015. Photo print.

Biba Bell, Who Me House, 2004.

/On Dance

II

Introducing this volume I observed that the mission that

Detroit Research has set itself is to situate the recent art

practices of Detroit within a national and international setting.

Maya Stovall, Liquor Store Theater, 2014.

18/19


DetroitResearch /On Dance

Our aim is not simply to capture or to report or describe

the current art of the city but to develop a critical language

anchored in Detroit’s emerging art practices as the basis of a

critical theory of social practice broadly conceived since “life

too is a form of art [approached through] the study of places and

people.” 3 The material gathered by Biba Bell On Dance for this

volume captures to perfection this ambition in an innovative

reflection on a city known for many things – the Motown

sound pre-eminently – but not dance, at least experimental

art dance, since Bell and her collaborators take dance as this

is now understood in the most compelling contemporary - that

is, post-Judson – appreciation as intervention, research into

acts of historically conditioned forms of social embodiment,

articulation, and movement. An excellent example of this

conception of dance is Bell’s own work – at once performance,

dance, and non-dance 4 - called Who Me House from 2004 in

which the performer, Bell herself, is enframed in a vitrine:

the body is framed, and movement is entrained and limited,

and the domestic acts of walking and shifting around within

a constrained space become the subjects of looking-at (and

looking-in running the risk of being looked-through) at the

same time that such loaded looking-at (gazing) becomes the

subject of the investigation through the dance/performance.

At another remove the liminal boundaries between dance,

performance, and “mere” movement announce the subject of

the work as liminality in the social sphere as the frame removes

body and performer from the anchoring of the everyday yet

still subject to the gaze from the place of the everyday (the

viewers). The conception of dance at work in these studies

and interventions gathered by Bell is one in which, as with

Who Me House, enframing gives moments and processes of

the everyday over to the pressures of exposure. Discontinuity,

then, or inter-ruption (into and from), is the mark of this deconstructive

dance.

III

In Bell’s essays and interventions in On Dance the work of the

great choreographer-dancer Ralph Lemon, for example, along

with the Danish Mårten Spångberg, 5 is situated alongside

Detroit choreographer Maya Stovall and artist Hamilton Poe’s

photo-essay on “terry2day” and further work on Voguing

and Arab-American experimentalism in movement forms.

What emerges – and this is especially so in the conversation

between Stovall and Bell, and Matthew Piper’s dossier of Bell’s

own writings – is the way in which dance grasped as research

permits for a new understanding and image of the city, in this

case, Detroit, the idea of Detroit as the poet Jim Gustafson

famously formulated it. The (social) choreography of Terry

captured by photography in “terry2day” is Detroit at a certain

angle but also more than this as movement becomes discourse

in an expanded materialist conception of dance relative to

the City (whose locations, places, and space are conceptually

grasped as the negative of theatre forms and space, hence

Bell’s preoccupation with what it might mean to practice a

post-studio (inter-ruptive, discontinuous) form of dance). For

Poe, but also Maya Stovall’s Liquor Store Theatre intervention,

this form of dance in the expanded field is a means of grasping

the body at the intersection of power and exclusion in order to

show culture in transition, or to make visible the contradictory

and complex (repressive and negating) movements of power

inscribed across corporeality. The new dance studies in which

Bell has been formed – the work of Sally Banes, Susan Leigh

Foster, Susan Manning, and Bell’s own mentor André Lepecki

– grasps dance as a cognitive and methodological medium

capable of wide application and generalization (consider, for

example, the title of Susan Leigh Foster’s famous anthology

Choreographing History 6 ), 7 indeed, a tool of study where the

body of dance is the depository of traces and forces of ideology,

history and potentiality. Dance in the most conventional


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

understanding of the art form, shapes forces – of seduction, of

vision, of attraction and repulsion – but dance is also, in the

larger expanded field of movement off-stage, the image and

medium of larger interlocking impersonal forces (attraction

and repulsion) of power that shape and direct lives at the

unconscious level. This is what Frank Kermode was driving

at in his essay on the aestheticism of dance in the 1890s when

he observed that “[The Modern Dance] depends always upon

the body – upon the power of the body – not to express emotion

but to objectify a pattern of sentience.” 8 This unconscious

level can be that of the tacit domain of Edward T. Hall, where,

again, the image of dance is no mere image (or metaphor) but

medium. As Hall himself wrote in The Dance of Life, “It can

now be said with assurance that individuals are dominated in

their behavior by complex hierarchies of interlocking rhythms.

1 Cf. Matthew Piper, “How it Happened: A Conversation with Biba

Bell about her Apartment Dance,” Infinite Mile, no. 16 (April 2015),

http://infinitemiledetroit.com/How_It_Happened_(a_conversation_

with_Biba_Bell_about_her_apartment_dance)_01.html. Accessed

08.01.16

2 Cf. Yvonne Rainer, Hand Movie, 1966, available on YouTube at https://

www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuArqL7r1WQ. Accessed 08-13-16.

3 Arthur Symons, “Preface,” Plays, Acting, and Music (London:

Constable & Company, 1909), viii.

4 An important aspect of the work of choreographers such as Pina

Bausch and Anne-Teresa de Keersmaeker is precisely the question

of the shift between dance and performance.

5 Cf. Lindsey Winship, “Mårten Spångberg, the Bad Boy of

Contemporary Dance,” The Guardian (July 5, 2013), https://www.

theguardian.com/stage/2013/jul/05/marten-spangberg-epic-dance.

Accessed 08-01-16.

6 Cf. Susan Leigh Foster, ed., Choreographing History (Bloomington:

Indiana University Press, 1995).

7 The historiography of such a conception of dance as life itself is

[…] I am convinced that it will ultimately be proved that almost

every facet of human behavior is involved in the rhythmic

process,” 9 which is to say that Hall believes that the movement

of social life – and life itself – is dance, and so the study of

dance a study of the forms of life. The idea of dance explored

in these pages is nothing less than a politics of rhythm. 10 As I

complete the editing of this volume, which is to say, the viewing

of artwork and the reading of texts – many times over, like a

performance – I have come to a view, I shall not call it an insight,

at least I shall not insist on it, namely, that the works of Leni

Sinclair (more and more the photographer of Detroit) shares

long indeed – stretching back to Hindu conceptions of the universe

as embodied in Shiva and importantly re-worked in the poetry

of T.S. Eliot – but in its more modern form would encompass the

aestheticism of dance from Mallarmé through Yeats and Valéry to an

Adrian Stokes in England , as also the Cambridge Ritualists with its

American offshoots including a Ralph Ellison, and the expansion of

anthropology to a saturated conception of everyday life to be found

in the works of such as Richard Schechner, Victor Turner and many

others. The post-Judson inflection consists in the conception of

materialism at work in the methodology.

8 Frank Kermode, “Poet and Dancer before Diaghilev,” in What is

Dance? Readings in Theory and Criticism, ed. Roger Copeland and

Marshall Cohen (New York: OUP, 1983), 158. My emphases. The only

question is how one might interpret the origins and significance

(social? historical? political?) of the patterns of sentience.

9 Edward T. Hall, The Dance of Life (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press,

/On Dance

much with the conception of dance at work in Bell’s vision (we

would need the mediation of Anna Halprin and Simone Forti

to make sense of this), for with the frame necessary to art in

the Western tradition there comes in the work of Sinclair and

the dance presented in Bell’s collaborators in this volume the

multitudinous and various sense of forms of life interlocking,

overlapping, dissolving, re-appearing – and resisting. It almost

makes one want to re-read Deleuze. ■

1983), 141.

10 It is regrettable that no translation is yet available of what is arguably

the most penetrating work on the politics of rhythm, a work of

incomparably greater insight than anything to be found in Henri

Lefebvre’s ruminations on rhythm, namely, Henri Meschonnic’s

Critique du rythme: Anthropologie historique du langage (Lagrasse:

Verdier, 1982) .

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

A Dancerly

Divining Rod

/ Biba Bell

[D]ance, as a scenic event, is directly shaped by such

a structure. Its own works have no other milieu of

existence but the scène, and this one, as we hope to

show, is nothing else but a structure of contemporaneity

and therefore a structure of temporality. 1

Similarly to how she flexes her muscles, a person flexes

her surroundings—both are with her and of her always. 2


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Dance is in and of its scene. Setting, mise en scène, or

theatrical context, perhaps we could imagine choreography

itself, an “apparatus of capture,” as one

of dance’s primary scenes. 3 Choreography moves us into the

frame of the architectural, the topo-geographic, and the social.

Expanding the scene, all the world’s stage, we continuously move

with and against the world. Dance takes place through its refusal

to stay in place. Rhythmic, gravitational, corporeal, affective,

dance moves us. The dancer partners the city in what might event

a Jacobs-esque sidewalk pas de deux or it could look more like a

social choreographic act of resistance. Here, the city is all that

it contains: an ensemblic sphere of bodies, vehicles, buildings,

green spaces, day and nighttime rituals, economies of circulation

and capital, of desires and relations, discourse, difference, and

the rich, layered strata of historical memory. Frédéric Pouillaude,

quoted above, invests the scène as a structure of temporality predicated

on contemporaneity and, thus, contingent co-existence.

The dancerly scene requires this essential co-existensivity and,

tuning into its eventness, this is a nexus across which multiple

temporalities converge. It is a multivocal and complex terrain—

marked, grooved, uneven, populated, and replete with potentiality.

Choreographically, it is a space of inscription that puts

into practice the many ways bodies organize and are organized.

floor—four-on-the-floor—“Every cell knows where down is.

Easily forgotten.” 4 From the ground up, let us dance with improvisational

quickness, dexterity, urgency, enjoyment, and care.

* * *

Setting the scene. It was a Sunday morning in March in 2013

when Ralph Lemon and I shared a memorable walk around a

very special building in Detroit: the Motown Museum on Grand

Boulevard. Ralph was visiting Detroit as a guest artist at the University

where I teach. Approximately twelve years earlier, when

we’d first met, he had been deeply engaged in a process of “backyard”

research through the American South. During this period,

which came to form Come Home Charlie Patton, the third part

of his seminal Geography Trilogy, he investigated intersections

between identity, race, and geography. 5 Dance offered a means

by which to peer into and map the silent memories of history,

a corporeal divining rod detecting history’s ephemeral voices,

and invoke what José Medina refers to as “people who remember

against the grain.” 6 Music was also central to this journey. At the

time of our Detroit outing, Ralph had recently curated a performance

series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City that

took its title from a gospel song, “Some Sweet Day,” and

sparked lively discussions about what happens when dance

steps into the aesthetic, economic context of the museum.

/On Dance

Conjure the image of dancer as alchemist, ambassador, or ninja.

Whether feeling the rub in a tight, sweaty room or bounding

across open-air, grassy lots, there is a way that the body moves

to reset the stakes in a site, shift its fault lines, and dis-articulate

spatial stratifications. At times these are exalted, extraordinary

feats and at times simply everyday, ambulatory play. This figure

is one of many, never quite alone, calling and responding to an

ensemble of dancers past, present, and future who join together

in rhythm, breath, and energy. Yvonne Rainer once noted that

dance is very difficult to see. Instead, can you feel it? Hear it?

Tap-tap, slide, chassé, step, step, stumble—feet against the

Needless to say, I expectantly anticipated our visit to Hitsville

USA. For me, coupled with the Rouge River Plant, the site endures

as a fertile archive of Detroit’s significant contributions to dance

history. While some might argue that dance is not the focus of

the Motown legacy, unless of course we are talking with the ghost

of Cholly Atkins in the room, it is a major presence in its scene.

Dancing in the streets, music is catchy—an enduring vessel for

dancerly contagions. Gordy took this into account and choreography’s

house was established in the compound wherein some of the

most significant performers of the 20th century were nurtured.

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Dance offers an important lens to flesh out the very real, virtuosic

ways these artists engaged the politics of embodiment and identity

as they traversed multiple spaces and aesthetic economies.

Additionally, this scene resonates with a number of themes that

run through my own scholarly and artistic research: performance,

affective labor, and domestic space. That Sunday morning

we pulled into the funeral home parking lot next door, got out

of my jeep, and found, to our dismay, that the museum was closed.

Instead of driving away we stood on the front lawn and read the

historical plaque detailing the landmark site. A display window

on the front of the East sitting house advertised the current

exhibition. A trip to the museum is invariably furnished with a

tour, and through the years I’ve come to remember a bit of script,

which that morning I tried to relate to Ralph. I pointed to some

of the other houses in the neighborhood that once formed the

extended Motown compound, including a big white home two

doors down (“the money house”) where artists went to get paid.

I described Gordy’s private residence in the upstairs apartment

and its 60s style modernism, remembering an image of what

might have been a forrmica tabletop or a plastic cup filled with

resin to look like a half finished glass of pop. We began to circle

the building, peering into windows and over fences, running our

hands across the painted brick walls, and made our way around

the house to the back alley where the garage had been converted

into Hitsville’s legendary Studio B with help from Gordy’s father.

From this vantage I did my best to remember what was inside: the

location of the piano, the recording booth, a wall-hook where the

Temptations hung their coats, a suspended microphone under

which a young Diana Ross. The home came alive for us as we

imagined elated play coupled with diligent work. We patiently

solicited its memories, listening for that echo-y Motown sound

and hoping for a bridge. Our methodical choreography circling

the homes lasted for close to 30 minutes. Pedestrians passed by,

walking along the boulevard, and perhaps wondered what we,

two dancers, two researchers, two friends, were doing creeping

around that house, a mecca of Detroit’s performance history.

* * *

As I worked through ideas, thoughts, and desires toward this

issue of Detroit Research, I began to orbit a number of questions:

How might a choreographic sensibility and/or dancerly

practice cohere in a way that is distinctively Detroit? And how

can a choreographic lens offer an expanded sense of Detroit’s

geography, as a socio-economic and historical terrain as well as a

current or movement or mood inflecting discursive and aesthetic

terrain? What would this look, sound, or feel like? Who can tell

this story? The contributions to this issue of Detroit Research

respond to these questions in diverse, urgent, and sometimes

celebratory ways: artist/scholar and fourth generation Detroiter

Maya Stovall’s choreo-ethnographic Liquor Store Theatre project;

Danish [working in Sweden] choreographer, performer, and

theorist Mårten Spångberg’s manifesto on art and culture within

the machinery of capitalism; Hamilton Poe’s crowd-sourced

photographic essay documenting the daily dances of a well known

figure in Midtown Detroit’s swiftly gentrifying neighborhood;

architect Allen Gillers’ mobile architectures that act as proposals

for LGBTQ urban and affective commons; a score by improviser

and choreographer Leyya Mona Tawil exploring experimental

narrative in Arab American performance; Detroit born, Nigerian

American performance artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s

poetic, performative texts and images excerpted from his recent

performance piece “#negrophobia”; Theater and performance

studies scholar Michelle Cowin-Mensah’s analysis of the performance

of race and gender in Detroit’s notorious White Party;

dancer and Detroit native Christopher Braz’s personal essay on

voguing and belonging; and, lastly, a small collection of Ralph

Lemon’s drawings that offer homage to Detroit’s music legacy.

In look and sound and feel, the work in this issue dances across

disciplinary aisles—scholarly writing, drawings, photography,


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

scores, reflections, poetry. Dance functions as both subject

matter and methodological strategy, exemplary as an aesthetic

point of entry into a range of intangibilities relating to place,

identity, history, and art. One foot in front of the other, we enter

the scene. We must, as Stovall stresses, have some skin in the

game. Is dance so difficult to see? Perhaps dance helps make

visible that which is very difficult to see. Sometimes we have to

denaturalize the dance to see the dancer (or vice versa) shuffling

his or her scene or, rather, opening up his or her scene through

a shuffle, step, step, slide, pivot, twist, twirl. Dancing across

aisles, outside of (disciplinary) houses and onto the street, can be

risky. But it also reveals how movement is imbued with choreopolitical

potential, dynamically placing us in the present and

with one another. 7 As we move with and against the city with

courage, care, and criticality, let dance be our divining rod. ■

/On Dance

4 From a transcription of Steve Paxton leading his “Small Dance,” aka

1 Frédéric Pouillaude, “Scène and Contemporary,” in Planes of

Composition: Dance, Theory, and the Global, ed. Jenn Joy and

André Lepecki (New York: Seagull Books, 2009), 179.

2 Madeline Gins and Arakawa, Architectural Body (Tuscaloosa: The

University of Alabama Press, 2002), 40.

3 Choreography is referred to in relation to the term “apparatus”

by numerous scholars, notably André Lepecki in his discussion

of choreography as an “apparatus of capture.” Gerald Siegmund’s

theorization is also highly instructive in expanding the frame of

choreography (which can be etymologically defined as a bodily

writing) to include the entire scenic event. Siegmund explicates

this apparatus as a structure that produces attention as it also

holds bodies in place: “It stages our bodies to bring them into

existence.” Gerald Siegmund, “Apparatus, Attention and the Body:

The Theatre Machines of Boris Charmatz,” in Planes of

Composition: Dance, Theory, and the Global, ed. Jenn Joy and

André Lepecki (New York: Seagull Books, 2009), 334.

“The Stand,” Contact Quarterly, 11.1 (Winter 1986).

5 Cf. Ralph Lemon, Come Home Charlie Patton (Middleton: Wesleyan

University Press, 2013), 180..

6 José Medina, “Toward a Foucaultian Epistemology of Resistance:

Counter-Memory, Epistemic Friction, and Guerrilla Pluralism,” Foucault

Studies, no. 12 (October 2011): 9-35, 12.

7 The term “choreopolitical,” theorized by André Lepecki, articulates

the impact of embodied, agential resistance to the current, often urban,

realities of choreopolicing, wherein the potential movement of bodies

and thus subjects is regulated through spatial demarcation, in that within

certain spaces the only movements allowed are those preassigned for

“‘proper’ circulation.” Choreopolitical movements such as the decision

to not move and occupy a space indicate an aesthetic range of how

these (what I am calling) dancerly actions might appear. André Lepecki,

“Choreopolice and Choreopolitics: or, the task of the dancer,” in TDR:

The Drama Review, 57.4 (Winter 2013): 13-27, 20.

24/25


DetroitResearch /On Dance

Liquor Store Theater:

Dancing with Gentrification in

post-Bankruptcy Detroit

/ Maya Stovall

Liquor Store Theatre (LST) offers a window into Detroit’s

post-bankruptcy gentrification process. In McDougall-

Hunt, where the project began, there is a liquor store on just

about every corner; on some blocks, there is one on each

corner and also one or more in the middle of the block. This

is a neighborhood with upwards of a sixty percent vacancy

rate in which viable businesses are sparse, public gathering

spaces such as parks and plazas are virtually nonexistent

save for community gardens run by residents, and even the

most minimal city infrastructure such as bus stop benches

and street lights are so rare as to be sumptuous objects.

All images courtesy of the artist


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/On Dance

26/27


DetroitResearch /On Dance

The liquor stores in McDougall-Hunt are not sumptuous, for

their habitualness within the landscape. Generally, with some

exceptions, these stores are run by immigrant families who work

long hours in the city, commuting from various suburbs and

working a twelve hour plus shift from mid-morning to late night.

The majority of the McDougall-Hunt liquor stores are in decrepit

condition. The facades are pronounced with provisional signage,

once brightly colored and now sun-faded hand painted block

letters offering promises of "ice cold beer," "hot sandwiches,"

"chicken gizzards," and "lotto." Grit-stained sidewalks are littered

with windblown trash, splinters of broken glass and concrete

crumbles of potholes bursting between the seasons dot the

driveways and walkways. It’s fascinating that these unkempt

stores peddling limited goods are so incredibly plentiful in a

twenty-first century American city. What attracted me to these

stores, as much as the repetitive, hypnagogic landscape offered

by the stores themselves on block after block, is the coming

and the going – the movement of people through the small

sidewalk, street, and parking lot spaces surrounding the stores.

There are conversations, business transactions, exchanges of

information, expressions of leisure and festivity, an ongoing

negotiation of time, space and place. This is what I consider a

theater – a site of contestation, action, and reaction – that is

already present in front of the store, and I imagine has been,

long before McDougall-Hunt and its liquor stores became a site

of the choreo-ethnographic project that is LST.

Upon repeated observation of McDougall-Hunt liquor stores

in the summer, right away one notices the presence of public

characters, à la Jane Jacobs, 1 on the sidewalks surrounding the

stores. Although there is a steady flow of customers from within

the neighborhood and including those passing through the

neighborhood, some of the same men and women daily dot the

parking lot and sidewalks of the neighborhood. To understand

the importance of the happenings in these small urban spaces,

it is helpful to view the overall context. In McDougall-Hunt,

opportunity is thin and seldom; joblessness outnumbers those

who are employed; poverty is the norm. McDougall-Hunt’s

median income is approximately $13,000, its unemployment

rate is officially upwards of twenty-one percent, obviously much

higher in reality when observing the neighborhood, over sixtyfive

percent of residents are living below the federal poverty line,

and the urban renewal which has landed in Downtown Detroit

just two miles west has professedly ignored McDougall-Hunt and

its sweeping vacancy. In a neighborhood strapped for resources,

viable urban spaces become a gathering place for those who

are impacted by the neo-liberal policies of Detroit which leave

swaths of the city like this one unstirred by private and public

investment. In a neighborhood where infrastructure, jobs,

and decent housing are largely absent, what is left to study?

People are left. Time, space, and place are left. The study of

performance of people who are traditionally marginalized by

classification – whether socio-economic, ethnoracial, gender,

or some combination of these identification tensions – allows

a study of contention. The study of the time-space, and place

surrounding the liquor store allows a view into a private/public

dichotomy and a view into the remnants and the beginnings in

cycles of capitalism and flexible accumulation. In some of the

seemingly most anonymous places of Detroit neighborhoods

– the sidewalks surrounding its party stores – a story of

gentrification in post-bankruptcy Detroit is found.

Our staged dance performances on the grit-encrusted sidewalks

of Detroit invite residents to speak about life in the city.

The documentary films show a facet of city life that is both


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

poetic and starkly honest. I have feelings of skepticism and

ambivalence toward helicopter researchers and artists landing in

neighborhoods to extract information and ideas from residents

and subsequently write articles, monographs, and books, or

produce works, based upon weeks or even days of one-sided,

outsider-centered research. Spending a few days somewhere

would allow a researcher or artist to become an “expert” on the

neighborhood or the phenomenon at hand. As a fourth-generation

Detroiter I have been skeptical of newcomers seeking to extract

Detroit-ness without infusing their own skin in the game (that

is, “skin” other than just money) – without being vulnerable,

accessible, and engaged with the working-class people who have

inhabited this city before it became a city du jour. Although

I’m from this place, I don’t want to simply take from Detroit – I

want to dance with it in a way that challenges assumptions. The

dancing in LST challenges the gaze – it challenges the idea of

a helicopter researcher/artist. By engaging on the street in

performance – the very act which the project seeks to study –

Liquor Store Theater challenges recapitulated categories of

"participant," "researcher," "audience," and "performance."

I begin each LST event with a staged dance performance, in

which a series of choreographed pieces are presented while

videographer Eric Johnston captures the footage and Martha

Johnston captures stills. Conceptual artist Todd “Quaint”

Stovall produces LST music, visual art elements, and also shoots.

Quaint’s artistic presence and input are integral to LST. During

this phase, many of those present on the sidewalks and streets

around the store become interested and watch, while many others

still, jaded by city life or otherwise preoccupied with their own

doings, ignore us. LST, at times, feels like a celebration. The

city as a party, after Lefebvre. 2 Indeed, we have started a party

of some kind – or perhaps continued and provoked a party. I am

blurring the lines between work and play, public and private,

maybe life and death in a city. Those who do become interested

in the staged performance are then invited to continue the

dialogue which the dance started through an interview. After

viewing a dance performance, people are more apt to dialogue. I

ask questions about performance generally and in particular with

respect to the participant’s life, using theatrical performance

as a prompt and a point of vulnerability for a researcher who is

typically in the dominant position. We discuss Detroit as a ballet,

/On Dance

28/29


DetroitResearch /On Dance

the neighborhood as a ballet, and the participant’s own view of

the role of performance in everyday life. Both the disclosures

of fact, and the actual performance and delivery of interview

participants are important. The dialoguing between the dance

as a cognitive prompt and the interview that follows are critical

to the authenticity and integrity of the project. The durational

framework of the project – coming and performing in the LST

events over time in a neighborhood, as well as the vulnerable

position of being under surveillance which the dancing allows me

to assume, makes the project more dialogic. The pure presence

which dancers bring represents an investment in time and

space that is intended to mitigate the voyeurism that urban

ethnography connotes. I am breathing in the elegantly furling

second-hand smoke of those holding court at the liquor store as

I dance with the residents of post-bankruptcy Detroit. Although

the position of privilege conferred to an artist and researcher

in an impoverished city cannot be un-inscribed, I also cannot

be un-inscribed as female, of color, and daughter of this city.

LST allows me to dance with this city in a way that builds on

theory, challenges the global gaze cast upon "Detroit" and upon

the "other," and investigates the rich scene of performance in

urban spaces and places.

This summer, LST continued to explore in the neighborhood now

known as Midtown. Many of the cluster of neighborhoods in the

area known as Midtown are in the throws of the gentrification

process – LST will investigate what this looks like in small

urban spaces through the lens of dance and performance. A

theatrical exchange between researcher and participant allows

the story of a city to be told. I close my eyes, take a deep breath,

and envision a Dali-esque surreal performance in front of the

liquor store across the street from my studio apartment. I join

the performance, entering slowly with a waltz step. LST provides

a window through which to tell the story of a city in transition.

The story is already there, the performances are happening now

as I write these words. What I most want to be clear is that the

city doesn’t need any of us – it needs only to dance. ■


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/On Dance

1 Urban planner and urban space theorist Jane Jacobs introduced

the concept of public characters in 1961, in her text, The Death

and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs also wrote on the notion

of the city as a ballet. Cf. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of

Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961).

2 The right to the city is a theory of urban space asserted by

French sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre first in 1968. In

Lefebvre’s text, Le Droit à la ville, the idea of the right to the city

is pronounced as a general demand for continuous, dynamic

access to city life and its resources/amenities. Cf. Henri Lefebvre,

Le Droit à la ville (Paris: Anthropos, 1968).

30/31


DetroitResearch /On Dance

BELL & STOVALL

IN CONVERSATION

Biba Bell: I’ve been looking at the Liquor Store Theatre videos

on your website and there are so many things that I want to talk

about, but I also want this conversation to give me a sense of

the nuts and bolts or overarching structures and thoughts that

have been moving you, moving with you, and emerging from

this process.

To start, watching you dance in front of the liquor stores in

Detroit, there are two things going on: 1) You’re performing and

2) You’re doing ethnographic research. You’re talking to people,

weaving stories together, and positioning yourself within a

complex terrain between theater and anthropology, performer

and researcher, praxis and theory (that legendary birth place

of performance studies). At the same time you’re onsite of the

street, the parking lot, the community meeting space of the

liquor store, a complex terrain of exposure and encounter.

Prominent to me while watching this collection of videos (Liquor

Store Theatre Vol.1, No. 1-5) is the fact that you are putting

yourself in the position to be seen and looked at… as an object of

the gaze as it relates to a history of performance and dance. The

gaze, historically seeking to stabilize relations between subjects

and their (desired) objects, could instead be performatively

negotiated as a kind of resistance or deferral. I’m reminded of

Fred Moten’s discussion of Adrian Piper, who averts this art

historical gaze and messes with the beholder. For Moten, the force

of resistance is articulated by the gaze-turned-glance, where

glancing includes the minutia of socialized reflex evident in the

move to turn or look away. He writes that “[b]eholding is always the

entrance into a scene, into the context of the other, of the object.” 1

You seem to be at once critiquing and deflecting this gaze as it

converges within the Liquor Store Theatre (LST) both on the

site of your own body and the ethnographic scene. Through

performing these dances you are repositioning and shifting that

focus, remobilizing and projecting it out into the world, with

the folks that have collected, convene, interact, and mingle in

this space in front of the liquor store. I want to talk about this.

Perhaps the best way to engage that question is for you to tell me

about what brought you to this project. This particular series of

videos begin in 2014, what are the steps that have led you here?

Maya Stovall: This idea of the gaze is critical to the project

and it’s critical to what’s happening in Detroit right now. After

being invisible for decades, Detroit now is the object of a global

gaze in a variety of ways, and that’s the really big context.

Studying and problematizing the gentrification process is

what I want to do. Then, getting back to this idea of the gaze

in performance and performance studies and the same idea

of the gaze and ethnography and the anthropological gaze and

how all of these discursive categories of the gaze intersect at

LST, is the idea of telling the story of Detroit’s transformation.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Not in a way that privileges transformation or gentrification in

a positive or negative light but just the factual post-bankruptcy

gentrification process. Using the paradigm of performance, from

the quotidian to the formal theatrical, as a frame, is the idea,

with a purpose towards changing or shifting or problematizing,

of challenging assumed categories of “researcher,” “performer,”

“participant,” and “interviewee.” Ultimately, I want to talk to

people. I want to learn the way that people… how historically

marginalized people show up and make spaces. How performance

is deployed in urban spaces — the classification struggles in the

field of power à la [Pierre] Bourdieu; 2 the negotiation of the

right to the city à la [Henri] Lefebvre and [David] Harvey; 3

and through the lens of carnal sociology and practice theory à

la [Loïc] Wacquant, 4 and, I argue, [Katherine] Dunham 5 in the

1930s and 40s before the term “practice theory” was coined. I

guess I’m getting into the theoretical framework. This idea

of practice theory and carnal sociology and ethnography…

It’s like a little theater that provides the framework to the theater

of post-bankruptcy, neo-liberal Detroit. LST captures these

little slices of life as they unfold in the sidewalks surrounding

liquor stores. I have been focused on McDougall-Hunt for the first

year of the project, am currently working in the Midtown area,

and will eventually continue to explore other neighborhoods

across the city in this same manner. It is street performance

ethnography in a way, where whatever is happening on the

street that day is captured through the visual documentation of

the film, and also whoever is present in the space and wants to

engage and talk about their neighborhood and their experiences

of performance can do so. Moving from this micro point to

the macro, I’m viewing the city as it’s constructed and built

up from these very tiny little slices and pieces. I believe the

post-bankruptcy gentrification process (whatever that means

– it varies tremendously by neighborhood and by classification

tensions of those implicated) can be explained and a story of

Detroit is told through this framework of the theater.

So, that’s how the ethnographic gaze comes into play. Another

element is notions of surveillance and appropriation. People

have talked about the public space a lot recently. [David

J.] Madden is one person who has written on it — this idea

of surveillance as ending the ‘myth of the public space’ and

how urban space is contested through this ongoing daily

struggle. 6 So, what I’m doing is I’m marrying different

strands of theory into this intellectual underpinning, but

it also becomes this crazy art project on the street, where I

don’t know what’s going to happen from event to event!

Biba: Yes! The flux is crucial, often articulating the particulars

or performative epiphanies of the work. Can you talk about a

moment that stands out — when you were surprised by how a

performance, interview, or experience transpired? Or, maybe,

how indeterminacy participates in the methodology of the project?

Maya: A moment that stood out for me happened last year at

the Gratiot and Chene store. As we were dancing and filming,

a man who is known to be in front of that particular store all

day was yelling out, “That’s modern dance!” “They’re doing

modern dance, y’all.” He proceeded to verbally interact with the

performance, punctuating our movements with his comments

and exclamations. Finally, he came over to the performance

area while we were dancing on camera, and joined in with our

movements. His improvised movements incorporated the

structure of our choreography, if not the technique. In the film he

looks quite serious at this point, as if he’s sincerely improvising

with us toward a goal. His joking ceased when he joined us on

camera. It was an interesting moment that made me think

about post-proscenium performance and its particularities and

/On Dance

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opportunities. Also about post-institutional or post-armchair

ethnography and what it means to engage honestly and directly

with people and places you’re researching.

Biba: Is the choreographic material that you’re working with

and placing consistent? Is it set? It also appears nomadic,

in that you’re moving around to these different sites and

you are escaping or exiting the more expected venues and

situations for dance. I have the image of people hanging out

in the parking lot, music blasting, spontaneous dancing,

frolicking, and having fun. You are marrying this scene with

a more stylized, choreographed, and rehearsed aesthetic.

While performing your faces are unaffected; you are in it.

statement of care for the neighborhood. A statement that this

space matters at this time. Not after real estate speculation, slick

PR, or quasi-private grant funding, but right now. It matters.

This is beyond the ethnographic and/or anthropological but I

suppose it is connected with my approach to carnal sociology/

anthropology foregrounded by Wacquant. There is already some

sort of party happening at many of the stores (not always). I work

to participate in an authentic way. Everything that is happening

at the stores is not joyous. Everything is not melancholy. So the

dance performances are this neutral piece of art that can be

taken and consumed by the people present however they wish.

Then the people can respond with their thoughts and comments

in the interviews.

Maya: I wanted to bring a particular concert dance aesthetic

(acknowledging the complexities of what that even means!) to

this very post-concert dance art project. There are some deep,

personal reasons for this. In the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood

where I’ve lived and worked for three years while starting LST,

the problems of poverty and abandonment and disinvestment

are so blatant that they smack you and assault your eyes nearly

everywhere you look. At the same time, the neighborhood is full of

rich culture and cultural traditions, individuals with fascinating

lives and histories and memories, and places and spaces with

beauty, memory, present utility, potential, and possibilities.

In talking to people about the neighborhood, some people have

expressed what they think is a loss of hope experienced by some

residents due to the assault that crack of the 1980s and 1990s

and industrial departures, job losses, neo-liberal policies and

mass incarceration dovetailing at the same time, pressed upon

the neighborhood. Because many residents left during these

hard times, and the city infrastructure has been neglected, jobs

have disappeared, the area has been devastated in many ways.

Part of what LST does, is make a statement with this obsessively

precise choreography and our filming and the care and time

and attention to detail, and this is that I wanted to make a

Biba: Can you tell me about the different places you’ve been

and how it works, exactly? How is a performance installed and

what kind of strategy is this for you as it relates to the precarity

of the environment, which, outside and on the street, is literally

out in the open? I’m thinking that it may feel vulnerable, as a

woman. How do interactions with the public, the audience, and

your neighbors generally occur? Then also, from a dancerly

background and context, what precipitated this project? Was

there a movement or trajectory you had in terms of performing in

public spaces that then brought you to the site in front of the liquor

store, the liquor store as backdrop, the liquor store as center, as

a kind of center or square or meeting place, and its parking lot?

Maya: I think dance inherently, dance in a broad sense —

encompassing everything from exploration of space to codified

dance technique — I think everything in the continuum, dance

is a political act, a mobilization of a particular body for a purpose.

Dance is inherently a political act. Over my years of studying

and working with and learning from different people (Ariel

Osterweis was and continues to be a major influence on me) the

fusion of dance as a political act with exploration of challenging/

contesting the body politic, contesting place and space through


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

the body, and all of this came together in an obsession with

putting performance and dance in public spaces to see what

happens…To bring together the world of the private and the

world of the public. As I did more and more dance in urban public

spaces it fused with my interests in ideas of the rights to the city,

ideas of fields of power, ideas of the whole story of a neighborhood,

or the story of the city, and the ideas of the theater as the way

of understanding quotidian life. I realized that this is the way

I will study and write about gentrification in Detroit – through

dance/performance/ethnography/choreography. All of this

came together. And I think the choreography part is important.

Biba: Yes, I think the political dimension of choreography is so

important and urgently relevant to the contemporary. You are

discussing a trajectory from the choreographies of the stage, of

dance’s proper spaces (as a disciplinary terrain), to the social —

social movements, distributions in space, and the agency of the

body. Can you discuss your own personal, artistic trajectory that

connects these dots? Was there an Aha!! moment? Have there

been moments like this for you in the midst of LST?

resources in neighborhoods, but to shine a light on what is going

on, the creativity and ingenuity of people, the DIY aesthetic that

originates from urban ghettos, to think about this critically.

When the term DIY or reclaimed is used, people may not think

of the urban ghetto. They may think of areas in the city that

are much further along in Detroit’s recovery process. However,

this just isn’t true. DIY comes from the hood in this town.

The term “creative place-making” is so hot now that it needs

no footnote, and it’s so well known that it is no longer even hot.

However, the who of who gets to be inscribed as doing creative

place-making is determined almost exclusively by classification

tensions such as wealth, ethnicity/race, and gender. Are the

people in the neighborhood who have no place else to go, nothing

else to do (remembering high unemployment in Detroit generally

and in impoverished neighborhoods in particular), not engaging

in creative place-making by creating their own quotidian theater

on the street? I believe they are.

And then, this blend of work and leisure 7 that is at the liquor

store struck me.

/On Dance

Maya: That is a challenge, because there have been many Aha!

moments and there continue to be Aha! moments up to the

present during this project! Let’s see. Biking down Gratiot one

day a few years ago I was observing all of the space devoted to

liquor stores and wondering what this means. McDougall-Hunt

doesn’t have any city-maintained public spaces where people

can gather. The neighborhood also does not have shopping that

would be considered mainstream, quality shopping by American

middle-class standards. And yet, in this quasi public/private

space, people have done this DIY work of making the spaces their

own. For instance, in some spaces, vendors offer items that are

desired by residents and not offered in stores (incense, African

American centered literature, non-processed foods, are some

examples). In other spaces, music is played from cars to create an

atmosphere of pleasure/leisure. This is not to glamorize lack of

One thing that I’ve had issues with is the role of the ethnographer

as someone who is coming and taking, coming and extracting

information from people, often taking from people who are

historically marginalized, and coming and taking information

from them and leaving. So LST is a performance ethnography

(although that can be problematized in a lot of ways and there

is definitely a lining of privilege in going and dancing in

films in Detroit neighborhoods), but with LST I want to bring

something to people rather than simply taking. That is why

“carnal anthropology” (after Wacquant) makes sense to me

practically and theoretically. In that I am asking them about

their lives, asking them to be vulnerable and share their ideas

and their experiences and I want to be vulnerable with them too.

LST is a container for that.

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People have thought to re-center LST as a dance activism

project, which, really it’s not. That is, the project is not dance

activism in a sense of bringing a prepared message and trying

to spread it through movement. LST is not trying to spread a

message. It’s exploratory, it’s theoretical and it’s also in the

realm of telling the story of the city’s gentrification process

through ethnography. But I do acknowledge that because I

am a fourth generation Detroiter of African descent there’s

something inherently political that the project encourages

and there’s something that happened there. LST is asking big

questions and it’s attempting to deploy the theater and deploy

performance in a way that’s almost like a cognitive prompt.

Biba: What do you mean by performance as “a cognitive

prompt”? You mentioned it in terms of the audience, in terms

of giving a point of reference or something to look at, something

to participate in. Can you say a little bit more about that?

Maya: In the first round of LST events, which happened in

the summer of 2014, I was asking a lot of questions about the

neighborhood and the city. I thought, I want to know more

about the city and the neighborhood but really more about

people’s performances of their everyday lives, and use that as a

framework to tell a story of a neighborhood and the story of a city

— from the micro-experiences that people share and the macrostructural

forces. So, every performance is choreographed, to

a certain degree. Even if it’s deliberately not choreographed,

then that’s choreographed, and every ethnographic encounter

is choreographed (always for anthropologists in the field, to

varying degrees). So, working in this seam of performance of

ethnography in urban commons, it’s playing with this idea of

the choreographed ethnic encounter and the choreographed

performance. It’s playing in this seam/scene and attempting,

through methodological technique, to deepen the experience,

deepen the connection between the performers, the researcher,

and the participants through this temporality of places and

bodies that’s being navigated with the choreography as tool.

Biba: Can you say a little bit more about the

choreography both of the dance and the ethnographic

encounter? What is it? What does it look like?

Maya: Yes. For the first year of the project a lot of the

choreography has emerged from field notes, observations of

my neighborhood. I live in this little disremembered, physically

distressed neighborhood that’s about two miles east of downtown

Detroit and worlds away economically. This neighborhood has

been referred to by residents as little Beirut, little Afghanistan.

It’s an incredibly distressed neighborhood and based on my

experiences being out in the neighborhood, whether having a

dance rehearsal in our parking lot or gardening in the garden

across from our studio, the experience of inhabiting a space

which feels physically and intellectually safe. But, you’ve read

the crime rates, you’ve read the statistics, you’ve seen the

news articles about your neighborhood and you’ve heard your

neighborhood is the second most dangerous neighborhood in

America and yet you’re dancing and gardening in it! So, a lot of the

movement comes from this scene of paradoxes of the experiences

of living here. I would say about 70 percent of our neighbors are

people who could be seen as transient individuals or people who

are in this very fringe definition as far as classification in the

economic realm would go. These are the people who presumably

have watched out for us and have been in the area and have helped

us garden and have helped us maintain a peaceful existence.

Biba: They have been neighborly.

Maya: Yes, exactly. They’ve been neighborly. So, the

choreography definitely taps into this set of experiences

and the experience of living here.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Biba: And what is a choreography for an ethnographic

encounter like? What is the structure for that? Is it theoretical?

Is it physical? Are there certain questions or proposals?

Maya: I think the way it upholds practically is the choreography

itself, which then we can call a performance as it’s embodied

by the dancers. It acts as a cognitive prompt. There’s this odd

impact that it has where people, after they stop watching the

dance and they go in and buy their items from the store or they

finish having their conversation and they come back and we’ve

finished a series of two- or three-minute performances, we ask

them “can we interview you?” People are like “Oh, ok. What’re

you doing, some kind of art project?” and they’re open, suddenly,

because they’ve seen us perform, they’ve watched us, they’ve

been observing us. So, when we come out and ask them there’s

this totally different feel.

For instance, we’ve experimented and came to a store and tried

to get b-roll, 8 and I was like, “Let me just see if people will talk

to me before they’ve seen us dance.” The reaction is striking.

The responses are “Oh, are you a journalist?” or “My cousin

works for the city, I have no comment.” But when the role of

performance is introduced, it’s like they’re participating in a

dialogue almost, as opposed to being put on the spot. I guess

I’m lucky because the project…it just works. And it wasn’t like

it set out with “Oh, people won’t talk to me unless I dance.”

It was just, “We’re going to go and dance because we want to

experience and convene with this environment in an organic

way, this little space, and talk to people.” It just so happens that

somehow the performance or the choreography becomes this

way to have this dialogue with people in a very different way.

Biba: Absolutely. You talked a little bit about the politics and

relationship to this mode of dance activism, and I think about

the politics of movement in a space. I still want to go back to this

question of what is a typical Liquor Store performance from the

beginning, just didactically. But I also want address this question

of movement and its taking place, which has everything to do

with the identity of the body and the politics of occupying these

spaces. I’m thinking now of the pre-assigned conditions for

movement in and in front of the liquor store, in the parking lot,

and out onto the sidewalk and street — the spaces you are dancing

in. You’re occupying this outdoor space, you’re on the sidewalk,

you’re in the parking lot, you’re on the street corner and I think

about it in a couple different ways. These actions — these modes

of dancing on the street — entail a bevy of contingencies and

shifts depending on the body who does it, its locale, the people

surrounding, the time of day, and the choreographic quality of

the actions, what it means to get from point A to point B.

These are transient spaces, in a sense. They are the places we pass

through, drive passed; we’re in and out. And then there is the

surveillance and policing of these spaces, and the impact of those

actions/actors that choose not to pass through, but dwell, linger,

or dance for an extended period of time. They test the importance

of passing through, and highlight the ways that spaces determine

which movements can take place — we are reminded of the

prominence of social utterances like “no loitering,” “no hanging

around,” “no gathering” — and here enters the question of

policing. André Lepecki theorizes choreopolicing through

Jacques Rancière’s writing on dissensus. For him, choreography

begins to lack imagination, it becomes impoverished, “a policed

dance of quotidian consensus.” Politics, on the other hand,

become visible through resistance to simply “moving along,” and

transforming and reclaiming these spaces, thus allowing for the

appearance of a newly political subject. 9 Your dancerly actions

promote the liquor store in its identification as a commons or

meeting place and the question of the civic comes up. We’re

really in this moment now of engaging this issue specifically,

again facing the police violence directed toward people of color,

males on the street, and what it means to be occupying that space.

/On Dance

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Then on the flipside, there’s this beautiful text by bell hooks,

Belonging: A Culture of Place, where she discusses the porch and

its relationship to the home, but also its presence and proximity

to the street. 10 The porch offers an architectural transposition

of zones between the street and the home and she discusses

how the everyday gesture of sitting on the porch acts against

the institutionalized racism in the public arena. The street is a

risky zone, fraught with exposure and vulnerability, especially

for female bodies. She writes about what it means to be placing

oneself on the urban street, on the street corner, a “patriarchal

territory,” and the ethos of this territory which is about being

looked at, observed, and making oneself available for a range of

possible propositions to be negotiated or endured. Again, there is

the imperative of “move along, no loitering,” a similar scenario

but from a different point of view.

For dance the challenge is to shift these conditions from

that choreographic scene as a kind of social habitus, to shift

the movements that reproduce these conditions, to counter

or critique or reinvent the repertory of pre-determined

movements. I’m especially interested in the possibility of

dance to be a way to shift and derail it a little. You’re there,

you’re standing there, you’re staying there, how much time do

you spend there? Enough time so that these encounters can

start to accumulate, so that they can happen multiple times.

They can repeat; participate in a performative chain of events.

This possibility of occupying space, mobilizing space, dancing

throughout — I’m coming at it from three different angles, but

dance, whether the discrete performances in front of the liquor

store or its potential as a mode of activism within a broader

sense, becomes an agent by which to work through these issues.

hooks presents with respect to the porch oscillates within

LST. The porch is a public/private space that allows reversal

and contestation of notions of surveillance. LST happens

in spaces (city street sidewalks) that are totally different

from porches but also somehow related – these in-between

spaces on the margins where unique contestations may occur.

So, dealing with this idea of space and the meaning of space and

how space is worked on in this project, what I’m doing in a sense…

Wacquant has a theory called territorial stigma. It’s really a

theory that combines [Erving] Goffman’s theory of stigma and

the idea of a spoiled identity with Bourdieu’s idea of classification

struggle in the fields of power. 11 So, territorial stigma from

Wacquant is this machining of stigmatization, marginalization,

toxification, taint of a particular neighborhood. And it’s a theory

that’s not limited to urban contexts; it’s not bounded by ideas

based on the social and political construct of race as a binary.

It’s really these ideas of pathologization of difference, and

inscription of symbolic power or symbolic meaninglessness of

certain spaces. And so, this project is studying the impacts of

both gentrification and territorial stigma. I started this project

in my neighborhood where I live and work. This neighborhood

that has been rendered invisible by city practices. There are

decaying structures, debris from all kinds of different forgotten

buildings, schools, businesses. This area definitely is subject to

the idea of spatial taint that Wacquant proposes. This area is

under the patriarchal gaze that bell hooks proposes in that it is

considered a crime-infested area to be surveilled and perhaps, at

some point, invested in through speculative real estate markets.

I see the ideas of hooks and Wacquant converging in these ideas

of territory.

Maya: The writer and scholar, bell hooks’, writing is

important to my work as well. I’m glad you mentioned her text,

Belonging: A Culture of Place. The liminality of spaces that

LST is directly contesting the taint that I see as being imposed

upon this neighborhood. So with LST I unfold the visual

anthropology of particular neighborhoods and ultimately tell


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

a broad visual anthropology of Detroit in its post-bankruptcy

neo-liberal gentrification process… where you walk two miles

from Dan Gilbert’s urban distressed font of "Opportunity

Detroit" adorning all of these buildings purchased at rockbottom

prices (pun acknowledged). We have this neighborhood

that’s largely forgotten by city officials, foundations, and

corporations, but, yet, there is a neighborhood, there are

people here. It exists. It’s contesting this territorial stigma by

its very existence and LST has very deliberately captured this.

This summer [2015] LST has continued in Midtown. 12 Midtown

is a neighborhood where the right to the city is very much

being contested between working-class and poor people and

speculative real estate investors at present moment. There’s

more capital investment that’s happening which is forcing some

residents in rent-controlled buildings out of their areas. There’s

relatively more investment from capitalist-type enterprises

happening so looking at territorial stigma in its mirror

image, which I argue is this idea of symbolic ownership being

asserted through a false narrative of whiteness, showing both

flipsides of this through the project, or investigating both sides.

Biba: I’m very curious how the experience will shift, who

you’ll encounter, the modes of address…

Maya: Mack & Bewick (shot in May 2015) was the first video of

the summer of this year of the project and it happened at the

liquor store that is a really interesting theater, it’s already a

theater in its own right. You go by there and you’ll see vendors,

people gathering sitting on crates, holding court, everyday once

the weather gets decent.

Biba: This is a good moment to tell me what that entails. What

is a day in the life while you’re doing a shoot? How does it work?

What is the general time frame and the course of events?

Maya: We meet up at my studio space [Finite Studios]. This

includes the videographer Eric Johnston and his wife Martha

Johnston who is also a painter and photographer, the dancers

who are participating, and my husband Todd [“Quaint”] Stovall.

He is a sculptor and an electronic music producer and makes

much of the music for the LST. We get to the day’s store in the

early afternoon and we, the dancers along with the videographer,

pick out where the best shot will be with the ability for people

milling around to observe but without obstructing anybody’s

walkway. We start marking; we start exploring the space. It has

some kind of a ceremonial feel, when we start to do this, and

then we start to talk to people and answer people’s questions.

The general feeling when the camera appears, before we’re

dancing, seems to be one of ambivalence. People are concerned

about surveillance and about intentions. Somehow, when we

start dancing, this shifts (at least in degree). People seem to

be more comfortable that we are subjecting ourselves to their

surveillance. Although we’ve brought a big camera with a big

lens, we’re fixing that camera on ourselves before we attempt

to turn it around. I think this is important. The ceremonial feel

I mention (definitely ceremonial with a little “c,” not evoking

religion or ritual in the literal sense) involves a blessing (again

not in a religious sense but in a spiritual or ontological sense) of

the space in a way that says, we’re here to do something (dance)

because this space matters (because you’re already here).

So back to the logistics of the thing. Our videographer is

capturing our performance, and then, you know, people are

generally gathering and observing and wondering what’s going on.

Biba: How long does the dance performance generally last?

Maya: The longest single piece that I’ve set at a LST event is

about seven minutes. Typically we do at least four stagings

of a full piece or pieces depending upon the repertoire being

/On Dance

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

presented that day. In total I’d say we end up performing for

about 30-40 minutes, as far as performing with music through

the PA, with the videographer shooting. We’ll repeat. We’ll

do several shots — he might shoot us over the shoulder, etc.

The goal of this is to get as many people to see us as we can, so

that we can have a dialogue with those individuals who may

be interested in talking with us. The way that it will work is,

say, we’re doing a three minute piece and then we’ve got people

standing around, then people say, “What’re you doing?” and

we say, “Oh we’re doing a dance project in Detroit. Would you

talk to us?” At that point we shift the gaze the videographer is

filming while I’m off camera interviewing individuals. That’s

the format. Sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes we’ve had

in the past a line of people who want to be interviewed and

then at other times just one person will come and then other

people will decline. There’s no set format that it takes… it’s

based on the store and how the shoot unfolds, and everything,

but overall the choreography is effective at starting a dialogue.

Biba: What types of questions do you ask? What stories are

you looking for?

Maya: I ask about the neighborhoods, the city, and people’s

experience of performance. I have my list of questions but it

really varies what we discuss based on the particular person and

what their goals and ideas are with respect to the conversation.

The conversations I’ve had in McDougall-Hunt and Midtown

seem to be on different points of a time-space continuum.

In McDougall-Hunt, many people talk about the future and

potential changes. In Midtown, many people talk about the

imprint of gentrification and how it is consolidating, replicating,

and expanding structural racism and structural violence. I try

to talk with people about performance in the quotidian sense

and in the abstract sense. I’m looking to have conversations with

people about what they want to talk about. That sounds obvious,

but it is about listening and letting the conversation happen.

Biba: There is one video — I think it’s the one at Gratiot and

Chene — where a man that you’ve spoken with begins to dance

with you. It’s an incredible moment to watch. Perhaps this is the

man who you mentioned earlier. This moment was very singular

in the LST footage I’ve seen. He is a bit in the background,

standing close to the doorframe of the store entrance and it looks

as if he moves through a range reactions, watching, incredulous,

interested, inspired, and then, all at once, he becomes one of

the dancers, moving with and alongside your performance,

gleefully. Perhaps this is the man you mentioned earlier, shouting

about modern dance. I didn’t see it happen during other video

documentation — this kind of participation. It really shifted

things. Does this happen with frequency? How do you think

about these improvised moments?

Maya: That actually happens quite a bit, and it’s something that,

for the first year Eric and I, we were not so attuned to capturing

those moments on film. We had this idea that those were personal

moments of interaction between the dancers and the people

onsite, and that we didn’t need to lift up those moments because

they were special moments that happened behind the scenes.

But then, this year, digesting all that happened in the first year

of the project I’m like, “Wait a minute. We have to capture and

share these moments…” This is so important, this is at the center

of the project visually as well. Of course, we asked people, “Hey

is it okay if we include this part where you started free-styling

or you know mimicking the dancers movements?” And those

requirements of doing research, even when it is this crazy art

project. So, yes, that happens more than is visible in the first

five films and it’s something that we look forward to showing

as it happens. It’s interesting on so many levels — through a

theoretical lens, performance, site of urban commons as a

negotiation and a becoming and a state of the city in flux. It’s

just important on so many levels and bears more investigation.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Biba: It blurs your roles even more and your working

methodologies, maybe less your role as a figure but the kind

of methodologies that you’re using and activating. I think

about that transition for you between performing and… I’ve

just performed, I turn around and I start asking questions

and interviewing… that shift, that transition, that moment

is so strange. It’s weird enough just finishing a performance

and then facing the audience and being like “Hey, nice to

see you.” That shift of focus in the midst of being together.

But it really is different senses of being together, through

interactions and the level of participation in the dancing itself.

Biba: It seems to me also that you’re challenging the centrality

of consumption as a necessary response. Of course, performance

is consumed and that element is always there, but also that

in those shifts and moments of consumption, that mode of

engagement might in a sense recede. There is a participatory

element—people are joining in, in some ways. It’s interesting

because you’re surprising people, there’s a guerrilla element to it.

I wonder how discomfort or awkwardness also complicates the

way we are discussing consumption, for there may also be the

desire to look the other way. I didn’t see that in the videos, but I’m

thinking back on Moten and Piper as well as my own experience.

Maya: One thing too is ideas of consumption and who gets to

consume dance. When you look for instance at hip hop studies

and why hip hop studies is suddenly considered this exciting

site for all kinds of pedagogical and scholarly interventions,

when you look at it it’s hard, I mean, hip hop is a consumption

and commodification of blackness and black bodies and for the

most part, the remuneration is spread amongst an elite group

of record executives and owners of related concerns. We wonder

why black studies, referring to the project that emerged in the

sixties through civil rights movements, isn’t held up as this site of

intervention in pedagogical and scholarly realms and why black

studies being sort of usurped by hip hop studies. I think it gets

back to this idea of consumption and consumption of elements

of black culture that are being appropriated by the mainstream

and used for their own devices and then homogenized as this sort

of colorblind multicultural thing that really is ahistorical and

apolitical and a-critical. Part of the goal of the project is: “Who

gets to consume dance” and “Who gets to consume this material?”

It’s re-appropriating, and it’s this challenging of who should be

consuming contemporary or experimental performances. We’re

putting these performances on the street for whoever’s there in

whatever neighborhood to consume them, to challenge these

modes of consumption that privilege upper class, economic elite.

The question of consumption brings us back to our earlier

discussion of the gaze and resistance, where the gaze necessarily

entails a scene of consumption. In many ways it gets to the

very heart of the dancer’s political challenge as it relates to the

collapsing of these categories of subject and object, blurring and

destabilizing their positions and famously articulated by William

Butler Yeats: “How can we tell the dancer from the dance?”

Maya: Yeah, that is interesting. I think that’s part of the state

of flux in a city that Andrew D. Newman, my advisor at Wayne

State University, writes about in Landscape of Discontent. It’s

the state of becoming, this ongoing state of transition, and I think

that is part of it. It’s part of why this project is a window to tell

a broader story of Detroit neighborhoods and the city. I think,

yeah, people will look the other way and people will be disturbed

or uninterested in it and that’s fine too. It’s a process of flux,

and that happens with anything that’s happening on the street.

Biba: And how has LST, how has going out into the city

in this capacity — performing, interacting, talking,

interviewing, having these exchanges — how has it changed

your relationship to dance? Has it affected your dancing?

/On Dance

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Maya: Wow, yeah, I think in a way it’s work at a de-centering

of “performer” as this heroic individual or this Artist with a

big, privileged capital “A” and a re-centering of it insofar as in

its context. It has made the meaning and the temporality, the

frailty of the moment, the precarity, so much more important

than the particular performer. The conceptualist and performer

Ralph Lemon, whose work I adore and obsess about, has said that

where dance is landing now is the exploration of space, and so

LST is like mating Ralph Lemon and Wacquant and taking this

exploration of space through a dance/performance lens. It really

doesn’t matter, so much, what the dancers do as long it’s from a

place of genuine interaction and conversation with the audience.

I say that, although I do put tremendous care and preparation

into the performances that we present at LST events. I’m guilty:

I love technique, I love ballet, I love contemporary, I love modern,

codified techniques, but I also think that this place where dance

can land is so much more broad and powerful and experimental

than the assertion of the importance of a particular artist with

a capital “A” or even any particular dance technique. What can I

do to explore this, this place that we’re in from an existential lens

and from a critical lens and all of these different ways? I think it

changed my… well not changed, I come from a critical perspective,

so I haven’t had a diametrical shift, but I’ve had a very concrete,

on-the-ground experience of using a particular art form as

a way to explore deep existential, theoretical phenomenon.

Biba: When you talk about the fragility and the precarity of that

moment of it unfolding… that is so real. And then I also think so

much about dance, the act of dancing as it takes place, lands in

a place…how were you articulating it? Landing in a place, yea

Maya: Yeah. Ralph Lemon was talking about “Where can dance

land?” and “Where can it land for you?” and “Where can it land

as an art form?” From a big perspective and where can it land

for you. So, answering Ralph Lemon’s question, LST is currently

where it lands for me. This theme of exploring the very existential

philosophical but still sociologically — and anthropologically

— based question of how is performance deployed in a struggle

for the right to the city. How is dance deployed in classification

struggles, identification tensions, and urban marginality? And

how is performance deployed in post-bankruptcy, gentrifying

Detroit? The story of the city will unfold through this lens, I believe.

Biba: Yes, where it lands. You say it doesn’t really matter what

the dancers actually do and somehow this sentiment strikes

me as so radical. For, of course, the dancers are spinning

the moment of the event, honing the focus and creating

the interactive, relational openings for conversation and

exchange. Yet, at the same time your statement is not about

foreclosure but of redirecting the frame, opening it up, to

include the larger scene or field. We move from a dance to

dance (capital “D” without capitalizing “d”), which can then

be redistributed within the frame of the choreographic and

produce an important political movement. This is the work

that I’m interested in, as a dancer, as an advocate for dance.

I’m so curious about that moment, when “It really doesn’t even

matter, so much, what the dancers do,” because it opens up to

the where of the dance taking place, and the where is both what

it produces and inflects. This is what is happening. I think

that the political potential of dancing and, thus, choreography

is very much about this opening up of the where, the actual

site it occupies but, also, how this action of landing opens

up the where. Especially in light of Detroit, in light of these

questions of the city, an internally unstable signifier, the

where inspires a question that both mobilizes (as in it makes

it dance) and can itself be mobilized (redistributing spatial

politics). The peripheral threshold of the liquor store, tainted

but rich, circumspect but necessary, engages this question of

mobility. It seems to me that this is what your theater, LST, is

asking us to consider, look at, and participate in. ■


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

5 Anthropologist, choreographer, dancer, and humanitarian Katherine

1 Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of a Black Radical Tradition

(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 235.

2 In Distinction, Pierre Bourdieu presents the concept of symbolic power,

Dunham’s early form of practice theory/carnal anthropology in Haiti

included Dunham’s approach of dancing, living, and working intensely

with her research participants and even being initiated into the cult

of Haitian Vodun. Cf. Katherine Dunham, Island Possessed (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1969).

arguing that symbolic power “make[s] people see and believe which is

given by the imposition of mental structures. Systems of classification

would not be such a decisive object of struggle if they did not contribute

to the existence of classes by enhancing the efficacy of the objective

mechanisms with the reinforcement supplied by representations

structured in accordance with the classification.” Pierre Bourdieu,

Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (Cambridge,

Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), 482. Here, the importance of

the connection between fields of power and classification struggles are

underlined. In LST, classification struggles are studied on-the-ground

through performance and dance ethnography in which the observation

of classification tensions (i.e. race/ethnicity, economic status, ability,

gender, etc.) is married to an observation of the significance of place

and space in a private/public arena.

3 The right to the city is a theory of urban social space asserted by

French sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre first in 1968. In

Lefebvre’s text, Le Droit à la ville, the right to the city is described as

the demand for continued and transforming access to city life and

city life’s various amenities. Anthropologist and geographer David

Harvey expanded Lefebvre’s definition to incorporate the notion of

human rights as central to the right to the city. Cf.. David Harvey,

Paris, Capital of Modernity (New York and Oxford: Routledge, 2003).

This is applicable in the post-bankruptcy Detroit context, in which

gentrification is happening alongside large-scale residential water

shut-offs, for instance.

4 Urban sociologist and social theorist Loïc Wacquant established the

6 In "Revisiting the End of Public Space: Assembling the Public in an

Urban Park," sociologist David J. Madden writes that “compared

to the august monuments, bucolic pleasure domes, and utilitarian

playgrounds of previous eras, public spaces in advanced capitalist

cities have become increasingly complex: more intensely surveilled;

more meticulously managed; more explicitly experiential, cosmopolitan,

commercial, and commodified." David J. Madden, "Revisiting the

End of Public Space: Assembling the Public In an Urban Park," City

and Community, 9.2 (2010): 187. Such factors Madden highlights

have contributed to the idea of public space as a category being

threatened and/or eradicated at the turn of the twenty-first century.

These challenges to public space strengthen the significance of the

theory of the right to the city argued by Lefebvre and Harvey. LST

emerges as a post-public space project in which city dwellers create

their own commons due to broad disinvestment in neighborhoods

deemed pathological.

7 Henri Lefebvre wrote of the relationship between work and leisure

in his analysis of the production of space in urban environments. Cf.

Henri Lefevbre, Le droit à la ville (Paris: Anthropos, 1968).

8 B-roll refers to footage of the neighborhood and the store itself,

capturing the scene and the atmosphere.

9 André Lepecki, “Choreopolice and Choreopolitics: or, the task of the

dancer,” TDR: The Drama Review, 57.4 (Winter 2013): 13-27.

10 bell hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place (New York: Routledge, 2009).

/On Dance

terms, carnal sociology, and sociology of flesh and blood, to refer to an

engaged, embodied form of research in which researchers live, work,

and practice alongside their research participants. Cf. Loïc Wacquant,

"Hominis in extremis: What fighting Scholars teach us about Habitus,"

Body and Society, 20.2 (2014): 3-17, and "For a Sociology of Flesh and

Blood," Qualitative Sociology, 38.1 (2015): 1-11. This form of research

and analysis is also broadly referred to as practice theory, formally

introduced by Pierre Bourdieu in his 1977 text, Outline of a Theory of

Practice (Cambridge: CUP, 1977). In studying urban Chicago at the

end of the twentieth century, Wacquant joined a Southside Chicago

boxing gym and became an amateur prizefighter during his research

on urban pugilists. LST builds on and extends the possibilities of

practice theory/carnal sociology by adding a choreo-ethnographic

dimension, creating/illuminating a theater of the street, and reversing/

challenging the ethnographic gaze.

11 Wacquant’s territorial stigma theory argues that certain places and

spaces become read as pathological and are therefore disremembered

and disinvested by city officials and residents alike (this happens

through neo-liberal policies and through the actions of people in daily

life). Territorial stigma is formulated through French philosopher and

sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic power (cf. Bourdieu,

Distinction) as the location of class struggle, and sociologist Erving

Goffman’s theory of stigma as spoiled identity. Cf. Erving Goffman,

"Behavior in Public Spaces," Notes on the Social Organization of

Gatherings (New York: The Free Press, 1963).

12 Some people would argue that in Detroit, the name "Midtown" is a

corporatized term that is used to refer to the Cass Corridor and a

constellation of other, smaller neighborhoods which orbit the Cass

Corridor. For simplicity, LST uses the term Midtown, but acknowledges

the problematics of the term and the complexities of the neighborhoods

that the term incorporates.

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Ten Statements

on Art and Culture

/Mårten Spångberg


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

01

Art is not culture nor is culture art

Somebody tells me the piece is consumerist, over-consumption,

smartphone, logo-fest, beautiful skinny people, selfie,

pop-overkill and that’s just the beginning…

Shit, this probably means that the work is or appears benevolent

to contemporary capitalism or neo-liberalism [NL] in general.

Goddamn, what did I do wrong? So wrong. Fine enough and I ask

myself [oh, yes I was around in the 90’s so I still use critique],

what makes, or what are the properties needed for a work of art

in 2014 to be none of the above or simpler, something that is not

correlated to NL? Check it out, me and a few million other artists

and etc. have asked that question for decades and does it look

like any of us or them came up with a solution? I don’t think so.

I don’t think so even a lil bit. If one or a few of us had, wouldn’t

it be, like, wise to say something or at least make a career from

it on the art market. Oh blast, the solution to non-NL correlated

works of art must be that they are kept very very secret, cuz when

they enter the art market, which we know absorbs everything

with value, they will obviously be available both on webpages of

NL correlated galleries, on smartphones and the artist will pose

for Scene & Herd next to Anton Vidokle or why not Raymundas

Malasauskas or Hans Ulrich Obrist (obviously all men).

/On Dance

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

02

Art is not synonymous with culture

but is always taking place against a

cultural background.

Or, when last did you lay eyes, experience, feel, listen to or even

hear rumors about an art that wasn’t standing knee deep in that

poop called capitalism? Exactly, you didn’t. Because, if you did

you’d probably fly away or something, vanish. Our problem today

is not whether or not we are inscribed in capitalism, but that the

enemy and the sponsor of the emancipation is one and the same.

It’s not that we have a choice right, we don’t live in capitalism,

life itself is capitalism and it’s not like we can call in sick.

Whilst those petty dread-locks-equipped-political-theory-postgrads-at-New-School

were screaming and organizing themselves

in any lateral sort of way, wow – Wall Street could do even dirtier

business (no one was looking their direction…), harvest ideas

from the activist below and it goes without saying that the suits

had the time of their life – how rad isn’t it to host a bunch of

anti-capitalist in your backyard. That’s like a female without

a bra in Mad Men.

Or turn it around. Who was most happy about, and who gained

most from Occupy Wall Street (remember that movement, aha

Zizek said something right…)? The answer is obvious, yep – Wall

Street loved it. They sanctioned it, celebrated it, subsidized

it and even licked it. Wall Street knew that business won’t be

interrupted. Hello, the wheels of capitalism are not about to

stop turning because of some noise in a park. Nothing in fact

can make those wheels stop, and I mean it.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

03

Culture however is not art. A culture

equals its circulation of value,

whereas to art circulated value is

supplementary.

Disclaimer. As we all know anti- is as in as the pro, the obedient,

benevolent or opportunistic. There’s no such thing as a subversive,

critical you name it that’s not soaked in political economy, or

as Wittgenstein had it, it is first with the elaboration of an

altogether different grammar that something can transform in

a non-reactive manner. See what I mean, change is not enough

what is needed is to change how change changes.

Admiration. It’s kind of cute to experience artists that suddenly

need to make a piece about or addressing some injustice,

that support some cause, that take ecology seriously or in a

collaboration with an architect provide some new form of

shelter for the homeless or something involving children.

In all it’s care and sweetness doesn’t it look a little silly to

just because some inflight magazine featured a devastating

spread about something really really incredibly cruel

and bad USA that you, the artist, are reaching out. “I

have kids you know, and I want them to…” – Seriously.

It’s too late, there’s no we shall overcome when you at the same

time enjoy seven hundred thousand euro subsidies from the

Belgian state, and it’s after all you that is making something

about, exactly about that nobody should be poisoned, hungry,

violated, pollution and global warming, nothing will or can

change because you are fiddling around in your studio for

another three months and do a showing for your peers. Nobody

is happier than you when you cancel an engagement in Israel at

the last moment, but isn’t it just a little bit too easy to support

the Palestinians from your studio in Neuköln or when having

drinks with the NY downtown scene. If you wanna be engaged

what’s the price you’re willing to pay for engaging? Precisely,

you’re not willing to pay any price at all, because as we all know

you cancelled Tel Aviv in order to boost your creds vis the art

council, some festival director – to announce it on your webpage.

Yep, you are approximately as hot as Sinead O’Conner bashing

Miley for being a sell-out and a victim. How naïve can you be?

“-Oh, but she said my video…” Sure, but did that make an open

letter promoted all over the place the appropriate approach? You

know if you wanna be engaged you can stop making art, art will

not miss you. If you wanna be engaged that’s all super but perhaps

you should rethink that you are showing documentation of your

dirty work in that upcoming biennale, that you are making bags

of money when selling or touring the schtuff. I’m not saying you

should stop or start anything, but you know our polluted earth

doesn’t need another performance, installation, intervention or

even a small ass painting. Nobody starving, lacking medication,

or working in sweatshops will ever notice or gain access to your

work, but if you inform them about it, it’s quite likely that they

find it pretentious of you to tell them about the importance of

democracy or whatever you think is good for them.

/On Dance

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

04

Culture is the condition necessary for art. Any

culture. No culture is more or less suitable for

art, but different cultures provoke different forms

or expressions of art.

Ecology, global warming, injustice, children, any concern

is a good and important one and as political beings it is

absolutely our responsibility to know, care and support, to

work for equality and the right to life but to translate your

life into your art is tacky independently of what it is, and why

should anybody be interested in your issues and problems,

whatever about ecology or your frustrating love life or personal

traumas. You are not your art, and Joseph Beuys is not cool.

independent art cannot support an aesthetic experience, and

yet what the aesthetic experience is, is a sort of collapse of

comprehension, i.e. of dependency, into a moment [however

endlessly short] of utter and excessive independence. Or say it

differently, a collapse of identity into intensity, of perspective

into horizon, of navigation into speed, of survival into the

orgasmic, of reflection into pure production, karaoke to trauma.

To sum up. Art as much as anything else is part of the capitalist

forces, either on the level of expression and representation or

in respect of subsidies, grants, circulation and distribution.

We are fucked no matter what, so now what do we do? There’s

no independent art and has never been, and that is obviously

art’s and our lucky day. There can be more or less independent

art but it’s always and thoroughly inscribed in political

economy, doesn’t matter if it’s some rich guy, the art council,

the church, trust funds, institutional something – there is

no outside. Mind you a radically independent art is not one

you can make a living from, feel a bit successful or not with,

end up in a magazine with, you name it, in fact a radically


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

05

06

Art carries with it that it is potentially produces

or differentiates culture. However, in order for

this production to not coincide with production

in respect of culture, it can not not in the last

instance be contingent.

Culture is through and through inscribed forms

of measure and divisibility. Art on the other hand

always withdraws from divisibility, if on no other

level in respect of supplementary value.

How could somebody possibly consider that art’s responsibility

is to make life chill, to sooth our minds, calm our senses?

Rancière obviously, but harmless. Or even worse to inform us

about injustices, the fact that our world is dying or whatever.

Art’s job is not to be critical, that’s just some hiccup necessary

because of post-structuralism [if Derrida is/was right and with

him Butler, art can only be language and thus conventional,

hence rather than concerned with beauty and the sublime,

art must concern itself with language in either of two ways:

either as forms of meta, e.g. conceptual art, appropriation

etc., or in respect of political economy, and there are too many

examples, perhaps the worst being Martha Rosler or some

collective with two members where one was born in ex-Yugoslavia.

In fact, in art’s job description it’s clearly stated, that the

responsibility is to make life a living hell, a pain in the ass

and confuse us foundationally [philosophy and science suffer

from the same misconception. There’s a reason why the library

has two different shelves one for philosophy the other for selfhelp-realize-yourself

literature. Philosophy is not like holding

someone’s hand.] Art’s job is to be violent… But wait a sec! It’s

defo not any regular punch in the face, attack for fuck’s sake or

bonsai. Not at all, art’s violence is way worse and it’s certainly

not connected to any gangster set-up or army, especially not an

army. Nope, art is and must – particularly under our present

Western and global predicament – be, however embarrassing it

might feel to use D/G terminology in two thousand something

else – a warmachine. As we know those machines that aren’t

apparatuses or dispositive or if at best in reverse, are singular.

They are loners that fight for the sake of fighting and don’t give

a shit about anything else than the battle. Warmachines defy

interpretation and live only in retrospect – when they act they

exist and are not concerned with life, never mind consciousness,

and how could they, they are singular, they are sovereign but

contrary to the king they will do anything to stay out there

in the dark forest, remain in the non-reflective, the libidinal.

/On Dance

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

07

Culture implies the formation and

production of identity and community.

Culture is caring, controlling, conditional

and fundamentally territorial.

When the king fears the sovereignty he’s been given and covers

his tracks with law, courts, parties and babes, the warmachine

withdraws from any form of cheap engagements, withdraws from

being identified and converted into a subject, obviously because

at the very moment it gains identity it’s no longer a warmachine

– no longer sovereign enough, is no longer an object, becomes

economical, reflexive and a matter of affordance and investment.

Now, the thang with machines is that they are as merciless to

themselves as they are to their “enemies,” which is everyone

and body, the body, the law and the temptation to be part of the

army, i.e. be part of “gemeinschaft” and exchange sovereignty

for the anonymity of the assembly [Assemblies are not places

for decisions, for action or refusal but for chitchat, idle talk and

palaver. Spangbergianism p. 20]. The warmachine is ready, always

ready to betray all sides including itself and it does continuously,

however as much as this betrayal is ubiquitous – it spares nobody

or thing – it is also specific in the sense that it carries a tendency

towards being “purely” libidinal. Warmachines fuck probability,

reflexivity, investment and must be contingent. Warmachines

just don’t know the concept of negotiation. Said otherwise, the

warmachine produces no other responsibility than to it self as

it self and it could not be otherwise. Deleuze and Guattari writes

in What Is Philosophy something like, the responsibility of the

artist is the production of the possibility of an altogether different

experience. Obviously they are wrong. It’s so not the artists’ job,

it’s the art that needs to go to work. The artist as an identity

is not causal to his work, nor is an art a causal or directional

representation of the artist’s life, inner being or anything. If this

was the situation Michel Houellebecq should have been brought

to court, Jonathan Meese put away for good and, do I need to say

something about Tracey Emin. However that does not say that

the artist and the art doesn’t function as kind of superimposed

ambiences, related but more like grooves than cousins. If it wasn’t

like that the artist would evidently be judged not on the basis of

aesthetics but in respect of politics, ethics, moral, righteousness.

In other words the art would transform to justifications of the

artist’s life, and perhaps this is exactly what is happening right now

– on several layers – when NL-infused art councils more than ever

instrumentalise artistic production to fit policy documents issued

from above, support minorities, activate kids or countryside, fit

organizational standards, report every cent, organize audience

talks and at the same time be contemporary, urgent, socially

engaged, provocative (a little bit), networked, transparent,

accessible, gender-conscious, queer-active, fireproofed, in short

licensed by the same marketing department that makes both

the IKEA catalogue and the program for The Hayward Gallery.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

08

Art in respect of aesthetic experience implies, concentric yet

not directional (strategic and void of conditions), withdrawal

from or undermining of identity and community. Art in respect

of aesthetic experience therefore is deterritorializing.

Compressed this means, an art that proposes itself as in any

respect valuable, in any respect claims itself as responsible

is always by necessity running errands for NL, it can not be

otherwise. Good attempts, sure it’s great that some artist wants

to distribute syringes to whoever, but what is it as art, what is it

as politics, what is this a moral Mr-freakin’-charity [leave that

to Hollywood] – it’s not art’s job to care for people, and as long as

artists do it we can be sure society won’t spend money doing it. If

we think artists living in Soho or Chelsea had a negative impact

on the speeding up of gentrification, this darkness has now spread

to every area thinkable, and who enjoys it most, aha capitalism,

NL and the suits on Wall Street.

emerge through the production of the possible… and yet, it wont

happen by itself. There is no mistake, there is nothing accidental

going on here [like you know Butler had it, productive mistake

– bleeeuurgh] – not at all, we cannot produce it but we can make

ourselves available to its emergence, and the making-available

must happen through and in language and reason, in history and

through perspective. We make a distinction between conceptual

art – which is all about tautology and translation, and concept art,

which implies to expose the visitor, audience, public to a concept,

an abstract-machine or a machinic-assemblage. Concept art

potentially can be a real pain, verging on fear whereas conceptual

art – at least after 1971 – certainly is like holding hands.

/On Dance

More over, starting with responsibility, identity or community will

reduce art into production of an already possible experience, one

that is only and at best a variation of what is already available. If

we want change, which is certainly not the same as improvement,

possible is not enough. Possible, is measurable, probabilistic,

discrete, critical, political, ethical and moral. See what I mean,

only an art that’s absolutely irresponsible to anything else than to

itself as itself is capable of producing a proper aesthetic experience,

an all together different experience exactly because it has no

relations. Oh no, there’s no guarantees, potentiality can only

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

09

Culture by necessity implies a

coagulation of perspective. Art on

the contrary is an indication of a

fluidization into horizon.

Pronto, an art that takes D/G for serious – the production of

the possibility of an altogether different experience [such an

experience can evidently not be produced hence production is

based on available technologies, organization, knowledge etc. but

can only be the production of possible… ] – must be an art that

makes no aspirations to communicate anything at all, cannot have

political ambitions, no concerns for or against anything at all, it

must dismiss tolerance, openness, negotiation, interpretation,

decency, moral, ethics and politics – it can only communicate

itself as itself, i.e. it is an art that communicates the potentially

of communication, or pure communicability.

It has no identity.

It exists but is not something.

Something forty years ago Godard said, “not a just image, just

an image.” Even longer ago Barnet Newman said: “-What I want

with the paintings? I just want the paint on the canvas to look as

beautiful as it does in the can.”


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

10

Culture implies forms of governance, which initiating moment always is totalitarian. Art is always is

universal, in so much that it is the very absence of governance. Culture therefore is through and through

correlated to politics, whereas art, in respect of aesthetic experience, collapses politics into doctrine,

however a doctrine that refers only to itself as itself. Culture is negotiated whereas art is one.

Two artists that might not conventionally be bunched together

but what appears to connect them is a sort of grand modernist

belief in something, should we say “pure,” and something pure

cannot issue any kind of responsibility, it’s pure because it cannot

produce responsibilities, it has no relations, it’s not a subject,

it is a warmachine. Godard’s “just an image” is an image void

of moral, ethics, politics, it is an image that is void of identity,

of life, and yet exists, similar to Newman’s paintings. It is my

conviction that we today must re-issue Godard and Newman’s

observations although not its modernist pathos – no there’s no

essence around, not since 1969 [Kosuth], even less after 1971

[Nixon dissolves gold standard] and so on… This is not a matter

of searching for an essence, universality, something “pure,” on

the contrary it is rather about the production of its possibility

as potentiality, to make “it” show up, force it out, smoke the shit

– because only that which is “pure,” that which is not subject,

that which is just an image, thing, movement – only that which

is absolutely irresponsible, worthless, can change how change

changes. It can of course only be an endlessly short moment/

an eternity, because the moment when this some something

produces extension, is granted relations, location, context, it

is nothing else than conventional and inscribed in capital, NL,

politics, ethics and moral. But just before that, art can be an

accelerationism [accelerationism must be kept strictly libidinal]

capable of anything, it’s not an openness it’s absolutely open,

it’s unconditional at the last instance, it is as pure as simple

existence, it is and fucks the rest. And you know what, to start

off it sure is capable of setting our entire political economy on

fuckin’ fire. ■

/On Dance

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

a photo essay:

terry2day

/ Hamilton Poe

Terry2day is a project initiated by people living in Detroit’s Cass

Corridor with the intent of documenting the quotidian poststudio

practice of artist/dancer Terrance Williams as he performs

on the corner of Selden Street and Second Avenue. The corner in

which Terry dances plays a pivotal role in the development of the

neighborhood, recently rebranded as “Midtown.” The corner has

seen its parks fenced off, streets changed, and boutique stores

pop up all around. In the midst of this change Terry continues

to dance, subtly perfecting his art form by making public space

his studio. With ritual as practice, his methodical consistency

becomes art in the face of change.

Feel free to submit your documentation of Terry’s latest moves

by Direct Messaging @Terry2day.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/On Dance

Crowdsourced images serve to document both the neighborhood and his meticulous art form as they occur everyday before our eyes.

Terry2Day is documented through Instagram under the moniker “Terry2day.”

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DetroitResearch /On Dance


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/On Dance

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DetroitResearch /On Dance


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/On Dance

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Sparkle, Glitter, Pop...

or A Field Guide for

Spatial Transgression

/ Allen Gillers

“Instead of places of privacy, where design was unwanted, and

public spaces where architecture had to appear in a correct

guise, here was a place where the most intimate acts, whether

real or acted out in dance, occurred in full view through a

structure of lights, sounds, and arrangements that made it all

seem natural… Looking back on it, this was queer space.”

-Aaron Betsky, Queer Space: Architecture and Same-Sex Desire 1


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/On Dance

Images by Allen Gillers, courtesy of the artist

In his 1997 rumination on the relationship between queerness

and architecture, architectural critic Aaron Betsky uses the

world of 1980’s New York City dance clubs as a way to define

“queer space.” For him, these spaces defy the strict dichotomy

of private and public through performativity, ephemerality, and

ultimately frivolity. The ephemeral and superficial performances

that defined the extents of their reality is, for Betsky, the way

(predominantly white) gay men spatially presented themselves

in the late 1980’s, in cities across the world that were luxuriating

in the seemingly boundless boom economies of an emerging

neo-liberal globalization. However, as he defines them, these

spaces have an unresolved oscillation between the real and

imaginary. And, as Tom Wolfe popularized in his 1987 novel

Bonfire of the Vanities, the morally bankrupt “Master of the

Universe” mentality that typified these spaces of luxury and

excess, thinly veiled hotbeds of racial and cultural tensions on

the verge of combustion. Consequently, whatever “real” spaces

these performances claimed were only ever momentarily there,

soon after eclipsed by the realities their performances defied.

Today, over thirty years after the cultural moment Betsky

and Wolfe both describe, Detroit can be understood as a city

most intimately familiar with the fallout that these racial,

socio-economic and cultural fault lines fortified. Even as the

city exhibits renewal, these fault lines persist. According to

the 2010 US Census, of the city’s roughly 680,000 occupants,

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almost 83% of them are African American, and almost 40%

are living below the national poverty line. 2 Yet, the majority

of urban revitalization and job growth is targeting an influx

of affluent white suburbanites and, while there seems to be a

notable shift away from fetishizing the criminally abandoned,

coquettishly decayed, and pornographically ruinous dinosaurs of

American Industrialism, how the city emerges out of bankruptcy

is increasingly muted of its longtime occupants’ voices. Pervasive

across various depictions of the current situation are extremist

illustrations that rely on portrayals of a city on the verge of

extinction, or on the brink of renaissance. Detroit is either the

post-apocalyptic zombie land where the American dream has died,

or the ground zero of new beginnings, where conspicuously white

and comparatively wealthy young activists and creatives come to

live out their D.I.Y. dreams or satiate their needy altruism. This

manifestation of the vacillation between real and imagined urban

scenarios, or put another way, reality and its abstraction, echoes

the problem with Betsky’s attempt at defining queerness in space.

By mapping the blurred oscillation between the real and

imagined queer urban subject onto the complicated stage

of a city whose mediated image of itself often precludes the

reality of its inhabitants, the built environment emerges as a

potential setting for political transgression, the black LGBT

community its possible activating agents, and the architect

its potential urban choreographer. By interrogating the rift

between reality and its abstraction both in terms of trying

to articulate a politics of urban conflict, and in trying to

understand Detroit’s dispersed and often invisible black

LGBT community, a meta-choreography becomes the means

by which a collaborative and representative architecture

spatializes, politicizes, and renders the invisible explicit.

For architects, the spatial manifestations of this politico-spatial

oscillation between the real and imagined weaves together

varying political economies across the city to produce a

multitude of intersecting and overlapping borders. Beyond the

municipal boundaries marking Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland

Park, and the suburbs beyond, these other borders reify the

existing cultural boundaries, and in so doing make cultural,

racial and economic segregation spatially manifest. The queer

urban subject, both represented collectively as Detroit’s black

LGBT community and as individuals, subverts the fixed spatial

narratives of these cultural boundaries by existing, oftentimes

invisibly, across many simultaneous urban terrains. As a

dispersed network of people across the city, because of their

already transgressive spatial reality, the LGBT community has

a unique potential to catalyze significant urban transformation

that embraces difference rather than externalizing it.

In an interview by Christian Höller for DOCUMENTA

MAGAZINE N°3, Jacques Rancière articulates this method

of politicization, claiming “Politics is not about integrating

the excluded in our societies. It is about restaging matters of

exclusion as matters of conflict, of opposition between worlds.” 3

This attitude towards the political provides the foundation for

Rancière’s fundamentally novel connection between Aesthetics

and Politics. For Rancière, “politics revolves around what is seen

and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see

and the talent to speak.” 4 Aesthetics function as its corollary, as “

forms of visibility that disclose artistic practices, the place they

occupy, what they ‘do’ or ‘make’ … ‘ways of doing and making’ that

intervene in the general distribution of ways of doing and making

as well as the relationships they maintain to modes of being

and forms of visibility.” 5 For Rancière aesthetics and politics

meet in the way in which they each relate to the distribution of


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the sensible. Politics involves understanding the distribution

of the sensible and how it is mediated; aesthetics allow for the

articulation between the visible and invisible, audible and

inaudible, sayable and unsayable, which in turn continually

redefine the distribution of the sensible. Using this understanding

of the relationship between aesthetics and politics, the architect

has the potential to mobilize a particular community’s political

agency through deploying the politics of a transgressive

aesthetic narrative. Like the images of Nick Cave’s soundsuits

in Greetings From Detroit, captured throughout the city’s

iconic sites where they seemingly don’t belong, and the way they

destabilize the viewer’s relationship to the images they construct,

the goal of an architectural urban choreography is to politicize

through a representational game of destabilizing aesthetics.

In light of this opportunity we proposed a mobile LGBT

community signage, which seeks to embrace this reality by

defying the fixity of a permanent building’s location, and aligns

itself with the transgressive nature of Detroit’s queer urban

subject. Collectively designed and built with Detroit LGBT

youth from across the city, this dispersed mobile sign hopes to

become a roving icon, inverting the superficially hidden and

historically closeted community, weaving in and out of a range

of urban, political, social and economic border conditions,

while encountering difference in each of the worlds it inhabits.

The parts of the sign will never quite belong in any of these

locations, and will continuously destabilize an unknowing

viewer’s understanding of who has a right to any given public

space. The project was conceived collectively, through developing

a close relationship with LGBT Detroit (www.lgbtdetroit.org)

over the course of a year, understanding the varied makeup

of its constituents, and trying to combat a city’s increasing

gentrification, where rent prices are currently threatening its

very presence in Detroit. We designed four discrete carts, which


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each separately attach to bikes and can be ridden across the

cities varied landscapes. Individually they are sassy, cheeky,

and colorful mobile installation pieces. Collectively they come

together through a combination of anamorphic projection

and moire patterning to read “LGBT DETROIT.” The project

culminated in a collaborative performance of design, staged

on July 25th at the 20th Anniversary of Detroit’s annual black

gay pride, Hotter Than July celebration in Palmer Park,

Detroit. Celebrants were invited to participate in painting and

assembling the final stages of the sign's four discrete parts,

and after the annual Vogue Ball, they were invited to ride along

in the inaugural “gay slow roll,” showcasing the new mobile

signage to a lightly raining, misty Detroit summer evening.

1 Aaron Betsky, Queer Space: Architecture and Same-Sex Desire

(New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1997), 5.

2 http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/26/2622000.html

3 Christian Höller and Jacques Rancière, “The Abandonment of

Democracy,” Documenta Magazine, no. 3: Education (2007): 23.

4 Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics (London: Bloomsbury

Academic, 2013), 8.

5 Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, 8.

To borrow from Rancière, this project is an attempt to shake up

the status quo, challenge the distribution of Detroit’s current

sensibility and make room for a group of marginalized youth who

are trying to find their voice in an urban transformation which

is rapidly sequestering them into irrelevance. The goal is for this

project to offer a potentially new form of community engaged

design that embraces the profound knowledge of its collaborators

in producing true urban commons. While the stories of who

urban transformation serves here in Detroit is unavoidably

enmeshed in racist and classist structures, the question

of queerness, inextricably entangled in these struggles,

has the capacity for new political purchase in rethinking

urban space. Beyond the ephemerality and performativity

of Betsky’s “queer space,” rethinking the very borders of

built space has the potential to allow for a new protagonist

in catalyzing urban change. Borders, real or imagined,

visible or invisible, dictate the way we move through our daily

lives. As architects and designers, thinking about our role

in negotiating the public spaces of our urban environments,

these borders create a complex web upon which we have the

potential to help choreograph new modes of urban life. ■


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We Place

Ourselves

/ Leyya Mona Tawil

DANCE ELIXIR, Day of the Innocents [Enter the Martyr]. Photo by

Ricardo Esway, courtesy of Leyya Mona Tawil.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/

The social choreography of Arab experimentalism.

Accumulations for The Martyr – a score for performance,

visual and literary transmission.

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We place ourselves in space: The Work, The Workers, The Warriors, The War.

THE WORK

We were always awake.

We own our narrative.

We own our references.

Context changes hands so easily. I try to grab hold.

2065BC

Photo by Nurah Faraha


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

“When things are so hard to see, to discern,

at times like ours full of ruptures, we don’t

know anymore what is content from what is

context. In my case I consciously decided

to study context as content, and to go full

heartedly for investing into recreating contexts.”

/On Dance

Adham Hafez. Artist, Curator, Scholar.

Director of HaRaKa Platform.

re-narration is constant.

Qubais Reed Ghazala invents circuit-bending.

Jehan Mullin conjures titles for fires.

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THE WORKERS

I forgo legibility.

Resolve is personal.

We operate independently.

We tether for perspective.

Individualism does not erase our cultural belonging.

Sam Shalabi reminds us that validation is a trap.

Julius Masri, Night Raids, anger, commodity, satire.

Donia Jarrar cuts water with her own absolutions.

Mona Gamil teaches us the benefits of becoming a SAP [Safe Art Practices].


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Atlas

Photo by Doug Coombe

“The Arab avant garde is made up of those who

work to create something new, on the fringe or

experimental in nature, while bringing their

Arab experience to bear. I think the many ways

that our art is based upon our identity, or lack

thereof, manifests itself as Arab regardless

of how subtle or overt the incorporation.”

/On Dance

Mike Khoury. Musician, Composer, Researcher.

Director of Detroit music label Entropy Stereo Recordings.

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THE WARRIORS

Blood cannot be disassociated from action.

We stand in ancestral and political perspective. A future self springs

from this well.

We whisper community secrets.

I put my ear to the ground, and listen for my cohorts.

We find each other.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Autobiography of a Warrior

Photo by Fiestaban Photography

“We are working to break the historical

narrative. To decolonize our work.”

/On Dance

Rosario Lionudakis: Artist, Writer, Educator.

Director of Zari Le’on Dance Theater.

Mark Gergis releases the album I Remember Syria in 2004.

Porest releases the album Tourrorists! in 2006.

Sham Palace.

AANM, DIWAN, a lighthouse.

Laila and Leila and Layla, alef leyla…

The Brothers are Unconnected.

Cherif El Masri destroys Cairo.

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THE WAR

Reference irreverence.

Fuck your version.

Our resilience is cultural.

There is power in our discord.

Post-national gives way to improvisation.

Experimentation is not negation.

Nostalgia is the enemy.

Absolution.

The Brothers are Unconnected.

Cherif El Masri destroys Cairo.


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/On Dance

Day of the innocents [enter The Martyr] Photo by Ricardo Esway Photography, courtesy of the artist

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“I set out to write an article about the Arab Avant Garde, and in

the process sorted through an ocean of divergent and convergent

ideologies from my community. I abandoned the attempt to

capture the Arab Avant Garde and instead turned inward to

define my own practices. I associate my words and the work of

my comrades in order to offer a glimpse.

I place myself in space.

Let me be explicit – this is not a singular statement on behalf of

Arab experimentalists. I humbly attempt to make visible the

ways in which we relate ourselves to our worlds.

How we act, interact and transform. Shapeshifters.


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The Martyr is the container; I choose my archetypes, I forgo

legibility. The Martyr is a score that is still landing; it will

ultimately be interpreted for performance, visual and literary

transmission.

It begins with absolution.”

Leyya Mona Tawil. Artist, Researcher, Performer.

Director of DANCE ELIXIR and TAC: Temescal Arts Center.

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CODA

I have constructed this choreography by assuming things.

The accumulation is personal; I reference years of conversation and

participation.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

I thank you: Mike Khoury, Rosario Lionudakis, Adham Hafez, Jehan

Mullin, Brian Rogers, Mark Gergis, Donia Jarrar, Richard Bishop, Osama

Shalabi, Laila Shereen Sakr, Leila Oum Kulthoum Tayeb, Layla Farhan,

Maysoun Freij, Julius Masri, Dominic Cramp, Mike Guarino, Katherine

Toukhy, Marwa Helal, Ramsey Ameen, Mona Gamil, Cherif El Masri,

Qubais Reed Gazaleh and Devon Akmon.

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4 Poems

/Jaamil Olawale Kosoko


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Two Souls

Two souls collide in a moment perfected by grace,

by a super power some of us only know as God.

In such untethered intrepid strides, they collide

leaving no room for chance, no space for mistakes.

Consider for a moment, this moment: the parents

of their parents and then their ancestors all linked,

all impeccably placed and timed. Of course,

this union specified before you or I could even see,

/On Dance

could even breathe… Soul and soul collide

and so the result can only be love: a blessing

more ancient than the dinosaur, older than the world,

shattering dimensions and science - a blessing

traversing the heavens, falling up like prayers, like feathers.

Close your eyes and witness how angels fly all around us.

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Effigy

Marfa Lights

Was it Tina or Peaches, one of my mother’s

vindictive personalities, who set the house

on fire with her brother still in it? When

I went to visit him in the Burned Victims Unit,

the doctors had just finished ventilating his lungs.

The hours hung long around his muscular-melted frame

like a bandage. Medical devices worked electric magic

to keep him alive. The past five nights, he’d spent

locked in an air chamber. Finally out of danger,

God was a reflection in the room - in the mirrors,

the windows, anything that let light in. The day

the gauze and layers of cotton were removed,

he was unrecognizable cooked meat.

His mother said he was such a beautiful man,

had such nice feet. The ten years after the blaze,

Lucifer took the shape of a drink he could not

put down. Now, uncle is the 40-year-old living definition

of a burnt blessing staggering in new skin, only

a trace of physical heat is left. Epidermal theft.

Crazy mother, you lifted the man’s clothes right off

his back. Scorched shirt singed while on the rack;

ignite the black leather coat. Some nights he wakes

in the hot rooms of his body still filled with smoke.

I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds

and a dead child dragging his shattered black

face off the edge of my sleep

blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders

is the only liquid for miles...

-Audre Lorde

For weeks we spoke

of the desert lights in Marfa

until finally they spoke back,

so we ran into their voices,

shaping them into bodies

that danced and prayed

and cried much like our own.

Wild as orphaned children

pissed at our dead parents

for having not loved us better,

we ran to the desert

crafting spells that screamed

to our losses and our dreams,

screamed to our ancestors,

their bones buried in secret.

Chanting Audre Lorde poems

at the top of our lungs

until our throats hurt

and our hearts swelled,

off Route 67 we became

desert twins, sisters

of the dust, dusk bathing us

in her sweat and her night.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Placed Between Loss and Living

for my brother

I suppose, if I’ve learned anything,

it’s all been tethered to loss. My

16 year old self, lowering

my mother’s body down

into that black earth, and now,

exactly 16 years later,

I’m back at this same place,

same broken body, same face.

But this time it’s not my mother,

it’s her son, and he is just as

fragile as he is strong. His

22 year old self: long and muscular,

dark and bruised, punished

and weathered. I lie him down,

like an offering to God. I say,

Lord, I am still here. I will obey.

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#negrophobia

/ Jaamil Olawale Kosoko and Kate Hess

a photo collaboration

All photos courtesy of the artist


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“Bad Bitches”

and the Disruption of Black Masculine

Supremacy at The Ultimate White Party

2014 (Midwest Edition)

/Michelle Cowin-Mensah

Dance: a state of excitement in a system where change

becomes possible, desirable, fluid and pleasurable. 1

-Jeffrey Gormly


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

INTRODUCTION

Hundreds of Metropolitan Detroiters crowded the Riverside Marina off the Detroit River to attend

“the world[’s] largest nightclub” (“The Ultimate Group”). The Ultimate White Party, 2014 (Midwest

Edition) was anything but an ordinary nightclub. The event promoters invited local vendors to

transform the Marina’s tennis courts into an outdoor showroom. Merchant Vendor Row featured

soul food, urban street wear, authorized cell phone retailers, and African American hair products.

Corporate sponsors like MAC Cosmetics set up makeover stations, and Macy’s sponsored Red Carpet

Photo Booths that instantly uploaded photos to social media. Dozens of individuals and local businesses

purchased white cabanas from $1K - $2,5K per tent, turning the perimeter of the marina into a South

Beach Miami resort. BRICKK ENT, a production company representing local rap artists, dominated The

Ultimate White Party, in size and cabanas. The company had a total of four tents. The male members

of the company dressed in bright oversized white polos with red letters in caps “BRICKK ENT” on the

backside and matching hats. BRICKK ENT cabanas were located closer to the perimeter of the dance

floor than any other cabanas and were closer to the walkways that provided easy access to Merchant

Vendor Row and the Clubhouse. 2 BRICKK ENT had no female representation at The White Party that

I witnessed. Those women who did party with the company in their cabanas did not appear to be part

of the organization. They did not wear the iconic red and white polos, nor did they wear anything that

would associate them with BRICKK. Like the rest of us at The White Party, 2014, they were spectators,

witnesses to the event, and above all given permits to specific areas of the party by those who ball.

/On Dance

In Detroit hip-hop culture, Black masculinity tends to mirror hegemonic White masculinity and

inform the ways in which Black men subjugate Black women. According to Patricia Hill Collins in “A

Telling Difference: Dominance, Strength, and Black Masculinities,” hegemonic White masculinity sets

up the parameters of male/female relationships. Collins’s states that “hegemonic [White] masculinity

reflects a cognitive framework of binary thinking that defines masculinity in terms of its difference

from and dominance over multiple others.” 3 As a result, hegemonic White masculinity asserts what

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Collins calls the strong-black-women-weak-black-men trope. Thus, to define Black masculinity

against what it is not (Black femininity), the relationship between Black men and Black women can be

contested and at times highly volatile. BRICKK ENT’s misogynist behaviorisms towards Black women

at The Ultimate White Party reflect gendered attitudes towards Black female Detroiters. At The White

Party, these demeaning and objectifying attitudes forced Black women into a type of spectatorship.

Black female Detroiters were encouraged to be both simultaneously present and not present. Although

Black men confided female Detroiters to the audience, these Black women also complicated Black

masculine presupposed gendered identities that rendered them as spectators. In this article, I will

look at the ways in which Black female Detroiters used performance as a mode of resistance against

Black masculine supremacist practices at The Ultimate White Party, 2014. Loosely deconstructing

the term dance to include social choreographic thinking as a conscious way of rationalizing movement

to work in/through oppressive environments, I will examine how Black female Detroiters use

movement to negotiate Detroit hip-hop culture, which hinges on static notions of authentic blackness.

“WHERE ALL MY BAD BITCHES AT?”

When Mike Epps arrived on stage, the Black male members associated with BRICKK ENT rushed the

stage. Using flashlights and cell phones, they hand selected other BRICKK ENT members and male

friends to enter the stage. The man standing next to me phoned his cousin. Instantaneously, he was

waved to the stage. The stage was full of Black men. The women stood around in confusion. One of

the event promoters (a Black woman) was stopped by BRICKK ENT as she tried to enter the stage. Her

entourage, which comprised of all Black men, tried to dismiss them. It was not until another event

promoter (another Black man) saw the commotion and stepped in to vouch for his colleague that

BRICKK moved out of her way. Once on stage, the Black female event promoter stopped the music and

addressed the crowd, urging them to calm down. She said no one else was permitted onstage due to

weight restrictions. Mike Epps clips in, “No more ratchet bitches to the stage.” Everyone laughed. The

Black woman next to me screamed in laughter. The music came on again. Mike Epps shouts: “Where

the real niggas at?! Where the real niggas at?! Bad bitches, Real Niggas.” The music started back up.

The music stopped again. The Black female event promoter addressed Mike Epps and BRICKK

ENT and tells them the men must leave the stage due to weight restrictions. “Mike, I’m going to

let you get back to your party in a second. Ladies and gentlemen, please. Right now, the DJ booth

is too heavy. I have a weight restriction.” A few Detroit Police Officers came up on stage. They did

not appear to remove any of the men from the stage but stood in observation. The Black female

event promoter: “I need you to calm down. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a major issue-” At

that moment, there was a group full of BRICKK ENT men trying to get on the stage. The women


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

around me erupted in chants of disapproval, screaming “NO MORE DICKS!” and “WHERE DA’

LADIES AT?” Hearing the chants and disapproval, Mike Epps encouraged all the men to exit

the stage and eagerly invited women to join him. The women in the audience cheered and some

advanced towards the stage only to be pushed back by a line of BRICKK ENT men. By this point,

BRICKK ENT was even restricting waitresses to come onstage. Meanwhile, BRICKK ENT men,

as well as well-known Black male political leaders in the community, took turns shaking hands

and taking pictures with Mike Epps. I could see large bottles of Hennessy cognac and champagne

being passed from man to man. There were also takeaway containers of food in the VIP

section reserved for Mike Epps and his entourage but now BRICKK ENT men filled the section.

Event security swarmed around the entire stage, blocking more men from entering. BRICKK

ENT men who were not onstage, argued and attempted to push their way to the front. Soon

there was a standoff between BRICKK ENT men and event security. The women around me

complained about the men to each other, while some yelled out for the men to get off of the

stage. I did not see any women physically challenge the BRICKK ENT men. There were audible

disapproval and the women around me made comments like, “What the fuck?” “Fuck these dicks!”

“Get off the fuckin’ stage!” “Get yo’ ass off the fuckin’ stage.” Soon the Fire Marshall appeared

and commanded that no one else get on stage, or he would permanently shut down the party.

Feelings of confusion, resentment, and anger swept through the crowd like an active volcano

brewing, sputtering, and finally spilling over to everyone. The Black female event promoter

continued to urge the crowd to calm down. The promoters displayed messages on the video monitors

surround the stage, “Get off the Stage.” Ladies around me screamed, “Oh my God, get the fuck

off the stage! It’s too much dick on the stage!” Suddenly Mike Epps’s voice cranked in, “Let’s get

this mutha-fuckin’ party started, DETROIT!” The women in the crowd screamed and cheered.

Mike’s voice excited them but just as soon as he is done hypin’, which is less than 15 seconds; he

disappears, swallowed up in the sea of BRICKK men. Two men pushed past me, and I hit the

Black woman in front of me. She shot me an angry glare, and I quickly apologized. I pointed

to the men who shoved past me. They were both from BRICKK ENT. We shared a knowing look.

The men had rushed past us in a strange desperation to get closer to the commotion on the stage.

No sooner did the men past me when we saw them gathered at the front of the stage. Along with

another few BRICKK ENT men already in position, the men pushed their way towards the event

security. The music started up again. “Bitch betta have my money!” From the left side of the stage,

a BRICKK ENT man helped another partner onstage. Mike Epps chants “All the Bad Bitches out

here...” Two more men jumped up. “East side, west side...” One more man hurled himself up onto

the stage. “All the Bad Bitches, all the Real Niggas.” The women around me were quiet. There was

a mixture of resentment and yearning in their facial expressions. The tension in their bodies

betrayed them: they wanted to be up there too. They wanted to be included. Strangely, I felt this

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too. I could see my brother and his girl onstage. We made eye contact. I leaned towards the stage,

and he looked around tentatively. Hopelessly, he shook his head. I was confined to the crowd.

Historically, Black men have often held Black women to genderized representations of a male

constructed Black femininity in Detroit. The politics of Black female respectability often forced

Black women to focus on issues in support of Black masculinity. Angela D. Dillard in Faith in the City:

Preaching Radical Social Change in Detroit notes that in the nineteenth century, the Black church

often provided Black women with an avenue from which to engage in broader social, political, economic,

and cultural debates. 4 However, debates usually centered on Black women securing sustainable

employment to support their families, rather than debates concerning their fundamental rights as

seen in White feminist movements during the same time. Dillard notes that Black women also faced

the most obstacles when obtaining industrial work than either Black men or White women. 5 These

women often found themselves working without the support of Black men to help secure employment

for their families. Additionally, as the city shifted towards Black Nationalist ideologies, this left

little room for discussion on Black female employment. Edna Ewell Watson, a political protester

and member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the 1970s, notes in Dan Georgakas

and Marvin Surkin's book, Detroit, I Do Mind Dying that she was expected to be supportive of

male leadership. 6 Watson states that there was no lack of roles for women in the League as long as

they accepted subordination to the greater needs of the organization, which was male-dominant. 7

At The White Party, Black masculine misogyny and White racist antagonisms toward the Black female

body render Black femininity overtly antagonistic (the angry Black woman trope) or passively nonexistent

(the Mammy trope). However, there is a more complicated negotiation Black women undergo

when encountering misogyny and racism that hinges on creating authentic representations of blackness. 8

At The White Party, Mike Epps (arguably the epitome of Black masculine desire at the event) asked

for all the Real Niggas and the Bad Bitches to “make some noise.” The crowd, including all of the

Black women, erupted in cheers, hoots, and hollers. By Epps acknowledging Black women as Bad

Bitches, he encouraged two things: (1) acceptance of Black masculine desire and the Black woman

as objects of that desire, and (2) Black femininity that can be traced to an authentic blackness. 9 In

the first, Black women must be willing participants of Black masculine desire in Detroit hip-hop

culture. This is not to say that Black women must willingly submit to Black masculine desire. On


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

the contrary, Bad Bitches acknowledge Black masculine desire in ways that make it clear that they,

as the objects of desire, are in control. Stephane Dunn in Baad Bitches and Sassy Supermamas:

Black Power Action Films, notes that hip-hop iconography perceives black female sexuality as

liberated and free. 10 She comments that “In rap music culture, ‘bitch’ has also been revised as ‘Bitch’

to signify a hardcore woman who makes money and proudly flaunts her sexual libido and sexuality.

She is the ‘around the way sista’ who can hold her own with the gangsta thugs of rap music.” 11

Although the term Bitch symbolizes a historical reclamation from White patriarchy, today’s Bad

Bitch according to Dunn is a label and persona that functions as a mode of expression. Dunn states:

It [Bad Bitch] offers the allure of transgression, a

seductive construction for women and especially for

historically devalued women in U.S. celebrity culture [...]

The ‘Bad Bitch’ suggests a black woman from workingclass

roots who goes beyond the boundaries of gender in

a patriarchal domain and plays the game as successfully

as the boys by being in charge of her own sexual

representation and manipulating it for celebrity

and material gain. 12

In a YouTube video taken at the event, a popular local porn star named The Body XXX is walking

around the marina with her friends. In the video, she is wearing a white Charmeuse romper. The

suit has a dropped V-neck down the center of the outfit. On the backside, the suit barely covers

her buttock. The Body is eating a piece of fried chicken as she walks. A young Black man with a

camera crew approaches her claiming to be from a Detroit reality TV show. It is clear from the

video that she is not interested in being interviewed or even speaking to the man. The man calls

after her and continuously follows her. It is unclear from the video what he is saying to her to

attract her attention. The Body continues eating and does her best to ignore him. The man blocks

her path. She immediately attempts to toss the chicken at the camera. The man says, “Whoa!

What you doing?” The two dance around each other as the man is now blocking the camera from

the incoming chicken. The Body remains silent and walks away. The man continues to pursue

her. This time the camera pans down to a shot of her buttock. The man approaches the woman’s

backside and rubs on her buttocks. The woman continues to eat chicken and walks away. The man

/On Dance

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says, “Hey look, this is 2014 White Party. Show ‘em how we doing it. Look! Look! This how we doing

it.” The woman takes the piece of half eaten chicken and dangles the meat near her buttocks. The

man says, “Yo! Put yo’ name on it!” The camera lingers on The Body’s buttock as she walks away. 13

Without knowing the socio-economic status of both participants in the video, it is difficult to pinpoint

if, in fact, The Body matches Dunn’s criteria of a Bad Bitch. However, it is easy to gauge from her

reactions towards the young Black man, that she is performing traits one could associate with Bad

Bitch. Her mannerisms towards the young man convey that she is in charge of her sexual image

despite the frequent tries on behalf of the young man to objectify her. This performance, for me, is

part of an everyday act of resistance to anti-misogynist practices towards Black women in Detroit

hip-hop culture. The movements located in these performances are rehearsed and restaged at the

discretion of Black hip-hop masculinity. The attempt seems to be for Black female Detroiters in hiphop

culture to find spaces of social acceptance in a mostly masculine supremacist state. According

to Andrew Hewitt in Social Choreography: Ideology as Performance in Dance and Everyday

Movement, those who use dance as a method of social change understand how movement can be a

powerful motivator for materialist and aesthetic ideology. 14 Similarly, Patricia Hill Collins notes

in Black Sexual Politics: Black women often objectify their bodies to be accepted within a Black

male-controlled universe. 15 Nowhere is this more apparent than when The Body dangled the piece

of chicken meat over her buttock. However, in Detroit hip-hop culture and in particular reference

to my experiences at The White Party, Black masculine antagonisms towards Black women were

rampant. This comes as no surprise. Global racist patriarchal culture commercially seeks to

redefine Black femininity as weak. However, Detroit, which is still overwhelming Black and poor,

has a large Black youth population which sees hip-hop as their only option for getting out of the

hood. Rightfully so, according to Tricia Rose in her book The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About

When We Talk About Hip Hop - and Why It Matters, which argues that Detroit along with other

metropolitan cities during the recession saw major population declines, and urban destruction of

abandoned homes without renewal leading thus to increase in violence and youth displacement. 16

Black youth’s do or die perspective in a global mainstream marketplace wherein Black rappers

are encouraged to displace and reject Black femininity leaves Black youth with very few options

for survival, let alone how to address Black womanhood. Additionally, while current Detroit hiphop

artists are doing a lot to bring attention to Detroit in terms of the impact of poverty on Black

communities, very little attention is being paid to positively representing Black womanhood.

For example, in Detroit rapper YCG’s 2013 music video titled Racks, 17 the artist and his entourage

effortlessly toss green bills at scantily clad women who are twerking. In the opening shot, the women


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

(all Black) are facing away from the camera as they dance. They are dressed in sexy thongs and

bikini tops. The camera quickly pans to automobile tire rims of all styles and variety. The images

throughout the video continue to cut between scantily clad Black women, Black female characters as

sexual deviants, and other markers of material wealth (Racks). Similarly rising hip-hop rapper and

fellow Detroiter, Danny Brown, whose music is primarily focused on and in Detroit, often highlights

the socioeconomic disparities from the perspectives of Black communities. In Guitar Solo, Brown

shows viewers the perspectives of two young black youths, one Black girl, and one Black boy. In both

instances, the young adults are forced to make decisions for the betterment of themselves with no

emotional support from their families. The young Black boy takes up petty theft to escape his povertystricken

home life, and the young Black girl is pregnant with no options (“Guitar Solo”). 18 She hopes

to find security with a drug dealer to support her unborn child (“Guitar Solo”). In both instances we

see Black youths forced to make decisions because their single-parent mothers are unable to cope.

The young boy’s mother is a prostitute and according to Brown, “a fiend” (“Guitar Solo”). In the video,

the young girl’s mother relies on other men to support her and has little concern for her daughter’s

welfare. In the video, we can see the young boy’s mother counting money in semi-darkness. The

young girl’s mother is seen walking around the house with a man. She hands her daughter a small

boy, and the couple goes into another room. In another segment, the mother is seen twerking in what

looks like her bathroom in mismatched bra and panties (“Guitar Solo”). In this video, Detroit Black

womanhood is a marathon for the survival of the fittest. The women portrayed are bottom-feeders

who commit licentious acts to survive harsh conditions in Post-Recession Detroit. Although Danny

Brown depicts these Black women as “fiends,” he also complicates their narratives by showing the

cyclical nature of poverty. These women might be morally complicated but according to Brown, their

struggle is part of a larger story that stems from being forgotten; a mantra that many Detroiters feel.

/On Dance

“SIGN MY NAME ON IT”

Racist patriarchal binaries distort images of Black female Detroiters in Detroit’s hip-hop culture

as victims or victimizers. In many songs and music videos, Black Detroit women are single-mothers

caught in the trappings of socio-economic decline by no fault of their own. In other videos, Black

women are narcissistic gold diggers whose greatest pleasure is to prove loyalty to their men. These

Bad Bitches will stop at nothing to get what they want, including terrorizing and debasing others –

particularly other Black women. Black Detroit female hip-hop artists rarely portray themselves as

victims or hood angels, but opt to take on the position of the victimizer or Bad Bitch persona. For

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example, Selena Jordan is a nineteen year old rising star on Detroit’s hip-hop scene. Her music videos

and appearances stream on YouTube to thousands of fans, and she was a featured performer at The

White Party, 2014. Flanked by three scantily clad backup dancers, Jordan in a short mid-thigh minidress

with a low front, clipped snappy lyrics about her magic-like abilities to attract men and dismiss

women. In the song, she proclaimed that she was a Bad Bitch and dared anyone to challenge her powers.

Dripping with long straight black hair down her back, she often strutted back and forth from the front

of the stage, hip rolled into a crouch, and rose into a twerk dance movement. I noticed the audience

reactions to Jordan’s performance. Many of them were actively engaged in the performance. It was

obvious this was their first time hearing Jordan’s song. They attentively listened and watched her

performance with intense stares. Many of them simultaneously held up smartphones to capture the

experience, while watching her live performance onstage. At the end of the performance, the crowd

did not cheer with hoots and hollers, but calmly applauded her efforts and went back to meandering

around the marina until the next performance was set. I caught Jordan as she exited the stage for a

quick response to her performance. I applauded her skills as a performer and asked her if she was

from Detroit. She warmly smiled and graciously said, “Thank you, and yes, I’m from here.” “Did

you write that song yourself?” I asked. “Oh yes. I write all my songs.” “Does your life as a Detroiter

reflect the kind of stuff you write?” “Yes, some of it does.” I got her information with the intent to

formally interview her about her performance, but after The White Party, Jordan could not be reached.

One observation that I made from my interaction with Jordan after her performance was the immediate

change in her demeanor. Her smile was genuine warm and welcoming. She was gracious and open with

wide eyes during our short interaction. There was none of the Bad Bitch persona that she performed

on stage. There was no conceit or pretentious behavior so commonly personified in the performance

of Bad Bitch. Jordan’s shift from Bad Bitch reflects what Stephane Dunn calls the problematic and

masculine-centered aesthetic of “keeping it real.” 19 Dunn notes that rap music and hip-hop culture

valorize thug life as real blackness. The patriarchal racial condemnation of Black masculinity as

weak and Black femininity as invisible are reflected in the community and expressed in the music. 20

Expressions of social codes as culture in rap music that signify a real blackness, according to Dunn,

become ways artists “appreciate the truths about the hardship of ghetto life.” 21 Similarly, Black women

as rap artists in hip-hop culture are also responsible for upholding an image that coincides with


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masculine street ideologies surrounding real blackness. The performance of Bad Bitch in some ways

upholds Black masculine patriarchy as a reflection of thug life in that reality. According to Dunn, rap

star Lil’ Kim performed a representation of Black femininity as the Bad Bitch and used her sexuality to

appear loyal to the game or thug life. 22 Dunn further argues that Lil’ Kim’s loyalty was also contingent

on her willingness to submit to Black masculine dominance whenever necessary. Dunn states: “An

intrinsic part of that identity remains the idea of a woman who will ‘trick’ for her main man and destroy

anyone- other ‘bitches’ or male enemies- who attempt to bring that man down figuratively or literally.” 23

In my brief conversation with Selena Jordan, it was clear that she did not buy into the Bad Bitch persona.

She performed a representation of authentic Black femininity, according to the expectations of real

Black Detroit masculinity. For example, in another segment of the same YouTube video taken at The

White Party, the young Black man is standing behind a Black woman. He has both arms wrapped

around her shoulders and is tightly holding on to her. As she moves forward, he moves with her. They

are both looking directly at the camera. The woman is signifying with her right hand her hometown

of East Warren, Michigan. The woman’s performance of Bad Bitch is clear, as she rotates her head

and rolls her upper body. Her vocal pitch and rhythm matches that of the young man still holding her.

“East Warren ... Oh yeah! All day, every day!” 24 There is a very hard and imperious look in her eyes that

seem to match the young man behind her. As the young man is rocking to the music with the woman

in his arms, he lifts his left arm. The woman’s stance shifts and she ease herself out of the young

man’s grasp. Once free she immediately relaxes her tough posture and a huge smiles crosses over her

/On Dance

face. Unbeknownst to the young man, the two celebrate and bounce to the music. “Hey! Oh!” 25

In this segment, it is unclear who began the exchange since the video immediately cuts to the couple

mid-interaction. However, what makes their exchange interesting is the dramatic shift from the

Bad Bitch persona to a more light-hearted and relaxed persona. The woman signifies with hand

gestures to commemorate her neighborhood as the Bad Bitch. During this brief moment, there

is a habitual quality to her movements that feel rehearsed and prepared. She may not be the Bad

Bitch, but she certainly knows Black masculine interpretations of class-based Black femininity

to enact a representation of what Black men want. The large Black man hanging on her back

attempts to possess her body; giving her vocal cues on how hardcore Bad Bitches are supposed to act.

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CONCLUSION

In conclusion, The Ultimate White Party, 2014 (Midwest Edition) brought hundreds of metropolitan

Detroiters together to experience authentic Detroit hip-hop culture. However, the terms of engagement

differed dramatically for Black women than Black men. This is not to say that all Black men did

not experience biased and gendered oppression at The White Party. I did not discuss how Black

masculine supremacy also attempts to conflate blackness and Black male identity, limiting the

possibilities for all Black men regardless of class, age, or sexual orientation. However, at The

White Party, the constitution of Black Detroit female identity within Detroit hip-hop culture was

invariably connected with Black masculine supremacist notions of authentic blackness. As a result,

Black female Detroiters were rendered spectators. Detroit hip-hop culture’s gendered expectations

of Black femininity created the rupture that isolated Bad Bitches to the crowd and Mike Epps’ real

niggas to the stage. However, Black women did not suffer in the wings. They were active spectators

engaging in a social choreography that called attention to the politics of racial patriarchy and

Black masculine supremacy in Detroit hip-hop culture. Using movement as a way of articulating

their positionalities, these women attempted to negotiate the murky gender politics of Detroit hiphop

culture within the racist and sexist ideologies that subordinate both Black men and women.

One of the most interesting points of contention is how racism and performance both contribute to

gender biases in Detroit hip-hop culture. Black female Detroiters are held accountable for creating

an authentic blackness that mirrors the ways in which Black men have been expected to uphold

the ideologies of White masculinity. Therefore as an act of survival, Black male Detroiters enact

performative behaviorisms that hinge on the expectations of White superiority in an attempt to

be recognized as human. Black women, while still being held to those same standards, experience

multiple oppression from both Black and White supremacy. The misogynist performatives that

subjugate Black Detroit womanhood in hip-hop are made present through multiple representations

of Black female Detroiters as victims or victimizers. Black female Detroiters in an act of survival

in hip-hop culture simultaneously attempt to resist and reconstruct negative images of self

through performances that complicate a presupposed real blackness. The performance of Bad

Bitches is for some a deliberate performance that does not constitute a single Black female Detroit

identity in hip-hop culture. Rather, this is a performance for what it is: a performance of survival.

Racist patriarchy and sexist ideologies have strongly influenced the politics of Black identity

in this country, as we (Black men and women alike) have historically felt and presently feel. ■


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

1 Jeffrey Gormly, “Raw Thinking: What is a State of Dance?,” choreograph.net (June 11, 2011).

2 The Clubhouse featured a full dinner buffet and snack bar for individuals who purchased VIP

tickets at $60 (regular entrance was $40).

3 Patricia Hill Collins, “A Telling Difference: Dominance, Strength, and Black Masculinities,” in

Progressive Black Masculinities, ed. Athena D. Muthua (New York: Routledge, 2006), 74.

4 Cf. Angela D. Dillard, Faith in the City: Preaching Radical Social Change in Detroit (Ann Arbor:

University of Michigan Press, 2007), 5.

5 Cf. Dillard, Faith in the City, 123.

6 Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, Detroit, I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution (New

York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975), 224.

7 Cf. Georgakas and Surkin, Detroit, I Do Mind Dying, 225.

8 Cf., for example, Patrick E. Johnson, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of

Authenticity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).

9 Cf., for example, bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End Press,

1992).

10 Cf. Stephane Dunn, Baad Bitches and Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films (Urbana:

University of Illinois Press, 2008), 26.

11 Dunn, Baad Bitches, 26.

12 Dunn, Baad Bitches, 27.

/On Dance

13 The Ultimate white Party 2014 (the fight), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN8jFgkGuEI.

Accessed 05.01.16.

14 Cf. Andrew Hewitt, Social Choreography: Ideology as Performance in Dance and Everyday

Movement (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 5.

15 Cf. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism

(New York: Routledge, 2005), 129.

16 Cf. Tricia Rose, The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop - and Why It

Matters (New York: Basic Civitas, 2008), 45.

17 Racks, dir. TandB Films, prod. BRICKK ENT, perf. YCG, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/

watch?v=BvNaZ_kuj00. Accessed 05.01.16.

18 Danny Brown, “Guitar Solo,” from The Hybrid, dir. Tony ‘Storymode’ Foster, Rappers I Know Prod;

Hybrid Music Prod, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAG1TCSTVTc. Accessed 05.01.16.

19 Cf. Dunn, Baad Bitches, 24-26.

20 Cf. Dunn, Baad Bitches, 25.

21 Dunn, Baad Bitches, 25.

22 Cf. Dunn, Baad Bitches, 29.

23 Dunn, Baad Bitches, 29.

24 The Ultimate White Party 2014 (the fight).

25 The Ultimate White Party 2014 (the fight).

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A Butterfly in a Jar:

Where the Twirlers Lie

/ Christopher Braz


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pose for me and pose for me now stop...pussy, pussy, pussy,

pussy, pussy—you see this pussy? You want this pussy? Please,

“Now

you can’t afford this pussy.” Vogue—in terms of the pose, the

banter, and the walk; all work together to project the cunty realness in

feminist exaggerated freedoms. Cunty realness and its definitions lie at

two extremes.

One extreme being the grace of Glenda the good witch,

and the other channels the fierce clarity of Snow White's

Stepmother, The Evil Queen. We are at this intersection of

what it really means — the life, the fantasy, what you can

buy vs. what you can portray. This shit is real okay: “mind

you,” we vogue to survive. What happens to a butterfly

if you trap it in a jar? [she dies] But release her and she

will develop. Voguing is more then the appropriation of

queer culture by mainstream white pop artist. It is a way

to release your aggregation. Voguing makes you focus

your frustration and can help you to feel empowered.

The experience voguing creates is different for everyone.

For some the glamor and validation you get from voguing

is enough, but for others the pathos runs deep. When

you are called to vogue by the force of the music

or 'whatever have you' my dear, it is like no other

feeling you have ever felt. In the mist of voguing it is

like you are talking to God and he/she or it is telling

you work my queer child of the night — it is okay for

you to exist. I think so many are in search of this

divine right to exist, because you want the world to

hear you. However, is it better to be seen then heard?

To be honest a bitch can talk all day, but will you listen?

But if you see me, if you really see me then fuck a trance

state of mind. No I want you to be present in all of your

consciousness to witness my true form: now that is vogue!

The ridiculous endurance it takes to be queer matches

the endurance and utter indulgence in queer dance.

Vogue battles are not at 7:30pm Fridays and Saturdays on

stage like concert dance. “Child,” a true vogue performance

lives and breathes at 3am in the morning. The average

audience only gets a glimpse of vogue dancing every

now and then. That glimpse serves as a weave of vanity

into a mirror of self-reflection. There is no such thing

as losing yourself because you only have yourself

to gain. Has that not been the struggle all along? The

modern second-class citizen and subculture of a capitalist

market, it is not our turn to gain and gain again? If I

was not drunk writing this I would not be telling you

the whole truth but here it is! We are your children, stop

portraying queer culture/dance like it is a wild animal

at the zoo, because one day we are going to bite

your ass back. [The point in which I passed out —

after attending a mini-ball.]

All images courtesy of the writer


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Where have the twirlers gone? Voguing came from the

streets and the best shit happens there. When I was

younger in Detroit, I remember everything I knew about

voguing and all things queer I learned at Palmer Park. I

learned how to flirt, I met my first summer love, and I

watched fierce voguing. My encounters at Palmer Park

are 10 years old, the last time I went was about 4 years

ago and it felt completely different. Palmer Park was

still queer, but infected with the onset plaque of drill

team ultra-assimilation called “J-setting”; a dance form

the children have created and I care not to promote. I

was baffled, because the natural occurring homosexual

vogue artist at its finest, lives in the shade of the night at

a dimly lit Palmer Park. Maybe I went on a bad night but

the memories of street battles remain. One of my oldest

memories is actually from my mother. She always talks

about Detroit's Boston Bar in the 1970s. Boston Bar was

famous for the flawless drag queens and a little police

brutality as well. I always loved how drag queens were

such great spoke models within the queer community.

Drag Queens make you laugh, dream and they facilitate

a quality standard of queer performance. I have been

exploring what I like to call vogue expressionism. For me

vogue expressionism is an intersection of where voguing

meets drag and performance art. Vogue expressionism

lives throughout the entire show. It is the attitude, the

movement sequencing and the embodied force of the

queer male individual. Currently I am working with

Drag Performance Artist Violet Elixir (James Gardella)

in his piece Glitter Fabulous for the HOT Festival's

Annual Celebration of Queer Culture at Dixon Place

on the Lower East Side in New York City. I have noticed

the media's fixation on both voguing and men in drag

— not to take away from the movement of female drag

queens performing amazing work; however there is

something utterly fascinating about the performance

art of drag and its facilitation of vogue. If vogue is to

survive beyond the street lights of city parks and dark

corridors then let it be protected and further evolved.

We must keep pushing ourselves because it is up to us to

set the standard of quality for queer performance. ■

/On Dance

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Drawings

/ Ralph Lemon

All works from the artist's sketchbook, courtesy of Ralph Lemon.


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Infinite Work:

A Selection of

Writings by

Biba Bell

/ Matthew Piper


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

I'm glad, in retrospect, that my first encounter with Biba

Bell's dancing happened (almost) by chance. It was 2009.

She was in Detroit with MGM Grand, the collaborative

touring trio she'd co-founded four years earlier, performing a

site-specific dance called Royce. I'd found out about it simply

by being, as the saying goes, in the right place at the right time:

in a cafe, writing. I've forgotten now exactly what they said,

but certain words in the conversation of the couple next to me

caught my ear: "dance," almost certainly; "Modern Garage

Movement," maybe? "Really intimate?" "Really weird?" It was

enough, anyway, to give me what I needed to perform a search,

find the details, and show up that evening at the 555 Gallery's

then-home in a 7,000 square foot warehouse in southwest Detroit

— ready, perhaps, for anything, and certain of very little.

I say "almost" by chance, because I should confess to a vivid if

armchair enthusiasm for dance, a curious condition here in this

working class town (I credit the transformative experience of

being dragged to a late-career Merce Cunningham concert by a

canny college friend), without which those now-forgotten words

would likely have gone unheard, or at least unconsummated.

So yes, I'll say it was a potent admixture of accident and intention

that led me up a creaking staircase and into an expansive, wellworn

room, where I joined a handful of other audience members

and three unassuming dancers who disarmed us with friendly

banter as they prepared to perform their beautiful, terrible

dance. (Imagine a work of elegance, discomfort, whimsy, filth and

fury, all set to the sounds of increasingly labored breathing and

the unforgiving impact of bodies on wood floors.) Appropriate,

I think, because while the work of Biba Bell is profoundly

intentional, conceived with great purpose and meticulously

choreographed, it nevertheless depends on the incidental, the

unexpected — on the fruitful intervention of chaos into order.

* * *

The work of contemporary dance, according to Laurence

Louppe in her Poetics of Contemporary Dance, is, in part, to

reveal the "limitless textuality" of the body. 1 In the presence of

Biba Bell dancing, with her self-described inclination toward

"disorganized and awkward body states," we glimpse what

Louppe calls the "eruption of the unseen from out of its corporeal

limbo." As I learned that night at the 555 Gallery, and from the

eight or nine dances I've seen her perform in Detroit since, Bell's

sometimes ferocious but always carefully controlled physical

eloquence is at once immediate and reverberative; multitudinous,

contradictory impressions and associations are unlocked for the

observer by a gesture, a look, a step, a cry. I have also learned that

the textual and expressive richness of Bell's dancing is amplified

by that crucial but less controllable dimension of her work: the

unusual places in which it transpires. Her performances are

frequently staged outside of traditional venues, "in the world,"

as she puts it in the Fall/Winter 2009 - 2010 issue of Under the

Influence, "in contaminated spaces that are not roped off and

are without marley floors."

But Bell's eloquence, as we can see, is neither limited to her body

nor the curious spaces it inhabits. As choreographer, scholar,

director, and curator, she does not suffer from "the dancer's

distaste for language" that Jacqueline Lesschaeve invokes in

her book-length interview with Merce Cunningham. 2 Bell is,

in fact, voluble, as at home in language as she is in her body.

/On Dance

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As a writer and interlocutor, she is engaged in a spirited, ongoing

conversation that illuminates the evolving terms of her practice,

the contours of her research, and the many fertile nodes at which

the two intersect. I consider myself fortunate, in the years since

my revelatory encounter with Royce, to have participated in

the discourse surrounding Bell's work as a writer, enthusiast,

dialogist, and friend, and it is with great pleasure that I present

the selection of essays and interviews collected here. In them,

we trace the artist's path from northern California to New York

to Detroit, and we watch as her professional concerns - among

them, dance's "promiscuity" and "labor," its relationship to

domesticity, and the effects of time and place on performance,

and of performance on time and place - are elucidated.

The first selection is one of the most recent. "Notes on Dancing

in Detroit," originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of

Movement Research Journal, finds the native Californian deep

into her choreographic engagement with the city of Detroit,

preparing for It Never Really Happened, the dance she would

later perform in her mid-century Mies van der Rohe apartment

here. Punctuated by quotations from some of her key scholarly

influences, this brief work is marked by an elliptical style - "A

system of extreme introversion, this is also a new type of labor. I

started buying wigs" - in which the political and social slide into

the subjective. By way of her astute, concisely rendered insights

into Detroit, where "the houses are resting and the trees are

growing," we are also introduced to two of Bell's most pressing

recent concerns: the relationship of performance to time ("This

is a city haunted by speed") and work ("Labor unions had all but

vacated and dancers were few").

The next selection, "Curating a Collision," is an excerpt from

a curatorial statement published in conjunction with the 2008

Mission Creek Music Festival in San Francisco. It introduces

Bell's inclination toward conceptual collision and "disjunction,"

toward the orchestration of experimental ventures that, in

crossing disciplinary boundaries, "undo the autonomy of one

piece, idea, form or event," as she puts it. We begin to see clearly

her desire to advance the medium of dance by de-familiarizing

it via interdisciplinary engagement and play, a (dis)-organizing

tendency that clearly influences much of her work (including her

curatorial efforts here in Detroit Research). "As the recognizable

transgresses its discrete medium," she writes, "it collides with

other forms, genres, and even bodies in an escapade that expands

its limits and opens up the preordained boundaries of the field."

An excerpt from "MGM," an interview with Bell by Leanne Rae

Wierzba from the "Detroit issue" of Under the Influence, finds

her in the midst of the MGM Grand residency that brought Royce

to Detroit. In it, she articulates her concern with taking dance

outside of traditional performance venues and moving it into the

wider world ("I worry that dance is inaccessible"), and speaks

with early sensitivity and insight about Detroit, the hulking

but graceful partner whose peculiar gravity has begun to exert

a powerful influence on her thinking and work.

Bell is revealed to be an artful critic, an insightful explicator of

others' work, and a writer with a keen descriptive ability in the

next piece, an excerpt from "Slow Work: Dance's temporal effect

in the visual sphere," originally published in the Spring 2014 issue

of Performance Research Journal. In it, she uses an evocative

description of her performance in Maria Hassabi's The Ladies,

first performed in 2011, as a springboard to pose questions

about time, labor, and economics in dance as it "expands or

moves out or alongside its proper institutional contexts." In

asking these questions, Bell is laying the foundation for her own

theory about dance's role in "object-based economies," and its

so-called "domestic temporalities," which, she notes, "are most


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

notably expressed through its fleeting acts of disappearance and

resistance to the archive."

I had the opportunity to talk to Bell in more detail about dance

and the domestic in the final selection, "'How It Happened'

Revisited," an interview that we adapted from a longer piece

originally published in the Detroit web journal Infinite Mile.

The occasion for our talk was It Never Really Happened, the 2015

dance she performed for six nights in her mid-century apartment

here. (A video of this work is available on the website of Detroit

Research.) Over the course of our conversation, she discusses

this remarkable piece and its place within her practice in some

depth, exploring varieties of modernism and women's labor &

representation therein, the performativity of domesticity, and

the (de)-familiarizing, democratizing quality of the "social"

that continues to occupy such a central position in her work.

* * *

/On Dance

"To be a dancer," Laurence Louppe writes, "is to choose the body

and its movement as one's relational field, as one's instrument of

knowledge, thought and expression . [But] the corporal material,

'the carcass' as Jerome Andrews called it, is complex, difficult

to know and to integrate into a global awareness of the self.

Dance requires infinite work in order to move forward in this

awareness." I wrote before that Detroit is a working town. Little

wonder, then, that Biba Bell, a self-described laborer in the field

of performance, has chosen it as her adopted home. It is clear

from this small collection of her writings and interviews that

Bell is engaged in an ambitious, singular, and wide-ranging

effort to know and express the world through the body, moving in

space(s), and that her own infinite work continues to unfold, both

in body and in print, with surprise, grace, subtlety, and power.

116/117


DetroitResearch /On Dance

Notes on Dancing in Detroit

Movement Research Journal, Spring 2014

“…unless she could step away from the assembly line of her

own temporality and simply stop.”

-Eve Sedgwick, Touching Feeling 3

After a decade in New York City I moved to Detroit. It was a change

of pace. Temporality is an important element here; this is a city

haunted by speed. When I first arrived in Detroit I sat for hours at

the window of a deli in the Eastern Market drinking in the view

of its farmers’ market sheds and parking lots, weather stained

storefronts, speckles of cars and people on a weekday afternoon.

Outside was a dusty palate, but not in a desert, Western kind of

way. Rather, the flashback of sepia-toned 1970s film emerging

across the face of the image, a patina of slow-moving seasons.

My curious maneuver had brought me headlong into the arms

of an urban scape that left its (historical) heart on its sleeve.

Labor unions had all but vacated and dancers were few. I began

a reflective movement considering my own artistic formation,

my training, technique, and embodied discipline. In short, my

many years spent upon dance’s own (factory) floor.

“I’m sorry. I don’t have a studio. I’m just a kitchen-table

artist.”

-Felix Gonzales-Torres 4

This moment was also my entrance into the domestic. It included

buying a house, not for the Detroit dream of $500 but close, for

the price of a car. Slowly, precociously, my studio grew waywardly

around me - piles of books line the walls, dog runs and late night

disco and funk at the bar. Ambling vines grow up the glass dome

walls of the brilliant flower conservatory on Belle Isle. I once

walked in, felt the hum of the oxygen against my body and skin,

and sealed the deal. It is a topic vision of what happens when one is

left to one’s own devices. A system of extreme introversion, this is

also a new type of labor. I started buying wigs. I wondered: Where

does domesticity fit into a city populated by factory relics and

the memories (and trauma) of modernity’s ferocity? Where does

my studio practice fall within this economy? I rented a loft-like

room in an old auto-body manufacturing plant after falling madly

in love with a hulking theater-cum-parking garage downtown.

The coupling seemed natural: dancing and driving (parking?).

The romance momentarily fell apart so I tried another route. My

studio became the 5th floor apartment of a Mies van der Rohe

high rise. Sepia tones transition into elegant greige. The living

room, as Benjamin says, “is a box in the theater of the world.”

Walls of glass frame the room within which my well developed

sense of placing my body on display wakes up each morning, less

than groggy, to warm up with a cup of coffee.

“The exception is what cannot be included in the whole of

which it is a member and cannot be a member of the whole

in which it is always already included.”

-Agamben 5

I have always loved dancing an adagio, I don’t know why. I tell my

students that its goal is to slow down time. Though sometimes

at home there is a different kind of manic energy. Dancing

it out means laughing, sobbing, fucking, cooking, talking,

thinking, cleaning…spending time together. Drive around and

you immediately see, the houses are resting and the trees are

growing — a state of emergency? Detroit confronts me with the

paradox of membership, where the relation between inside and

outside, or strangeness and intimacy, is complicated. It shuffles

the didactic potential of (a) work. Every year a new version of

“the hustle” is born. At this point, I can dance four.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/On Dance

Marianne Brass and Biba Bell, The Bells, choreography Biba Bell, 2011.

Photo: Michelle Andonian. Image courtesy of the artist.

118/119


DetroitResearch /On Dance

Curating a Collision

Dancers Group, 7/1/08

“It is a delimitation of spaces and times, of the visible and

the invisible, of speech and noise, that simultaneously

determine the place and the stakes of politics as a form of

experience.”

— Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics 6

What are the terms of art making? What are the terms of

its presentation, performance and reception? What are the

terms of space as a frame? What is at stake in the alteration or

manipulation of any one of these components? The terms of in/

visibility in the field of dance have interested me for some time

now. Traversing through the roles of performer, dance-maker,

scholar, curator and general beholder, I have been filled with

experiences, concerns and questions surrounding the centrality

of genre in the arts. And I can’t help but wonder what in fact are

the terms of the definitions of these roles. Curatorial practice

requires the organizing tendencies wherein artistic work is

brought into multiple contexts and exposures. How does this

also determine its potential scope of experience? What happens

when a form begins to move outside of its familiar terrain? What

happens when a dancer refuses to move, a musician to make

My questions trace out the limits of curatorial process and

are certainly not new — the traditions of the avant-garde offer

representative answers — though these questions may (must?)

still be asked by artists, curators, critics and even the average

(if one could exist) audience member. The quote [in the epigraph

above] from Jacques Rancière’s book The Politics of Aesthetics

has continued to echo through my mind, exposing the effects

of the curatorial process, which in itself harkens to another

level of collision, often one that remains partially hidden.

Rancière articulates the political front of art as industry which

is perpetually intertwining with practices of social engagement

and sensorial experience. Collision has been an opportunity

for me to consider curatorial process and my own engagement

with/in this role. For the curator moves as a liaison between

performers and audiences, works and their effects, straddling

interests, markets, trends and personal affinities. Rancière states

the components that organize artistic work in its larger field of

circulation and reception, and in this project I’ve focused on the

term “collision” itself as an equally present characteristic in this

process of delimitation. Collision operates as a metaphor and

indicates the performative dimensions of aesthetic experience.

This collision is one that acts as a nexus of circuits moving

between dance, performance, relationality, community and

experience.

sound, a painter to determine his/her stroke?

* * *

It seems that I’ve been contemplating the terms of collision for

sometime: of dances, genres, bodies, descriptors, spaces, etc.

Collision as an instance of simultaneous transmission or, more

specifically in MCMF [Mission Creek Music Festival], a platform

for performance which could bring forth alternate genres. A

possible opening for dance to be brought into an expanded field

by means of its interaction, encounter or impact within the

structure of the larger music festival event.

The role of the curator varies in sway and substantiality

depending on the field (visual, performing and media arts,

music, etc.). His/hers may be a prominent position signifying

the tastes of a particular institution/organization or be an

artist creating a show of friend/colleague’s work. Though these

decisions may reflect who does and who does not get funded,

presented or produced, they often happen behind closed doors.

The curator operates in a nexus point between art and access,

expression and the languages which form to it, surround it or

pass right on through. The curator molds, modulates or tempers


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

flows of artistic work, culls at potentials for artistic movements,

moments or trends. He/she places together disparate work and

creates connections, frictions, dialogues or comparisons that

must always be negotiated as a collision of sorts, undoing the

autonomy of any one piece, idea, form or event. To consider

such indeterminate measures is a significant responsibility

of curatorial choice, one that does not simply entail degrees of

similarity or difference, form or content.

Collision is a curatorial venture that may fray in its center or

edges, through both disjunction and alignment, whose pieces

extend past, yet are brought together in one particular site,

on one particular weekend. Collision provides an exciting

opportunity to explore the exchanges that might generate

from its impacts and invite artists to engage with the space,

time and contextual constraints differing from the norms of

the proscenium. It deals with potentials which range within

and beyond the discretion of singular works, and lets pieces

synchronize or create friction in their processes of mutual

contextualization. As the recognizable transgresses its discrete

medium it collides with other forms, genres, and even bodies, in

an escapade that expands its limits and opens up the preordained

boundaries of the field. Interdisciplinary is an equanimous word

that reconciles the aggressive potential of such a confrontational

scheme, but how might one dwell within or observe the interstice

prior to categorization? Is there a certain rawness to the force of

a collision? What might dance look like if it doesn’t yet look like

dance? These are all questions I returned to repeatedly while

working to curate Collision.

/On Dance

120/121


DetroitResearch /On Dance

MGM

Passages from Leanne Rae Wierzba, “MGM,” Under the

Influence: The Detroit Issue, Fall/Winter 2009 – 2010

"...Garages are dirty, industrial feeling, smelly. It is uncomfortable

to leave the studio for such a gnarly place, but the lure of dancing

in the midst of the grit is very tempting - the oil slicks to the skin,

hair mops up dust and debris, and its crevices hold arresting

scents which momentarily eclipse choreographic recollection.

Our bodies, breath, sweat, flesh and movement phrases visually

contrast with the actions normally performed in this space."

* * *

"As an artist I'm driven to dance in the world, so to speak - in

contaminated spaces that are not roped off and are without marley

floors. This can be problematic and risky, yet it is mandatory to

test these borders. I worry that dance is inaccessible. It is not

contributing to artist and cultural discourses as much as it could.

For me the most inaccessible thing about contemporary dance

is its adherence to and dependence upon the proscenium. And

if I could suggest an attractive trajectory forward it would be its

growth outside of the black box."

* * *

"We are dancers who have had extensive training in classical

ballet and contemporary techniques, and spent many years of

and informed by what these environments physically permit.

To tour a choreography that could easily be produced for the

theater in such contrasting, distinct, and unconventional places

was exciting in that it pushed us to engage with our bodies, the

dance, the audience, and the site in a highly improvisational

manner. We became alert to the dance's fluctuating form and

were really affected by the land and cityscapes through which

we were traveling."

* * *

"I have spoken to a number of people who liken Detroit to a type

of frontier. I think they mean that that city represents a kind of

possibility, a beginning, and while it is true in certain ways — the

properties are cheap, the industry has virtually disappeared, the

city is entirely under-populated — this city is filled, brimming

with absence and history. It is not empty, blank or a tabula rasa

by any means. Spatially and visually the city is very layered, and

it evokes a similar phenomenon on the temporal dimension. The

histories, memories and events that comprise this place are still

echoing particular resonances, changing frequencies through

time and its new developments. It feels like there are objects,

bodies and stories buried all over this place, abandoned cars,

boats, clothes, appliances, letters, photographs, work gloves,

flowers and graffiti that exhaustively dust its surfaces….There

is a quiet listening process that Detroit requires. Its monuments

are constantly threatening invisibility."

our lives in the studio and theater. Our dancing has been sculpted


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/On Dance

Biba Bell, Royce, choreography: Biba Bell, MGM Grand, Detroit, 2009. Photo by Garrett MacLean courtesy of the artist

122/123


DetroitResearch /On Dance

The Ladies, choreography: Maria Hassabi, New York City, 2012. Photo by Francis Coy courtesy of the artist


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

SLOW WORK: Dance's temporal effect in

the visual sphere

Performance Research Journal, 7/4/14

In the autumn of 2011 I began working with New York-based

choreographer Maria Hassabi on The Ladies, a series of

‘appearances’ that involved pairs of dancers taking to the

streets of Manhattan to perform two-hour long intervals of

varied choreographic scores that included walking, pausing,

posing, looking and being looked at. The six-week span of public

performances took place unannounced after a limited rehearsal

period in Hassabi’s home studio. An education of stillness and

slowness, we were briefed in the rigorous labour of composure,

choreographic pursuit. Referencing famous and affective poses,

she has spent years grafting them on to her own and dancer

Hristoula Harakas’s bodies, developing an intensive performance

quality at a signature “glacially slow” pace that eclipses its

confounding effort. 8 Bodily endurance, without becoming

“endurance art,” initiates a strategy that makes visible the “effort

of formation,” intervening against the composure of its image. 9

The work can be approached with curiosity or restlessness,

intrigue or anxiety, and it is up to the audience to decide. The

question of why (pose) collapses into how, anticipating a formal

pursuit that is, as Paul Virilio suggests, “a technical pursuit of

time.” 10

using movement to not only locate ourselves in space but in time,

producing an extended temporal plane upon which our dancing

would occur. The project truly was, in the words of post-studio

artist Carl Andre, a movement out onto the streets, 7 where its

temporal consistency dynamically inserted it against the grain

of urban hustle. A range of reactions from passers-by ensued:

disinterest and inattentiveness, curiosity and enjoyment,

interjection and suspicion (especially during two excursions

entering the galleries of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in

New York that threatened with the risk of expulsion), mockery

and ridicule and even one case of assault.

The Ladies was my entre into Hassabi’s process as a performer

and participant. Through my own labour within its technical

demands, I was able to garner a sense of the corporeal capacity

of dance to intervene within temporal regimes, accumulate and

inflect their flow, and produce its own sense of time. The overarching

task of her choreographic structures for this project could

be as simple as travelling two avenue blocks when, after one and

a half hours, I would realize that only one-quarter of the distance

had been covered. Each step, gesture or glance was isolated,

metabolized and extended. A quickening of bodily systems

emerged – circulatory, respiratory, muscular, the hum of the

/On Dance

Citing the figure of painting, sculpture, cinema and fashion,

Hassabi’s work morphs the pose, attenuated to its historiographic

spectacle. Engaging duration, proximity and distance, the

technical elements of lighting (its objects, illumination and

heat), costume and the architectural context of the theater or

gallery, her work asserts the action of posing as a demanding,

nervous system – recalling John Cage’s observations regarding

silence within the sensory deprivation chamber, or Steve Paxton’s

attention to stillness complicated by a bodily persistence to shift

and waver in The Small Dance, The Stand. The energy required

to maintain intensive deceleration in the midst of New York

City’s busy, populated streets exaggerated interior calibrations

of creaking joints, aching legs, trembling muscles, adjustments

124/125


DetroitResearch /On Dance

in weight and breath and pulse, and the waxing and waning of

focus. My body’s capacity to filter surrounding stimuli – roaring

vehicles, random pedestrians, even the procession of an Occupy

Wall Street march – afforded incremental complexity to the

spare, yet exhausting, choreography. I exert effort in order to

locate my body in the momentary lapse of each pose. Intervals

are produced. Hassabi’s piece offered a prolonged meditation on

what we as dancers do while amplifying the urgency of my own

questions within current discussions pertaining to the popularity

of dance within visual art spheres: what is the work of dance (as

it expands or moves out or alongside its proper institutional

contexts)? Does performance practice expand or contract

temporality as a primary intervention within object-based

economies and institutional structures? How may dance perform

this labour? Deceleration, set in relation to performance’s

economy of ephemerality, draws attention to contemporary

dance’s relationship to labour, production and (im)materiality.

It affords questions about how economies are articulated on

and against what I would argue are dance’s primary, domestic

temporalities, which are most notably expressed through its

fleeting acts of disappearance and resistance to the archive.

As dance navigates modernism’s disciplinary and spatial

distributions (between studio and street, labour and leisure,

visual and performing arts) this practice of stilling slowness

invests the temporal as a site of corporeal labor while also

implementing time as a mode of both critique and traversal.

the politics of forgetting and exposing “the potential violence

that underwrites the domesticated household.” 12 Titled “Domus

and the Megalopolis,” Lyotard discusses the domus as a site

of domestication. It controls space and time through custom,

rhythms of birth and death and communities of work and is

maintained as a “mode of space, time and body under the regime

(of) nature.” 13 The common work is the domus itself, in other

words the community. It is the work of a repeated domestication.

Custom domesticates time, including the time of incidents and

accidents, and also space, even the border regions. Memory is

inscribed not only in narratives, but in gestures, in the body’s

mannerisms. And the narratives are like gestures, related to

gestures, places, proper names. 14 Representing “[c]ommon

time, common sense, common place,” the domus houses

the body’s gestures, habits and customs as a keystone of its

foundation. 15 “Common work” exposes ways in which temporal

qualities of speed, duration, and rhythm contribute to the

affective architecture of the domestic that binds body and site

and maintains it as a space of (re)production. As the sanction

and nurturer of bodies, it demarcates the rhythms of these

bodies as they rise and fall, wake and sleep and move through

the world. This is a bucolic site, where the function of labour

and its temporality is naturalized, intersected by the fact that

such domesticity is also a sign of inherent violence. The domus

territorializes through forces of domestication, figuring the

self-perpetuated, embodied force of its social choreographies. 16

The rhythms of dance’s labour can be illuminated by Jean-

François Lyotard’s discussion of the domus and domestication

of time. In a 1987 conference paper, Lyotard delivered a critique

of Martin Heidegger’s “philosophy of the soil,” 11 focusing on

The questions that Hassabi’s work ignited, pertaining to

assumptions of dance’s inherent temporality and the embodied

labour of slowness, were made all the more urgent after an

encounter with Studio Olafur Eliasson’s video piece, Movement


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Microscope, 2011. It was late November 2011, and I was setting a

piece at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris for the opening

of Danser Sa Vie, a large-scale exhibition tracing relationships

between dance and visual art in predominately North American

and European contexts during the twentieth- and into the

twenty-first century. All week I had been rehearsing in the

museum’s outdoor courtyard with a group of sixty dancers for

The Endless Pace, 2009, a collaborative project with visual artist

Davide Balula. The dance is designed as a clock, each dancer

performing the actions of the second and minute hands, keeping,

representing, and producing time. The conceptual overtones

of the dance connect with a spectacle that is reminiscent of

Busby Berkeley’s abstraction and serialism. My challenge and

desire from the clutches of modernity’s embodied legacies of

efficiency, Taylorism, or assembly-line mechanics, where each

movement might be reduced to a “mere marking of time.” 17

This success settled on facilitating a pleasurable spaciousness

within the strict relentlessness of the tick-tock, which I felt

was especially critical considering that the cast was comprised

solely of volunteer performers. I wanted the dancers to enjoy the

physicality of ma(r)king time….

/On Dance

126/127


DetroitResearch /On Dance

'How it Happened' Revisited

It Never Really Happened, choreography: Biba Bell, Detroit, 2015. Video still by Christine Hucal

Matthew Piper: Because so much of your work is staged "in the

world," outside of traditional venues, each piece is informed,

elaborated upon, or, as you say, complicated by the particular

place in which it is performed, as much as the places are enlivened

and complicated by the dancing. The site of your apartment

dance, a mid-century high rise apartment designed by Mies van

der Rohe in Detroit's Lafayette Park neighborhood, suggests a

threefold significance: its domestic character, its modernism,

its Detroit-specificity. Can you take some time to unpack how

these qualities of the site intersect with your research interests

and discuss how they situate the piece within your practice?

Biba Bell: Yes, It Never Really Happened has been developing

through a somewhat extensive research period. A few years ago

I was very interested in potential parallels between the body of

the dancer and the laborer through the lens of modernity and

specifically industry. In this sense, there were ways that the

choreographic processes of industrialized labor, exemplary to

Detroit in particular, could also be thought through histories of

dance and its aestheticization of the body, and the relationship

between the individual and ensemble. One of the first go to’s for

such an analogy might be the spectacular configurations, canons,

and abstractions of the dancer in Busby Berkeley films. Dance


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

scholar Mark Franko also discusses at length this relationship

between modern dance and labor in the early part of the 20th

Century, citing the New Deal-funded dance groups and the

mechanized chorus line represented by the Tiller Girls.

As someone who works from the premise of space — as place,

architecture, context, etc. — I was initially awed by the vast scale

of Detroit’s factories and theaters. The assembly line project

was in conversation with this. I mean, go to the Rouge Plant

and walk the catwalk, there is a forced perspective that begins

to emerge much like the conditions of theater, the lighting, the

rhythms and sound, the movements of the beholder aligning

with the progression of the moving floors and robots. The whole

space begins to open up and the building itself participates in

this choreographic world, contained within but at the same time

energized by, its architecture.

On the other hand, my move to Detroit, and this is perhaps

expressed in the “Notes on Dancing in Detroit” piece, really did

mark a personal shift toward the domestic. After many years in

New York City and San Francisco, I was involved in this desire to

buy a home, plant a garden, and focus on domestic partnership.

Within this context, I began to reconsider modernity from

a purely industrial standpoint and wondered, what about

the domestic sphere? What is the trajectory of the domestic

within this context and how might it be mutually constructed

(along with its embodied roles, affective economies, design

aesthetics)? Beatriz Colomina writes at length about modernist

architecture’s (and here we have Mies, the Eames couple, Le

Corb, Johnson, even Bucky Fuller!) relationship to industrial

and manufacturer economies but also its relationship to war.

(In fact, It Never Really Happened was initially proposed to

take place in Fuller’s Dymaxion Home in the Ford Museum.)

The home as a “shockabsorber” antidote to atomic threat. We

know Ford was involved in wartime ventures, and then, after

all, Detroit is a city of homes.

In terms of the domestic, it is a space that cultivates the

individual. It produces subjects as much as the public sphere.

But it also is, within its modernism, highly gendered and the site

of reproductive, affective economies. A kind of education takes

place in the body, the psyche, the day to day rhythms of day and

night, eating, sleeping, making love, etc. But this modernism, in

an architectural sense, is also a space that (almost cinematically)

frames the body — specifically, in the first iteration of my piece

in the Mies apartment, the female body. This is also the dancer's

body, a figure at home in the theater of the world (to cite Walter

Benjamin). I repeatedly return to the writings of Colomina

throughout this process: “She controls the interior, yet she is

trapped within it.”

For me, the domestic space is easily coupled with the space of the

studio. I’ve written about the studio in the first issue of Detroit

Research, in relationship to the conservatory on Belle Isle. I

came up in classical ballet from a very young age and the growth

and the development of my body and sense of self have been in

relationship to a viewing public, positioned towards a gaze. In

dance you often have a wall of mirrors in the studio as a reminder

of the viewer, who not only resides as an absent yet incessant

audience but also provides a second perspective for the dancer,

trained to be simultaneously both in and outside of herself. This

double perspective is a rigorous and particular training. It is

/On Dance

128/129


DetroitResearch /On Dance

It Never Really Happened, choreography: Biba Bell, Detroit, 2015. Photo by Christine Hucal


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/On Dance

It Never Really Happened, choreography: Biba Bell, Detroit, 2015. Video still by Christine Hucal

130/131


DetroitResearch /On Dance

about growing up with a highly particular relationship to the

gaze. No wonder there are so many female dancers! When I first

walked into the Mies apartment I was floored by the panoramic

view (which includes both sunrise and sunset, Lafayette Park,

Eastern Market and its steeples, and Ford Field) and, at the same

time, its extreme level of exposure.

The apartment transposes the two spaces, the space of the home

and the space of the studio or the stage, and that, ultimately, is

one of the most beautiful things about it. The kind of modernism

of it, the discussion or the discourse around that moment in

architecture, where Le Corbusier becomes the vocalist in

terms of his five tenets of architecture. Part of that is the

home as "a machine for living," the efficiency of movement,

the modalities of pathways, of being able to get from point A to

point B, that architecture (or dance) would necessarily include

the seamlessness of point A to B. But that’s an old conversation,

and we can have new conversations more along the lines of cross

programming: Bernard Tschumi talking about a rotunda being

turned into a swimming pool, for instance….

In Detroit, I think the pinnacle of such an example would be

Henry Ford’s early workshop which was later the grounds upon

which the Michigan Theatre was built, the largest theatre of its

kind in 1925, and then all of its different incarnations, a music

venue or the porn theatre, which was then being boxed up and

turned into a parking garage! Oh my goodness, that’s quite

a passage for a building and its function. And so that really

interests me. And these movements, these transformations

are also theatrical. The Corbusier notion of efficiency is a

social construct, just as the notion that the theatre is a space to

perform things. Architecture is its own actor.

It’s a domesticated experience, of the senses, the bodies,

the rhythms, all of that. I’ve discussed this phenomenon in

relation to Jean-François Lyotard’s writing on the domus. The

dancer’s relationship to choreography and technique often

evolves through a highly developed experience of relentlessly

repeating movements or processes. Complexities of the body

are learned through the meticulous investigation of the body,

its desires, possible pathways and trajectories. Dance erupts

out of the familiarity of a habitual movement or routine—out of

something practiced daily, like a walk through revolving door or

the mounting of a flight of stairs. Dance disrupts the attention to

the ordinary and brings it into the realm of the extraordinary.

The Mies apartment in Lafayette Park has been a great space

to work in and to be in. It’s been a sanctuary for me. After years

in New York, especially, where you spend so much time out on

the street, and where people would say, "God, everybody’s living

in these tiny places." Not everybody does, but one of the things

you realize when you go into someone’s apartment - which feels

like a privilege because you’re almost always meeting out - you

realize that it can be such a sanctuary. For me, that’s what this

apartment ultimately is. And I think this would be testament to

the success of this particular development, within Detroit and

within this specific urban context. The park, the trees, rabbits,

open sky - perhaps Detroit was able to truly manifest the utopic

environment these modernists had hoped to dream up.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

I’m happy to dance within this domestic environment, not

to propagate an incessant bliss, but to really invest in the

theatricality of these spaces.

MP: In "Slow Work," you write that Maria Hassabi's performances

cite the "figure" that is more conventionally associated with

painting, sculpture, cinema and fashion. I'm wondering if you

can talk more about the idea of the figure in dance as distinct from

the character or the movement-for-movement's-sake abstraction.

How did you incorporate the figure into your apartment dance?

What or who is that figure? And how does it relate to your

conception of the dancer/choreographer as visual artist?

BB: This notion of the female, domestic figure was very important

for me in the development of It Never Really Happened. This

figure is essential to modernism. This is the figure of a late

19th Century New Woman who integrates sport, fashion, and

Taylorized efficiency into the domestic day to day. Colomina

writes, “The house is installed before the site, not in the site.

The house is a frame for a view. The window is a gigantic screen.

But then the view enters the house, it is literally ‘inscribed’ in

the lease.” I feel like there is a similar predicament at play with

the figure. This is a figure that, as you mentioned, populates

visual art, painting, fashion, etc. The apartment operates as a

theatrical frame, and I feel it when I am in it. It is discursive.

And, ultimately, my dancing figure is in conversation with these

forms or disciplines. But this is also the figure of modern dance,

who is also fervently invested in the aesthetics of modernism.

She can be Martha [Graham], her dramatically stretched

lengths of dark jersey, or maybe Isadora [Duncan], billowing

and exalted, or Trisha [Brown], supple and fluid. This female

figure is mapped throughout Detroit too…. I think of Diana [Ross],

Aretha [Franklin], Grace Lee [Boggs]. These are not women

who stayed at home. This is the figure as artist, a singular force,

expressive and illuminating, within a culture of the many. The

dancer might curiously stand in as a site exemplar who dances

between the individual and the ensemble, disciplined and finetuned

yet challenging and untamed. She is at home in the house,

this is her house (“of the pelvic truth,” if we continue to work

the Martha reference) yet she also pushes against its walls,

cries from its balconies, frolics across its living room floors.

Many years ago I made a piece that sourced from Kubrick’s Eyes

Wide Shut, 1999, the argument scene between Tom and Nicole,

when they’re in their underwear smoking a joint and Nicole

confesses her desire for another man. For me, dance complicates

assumptions of fidelity. It is always already escaping its house,

theater, disciplinary regime, archive, etc. Dancing is perpetually

engaged in an act of stepping out.

Back to the figure…within the apartment, Mies’ architecture

produces the panoramic landscape as a picture, through the

frame of the windows. I reference this possibility in the final

section of It Never Really Happened, when I slowly walk around

the perimeter of the room while tracing the horizon across its

sweat-covered/steamy windows. The open, panoramic view

has become opaque, and through this gesture the landscape

transforms from the pictorial into the sculptural. I’m interested

in how the figure is produced through a coalescence of body and

/On Dance

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architectural interface; this figure who is also already inflected

by the gaze (art historical and theatrical).

MP: I'd like to talk about the cocktail party element of the

performance. Your invitation clearly instructs the audience to

be on time, but upon arriving, there are forty-five minutes or so

of, you could say, no performance. The hostess [played by Nicola

Kuperus] is making drinks, guests are chatting, and suddenly,

for a while, it's just a party and the dance performance recedes

- you could almost forget that it's going to happen. Later, I found

myself reflecting on what an integral part of the performance the

cocktail party was, and then considering the kind of domestic

performativity that such an occasion gives rise to (I'm thinking,

now, of the "affective architecture" of domesticity that you bring

up in “Slow Work.") There's a lot to talk about here, but I'm

wondering if you could start by relating the cocktail party to

your earlier work with MGM Grand (I remember, for instance,

in Royce, that the dance was briefly interrupted by an offering

of potato chips and beer), and then discuss its role in the piece.

What work is it performing?

and slightly odd. This is hard to do. Everything has been done

in the theater; everything has been accounted for. We would

try to work with what was there, to really be inside of it. For the

premiere of NUT at The Kitchen, a piece that we also performed

at the MOCAD in Detroit, we focused on small interventions:

talking to the audience in the lobby before the show, leaving

our costume changes and bags of warm-up clothes in the aisles

so everyone had to pass by and see this stuff, bringing people

up on the stage for an "intermission" (where they, again, could

eat Better Made chips and drink beer), and climbing over the

risers and audience in pointe shoes. But the flux that we are used

to encountering when dancing in more unconventional dance

environments is an exciting element that we don't think of as

outside of the work, it is a part of it, and the theater makes this

flux much more difficult to locate; maybe it is more micro. The

space doesn't shake us around, maybe it vibrates (especially with

all the electricity of the lights), but it’s hard to feel it sometimes.

The walls get hard, the floor feels stable, and the audience likes

to settle into the familiarity of the space and the spectacle. They

know how to be a good audience.

BB: The social element was integral to MGM (Modern

Garage Movement) and the tours. The development of MGM

was very much about touring, leaving NYC, which has been

widely considered the center for dance or performance in this

country, and venturing our work into other places. We would

perform anywhere, anytime. But also, when working in theaters

specifically, we would try to make the theater experience explicit

But MGM was always more interested in a venue that has no

backstage; we're just there. So, ultimately, it’s an event that

people are gathering for that we can turn into an evening. Even

for the first few tours, a big part of our show was having a speech

that would introduce the event, to signify the performance was

beginning and shift the context from the party or the gathering.

"Hi, we’re MGM, this is what we’re doing, this is how many


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

performances we’ve done, this is where we’ve been, now go

over there," that sort of thing. We always folded an audience

directive within the structure of the work. As dancers, we also

wanted to be guides.

Within the context of It Never Really Happened, the cocktail

party is crucial. For some reason dance performances are quite

punctual; it’s a different urgency or sense of beginning than

music shows or art openings, where there is always this idea that

things might start late or you can come or go or whatever. I really

wanted to alleviate the audience of this sense of expectation, but

I also wanted to accommodate folks that are not used to being

punctual for dance-specific events. I wanted there to be a way

that the public almost forgot why they were gathered, that they

became immersed in the cocktail party dimension - talking

and drinking, enjoying the view, allowing their day to recede,

opening up into the groove of the evening. I wanted them to

begin to feel at home in someone’s home. Easy and open. Once

people began to relax and talk to each other, then the dance

would begin unannounced. Everyone had a different sense of

this “beginning.”

slightly familiar. Whether she was a friend or not, she is her own

iconic figure and offers the public a mode of reference. Without a

huge amount of experimental dance work here, it is so necessary

to offer a way into the work. It’s not a conventional performance

situation. This was something that I really came to believe with

MGM… we very much wanted the audience to feel that they were

appreciated and involved. We immediately wanted to be gracious

hosts; we wanted them to feel at home.

/On Dance

This was Nicola’s role in the apartment piece, to help the audience,

to guide them into the space, to make them feel comfortable, sit

them down, organize them, help them feel that they’re in the

right place. And, whether the audience who showed up had any

relation to dance or not, Nicola (as a recognized, established

member of Detroit’s art and music communities) is already

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A Sketch of It Never Really Happened

(Part One)

Matthew Piper, Infinite Mile, No. 16, April 2015

movement is floor-bound: she expands (makes lines, planes) and

contracts (makes a ball); she binds, contorts, and slow-motion

flips. On her knees, torso perpendicular to the floor, arms erect,

she makes a kind of Tetris shape, all planes, and then slaps her

Upon arriving to the fifth floor corner apartment, audience

members are greeted warmly by the hostess, who welcomes us,

takes our coats and immediately gets to work making cocktails

in the galley kitchen. We enter, chatting with the hostess or

getting our bearings in the living room, which has two window

hands hard against the floor. Frantic rubbing of the carpet,

faster, making circles, then she's on her knees, ascending as

her breath quickens. She makes more lines, planes, this time

upright, only again to descend, lying in unlikely repose on the

corner of the east wall's heating & cooling box.

walls (facing north and east) and two interior walls lined with

benches. Underneath the benches on the south wall are stacks

and stacks of books. There is a small, hemispherical fire pit

atop the heating & cooling box at the north window wall, flames

flickering inside, and near it, a single black Wassily chair. Along

the east window wall are speakers and a small stereo, as well as

a collection of seashells on the short ledge.

Rising again, she stays in place, crouching and making circles

with her arms (her bones and the bones of the building both

creak), leading to virtuosa moments of leaping, pirouetting

velocity as the music quickens. But when it turns unsettling,

disturbing, a slow splits returns her to the floor, then a sense

of collapse, of horror, and when she stands again she makes a

sobbing gesture, hands over face, which becomes a rapid nasal

We chat, drink, take our seats and enjoy the view for half an hour

or forty-five minutes as more guests arrive: getting to know each

breath, a panic, as she stalks through the room. Then a 1960s

pop song starts and everything breaks.

other or catching up, talking about the performance or other

things. The hostess enters the living room and turns on the

stereo: the music alternates between sly and creeping, driving

and portentous, and it mostly quiets the room.

She flees; the sound of water being turned on, left gushing in

the bath. She and the hostess wheel in a fern and turn on a stage

light that illuminates the fern, the ceiling, the north wall. There

is no music as Biba seems to move the hostess about the room

In sneaks Biba, in fragments, a hand on the wall that divides the

living room from the kitchen, turns her head in a long arc as she

gazes out the windows. She's wearing a grey, mushroom-cut wig

and a stretchy, mocha colored tube dress.

by dancing around her, close. The water keeps running and the

windows fog as the hostess is led to the heating & cooling box,

upon which she sits, staring at the floor. Biba, manic, rhythmic,

traverses the length of the kitchen while the hostess sits, stares,

sighs. Rolling piano music as Biba enters the living room again,

The sun is setting and the light is reddening. The movement is

slow, graceful, architectural. She approaches a column in the

corner of the room and arches her body against it, making a

curve to a straight line. The music is tender and slow; three tones

serene, and begins the final gesture: a long, slow tracing along

the room's four walls with her fingers: stepping carefully, coming

very close to us, arm outstretched, making lines in wide, steamy

windows and just ab0ve our heads. ■

descend and repeat against a soundscape backdrop. Now the


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

1 Cf. Laurence Louppe, Poetics of Contemporary Dance (Alton,

Hampshire: Dance Books , 2010).

2 Cf. Jacqueline Lesschaeve, The Dancer and the Dance: Merce

Cunningham in Conversation with Jacqueline Lesschaeve (London

and New York: Marion Boyars, 1991).

3 Eve Sedgwick, Touching Feeling (Durham: Duke University Press,

2003).

4 Felix Gonzales-Torres quoted by David Reed, in The Studio Reader:

On The Space of Artists, ed. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 119. .

5 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life

(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 24-25.

6 Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rochill

(London: Continuum, 2004).

7 Cf. Barbara Rose, “Carl Andre,” 2013, www.interviewmagazine.com.

Accessed 18 June 2013.

8 Cf. Claire Bishop, “Now you see it,” Artforum (September 2013): 319.

9 Cf. Scott Lyall, program notes for Maria Hassabi’s Premiere, 2013, at

The Kitchen, New York City, New York.

10 Paul Virilio, The Aesthetic Disappearance (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e),

2009), 24.

/On Dance

11 Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Inhuman, trans. Geoffrey Bennington

and Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 270.

12 Lyotard, The Inhuman, 270.

13 Lyotard, The Inhuman, 191-192.

14 Lyotard, The Inhuman, 193.

15 Lyotard, The Inhuman, 191.

16 Cf. Hewitt, Social Choreography (Durham, NC: Duke University

Press, 2005).

17 Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament: Weimer Essays (Cambridge,

MA: Harvard University Press, 1963).

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2 /Research

/ Research

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

BLUES & ROOTS:

FR AGMENT OF A HISTORY

OF THE DETROIT A RTISTS

WORKSHOP 1

/GEORGE TYSH / ALL PHOTOS BY LENI SINCLAIR, COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

“No matter what becomes of it, art is local, local to a place and to

a person, or group of persons... It happens somewhere, not everywhere.”

— Robert Creeley

“Why Bother?" 2

The Detroit Artists Workshop, an early instance of

what's now called social practice, didn't come out of

nowhere. In summer 1964, its young architects drew

on ideas that were certainly in the mid-century air, but had

been around much longer: from the Paris Commune of 1871 (the

first workers government ever created), to the September 1936

formation in Detroit of UAW local 174 (the fledgling union that

would soon take on the whole auto industry), to the 1957 birth in

Europe of the Situationist International (a neo-Marxist group

that emphasized the centrality of real-life activities endlessly

experimenting and correcting themselves). While perhaps a few

of us knew this history, all of us were keenly aware of the Civil

Rights struggle, the Ban the Bomb protests, and the poetry-andjazz

phenomenon known as the Beat Generation. And the fact

that poetry, jazz, and the other arts were terrifically intriguing

in and of themselves was precisely the point.

By 1960, a watershed for the arts in America, modernist

innovators Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk,

Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Robert Rauschenberg

had achieved critical acclaim and commercial success. Beat

authors Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs,

who had won legal battles against police censorship, were

household names. And creative ferment began to spread

across the country. In a sign of the times, proto-Pop iconoclast

Rauschenberg collaborated with composer John Cage on works

for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. And 1961 saw

the release of Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation by the

Ornette Coleman Double Quartet, followed in 1962 by John

Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard — recordings that

shattered preconceptions about jazz as popular entertainment,

unleashed a tide of experimentation, and stood as emblems of

creative group dynamics.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

DC5 (Detroit Contemporary 5), Danny Spencer, John Dana, Larry Nozero, Cherles Moore, and Ron English at The Artists Workshop 1965.

/ Research

As if presciently, the summer 1963 issue of Kulchur — an avantgarde

quarterly edited by poets LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka),

Frank O'Hara, Charles Olson, Diane di Prima, et al — featured,

among others: George Oppen's The Mind's Own Place (in which

he exhorts poets "to listen, to hear evidence, to consider what

indeed we have brought forth upon this continent."); Louis

Zukofsky's A Statement for Poetry (wherein he writes of the

"musical horizon of poetry" and the idea that "so-called pure

music may be literary in a communicative sense"); and Larry

Eigner's Walls Dispose a City (his analysis of Gertrude Stein

that affirms, "The milieu is carried by the language [style],

which is always there..."). 3 To my rapidly shrinking naiveté, such

pieces foreshadowed a poetic revolution just outside the field

of national awareness. What an incredible time to be a student

and distracted by life!

As we look back on it, in fact, summer 1963 was the real turning

point for students of the arts in Detroit. Many of us at Wayne State

University were frustrated at the lack of connection between

our classes and the political realities of the Civil Rights and

anti-nuclear movements, and avant-garde developments that we

could read about in Kulchur, The Jazz Review, Downbeat, Film

Culture, The Village Voice, and a seminal anthology edited by

Donald Allen, The New American Poetry, 1945-1960.

IMPRESSIONS

Our yearning for creative possibility hung over Second Avenue

south of campus like a dense cloud. We almost seemed to be

teenagers again, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. But one

day photographer and film-maker Saul Columbus introduced me

to Sheila and Carl Schurer, who had two little kids and more life

experience than any of us, she a passionate literary scholar and he

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Robin Eichele

a painter immersed in abstract expressionism. Immediately we

began an exciting conversation about art and community, until

the idea for the Red Door Gallery came along as natural as you

please. Carl knew Larry Weiner, a young painter whose father

owned the car wash just south of Willis on Second, and soon we

had another collaborator, as well as a funky storefront that the

father let us rent cheap, right next to Larry's own studio. After

we cleaned and painted the space, made sure the toilet worked,

and put out our sign, folks from the surrounding apartment

buildings drifted in and started volunteering to keep the project

open every afternoon, in shifts, and especially on weekends. The

shows rotated every month, and we used the gallery for more

than exhibitions.

Jazz trumpeter Charles Moore brought along a portable record

player, and often practiced along with Coltrane's 1963 Impulse

release, Impressions — I'll always remember the haunting

sound of "India" as 'Trane and Eric Dolphy described harmonic

modillions in the air. Poet Robin Eichele dropped in to talk

poetics, and sometimes gave a reading from his work, as well

as lending a hand. There were evenings of New American

cinema, one raided by the Detroit vice squad looking for

(nonexistent) porn. And for one whole week, we hosted Ann

Artists Workshop reading, 1965. L to R: John Sinclair, George Tysh,

Gayle Pearl, Robin Eichele

Arbor's experimental ONCE group (composers Robert Ashley

and Gordon Mumma, painter Mary Ashley, and filmmaker

George Manupelli, et al) who made the gallery the site of daily

happenings. As we were preparing for this thrilling series, WSU

professor-poet Keith Waldrop (instructor of a poetry class that

read Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, and Gary Snyder, alongside the

Donald Hall academics) dropped by with a guest: author Robert

Creeley would read on campus that night and inaugurate our

collective experience of the poetic sublime (followed later that

semester by a Waldrop-organized reading by Robert Duncan,

another mind-altering event).

The Red Door was truly DIY avant la lettre, as we took the means

of production and distribution into our own hands. There were

solo shows of painting by Carl, Larry, and Eizo Nishiura, as well

as the ONCE events, a collage show, and even one of abstractions

from Poland(!!) that Dr. Edmund Ordon, my Polish prof, helped

arrange. But typically, the art critics from the Detroit News

or Free Press stayed away, no matter how many press releases,

flyers, and personal invitations we sent them. Thankfully, the

gallery was at least documented by photographs that one of its

founders, Leni Sinclair (then Magdalena Arndt), took near the

beginning of her luminous career.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

A LOVE SUPREME

The Red Door was quintessentially a group effort. If we had

counted on just the half-dozen founders to keep it open, it might

have lasted a month or two. Yet towards the end of our first

(and only) year, Flint poet and WSU graduate student John

Sinclair walked tentatively by the door, too intimidated by "all

the beatniks in there." Instead it took a chance encounter, in the

spirit of Surrealism, for us to connect one afternoon on Second

Avenue. As I stood at a corner waiting to cross, a tall, bearded

hipster commented on the Coltrane album I was carrying, and

the rest was fortuitous history. Within a few days, John met the

gallery crowd, and proceeded to bring in his own friends, thereby

vastly expanding our human resources. And when discussion

turned to music and poetry, we discovered a world of overlapping

interests: 'Trane, Miles, Monk, Ornette, Mingus, Cecil Taylor,

Archie Shepp, LeRoi Jones, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Olson, Creeley,

etc. John knew the southeast Michigan jazz scene better than

any of us, and brought in drummer Danny Spencer, as well as

prose experimenter James Semark, and countless others. Before

the summer of 1964 was gone, a new group dedicated itself to a

much broader venture, the creation of a communal performance

space supported by three collectively rented apartment buildings

(a true experiment in socialist housing):

...a place for artists — musicians, painters, poets, writers,

film-makers — who are committed to their art and to the

concept of community involvement to meet and work

with one another in an open, warm, loving, supportive

environment (what they don't get in the 'real' world)...

the success of which depends solely on those involved

with it. To this end we have acquired a 'studio' workshop

which will be maintained (rent, electricity, heat) by the

artists themselves... 4

Detroit Institute of Arts curator Mary Jane Jacobs' excellent

narrative of general DAW history is included in the catalogue for

the 1980 exhibition, Kick Out the Jams: Detroit's Cass Corridor

1963-1977. But much less has been written about an essential

aspect of our lives in the Workshop's first year: our

intellectual concerns.

OLD SCHOOL / NEW SCHOOL

Among the theoretical underpinnings of Workshop activity, one

was a text, the other a shared understanding. Charles Olson's

seminal essay, Projective Verse, insists (notably all in caps),

"FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT"

— which opens a universe of poetic possibilities, away from

an insistence on academic, closed forms (sonnets, sestinas,

villanelles) and towards organic developments in form and the

poetic line based on the poet's breath (for example, the fecund

differences in the "breathing" of a Ginsberg and a Creeley, a

Whitman and a Dickinson, an O'Hara and a Levertov). The

writers at the Workshop spent hours discussing the dozen pages

of Olson's manifesto, clarifying its implications for ourselves,

and teaching it as part of the various classes we offered in

the spirit of a people's free school. Rather than limiting our

explorations, as a set of dogmatic precepts might, the essay

radically expanded them.

What this concentrated study afforded us was a fantastic jolt of

enthusiasm, and an education absolutely not available then at any

university. Above all, the accent at DAW was on self-education,

a concept that came along simply because it had to. The air

of early-Sixties America, despite so many new energies, was

still polluted by a centuries-old elitism. I remember that when

around 1962 I played a Ravi Shankar record for my Humanities

prof (a relatively young guy), he asked me what it was. When I

said, "North Indian classical music," he answered, no, that it

was folk music. Accordingly, jazz in "high culture" quarters, and

because of its "low" African-American origins, was an object

of derision, or suspicion at best. Robert Bly, in an infamous

issue of his academic poetry journal The Sixties, gave the Tin

Ear Award to Louis Zukofsky, one of the most amazing lyrical

poets in American history. Meanwhile university poetasters

all over the country were mired in the stifling orthodoxy of the

T.S. Eliot-Allen Tate-Robert Lowell-John Berryman tradition.

Yet these details of the landscape only intensified our contempt

for the academy's conservatism, and we reacted by trusting and

informing ourselves.

/ Research

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Leni and John Sinclair, 1964 (photographer unknown)

French philosopher Jacques Rancière, in a groundbreaking text

entitled The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual

Emancipation, discusses examples of self-instruction from

early-19th-century Europe, and the revolutionary practices of

working class students engaged in learning for themselves, on

their own terms. Although Rancière's book first appeared in 1987,

more than twenty years after our DAW experience, he develops

a unique understanding in it of key presuppositions of nonhierarchical

learning. The institution of the university, as it has

been constituted for centuries, is founded on essential inequality.

Professors maintain a hierarchical system of explications,

inevitable exclusions, and (dis)approval, often limiting students'

access to the very (disruptive, investigative) ideas that the latter

desperately need. And the legendary boredom of the typical

classroom derives, at least in part, from the situation of the

professor with his overflowing bottle of knowledge that pours

a tiny serving into each student's glass of ignorance i.e. lack of

experience.

Rancière maintains that a pivotal notion underlying any

project of collective enlightenment is that of the equality

of intelligence:

We can thus dream of a society of the emancipated

that would be a society of artists. Such a society would

repudiate the division between those who know and those

who don't, between those who possess or don't possess

the property of intelligence. It would only know minds in

action: people who do, who speak about what they are

doing, and who thus transform all their works into ways of

demonstrating the humanity that is in them as in everyone.

Such people would know that no one is born with more

intelligence than his neighbor, that the superiority that

someone might manifest is only the fruit of as tenacious

an application to working with words as another might

show to working with tools; that the inferiority of someone

else is the consequence of circumstances that didn't

compel him to seek harder. In short, they would know


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

that the perfection someone directs towards his own art

is no more than the particular application of the power

common to all reasonable beings... 5

By teaching ourselves, immersing ourselves in the everexpanding

search for poetry (or fiction, music, painting,

photography, film, et al), we demonstrated to each other the

power of will over intelligence — just as the best way to learn a

language has always been to immerse oneself in the community

of that language. And those of us who worked a little harder

would discover that the French word poésie is poezja in Polish.

When I first read Jack Spicer's The Holy Grail in 1964, it puzzled,

seduced, and inspired me in ways that I couldn't have imagined

in 1959, when my experience with poetry was a few works by Walt

Whitman and Langston Hughes. Of course, in the interim I had

read Ginsberg, Creeley, Duncan, Olson, Zukofsky, LeRoi Jones,

etc.etc. But there also was no exam forthcoming on Spicer, no

professorial explication, no right or wrong way of reading him,

just my will and passion. Into a matrix of King Arthur, Lancelot,

and the Round Table, Spicer drops references to Tarawa (the

horrific 1943 battle between US and Japanese forces), Las Vegas,

the Wizard of Oz, etc. 6 It was entirely up to me to work with all

that, and then share the fruits of my labor with others.

At various times and intensities, our collective reading list

included, among many other titles: Creeley's For Love and his

novel The Island (his emphasis on the rhythms of speech and

thought); Olson's Call Me Ishmael, The Maximus Poems, and

Human Universe and Other Essays (his call for an engagement

with the body politic and a poetics of immersion); Robert

Duncan's The Opening of the Field (the intense focus on modern

lyricism); Jack Spicer's The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether,

The Holy Grail, and Language (his concept of taking dictation

from inside and "outside" the language); Denise Levertov's With

Eyes at the Back of Our Heads (its formal, lyrical radiance); Gary

Snyder's Riprap and Myths & Texts (the focus on wilderness, Zen

meditation, and the materiality of the line); LeRoi Jones (Amiri

Baraka)'s The Dead Lecturer and Tales (his commitment to a

community-class analysis, as well as the inflections of free jazz);

Louis Zukofsky's All: the Collected Short Poems, A Test of Poetry,

and Bottom: On Shakespeare (his exquisite ear and example

of not throwing out the baby — Catullus, Shakespeare, the

Metaphysical Poets — with the academic bathwater); the novels

of William Burroughs (the centrality of the cut-up method);

Ginsberg's ecstatic Howl, Kaddish, and Reality Sandwiches

(his debt to Surrealism, the Hebrew prophets, jazz, and the

compositional idea "first thought, best thought"); John Wieners'

Hotel Wentley Poems and Ace of Pentacles (painful lyricism for

the ages); Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency and

Lunch Poems (his Whitmanesque embrace of life, our times,

and poetic invention); William Carlos Williams' Spring and All

and Paterson (maybe the father of us all); and various writings

by Wilhelm Reich, Buckminster Fuller, Rachel Carson, Carl O.

Sauer, Malcolm X, A.B. Spellman, Jonas Mekas, Diane di Prima,

Philip Whalen, Gregory Corso, Hubert Selby Jr., John Rechy,

Jack Kerouac, Douglas Woolf, Fielding Dawson, ad infinitum.

The writers of the Workshop — Robin Eichele, Bill Harris, James

Semark, John Sinclair, Allen Van Newkirk, Jerry Younkins,

and I (among many others) — published our work in the form of

chapbooks, broadsides, and magazines (notably, WORK, focused

on writing, and CHANGE and WHERE, on music) under the

auspices of the Artists Workshop Press, a mimeo affair run by

Robin, and graced with photos by Leni.

However, the virtually unavoidable consciousness we shared

was of an America gone insane with repressive violence. By

the end of March 1965, JFK, Malcolm X, and Viola Liuzzo had

been murdered, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King

Jr., Robert Kennedy, George Jackson, countless Black Panthers

and other activists were soon to come (a leitmotif stretching to

2015). What we treasured in jazz, America's indigenous avantgarde,

were its roots in an oppressed but uncowed community, its

resistance to the consequences of slavery, and its joyous stance

when it came to collective, spontaneous creativity. Yet jazz for us

was an intellectual model as well. Just as John Cage awoke us to

indeterminacy and silence (that all sounds, including those of the

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widest varieties of language, could be music), and Charles Olson

proposed a dialectics of projective verse (that poetic form was a

matter of existential choice for the poet), so Louis Armstrong,

Duke Ellington, et al proposed the life-affirming adventure of

improvisation. We embraced their indispensable connection

to contemporary thought and writing.

As 21st-century Detroit arises from the ruins of exploitation,

the transformative role of its artists and art projects will be

in the relationships they forge with the community at large.

Henceforth, we refuse to consider the practice of art simply

as a professional meal ticket or the production of investment

objects for the ultra-rich. The historic antecedents to such an

awareness are many: we look to the engagement of the Russian

THIS IS OUR MUSIC

Although I'm giving short shrift to the DAW music scene, I'll

never forget the emotional-conceptual impact on all of us of the

Detroit Contemporary 5 (Charles Moore, trumpet; Larry Nozero,

Constructivists, the experiments of the French Situationists,

the voluminous writings of Jacques Rancière on the politics of

art and education, and the homegrown efforts of the mid-Sixties

Detroit Artists Workshop to rethink our difficult surroundings.

tenor sax; Ron English, guitar; John Dana, bass; and Danny

Spencer, drums). We poets may have been fledgling, but the

band's free jazz took everybody higher. Each Sunday afternoon,

writers and musicians performed for a packed crowd, one that

included Larry Weiner (who had become a filmmaker), Ellen

Phelan (the WSU art student who became an internationally

renowned painter); Leni Sinclair (who married John, and

brilliantly photographed Workshop activities and Detroit arts

in general); and such other resident musicians as Pierre Rochon,

Harvey Robb, and Ronnie Johnson, as well as visiting poets

Clayton Eshleman and Robert Creeley, Toronto poet Victor

Coleman, jazz superstar Charles Lloyd (who jammed with the

DC5), and eventually the Art Ensemble of Chicago (who stayed

1 Blues & Roots refers to an album of the same name, recorded by

Charles Mingus in 1959, released by Atlantic Records in 1960.

2 Robert Creeley, A Quick Graph: Collected Notes and Essays (San

Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1970), 40.

3 Kulchur 10 (New York: Kulchur Press, Summer 1963).

4 from The Artists’ Workshop Society: A “Manifesto” by John Sinclair,

November 1964 (see Addendum).

5 Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in

Intellectual Emancipation, trans. Kristin Ross (Redwood City:

Stanford University Press, 1991), 71.

6 My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer,

ed. by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian (Middletown: Wesleyan

University Press, 2008).

7 Also see www.detroitartistsworkshop.com for a wealth of

information, documentation, and first-hand testimony on the DAW

phenomenon.

in residence for months), then the proto-punk MC5, as the DAW

directed its attention to the insurrectionary role of rock.

Long-term offshoots of the Workshop have included Ann and

Ken Mikolowski's generous, expansive Alternative Press, the

encyclopedic Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, the White

Panther Party, Trans-Love Energies, the Strata Concert Gallery,

WDET-FM's poetry broadcast "Dimension," and LINES: New

Writing at The Detroit Institute of Arts (1980-1991), all dedicated

to an ongoing awareness: the united intelligence of the people

will never be defeated.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

ADDENDUM

James called “perception at the pitch of passion.” And who better

to communicate to than those few people who are operating at the

same level of awareness and involvement as oneself?

THE ARTISTS’ WORKSHOP SOCIETY:

A “MANIFESTO”

/ John Sinclair

1 NOVEMBER 1964

Why a community of artists? We believe that one of the most

important things to a young, formative artist is having a group of

his peers (in the best sense of the word, taking into consideration

his advanced level of consciousness &c), that he can be a part of,

that he can talk to, work with, work out ideas, &c and can give him

support. Modern society has succeeded to a frightening degree in

alienating artists from each other (and of course from people in

general; or at least vice versa) and atomizing what could be a vital,

active community into a group of lone, defensive, hung-up people

who are afraid to talk to and/or work with anyone but themselves

and (maybe) three or four friends.

A community of artists means that a group of highly conscious

people have resolved their individual, ego problems and can help

each other in very real ways – by giving support, stimulation &c.

The artist working alone is cutting himself off from (though not

consciously I’m sure) from sources of inspiration and influence

that can help him immeasurably in his work. The lone artist has

no one to listen to his work (LeRoi Jones: “how you sound”), no

one to offer criticism, ideas &c that would bring his work into

sharper focus with itself. He stumbles along, hung up in his own

ego & his own work, no perspective, he can only listen to the

generations before him & those who are getting exposure now (if

he knows where to find them on his own) to get his inspiration &

perspective – solitary, at best an artificial situation. Hard to get

as excited, as completely involved in his work by himself; when

he can talk about it with/to others who are trying to do the same

thing as himself (i.e., create some poetry (read: beauty) “out of

the garbage of their lives” (LeRoi) and communicate it to others)

he can achieve and maintain the state of consciousness Henry

Poetry (or any art), does not need to be “sullen” (solus: alone) any

more. We are now in a period of expanded consciousness in all

the arts, the most immediately important aspect of which is the

transcendence of what is understood as the “ego” (in the accepted

– worst – sense of that word). Left alone without any real criticism

(i.e., “constructive” criticism from those who are involved in the

same thing you are, not from dilettantes & culture/vultures, ‘art

lovers’ &c), the artist’s peculiar ego swells, he becomes deadened

to his mistakes, he, after a while can’t bear real criticism, he’s

defensive, gets more atomized, separated, alone, can’t talk to

anyone, everyone else is crazy: becomes (alas!) the old “romantic”

figure, misunderstood, one man against the world – no good.

NOW is the time to find out what’s wrong with your work, NOW,

at least get an inkling of what other real people will think of it,

how it communicates, &c.

Another vital aspect of community thinking: each individual

involved must (– has to – ) learn a sense of personal responsibility:

must take an active role in the life of his community, assume

its problems and (this is too difficult any more) its rewards &

achievements, as his own, pitch in and help those around him

who are trying but who haven’t succeeded in getting themselves

together as soon as he has. This is not like trying to work with

(convert?) straight people (i.e., non-artists) – they have too far to

go anyway, hard to really help them, they aren’t in a supportive

environment, they have to go home at night, no good, they

really have not got a chance to make it. Artists, conversely, do

have the very best chance to achieve higher & more productive

levels of consciousness: they exist, for the most (& best) part,

outside the existing social system, aren’t hung up by pettiness,

have a chance to really get into their work, the best chance – by

virtue of their distance from what its pitiable inhabitants call

the “real” world (bombs, bureaucrats, greed, politics, “what filth

deals consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours”

– [William] Burroughs), artists can transcend that swamp of

artificial reality and have a chance at putting love and help into

action in making their own reality.

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So: what we want is a place for artists – musicians, painters, poets,

writers, film-makers – who are committed to their art and to

the concept of community involvement to meet and work with

one another in an open, warm, loving, supportive environment

(– what they don’t get in the “real” world) – a place for people to

come together as equals in a community venture the success of

which depends solely upon those involved with it. To this end we

have acquired a “studio” workshop which will be maintained (rent,

electricity, heat) by the artists themselves, through individual

subscriptions of $5.00 each (i.e. initial investment – the pledge

will be adjusted, on a monthly basis, and probably downward,

as the Workshop program is totally implemented and we have a

concrete figure for maintenance costs.) This method of supporting

the Artists Workshop is necessary, we feel, because:

1) Each member of the Workshop is to assume an equal

responsibility in the project’s success;

2) Members have to go into their already near-empty pockets,

thus the project cannot be treated lightly;

3) We feel that any commercial means of support, at least

(& especially) in the beginning, would tend to create an

artificial community hung together on money, rather than

a genuine community built on mutual need and mutual

support and interest;

4) No “outside” pressures, hang-ups, interferences;

5) The Workshop ideal can be maintained, i.e. there will

be no pressure on artists to produce work that would

have commercial success, rather than integrity and

aesthetic honesty, as its ultimate purpose.

We do believe, however, that commercial ventures will come into

being as logical and desirable outgrowths of the Workshop as it has

been conceived and as it is now operating. For example, we can see

in the future a coffee shop where musicians would present their

work; a gallery for painters and other graphic artists to exhibit

their work; a small printing and/or publishing concern through

which poets & writers could introduce their work; an operating

film society that would enable local film-makers to produce and

possibly market cinematic ideas.

Other individual projects that are being planned as part of the

workshop’s total program: lectures on modern music, painting,

poetry and film, by the artists themselves, that would serve to

introduce & enlighten an often-puzzled public to the artists’ aims,

purposes, & finished work; free jazz concerts and workshops,

featuring in particular the work of Detroit’s musical ‘avant-garde,’

with commentary on their work by the musicians themselves

and by enlightened critics & students of the music; interpretive

poetry readings, with background and explanatory commentary

by the poets; screenings of films by Detroit experimenters and by

independent film-makers from New York and San Francisco who

are involved in what has been called the “New American Cinema,”

and whose work is not readily available, via commercial theaters,

to its eager audience. All these will be “free,” non-commercial

affairs that are planned, programmed, & produced by the artists

themselves.

We sincerely believe that our Artists Workshop Society can and will

succeed: the time is over-ripe, the people are ready to convert their

ideals into real action, there is no real reason why we can’t make

it. We need all the support we can get, especially your spiritual

support and blessing; we are trying to establish ties with the

isolated groups of artists that exist in this country and throughout

the universe, and we sincerely wish to cooperate with anyone who

will let us. Please help. 7 ■

-----------------------------------------------------

ARTISTS WORKSHOP SOCIETY

JOHN SINCLAIR ROBIN EICHELE

CHARLES MOORE GEORGE TYSH

LARRY WEINER DANNY SPENCER

JAMES SEMARK RICHARD TOBIAS

GAYLE PEARL ALLISTER MCKENZIE

ELLEN PHELAN PAUL SEDAN

BILL REID

DAVID HOMICZ

JOE MULKEY

BOB MARSH

-----------------------------------------------------


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

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John Wieners at the Artists Workshop in 1965

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Photographer of a Revolution,

The Girl with the Camera: the

photography of Leni Sinclair.

/ EMI FONTANA / ALL PHOTOS BY LENI SINCLAIR, COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

White Panthers Party members posing in front of 1520 Hill Street in Ann Arbor, 1970.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

It’s a cold November evening in 1969, in Buffalo NY. An icy breeze is

blowing outside; the university gym is packed, inside the air is warm

and dense from the smell of sweat and marijuana.

“I want you to hold your hands, ” a member of the MC5 shouts at the crowd.

The crowd obeys.

“Now I want you to take a deep breath in… Now exhale. Inhale…”

It goes on and on until a thousand young bodies filling the room

start slipping into a meditative, hypnotic state. Demarcation

lines between bodies fade; the multitude becomes one marvelous

revolutionary body lost in deep ecstasy. Leni Sinclair’s camera

captures this instant of magic in one picture. In spite of the

freezing quality of the medium, Leni’s talent is able to convey

the fluidity of that moment as well as many others. We look at the

picture waiting for the bodies to start swaying again in perpetual

motion. A young and shaggy Abbie Hoffman is leaning barechested

against a car, looking at us with sexy irreverence. The day

before the concert, he spoke at the same conference, haranguing

the crowd, “We gotta learn how to breathe together. If you don’t

learn how to do that, the government is going to show you how to

hang together.” Physicality is one of the first words that comes to

mind looking at Leni’s work. She is moving through an incredible

landscape of bodies: sleeping bodies, ecstatic bodies, intoxicated

bodies, and revolutionary bodies. Before the digital era, it took

one click, one breath, to shoot a great picture. In the cycle of

a breath, reality gets framed in an instant that can stand for

eternity. Looking now at the photography of Leni Sinclair, we are

able to perceive the gravity of a moment that has been handed over

to history, but we can still feel the flow of life, breezing through it.

Susan Sontag, in her well known essay On Photography, states,

“To take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are,

in the status quo remaining unchanged (at least as long as it

takes to get a “good” picture), to be in complicity with whatever

makes the subject interesting.” Leni is the photographer of

a revolution; she is interested in maintaining the status quo

of permanent revolution in her photography, as well as in her

life. Since I first saw Leni’s pictures, many years ago, I met her

and heard some of her stories, it’s has been difficult for me not

to draw a parallel between Leni Sinclair’s life and work and

another great woman photographer, Tina Modotti. It is almost

like these two women represent the two halves of the twentieth

century, mirroring each other. Both Europeans (Tina from

Italy and Leni from East Germany) came to America at an

early age, both finding themselves in the midst of a revolution,

experimenting with the medium of photography, immersed in

the aesthetics of the eras they were living in, getting romantically

involved with charismatic men, and constantly blurring the

lines between art and life. Tina Modotti, in the epistolary with

her mentor and lover, Edward Weston, expressed her desire

to reconcile in her photography the dichotomy between the

eternal motion of life and the fixity of forms that is peculiar

to the medium. Circa forty years later, in Leni Sinclair’s

photography, this statement became a fulfilled prophecy.

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Black Panthers demonstrating in front of the Federal Building in Detroit, 1969.

Audience at the Buffalo Dope Conference in 1969.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

John Sinclair and members of the MC5 playing with guns in 1969.

I have seen Leni working. She has a small and bendy body. She has

the capability of being there and disappearing at the same time

while she is taking pictures; her body squeezes and contorts until

she becomes even smaller, and if you are looking for her while she

is on the job, often you are not going to find her. She gets lost and

confused in the crowd. “Where is Leni? Where is Leni?” When

finally, behind the camera, you encounter her eyes again, they are

full of love, curiosity and a burning passion for life. Leni’s gaze is

feminine and sensual; she infuses her photographs with the same

sensuality. She operates behind the camera in a state of perennial

complicity with the subjects of her pictures. These subjects are

often her friends, lovers, husband, family and comrades, what

they are fighting for: equality, free love, drugs, rock and roll,

and what they are fighting against: authority, cops, conventions.

However, there is gravity in Leni’s pictures, too; in fact, she

portrays some very dramatic moments of American History.

In the late sixties the Black Panther movement agitates the sleep

of Middle America, challenging it to transform the American

Dream into a nightmare. Black Panther militants are the subjects

of many of Leni’s photographs. In one of the most iconic of these

pictures, three young African American men are standing on

the sidewalk holding white flags with the symbol of the Black

Panther ready to pounce. The middle of the banner reads, “Free

Huey." They are asking for the liberation of Huey Newton, one of

the leaders of the movement. Two of the young men are wearing

berets, the third one has a short Afro, and all of them are bearing

very grave expressions on their young faces. They seem to be

looking into the void of a future that has been granted by the

politics of that moment, but in the force of their determination

we can still see hope. In the background of the picture, an older

white man simply tries to ignore the whole scene while a young

black man in a suit looks at the protesters with an expression of

curiosity and questioning on his face. In one of the group shots

of the White Panther party, cofounded by Leni, with her former

husband John Sinclair, there is a very different atmosphere. The

picture is taken in front of their headquarters on Hill Street

in Detroit. In this shot, the sense of solemnity that permeates

the Black Panther portraits is lost, replaced by an expression of

stupor and self-consciousness on the faces of the White Panther

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One naked photographer photographing another naked photographer at Woodstock in 1969.

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

militants, who are holding the guns in a manner that looks

clumsy, almost comedic. White hippies with guns. We could

almost read a sense of embarrassment especially on the women’s

faces. The centerpiece of this shot is a woman with her child,

close to another woman with a gun and a baby. Leni is behind

the camera, but she is one of these women; she is an insider,

nevertheless her eye catches

all the contradictions of an

era. While in the Black Panther

movement the possession of

weapons had very specific

political meaning, which was

a different take from that of the

WPP. Pun Plamondon, another

one of the founders, promoted

the use of weapons, or rather,

its aesthetic, amongst the

WPP militants, from a

different point of view: “Get

a gun brother, learn how to

use it. You are going to need it

pretty soon. You are a White

Panther, act like one.” Act like

one? And what were the sisters

doing with their guns and their

babies? Leni documents the

sixties counterculture from

the point of view of someone

who is really immersed in that

world. Roland Barthes says

great photographers operate as mythologists: Nadar of the

French bourgeoisie, Sander of pre-Nazi Germany, and Avedon

of New York high society. Leni Sinclair narrates the myth of the

exceptional season of sixties American counterculture and does

it as an insider; actually more than just an insider, a propelling

force of that same movement. As great narrators and artists do,

while she is telling us the story, she lets another tale emerge

from the oblivion, the tale that always hides in the folds of the

In one of Leni’s pictures we see a

beautiful young man, fully naked,

portrayed in the gesture of taking

a picture, a picture of Leni, while

Leni is taking a picture of him. The

camera he is holding hides his face.

His penis and camera dominate

the composition. This picture is

taken roughly in the same year as

Blow up, the Antonioni movie that

celebrates the centrality of the

male gaze in counterculture. One

decade prior to the pivotal thesis

of film theorist Laura Mulvey, that

the male gaze focuses on female

objects, leaving the female as a

passive spectator, Leni created

the exception.

main history: it is the story of women who lived in a world still

dominated by men and by male culture, where women were

still casted according to stereotypes, switching from ‘mother

earth’ to ‘easy lay’; where they were often put in the difficult

position of being revolutionary, operating outside of the law,

handling guns, being sexually open, taking drugs like their men,

but on top of that, still making

babies, being the caretakers of

their children, the guardian

angels of their men when they

got in trouble, becoming the

advocates of their liberation

when they went to jail. When

John Sinclair got incarcerated,

Leni became the organizer and

leader of the movement for his

liberation. That movement

is part of American history.

Leni’s real weapon is the

camera. She shoots against the

oppressors, against American

capitalist society, against

imperialism, but in a more

subtle way that is fully readable

to us now, she also shoots

against the chauvinism and

machismo hidden in the “longhaired

dope-smoking culture”

of which John Sinclair and

several other white men were undiscussed and recognized leaders.

In one of Leni’s pictures we see a beautiful young man, fully

naked, portrayed in the gesture of taking a picture, a picture

of Leni, while Leni is taking a picture of him. The camera

he is holding hides his face. His penis and camera dominate

the composition. This picture is taken roughly in the same

year as Blow up, the Antonioni movie that celebrates the

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Abbie Hoffman at the Underground Media Conference in Ann Arbor, 1969. Cynthia Plaster Caster in Ann Arbor, 1968.

centrality of the male gaze in counterculture. One decade

prior to the pivotal thesis of film theorist Laura Mulvey,

that the male gaze focuses on female objects, leaving the

female as a passive spectator, Leni created the exception.

There is another picture that we could read as the negative of the

one described above: Leni has pointed her camera right inside

The solidarity between the Sinclairs

and the band began on August 7, 1966,

with Leni literally unplugging them

during a concert to celebrate John’s

release from his first incarceration for

a minor marijuana offense. The MC5

started to play so loudly that Leni was

afraid their neighbors would call the

police and John would be taken right

back to jail.

the empty space of a rifle barrel that constitutes the main focus.

Out of focus with a blur effect, the silhouette of the holder of

the weapon emerges from the background with long black hair.

Music was all around then, mainly rock and roll. One of the

greatest intuitions of John Sinclair was that pop music was

the best way to influence youth’s way of thinking politics. He

didn’t succeed, but the intuition was brilliant and convinced

the F.B.I. The MC5 were the minstrels of the revolution. The

solidarity between the Sinclairs and the band began on August

7, 1966, with Leni literally unplugging them during a concert to

celebrate John’s release from his first incarceration for a minor

marijuana offense. The MC5 started to play so loudly that Leni

was afraid their neighbors would call the police and John would

be taken right back to jail. She first tried to tell them to lower

the volume, but of course they couldn’t hear her, so she pulled

the plug. John became their manager and Leni their in-house

photographer, “Just because she had a camera,” as she recalled.

At the time, electric guitar was the other weapon in order. In

many of Leni’s pictures, guns and guitars are brandished at once,

while the stereotype of the white male rock god was growing

out of 1960s counterculture with the manhandling of electric

guitars being an integral part of it. The magazine Rolling Stone

strongly contributed to the creation and popularization of that

iconography. Founded in 1967, until 1969, most of the magazine

covers were shot live, in situations in which the photographers

were in psychological proximity to the performers; however,

already in the middle of that same year, they started to portray

the musicians in studios. The pictures were often cut out on white


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

The MC5 in Detroit in 1967.

/ Research

backgrounds that, until now, remain the trademark of Rolling

Stones covers. In one of the most extensive survey shows of rock

photography, held at the Brooklyn Museum in 2009, Who Shot

Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present Leni

Sinclair’s work was not included. Her photography might be at

the root of the genre, and beyond, just before it sclerotized into

the frozen iconography of white masculinity we all know about,

which is especially startling because rock and roll was born on

the backdrop of the civil rights battles against racial and gender

segregation. Leni portrays the myth, but once again her gaze plays

with it with irony and sensuality as she is catching the myths off

guard, literally unplugged, bringing the contradictions to surface.

The MC5 are quite a phenomenon in rock-and-roll history and

very much due to the touch of John Sinclair. They were the

only rock-and-roll band that officially represented a political

extremist group, actually recruiting militants through their

concerts. Many critics regard them as precursors of punk.

Their stage acts and sets were also very peculiar. The use of

the American flag as a background and the toting around and

brandishing of rifles made them a unique subject for Leni’s

camera. But once again the qualities that are coming through

the grain of these pictures are very different from what we could

expect. There is an intimacy and sweetness that is mostly alien

to the way rock-and-roll photography is intended now. Often Leni

captures boyish expressions on the band members’ faces that

are sexy and endearing, very far away from the rock-and-roll

god stereotype. There is a great picture of them showing their

biceps and winking at the camera and another one in which

the band is posing with the background of the American flag.

They are holding coffee mugs and on a table in front of them,

the centerpiece is a sewing machine. If MC5 are considered

predecessors of punk, Leni’s pictures definitely contribute

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Fred Smith of the MC5 playing with a rifle in 1969.

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

to this critical reading. Punk code is far more complex than

traditional rock and roll, especially when it comes to gender and

role-playing, as well as the importance of DIY (do it yourself)

culture. On gender and DIY issues, we can certainly consider

Cynthia Plaster Caster from Chicago a bright star. Cynthia

describes herself as ‘a recovering groupie’ and we can believe

that in good faith she assumed that going around with a few

helpers to cast erected penises of rock stars was part of her

recovery program. Leni took a great portrait of Plaster Caster:

Cynthia is holding and showing some of her creations to the

camera, looking like a bulimic presenting some kind of cakes

she is used to binging on. Plaster Caster art works and gestures

are much more subtle and interesting than what she herself

thought. Frank Zappa definitely was of the same opinion when he

became her patron, but was smart enough to refuse to get casted.

It seems to be a common threat for women coming out of the sixties

counterculture to be really modest about their contribution to

that history. When you talk to them, they will tell you that they

just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Leni

would tell you that all of that happened just because she had a

camera. Maybe she didn’t know it then, but today through her

pictures we can have a more profound reading and understanding

of a pivotal moment in the cultural history of the West.

I was born in the early sixties and came of age thinking that the

sixties was the coolest time. I would have loved to be a young woman

then, to grow my hair long and live in a commune. I almost

did anyway. As many people of my generation, I idealized

the youth movement that came before mine. We now know

well how tough the position of women in the countercultural

movement of the sixties was, but undeniably those were times

of radical transformations, especially about female roles

in society. Through her life and through her photography,

Leni Sinclair has been a witness and an agent of those

changes. We look at her photos now and we can see time

shifting. Being able to convey these changes while they

were happening is certainly one of the main qualities of

her photographic oeuvre.

Leni Sinclair just happened to be a girl with a camera back

then, but she turned it against the MC5 while they were singing:

“I saw you standing in there / I saw your long / Saw your long

hair … All I want to do now, girl / Is look at you looking at you

baby/Look at you, looking at you baby / Yeah, yeah, hey…” ■

@Emi Fontana, South Pasadena July 2014

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Invented Landscape, NYC 2005

Fun House RIde Attendant

Carnival Midway 20

All work and all photos by Carlos Diaz, courtesy of the artist.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

A CONVERSATION

WITH CARLOS DIAZ

/ MARY MCNICHOLS, PH.D

While he initially considered a career in engineering, Carlos Diaz earned his BFA

in photography from the Center for Creative Studies (CCS), now the College for

Creative Studies, in 1980 and his MFA in photography from the University of Michigan in

1983. Diaz has been the recipient of many awards, including a 2010 Kresge Foundation

Community Arts Grant. His work is installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New

York as well as at the Detroit Institute of Arts among many other museums and galleries.

It is currently represented by the David Klein Gallery in Birmingham and Detroit, Michigan.

/ Research

Having been a member of the Department of Photography at

the College for Creative Studies since 1984, Diaz also served

as the Chair of that Department between 1994 to 2000. He is

currently Professor of Photography at CCS. He has worked with

Bill Rauhauser, both as his student and colleague during their

respective times at CCS.

Carlos Diaz’s work in the carnival theme has evolved into three

separate series: the carnival landscape; portraits of carnival

ride attendants; and his Invented Landscape series, inspired

by mechanical invention as well as his interest in the Coney

Island Amusement Park. Diaz gravitates toward the paradoxical

nature of the carnival offering, as it gives an opportunity for

escapism while yet being, as the artist describes it, “a constructed

artificial façade, a transient world made up of strange mechanical

contraptions.” In photographs reminiscent of what Guy Debord

characterized as a society of the spectacle, Diaz presents to the

viewer - as actors on a stage - a poignant glimpse of the carnival

attendants and the world that they inhabit.

Diaz’s most recent bodies of work are entitled Rouge: The Legacy

of Detroit and the Autoworkers and Diorama: Destiny, Deceit,

Displacement: The Native American and Manifest Destiny.

Mary McNichols: You grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, an

industrial center, and worked in mechanical drawing and design

for a number of years. What led you to leave your position as a

mechanical draftsman and become a photographer?

Carlos Diaz: The short answer is that I had become bored and

had lost the passion I once had for the profession. It began

to feel like the same routine, day in and day out. The actual

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

separation process probably began

as a result of some of my early college

class assignments which provided an

opportunity for a much greater degree

of exploration and creativity. After

returning from the service around

1973, I was employed as a draftsman by

General Motors at the General Motors

Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.

Word had gotten around that I had taken

some photography/art classes at the local

community college and was currently

attending an evening photography class

at the Center for Creative Studies (CCS),

now the College for Creative Studies. After

a couple of trial runs in the darkroom, the

two company staff photographers soon

asked if I would like to take charge of

the darkroom facilities since they would

both be away for several weeks shooting

on location. I accepted the offer and, the

minute I put out the sign, Do Not Enter

- Processing Film, and turned on the

darkroom lights, there was no turning

back. That visceral connection to the

darkroom and potential for magic that

I felt then I continue to enjoy to this day.

About a year later in 1976, when General

Motors’ contract with the government

expired, my colleagues and I were

temporarily laid off. This, of course, was

the opportunity I had been waiting for,

and I immediately enrolled as a fulltime

student at CCS. Subsequently, I was

contacted for a number of job interviews,

which I refused. As a result, I lost my

unemployment benefits, but the G.I.

Bill, scholarships and grants made up

the difference, and the rest is history.

It is a true testament to the connection

between progress and taking chances, and

I sometimes wonder how things would

have been different had I not taken this

leap of faith.

My experience and the three years that I

attended CCS were transformative in so

many ways. Soon after starting school, I

took my first class with Bill Rauhauser;

this was the beginning of a thirty-nine

year relationship. The opportunity to

work with Bill at this formative time in

my career had a profound impact on the

manner with which I would approach my

work and my art. Through the years, Bill

has been a mentor, friend, and source

of inspiration to me, and when I began

teaching at CCS 31-years ago, he was

a guiding force and colleague. I feel

extremely fortunate that our paths came

together in such a meaningful way.

MM: How have those experiences - your

life growing up in Pontiac and your

experience as a mechanical draftsman

- influenced your work in photography?

CD: Where and when I grew up has had

everything to do with the work I produce

and how I respond to the world around

me through my work. My experiences

growing up in the 1950s in a true workingclass

town and in a traditional Mexican-

American community were formative.

I like to describe my life experience at

that time as the quintessential 1950s

cliché. My parents did a very good job

of sheltering my siblings and me from

the realities of our family’s economic

situation and from the world at large. I

had few social experiences outside of my

family circle and the Latino community.

As a child, I remember my mother always

having a camera around and often asking

me to take pictures. As a result, those

early years are well-documented and, in

the future, the camera would become my

access into other worlds!

After my father left the family farm in

Saginaw about 1945, he moved to Pontiac

to work in the Wilson Foundry. When he

and his boss at the foundry did not see

eye-to-eye, he quit that job and began

schooling to become a barber. Although

now officially retired, he continues - at

age 91 - to cut hair to this day.

My father’s barbershop was about a mile

and a half from our home and, somewhat

reminiscent of an episode from the Father

Knows Best or My Three Sons television

series, my brother and I would take turns

after school, walking along the railroad

tracks from home to the shop to sweep

the barbershop floor for a quarter. As a

result of having seen, first hand, my father

work at his practice through the years, my

understanding and appreciation of the

importance of passion and commitment

to one’s profession was developed. Upon

graduation, I knew that, as Pontiac was

a quintessential working-class town


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

whose epicenter was the auto industry,

became the nexus between my technical

time. Please describe how this research

any healthy young man who was willing

and analytical experiences and my

has informed your work.

to work was guaranteed a job upon

developing interest in the arts. As

graduation from high school. But I wanted

a result of the many years of having

CD: Much of my work relates to my interest

something more.

practiced mechanical drawing, I had

in the various forms of entertainment

learned to see and to represent the three-

prevalent at the turn of the century and

Various developments eventually led me

dimensional world on a two-dimensional

how these environments were in distinct

to photography. During the sophomore

plane. This is precisely what happens

contrast to the Victorian morals of the day.

year of high school, the school’s academic

when a photographer looks through

The Coney Island Amusement Park, the

counselors met with each student and

the camera’s viewfinder to ultimately

circus, circus sideshows, and the American

his or her parents to determine a career

conceive and construct a photograph.

carnival were manifestations of such

path. I had chosen the arts, but my

Whether consciously or unconsciously,

places. Through collecting and reading

parents insisted that I be placed in the

both the inherently literal discipline of

books on this topic, particularly about

“trade and industry” path which included

mechanical design and the expressive

Coney Island (made up of Steeplechase

mechanical drawing. Then, through the

and interpretive nature of photography

Park, Luna Park, and Dreamland), I began

high school’s Co-Op program, I began to

provide a place for my tendency and

to see the intrinsic connection between

work at an engineering firm during my

impulse toward formality.

the American Industrial Revolution,

junior and senior years. After graduation,

I worked full-time at an engineering firm

from 1969 to 1971 while concurrently

For my carnival landscape project, The

American Carnival Midway and, in fact,

which gave birth to a new working class,

and the resulting American amusement

park industry.

/ Research

attending the local community college.

for the past 35-years, I have chosen to use

When I was drafted in 1970, I applied

an 8 x 10 view camera specifically because

My series of hand-constructed collages,

for conscientious objector status, but

of the meditative, slow, and methodical

Invented Landscapes, on which I’ve

ultimately entered the service in 1971.

manner in which one must work. The

worked from 1996 to the present,

After an honorable discharge from the

ground glass (viewfinder) on this camera

reflects these interests. In the Invented

service in 1973, I was, ironically, employed

measures 8 x 10 inches which provides

Landscapes, I combine vintage steel-plate

by General Motors for the government’s

the opportunity and space for careful and

engravings of mechanical inventions from

Experimental Armor Tank Program. I left

critical composing.

the turn of the century (specifically from

the drafting and design profession when I

1840-1890) with my photographs of Coney

enrolled at the Center for Creative Studies

MM: Early on, you became interested in

Island, made in 1994-1996. Each image

as a full-time student. I had grown weary

and researched the Industrial Revolution

is one-of-a-kind and hand-made. Using

of the mechanical drawing profession and,

in this country and its relationship to

the illustrations of these newly-invented

although I had no intention of returning,

the American amusement industry,

mechanical contraptions, I reconstruct

during graduate school, I worked full-time

specifically, carnivals, circuses, and

– invent, if you will - fictional mechanical

for a year as a mechanical designer.

amusement parks. You’ve observed that

contraptions within the photographed

the advent of new machines and their

amusement park environment. A primary

Given its intrinsic connection to the

efficiency changed American culture by

intention in these images is to imply the

sciences and mechanics, photography

affording the working class more leisure

paradoxical duality of the ethos of the

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

The Shaker Ride Attendant

Himalaya Ride Attendants

period, as well as the contrast between

freedom and restraint, pleasure and

pain, the moral and the immoral. The

Invented Landscapes are, simultaneously,

whimsical and ominous and suggest,

both literally and metaphorically, the

functional forms of labor as well as the fun

and fantasy of the carnival. Additionally,

there are signs within narratives that refer

to the relationship between humanity and

technology. Here too, there exists a duality

in that technology can be understood as

both friend and foe.

MM: There is, of course, a tradition in

American photography of the theme of side

show performers. The perspective of these

images ranges from that which would

seem exploitive (nineteenth-century

works such as Charles Eisenmann’s

photographs in his book Monsters of the

Golden Age; Max Rusid’s photographs in

his publication Photo Album of Human

Oddities; as well as those of Frank Wendt,

himself a student of Eisenmann) to those

of Diane Arbus which seem to go beyond

purely objective images to delve into the

poignancy of the lives of her subjects.

Please describe the perspective of your

portraits of carnival people.

CD: There certainly were instances

of exploitation, but the photographic

portraits that Wendt and Eisenmann

in particular made were instrumental

in establishing the popularity and,

consequently, the demand for the bestknown

“freaks” of the period. For these

physically-impaired “human oddities,”

the circus sideshow was their only means

of income, and most understood the

importance of being photographed. My

carnival portraits, as well as the black

motorcycle rider portraits, were done

out of a sense of wonder and curiosity. I

wanted to know and to better understand

these groups of individuals who are seen

as outside the mainstream of society.

They are groups on the fringe, on the

edge. In the case of the Latino immigrant

portraits, my intent was slightly different.

In this case, I wanted to express what I

already knew and the stories I’d been

told about these individuals. The act of

photographing them implied a degree

of greater importance. On another level,

to better understand “the other” is to

better understand “the self.” For me,

the camera has provided a means to

access, as well as to gain permission to


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Carnival Midway Carnival Midway 2

enter into, subcultures usually denied.

By photographing these individuals,

ultimately, I am paying homage to them.

the dichotomy inherent within life itself:

on one hand beautiful and utopian; on

the other, ugly and evil. On a broader

places. Here, we are transported to

exotic and unworldly places where we

embrace that which we know is not real

/ Research

When you isolate individuals through

level, I have described these artificial

and look beyond the façade. Here we are

the camera lens, you confer upon them a

landscapes as a Surrealist dream or

transformed and swept away into a world

higher degree of humanity.

nightmare where the unconscious and

of decadence. At the turn of the century,

the irrational are manifest. As a culture,

the amusement parks were in stark

MM: You stated during your lecture of

we thrive in a world of escapism, and

contrast to the Victorian “code of conduct”

October 1, 2009 at the Focus on Faculty

the photograph and photographically-

of the period and served as places for fun,

exhibition at Center Galleries at the

reproduced image has transformed us into

fantasy and escape.

College for Creative Studies that “The

“members of an image-sodden species.” 1

classic struggle between good and evil,

Guy Debord, the French Marxist theorist,

MM: Please describe your approach

the sacred and profane, is at the center

writer, filmmaker, member of the Lettrist

to your subjects.

of my work.” Please elaborate on how this

International, and founding member of

overarching theme is reflected in your

the Situationist International, coined

CD: My portraits are an attempt to present

various series.

the phrase society of the spectacle. He

some truth about the subject before the

believed that capitalism was transforming

camera, and are not staged. I will almost

CD: In essence, I see the carnival, the

culture into a façade of spectacle, into a

always photograph my subjects as I find

circus, and Coney Island in particular as a

world of artificiality. 2 The carnival and

them and only ask that they look into the

metaphor for life. These places represent

Las Vegas are classic examples of such

camera. It was when I first saw the work of

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Installation, The Unemployed Auto Worker, Pontiac Creative Art Center, 1991

Diane Arbus that I began to understand

the emotional and visceral power of

the photograph when you looked at the

subject and the subject looked back at you.

The way subjects naturally present

themselves to the camera is revealing in

and of itself. This lack of intervention

provides an opportunity for improvisation

and chance. My process is to first engage

the subjects in conversation to know

them better and, secondly, to allow them

to become more comfortable in front of

the camera and to present something of

what lies beneath the skin. My subjects

recognize and accept that they are being

photographed. They have a choice to

be photographed or not and, when they

choose to be photographed, they enter

into a collaborative agreement with me.

MM: Much of your work is concerned

with social issues - with, as you have

described it, “issues that lie below the

surface.” Your portraits of carnival

people are, of course, an example of this

interest. Please describe your installation

piece The Unemployed Auto Worker

exhibited at Pontiac’s Creative Art Center

in 1991, within these terms.

CD: The Unemployed Auto Worker

installation was my first and last

installation to date, although, I am

considering an interactive installation

of my Latino Immigrant series. The

Unemployed Auto Worker installation

resulted from a conversation with my older

brother, just recently laid-off from his job

of twenty-five years with General Motors.

When we spoke, for the first time ever, I

heard a sense of uncertainty in his voice.

At the time, the media never provided the

names and stories of those who had lost

their jobs, but rather, individuals became

mere statistics in its coverage. I wanted

to give a face to the faceless.

First, and in an act of protest, I wallpapered

the gallery walls with local

newspapers, symbolically emphasizing

that the media was thoroughly covering


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Latina Immigrant, Haylie Eduia Latino Immigrant, Gabriel Arteaga Latino Immigrant, Juan F. Almanza

the event. Second, I built a frame structure

Ford Historical Archives which I had

father was a migrant worker, farmer,

to simulate a typical working-class living

curated, and which included Charles

and foundry worker before becoming a

room, enclosed it in see-through plastic,

Sheeler’s iconic 1927 work Criss-Crossed

barber. From an early age, he would tell

and floated the structure from the ceiling.

Conveyers from the Ford Rouge Complex,

stories about his father’s journey north

Typical living room furniture was placed

was installed in the upper gallery.

to America and the struggle to survive

in the room, including a television.

Third, I included videotaped interviews

of ten unemployed auto workers and a

Additionally, local union chapters were

invited. They displayed historical union

documents and paraphernalia.

the odds he had encountered in pursuit

of his dreams.

/ Research

VHS player. In the gallery, I installed

On the title page of the portfolio, the

photographic studio portraits that I had

MM: Photographs from your most

following is included:

made on-site of the same ten unemployed

recent series, Beyond Borders: Latino

autoworkers. The photographs, which I

Immigrants and Southwest Detroit,

Tonight we shall eat the

had printed larger than life, were hung

some of which were installed in the

assumptions of ourselves

with fish string several inches away from

2011 Detroit Institute of Arts exhibition

of our house and where

the walls to deny their presence as works

Detroit Revealed: Photographs 2000-

we are going

of art. Finally and most importantly,

2010, include both portraits of the

Tonight we shall embark on

during the duration of the exhibition

Latino immigrants who live in that

the Floating Borderlands

and to express the importance of the

neighborhood as well as photographs

toward our liberation.

individual worker, I “hired” and paid

of their homes. Please describe the

- Juan Felipe Herrera 3

various unemployed auto workers to be

perspective of this series.

present in the living room to talk with

Although my father’s story is not

and to answer questions from visitors to

CD: Part 1 of this portfolio, Beyond

necessarily unique, as there were many

the exhibition.

Borders; Latino Immigrants and

who were willing to leave their home

Southwest Detroit, is a series of portraits

country for what they perceived to be

An exhibition of historic automobile

intended to celebrate and pay personal

a better and more prosperous life, his

manufacturing photographs from the

homage to the Latino immigrant. My

experience as that of all the others is

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

unique! Today Latino immigrants are

blamed for a host of social ills and, as

“non-citizens,” they make easy targets

and convenient scapegoats. Since

immigrants are legally deprived of

many of the rights that U.S. citizens

enjoy, including the right to vote, elected

officials and the general public can overtly

blame, marginalize, and discriminate

against them with little repercussion.

Today, as in the past, Latino immigrants

form the latest iteration of cheap labor,

having no contract, no representation,

and few rights. Our agricultural

economy is, in fact, dependent upon just

such a population.

The Beyond Borders project began

several years ago because of my outrage

at the perpetually deplorable manner

in which Latino immigrants were being

portrayed en masse, both publicly and

politically, as illegal, undocumented,

and alien. During state and national

elections, and for the perceived benefit of

the politicians, the “immigrant problem”

is used to inflame, and in a manner that

is intended to systematically deny the

individual immigrant’s identity. This is a

simple but effective strategy because when

we begin to identify with the individual,

we begin to recognize the inhumanity

imposed upon these people! Throughout

America’s history, when economically

advantageous, we have welcomed and,

indeed, recruited the immigrant to this

country to work in the fields and factories

and in our homes and hotels. Then,

when the political climate changes and

immigrants are no longer needed, with

political red, white, and blue spectacle, we

deny that welcome through harassment,

deportation, and by building walls. I would

agree that this constitutes a policy of what

might be described as in the back door

and out the front.

I see the Mexican/American border, the

wall, the river and the desert, as symbols

of the classic demarcation between

desperation and hope. My intent is for

the faces in these portraits to be read as a

road map of the immigrants’ experiences

- their unique set of circumstances and the

story of their journey from the border

north. The circular motif framing the

subject is reminiscent of seventeenthcentury

Flemish painting and is intended

to represent the immigrants as nobility

and aristocracy. These portraits are, then,

my attempt to personify the people of this

community by removing the mask that

these individuals have been forced to wear.

Part 2 of the portfolio, Beyond Borders;

Latino Immigrants and Southwest

Detroit, is a series of the homes of

Southwest Detroit.

During the summer of 2010 while making

the immigrant portraits that form the first

part of this portfolio, I began taking walks

through the neighborhoods of Southwest

Detroit. During the process of making the

immigrant portraits, I simultaneously

audio-taped conversations with the

subjects. As a result, each individual’s

set of circumstances detailing his/her

trip north beyond the border came to

light, and the explicit details revealed

by each immigrant’s story were beyond

my imagination. These walks through

the neighborhood began partially as a

result of my not being from the Southwest

Detroit community; however, in the end,

my experience became both a tangible

and transcendent way to identify with

the people in the portraits.

The beautiful and warm seasonal light,

the cool breezes and especially the newlyformed

foliage and blossoms were all

evidence that late spring and early summer

had arrived in Southwest Detroit. In many

ways, what I saw during my walks in the

neighborhoods was in direct contrast

to the ill-informed image I had been

given about this place. Ultimately, both

the well-defined spaces and the homes

attracted me. The homes were what you

would expect from anyone, anywhere who

cared and tended to his or her personal

domain. These were beautiful spaces and,

for Latino immigrants and others, they

reflected both the new world of which they

were now a part, as well as the one that

they had left behind. Southwest Detroit is

approximately 50% Latino and, although

I did not know for certain whether the

homes in my photographs belonged to

Latino immigrants, there were clues:

religious and ethnic iconography and

statuary as well as Mexican flags were

commonly displayed. Southwest Detroit

is a vibrant oasis teeming with life and

this was simply a beautiful time to explore

these neighborhoods.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/ Research

Homes of Southwest Detroit 1, 2, and 3

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

The Rouge, Steel Worker No.7

I refer to these photographic images

as “pedestrian views” because they are

literally points of view that anyone would

see with feet on the ground and eyes wideopen.

I met and talked with many people

along the way, and they were friendly and

gracious. I soon began to feel as if I were

at home.

MM: You’ve stated that you have done no

“long-term, serious work” in color. Please

explain your choice of black and white

photography - aesthetic or thematic.

CD: When this statement was made, it

was true. During my undergraduate

years, much of the work that moved

me - that I connected with and that

initially triggered a serious interest

in photography - was black and white.

Although this began to change in the

1970s, color photography had not been

the choice of serious art photographers.

Beyond that, when the subject and intent

are compatible, I have worked in and

continue to work in black and white. When

you strip away the color layer from the

subject and record it in shades of gray, you

are further interpreting, transforming,

and translating the subject. Now,

because of the popularity of digital

cameras and the proliferation of

photographic images in our culture,

black and white images are seen as exotic,

historic, and antique. When I now use

black and white, I do so because of its

inherent separation from reality and from

the present. There is an immediacy with

color; color is the here and now.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/ Research

Clockwise L to R: The Rouge, Above Storage Bins, From Transfer Crane, No.9; The Rouge, From the Transfer Crane, Looking West Over

Boat Slip, No.8; The Rouge, Looking Southeast to Blast Furnances A and B, No.5; The Rouge, Looking South Along the Highline, No.1.

Aside from the color assignment work that

I did as a student, I began to use color for

the first time in 2010 when I began the

Beyond Borders: Latino Immigrants

and the Homes of Southwest Detroit

project. As I recounted earlier, during the

summers I began taking walks through

the neighborhoods of southwest Detroit.

Initially, I was attracted to the lush

late spring foliage and the rich colors. I

responded not to a feeling of history or

nostalgia, but to the immediacy of where I

was and what I saw. I became absorbed by

my surroundings at that moment.

In 2012, I began making photographs for

a new body of work, Rouge: The Legacy of

Detroit and the Autoworkers. Through a

friend, I met an individual who was able

to secure complete and total access to the

old Ford Rouge Complex, now owned by

Severstal. This was an exceptionally rare

opportunity. In the past, I, as well as many

others, had tried for years to gain access

with no success. I began printing these

images in black and white and, when I

showed them to friends and colleagues

for feedback, I received very favorable

comments. In time, as I continued to look

at and think about the images and, after

reading about and spending more time

with Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry

murals, I realized that the images in

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

The Rouge, Steel Workers Glove

black and white seemed to be anchored

in the past, and were not compatible with

my interest in and intent for my subject.

I also worried that they would only be

seen as “historic documents.” These new

images of the Rouge were not made in an

attempt to look backward, but instead, to

represent this post-industrial cathedral

in the present as well as to recognize

the importance of the laborer in the

automobile manufacturing industry.

The second part of this Rouge series will

consist of environmental portraits of

retired Rouge workers in their homes.

Before I photograph, I’ll audiotape

interviews with the workers about their

past experiences working at the Rouge.

In this instance, I have chosen to make

traditional documentary portraits in

black and white.

So, to address your question, the choice

between black and white or color is not

conditioned by “aesthetics” but rather by

subject matter, concept, and intent. In the

end, I must determine which of the two is

more compatible. ■


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

1 A. D. Coleman, Depth of Field (Albuquerque: University of New

Mexico Press, 1998), 64.

2 Cf. Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, The Postmodern Turn (New

York: Guilford Press, 1997), 94.

3 Juan Felipe Herrera, quoted in The Floating Borderlands: Twenty-

Five Years of U.S. Hispanic Literature, ed. Lauro Flores (Seattle:

University of Washington Press, 1998), 3.

Ezrahi, Yaron, Everett Mendelsohn, and Howard P. Segal, ed.

Technology, Pessimism, and Postmodernism. Boston: University of

Massachusetts Press, 1994.

Fiedler, Jeannine. Photography at the Bauhaus. Cambridge: MIT

Press, 1990.

Flores, Lauro, ed. The Floating Borderlands: Twenty-Five Years of

U.S. Hispanic Literature. Seattle: University of Washington Press,

1998.

The following bibliography, by no means

exhaustive, consists of works important to

Carlos Diaz.

Arnhem, Rudolf. The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in

the Visual Arts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner. The Postmodern Turn. New York:

The Guilford Press, 1997.

Jean, Marcel, ed. The Autobiography of Surrealism. New York:

Marlowe & Company, 1952.

Cabadas, Joseph P. River Rouge: Ford’s Industrial Colossus. St.

Paul: Motor Books, 2004.

Chomsky, Aviva. “They Take Our Jobs” and Twenty Other Myths

about Immigration. Boston: Beacon Press, 2007.

Coleman, A.D. Depth of Field. Alburqueque: University of New

Mexico Press, 1998.

Cummings, Frederick J. The Rouge: The Image of Industry in the

Art of Charles Sheeler and Diego Rivera. Detroit: Detroit Institute

of Arts, 1978.

Jay, Ricky. Jay’s Journal of Anomalies. New York: Farrar, Straus,

Giroux, 2001.

Miller, Dennis. Photography’s Multiple Roles: Art, Document,

Market, Science. Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Photography,

Chicago, 1998.

Postman, Neil. Technology: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Stebbins, Jr., Theodore E. and Norman Keyes, Jr. Charles Sheeler:

The Photographs. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1987.

Solomon-Godeau, Abigail. Photography at the Dock: Essays on

Photographic History, Institutions and Practices. Minneapolis:

University of Minneapolis, 2003.

Urrea, Louis A. The Devil’s Highway. New York: Little, Brown &

Company, 2004.

Valdes, Dennis N. El Pueblo Mexicano en Detroit y Michigan: A

Social History. Self-published, 1982.

Wells, Liz. Photography: A Critical Introduction. New York:

Routledge, 2000.

Wells, Liz. The Photography Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003.

/ Research

Durozoi, Gérard. History of the Surrealist Movement. Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Zolberg, Aristide R. A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the

Fashioning of America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

3 Detroit

/Drawing

/ Research

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DRAWING DETROIT

(ITER ATION #2)

/ Curated by Ryan Harte & Jennifer Junkermeier

Illustration from Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961,

Vintage Books p. 181 depicting multiple routes to a destination.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

People move around a city using a variety of vehicles

and modes of transportation: car, bus, bike and

foot; freeways, surface streets, bike lanes and

sidewalks. Moreover, besides the chosen mode of

transportation is the choice in pathway, based on any number

of factors. Moving from point A to B presents innumerable

possibilities on how to travel between spaces, providing a

diversity of cities, each lying within the same city, from

street to street, thoroughfare to thoroughfare. In an analysis

of navigating a neighborhood, Jane Jacobs describes the

multiplicity of routes available to reach a destination, especially

along short blocks (The Death and Life of Great American

Cities, 1961, Vintage Books). For Jacobs, the variety of routes

is important to activate all parts of the neighborhood, bringing

liveliness, diversity, the safety of “eyes on the street” among

other benefits. As individuals inhabit and navigate a unique

experience of our shared city, one’s chosen route can bring insight

into how one feels about a city and how one understands a city.

To better explore and share the varying ways different individuals

experience the same city, for this iteration of Drawing Detroit

for Detroit Research we developed a set of prompts (questions

and scenarios) with the goal of finding a way for people to provide

personal insight into the way they experience Detroit. We invited

a group of people to respond in the form of a hand-drawn map with

an emphasis on experimental articulation. We asked participants

the following: When creating your map, we'd like you to share

your unique "insider" knowledge of how you understand and

navigate your neighborhood. Particularly, what information

can be conveyed in a hand-drawn map that GPS navigation

won't reveal? The choice in path is of particular interest because

it is a subtle reflection of one’s view of a city as well as the

structural impact of the city on an individual. These routing

decisions are sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious:

influenced by convenience, perceived threats, routine, as

well as other factors. Moreover, hand-drawn maps provide an

opportunity above an atlas or contemporary GPS navigation

in that they can reveal intimate knowledge of a neighborhood.

Consider the following questions when thinking about

hand-drawn maps: What are the local landmarks in your

neighborhood? What shortcuts do you take to get home from

work? Where or what route do you walk your dog? If you ride

a bike around town, which streets are bike friendly? Or, what

is the most bike friendly route to work for you? Where do you

always look for parking in specific neighborhoods? What is

your scenic route home from work? What route do you take for

experiencing your perfect day in the city of Detroit? Where

do you walk? Where do you jog? What is the route to your

favorite restaurant from your home? What do you encounter

on your way that always makes you smile or makes you angry?

A rich understanding of Detroit is the amalgamation of individual

insights of the city. As our individual paths are “mixed and

mingled with one another” (Jacobs, Great American Cities,

180), to truly understand a city would necessitate knowing each

of its constituencies; to know and understand our neighbors.

When we first started to think what these maps may reveal we

thought it would be about specific roads and physical movement.

To our surprise, what we found was that within the “maps” were

histories, feelings, experiences and representations of Detroit

/Drawing Detroit

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

that could and should warrant further investigation. Equally

interesting in the “maps” people created were how reflective

they were of their own existence, their own personalities. The

project had/has no goal of unearthing any grand conclusion.

Instead the maps are documents; archiving a time, place and

existence within it. Apart from revealing intimate knowledge

of a neighborhood, these maps are a guide and invitation

to experience another person’s understanding of a shared

city. These maps are a launching point to new conversations

with buildings, trees, shops, people, and ways of life.

For example, M. Saffell Gardner’s map depicts a timeline of

his studio spaces, past and present, throughout the city. Some

of the spaces no longer exist, lost when the buildings were torn

down. The second graders from Mrs. Turner’s class drew idyllic

maps full of high-rise buildings. Alex Hill depicts a Detroit of

bubble neighborhoods, the Arts Center, Cass Corridor, and

Livernois Ave. separated by vast, still untraveled expanses.

Such a variety of ways to inhabit the same space reflects the rich

diversity in heritage, age, and personality of the people of Detroit.

Technological power and smartphone ubiquity has brought GPS

navigation to cars, bikes and public transportation—delivering

the quickest or shortest route. As reliance upon hand-drawn

maps or simple written directions wanes, the document of the

map serves an important auxiliary function in telling a great deal

about the how we exist in the city at that time, reflecting thoughts

and behaviors. Partly a time capsule, maps have a special

quality in their ability to imbed knowledge of a place and a time.

As a practical object, missing a turn with a simple handdrawn

map could easily leave the traveler lost. GPS alleviates

the inconvenience of unexpected construction detours or rerouting

after a missed turn. As the technology is designed to

provide the quickest or shortest route, it does not know how

to show the “scenic route.” By contrast, directions delivered

by hand were often simplified to involve less turns. Handdirections

account for convenience, can incorporate useful

shortcuts or explaining tricky turns. GPS at once reduces

inconvenience but also routinely delivers the same routes to

a destination. Obligingly following GPS navigation restricts

serendipitous discovery of neighborhoods, even a street or

two over. The next time you are on your way to a destination,

leave early and consider a detour. Or, ask a friend for a map.

The people we invited to create “maps” for the project were

members from our immediate community, friends and colleagues,

made up of artists, writers and educators each with unique

experiences and perspectives on Detroit. The following maps were

created by ‘jide Aje, Halima Cassells, Clara DeGalan, Stephen

Garrett Dewyer, M. Saffell Gardner, Alex B. Hill, and Mrs. Turner's

2nd Grade Class from Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse of Detroit. ■


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

‘jide Aje is a Detroit based artist who was born in Lagos, Nigeria.

His main forte is painting. Aside from being an exhibited creator,

he is an active member and supporter of numerous arts and

cultural organizations and creative initiatives in Detroit.

Halima Cassells is a Detroit based artist/community advocate.

She assumes leadership and outreach roles at O.N.E. Mile,

Oakland Avenue Artists Coalition, Incite Focus Fab Lab, North

End Soup, Center for Community Based Enterprise, Detroit Black

Community Food Security Network and the Free Market of Detroit.

Clara DeGalan is an artist, writer and educator based

in Detroit where she was born and raised. In addition

to her studio and writing practice, she teaches at

Wayne State University and Madonna University.

Alex B. Hill is a Project Coordinator and Community Health

Worker who lives and works in Detroit. His projects and research

focus on the need for greater community involvement in

development and specifically highlights the intersections of

power, privilege, and race in regards to health disparities, access

to basic health care, and the social implications of medicine.

Mrs. Turner's 2nd Grade Class from Nataki Talibah

Schoolhouse of Detroit. Mrs. Turner (aka Alyson Jones) is

an educator, writer, philosopher and founder of Searching

for Telos: Philosophy for Children. She is a native of

Detroit who in her spare time assists her family at Source

Booksellers in its mission to make the Literary Arts Visible.

/Drawing Detroit

Stephen Garrett Dewyer is a Detroit based artist, writer and

part-time professor. He is the co-founding editor of Infinite

Mile: a journal of art + culture(s) in Detroit. He received an

M.F.A. in sculpture from the Yale University School of Art

in 2011 and a B.F.A. in Art History, Theory & Criticism in

2008 from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).

M. Saffell Gardner is a Detroit based artist, art historian, curator

and educator. He holds B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees in painting

from Wayne State University and is a 2015 Kresge Fellow.

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

1. 'jide Aje, Hand-drawn Map, Detroit, 2015


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/Drawing Detroit

2. Halima Cassells, Hand-drawn Map, Detroit, 2015

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3. Clara DeGalan, Hand-drawn Map, Detroit, 2015


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Hart Plaza and Woodward Avenue

Martin Luther King Boulevard and Woodward Avenue

Warren Avenue and Woodward Avenue

/Drawing Detroit

Grand Boulevard and Woodward Avenue

Chicago Boulevard and Woodward Avenue

M-8 Davison and Woodward Avenue

McNichols Road and Woodward Avenue

7 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue

8 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue

9 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue

10 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue

11 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue

12 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue

13 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue

14 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue

Maple Road and Woodward Avenue

4. Stephen Garrett Dewyer, Hand-drawn Map, Detroit, 2015

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5. M. Saffell Gardner, Hand-drawn Map, Detroit, 2015

DetroitResearch /On Dance


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/Drawing Detroit

6. Alex B. Hill, Hand-drawn Map, Detroit, 2015

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

7. Mrs. Turner's 2nd Grade Class from Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse of Detroit, 9 Hand-drawn Maps, Detroit, 2015

/Drawing Detroit

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

4

/Public

Engagement

/ Research

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

/CURTIS MCGUIRE

St. Louis County police responding to the Ferguson Uprising after

white officer Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown, a young

black man, Nov. 24th 2014, Ferguson, MO


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

My role in St. Louis and Ferguson was that of a National

Lawyers Guild Legal Observer (NLG-LO). As a practice,

NLG-LOs only become involved when a request is

presented from members of a community. The purpose of a legal

observer is to be witness to the activities of law enforcement

organizations and how law enforcement treats people during

the engagement of constitutionally protected free speech. We

document any violations of human rights or violence by law

enforcement and turn over that documentation to NLG attorneys.

That evidence is then used to protect protestors who face charges

for engaging in free speech.

What I saw in St. Louis and in Ferguson was a systematically

racist society doing its best to squash a rebellion of its most

disenfranchised black youth who even now continue to fight

against the perpetual threat of death for having the audacity to

have been born black. Between August and November, 2014

I made periodic visits to the St. Louis area, primarily as a legal

observer, but filling in however I was needed.

November and No True Bill

On November 24th word spread quickly as media reported that

a decision about whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson would

be made public at that night at 8 p.m. I spent several hours of

the afternoon delivering warm winter gear to activist hubs around

the area. The tone in the homes of activists that I met was tense

and there was a lot of silence while the reality of the moment

sank in. People considered what was going to happen if Darren

Wilson was not indicted. People prepared to go out in the street

regardless of the grand jury’s decision. They readied themselves

for a long night.

Nick Klaus, a third year law student from Wayne State University

who had traveled there with me, watched the prosecutor make

the announcement on television from the Legal Hub. To no one’s

surprise, the news that Darren Wilson had gotten away with

murder was made official. We were deployed to West Florissant

Street. We always took a buddy with us while working as a legal

observer. Nick was mine. Ferguson sounded like a war zone that

night. Frequent gunshots rang out from all sides near our location.

Some sounded much closer than others. On West Florissant

Street riot police were scattered all around in small groups. Things

began peacefully but rapidly turned violent. When the illegal

expropriation and destruction of property began every cop in

sight retreated and left for at least twenty minutes, during which

outraged citizens threw rocks through a McDonalds’ windows

and a Bank of America ATM was pummeled with a sledgehammer.

A MetroPCS cell phone store, a beauty salon, a liquor store, a

storage unit office building, and several other structures were set

ablaze. When the police returned they pushed people back until a

fire truck could reach the MetroPCS store. Firefighters attempted

to put the fire out, but as the gunshots got closer to that location

the firefighters pulled out, leaving the National Guard and St. Louis

County officers to watch the buildings crumble in flames. Once the

fire trucks were gone, the police started to move their formation,

pushing protestors further east on West Florissant Street. I went

to move my car to ensure that I could leave when the time was

ripe. I had an exit strategy, but it relied on my car being accessible.

I pulled out and moved it a few blocks up. During the walk back

I was surrounded by gunfire. People were pointing their firearms

into the air or the ground as I passed. I purposely avoided looking

at faces. A gun blasted off a shot not five feet from me. I dropped

to the ground as I heard three men laugh as they warned me to

be careful. I thanked them and kept walking back to my group,

/Public Engagement

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Curtis McGuire, St. Louis County police responding to the Ferguson Uprising after white officer Darren Wilson murdered

Michael Brown, a young black man, Nov. 24th 2014, Ferguson, MO. Images courtesy of the artist

The night the Non-Indictment of Darren Wilson was announced.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

feeling that not taking my buddy with me had been a big mistake.

I never once felt at risk of being hurt by protesters. My only source

of fear was the police.

We stayed as long as we thought we were needed. Then we

redeployed to the Shaw neighborhood. We had heard reports of

police cars having been lit on fire there. We arrived as fast as

we could and touched base with a few folks already there. We

headed for Mokabe’s coffee house, which we’d been told had

been surrounded by police. Upon our arrival we heard from

activists there that they had been tear gassed not too long ago. It

was calm for the moment. We went inside to get a cup of coffee

and warm up a little. The owner of Mokabe’s had opened the

doors as a safe space for the community. It had medic stations,

charging stations, and free coffee for all who came through its

doors. Seeing commotion, I went outside and almost as soon

as I’d walked out the tear gas came down. I got a full dose. I

couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see, and everything burned. Mucus

drained from my sinuses. Everyone around me was running and

screaming. The gas had been aimed at the Mokabes’ private

patio where all the protestors had been gathered. As everyone ran

for the door to get inside, the gas followed, filling the front room.

People poured into the back and out into the alleyway. Following

the group, we cut through the kitchen space and, barely able to

see, I found a sink and stuck my face under the cold running water.

It didn’t help much.

the right of the building was a staircase leading to a flat above. I

climbed the stairs and sat above the lingering smoke. I loosened

the Velcro that fastened my flak jacket and let my entire body relax

for just a minute. I gathered myself. My eyes continued to hurt, but

I could finally see. I headed back down to the basement to find

my buddy and get him to come outside for a minute to scope the

scene out with me. He and I went back into the alleyway. A white

police van halted at the alleyway access and opened its sliding

door. Inside three riot police officers sat with weapons aimed

directly at us and opened fire without warning. We ran like hell. We

had no idea what type of ammunition was being used against us.

We didn’t wait to find out. We ran back inside the back door and

I watched from a small window as more smoke filled the alleyway

where I had been standing seconds before. There had only been

six or seven people in the alleyway with me and everyone made

it inside uninjured.

After a short while, a sizable chunk of the law enforcement left. We

returned to the alleyway to collect the smoke canisters and rubber

bullets (red marble-sized plastic balls with a white powder on the

inside, which I think was for weight). We posted ourselves in front

of the coffee shop. Most of the law enforcement had departed, as

had many of the protestors. At 4:00 a.m. there were several other

legal observers still around and we decided it was time to get a

little sleep. We got back to our beds at about 5:00 a.m. I was

asleep by 5:30 a.m.

/Public Engagement

When we got to the alleyway the police were waiting and more

tear gas came from over the building and perhaps elsewhere. This

caused more panic and everyone ran inside and down into the

coffee shop’s basement. I waited there for ten minutes. I needed

air and was panicking a little. I went back out into the alley. To

This is an excerpt from a longer piece I wrote for the National

Lawyers Guild Review in early 2015, you can find it in its

entirety online here: https://www.nlg.org/sites/default/files/

NLGRev%2071-4%20final.pdf

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

5

/Notes on

Social

/ Research

Practice

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

BUILDING ON “NOTES ON

SOCIAL PR ACTICE”:

ON THE THEORETICAL

UNCONSCIOUS OF SOCIAL

PRACTICE

/Hammam Aldouri


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

“[Pragmatism] thinks of praxis not as

something concealing a complexity of

movements, but as a cold, naked concept

of the real, with the density of a stone.”

- Henri Lefebvre 1

In the first issue of Detroit Research, Michael Stone-Richards

correctly identifies the distinct, constitutive dimension of recent

theoretical conceptions of “social practice”: they have “not

yet settled on a self-understanding.” The following critical

reflections attempt to participate in the on-going discourse

of the possibilities of such a “self-understanding.” As this

discourse is, I believe, very much at the initial stages of its

development, my contribution will provide some preliminary

reflections on Stone-Richards’ underscoring of a crucial aspect

of social practice, namely, what he refers to as the “ethic of

care.” I would like to propose a critical reconstruction of the

socio-political unconscious that mobilizes the polyvalent nature

of social practice. I want to suggest that instead of signalling

an ethic of care, recent social art practices can be understood

more precisely as being fully committed to what we could call

a post-philosophical pragmatism of change. In order to begin

to make sense of this, a recent formulation of the meaning and

significance of social practice is worth quoting:

[S]ocial practice can loosely be described as

art that involves more people than objects,

whose horizon is social and political change –

some would even claim that it is about making

another world possible. Social practice concerns

works with multiple faces turned in different

directions – towards specific groups of people,

political questions, policy problems, or artistic

concerns; there is an aesthetic to organization,

a composition to meetings, and choreography

to events, as well as a lot of hands-on work with

people. At the core of social practice is the urge to

reformulate the traditional relationship between

the work and the viewer, between production and

consumption, sender and receiver. Furthermore,

social practice tends to feel more at home outside

traditional art institutions, though is not entirely

foreign to them. 2

As Stone-Richards obliquely implies in his “Notes on Social

Practice,” such “loose” definitions are, in some sense,

symptomatic of the emergence of an uncritical discourse of

“self-understanding.” Notwithstanding the more fluid and open

description of social practice, the central orientation seems to

be absolutely unequivocal: changing the world. Social practice

is orientated by the attempt to change society and political

reality in such a way as to give way to “another world.” It does

not, however, want to produce “representations” or “illusions”

of changes, which simply reflect the image of another possible

reality. Rather, it tries to bring about changes in reality itself. 3

When art is mobilized by the necessity to bring about direct

change in social reality itself, it performs nothing less that

the radical suspension of critique as a constitutive feature of

contemporary art practice, that is, a suspension of reflection on

the conditions of art and the reality in which it exists.

/Notes on Social Practice

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Social practice art is a distinctively post-critical artistic

standpoint in that it demands an overthrow of the impotent

practice of endlessly disclosing the limits of forms of social

reality; a critical standpoint, as is well known, requires the

requisite amount of distance to observe. 4 Such an analytical

distancing and politically problematic withdrawal from social

reality is an effect of the renewed energy for a direct engagement

with reality as it actually is, that is, in the here and now. Art

must, above all else, resist resignation to a self-enclosed position

of endless reflection, counter-reflection and self-reflection,

completely oblivious to the dynamic transformations of social

and political life. It needs to roll its sleeves up (“hands-on

work”) and immerse itself in the concrete realities that affect

specific social groups (often dispossessed and disenfranchised)

at specific times and in specific places. 5 The corollary to this

is, I believe, unequivocal: art practice must not become

philosophical. 6

Before we consider the withdrawal of art practice from

philosophy, let us attend to art’s relation to “direct engagement.”

The rhetoric of “change by direct engagement” is, within the

context of art, nothing new. More precisely, it is the shift in

concern from art as an articulation of the “aesthetics of eternal

beauty” to a strategy of socio-political engagement mediated

by specific places and during specific times in which the very

notion of “art” is radically contested that is in no way novel.

Recall, for example, thesis 49 of Guy Debord and Gianfranco

Sanguinetti’s presentation of the “real split” at the heart of

the Situationist International during the early 1970s: “The SI

never presented itself as a model of revolutionary organisation,

but as a specific organisation that devoted itself in a particular

period to specific tasks.” 7 The sense of the SI’s engagement to

“a particular period” gives the appearance that it foregrounds

and anticipates recent conceptions of social practice. And yet, a

decisive distinction between Debord’s formulation in the early

1970s and the recent formulations of social practice is that the SI

was self-reflexively developed in conjunction with the historical

emergence, maturation, and deflation of particular historical

events, especially the 1954-62 Algerian War of Independence

and May 1968. 8

Debord’s formulation in the 1970s is, accordingly, retrospective.

Contemporary social practice, however, does not sustain its

identity with recourse to a particular historical moment in that

it is unfolding in relation to a reality that it does not need to

historicize (due to dominant cultural practices that presume that

life is properly post-historical). 9 This withdrawal from history

brings into sharp relief the important distinction between art

practices of the last twenty years and the historical avant-garde:

the adumbrated “self-understanding” of contemporary social

practice, as a “network” of strategies of the transformation

of culturally received notions (such as “work,” “audience,”

“production,” “consumption,” etc.), is a belated symptomatic

effect of the de-regulated conditions of advanced, post-industrial

capitalism. This is not the real problem though. The problem

is that socially engaged practice does not recognize itself as “a

belated symptomatic effect.” Conceptions of social practice are

not looking back. They are not constructing their own historical

narrative (this is no doubt why “movement” as a descriptive

term is strategically avoided – “movement” is, in some sense,

a periodizing category).

This lack of self-recognition is devastating: the “politics of

change” at the core of social practice is fully mediated by the

realities of – in the UK – increasingly abdicating governmental

policies focused on public care, public investment and social

responsibility; and – in the US – within a context of the

clear division of government responsibilities (protecting the

inviolable “natural rights” of the individual) and independence

from governmental mediation (protecting the “civil rights”

of the individual’s needs). In both contexts, the alignment of

contemporary art practices with “do-it-yourself” increasingly


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

dominates cultural production: in the British context,

individuals need to do-it-themselves as the government will

no longer provide support (do-it-yourself transforms into fendfor-yourself

); and in the American context, individuals must

continue to “realize themselves” (by “doing-it-themselves”)

under conditions and effects of increasingly hostile and unstable,

market-led competition (all in the name of a ‘pursuit of happiness’

that presupposes as its most fundamental basis the actuality

via identification of its “literary” character, and second by

challenging its pretention as a discourse on some mystical

“absolute truth.” Philosophy is, consequently, organized by two

underlying assumptions: (1) the “urge to escape the finitude of

time and space” and (2) “the search for some final vocabulary,

which can be somehow known in advance to be the common

core, the truth of, all the other vocabularies which might be

advanced in its place.” 13

of equality). 10

The consequence of this reduction of philosophy is clear: it is

A post-critical art practice then constitutes an art practice that

no longer reflects on the reality conditions of its own possibility.

It fails, consequently, to reflect on the reproduction of the very

conditions of its form and logic of production. In our case here,

the basic reflection of the politics of, one could say, “self-care,” is

the hegemonic cultural practice of “entrepreneurship” and “DIY

culture” at the level of the determination of social reality itself.

In lieu of the dissolution of ‘critique’ as a theoretical orientation,

social art practice reactively turns to post-philosophical

pragmatism in its journey of self-understanding. 11

To state that “post-philosophical pragmatics” is the theoretical

unconscious of dominant, contemporary Anglo-American

cultural practices is, I believe, not without some justification. 12

The centrality of pragmatism is, in part, mobilized by a cultural

politics distinctively oppositional to what is putatively identified

as “continental philosophy.” The decisive orientation of

continental philosophy finds its most general co-ordinates

in a philosophical tradition committed to the articulation of

metaphysical truth, which is to say, a commitment to thinking the

eternal, immutable, objective, absolute idea, or the fundamental

reason and essence of reality as such. From out of the quagmire

of metaphysical discourses of “ends” (of man, history, thought

etc.), pragmatism rises as a real alternative to negotiating the

concrete crises and problems that punctuate contemporary

life. It does this by first elaborating the impasse of philosophy

nothing but a fanciful discourse that narcissistically indulges

itself in the “problem” of its own self-legitimation as a selfsufficient

discipline, totally in blind of the fact that sociohistorical

reality has moved on and philosophy as a discourse

on truth is no longer needed (science gives us the truths we need).

For the pragmatist, philosophy is a thing of the past. This of

course means that it no longer has any direct effect or import

on our daily existence. 14

In place of this eradication of philosophy’s pretences, pragmatic

action performs a kind of revivified “return” to finite and

actual reality, that is, to the concrete, immediate present

(the here and now). This has allowed pragmatism to become

a one-dimensional ‘crisis management’ tool offered by the

sector of the professionalization of post-philosophical theory;

bureaucratic institutions such as municipal governments

increasingly take recourse to such tools whenever real, complex

social problems arise. Pragmatism boils social problems down

to their most elementary units, thus covering over the complex

network of inter-related issues that constitute a problem. This

distillation allows bodies such as the above-mentioned municipal

governments to act “swiftly” and “efficiently” (which often

simply means the rapid pacification of a tense situation).

As I have suggested above, this post-philosophical pragmatism

has permeated the cultural arena of art theory and practices.

/Notes on Social Practice

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

The most accomplished articulation of a post-philosophical

pragmatist conception of social practice can perhaps be found

in the work of Grant H. Kester. Most notably, it is the notion

of “dialogical practice” that expresses Kester’s pragmatism.

According to Kester, dialogical practice can be comprehended

in the following way:

In dialogical practice the artist, whose perceptions

are informed by his or her own training, past

projects, and lived experience, comes into a

given site or community characterized by its own

unique constellation of social and economic forces,

personalities, and traditions. In the exchange that

follows, both the artist and his or her collaborators

will have their existing perceptions challenged;

the artist may well recognize relationships or

connections that the community members have

become incurred to, while the collaborators will

also challenge the artist’s preconceptions about

the community itself and about his or her own

function as an artist. What emerges is a new

set of insights, generated at the intersection of

both perspectives and catalysed through the

collaborative production of a given project. 15

Taken in isolation, this overly schematic and abstract definition

of dialogical practice is, considering the artistic legacies Kester

attends to, striking for a number of reasons, the first of which

being that it is configured as a specifically meta-art practice in

which both artist and collaborator are subject to its mechanism

and logic of production. Another striking characteristic of

Kester’s definition is its focus on “the change in the perception”

of culturally received notions central to art discourse, and not the

“change of society” (as noted above). The corollary to this is worth

underscoring: Kester’s discourse on dialogical practice is one in

which the social relations (between artist and collaborator) that

render it meaningful are stripped of their sociality in so far as

what counts, and what is most significant, is the transformation

of perception, and not the social relations themselves. This

definition of dialogical practice elides the deeper orientation

Kester wants to draw out, namely that dialogical practice is

more precisely the diffuse “set of positive practices directed

toward the world beyond gallery walls, linking new forms of

intersubjective experience with social or political activism.” 16

Without this connection to the social practice of “activism,”

Kester’s conception of dialogical practice is in fear of falling

too readily into the history of avant-garde art practices, which,

according to Kester, amounts to falling into a mode of practice

that is too instrumentally mobilized by notions of aesthetic

“shock” and “defamiliarization.” 17 The practice of aesthetic

“shock” is too negative of a procedure in so far as it maintains

a certain division between artist and viewer (the “shocker”

and the “shocked” if you will). In avant-garde practices, the

“negotiation of difference” between these subjectivities remains

suspended in such a way that the difference is not reconciled

and sublated. 18 From this standpoint, avant-garde practices

are seen as deepening the experience of alienation in modern

existence, whereas dialogical practices are orientated by the

belief that, within specific spaces and times, alienation can be

negotiated and overcome. Put more simply, dialogical practices

are orientated by the belief that, in the face of a radically

depoliticized and cynical cultural politics of social inertia, art

can change the world in reality itself. 19

The important point to underscore here is the notion of the

substitution of “politics” by “art” under conditions in which

political engagement no longer functions as a dominant cultural

practice (the “depoliticizing” effect of living in advanced

capitalist society). The supposed “politicization” of art, in


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

light of the fundamental lack of a concrete social subject of

historical change, is revivified by the commitment to directly

engage the immediately apprehended socio-political realities

of the here and now. 20 The pragmatic “re-politicization” of art

is grounded on what one could call it’s “presentism,” namely,

the positivist, pre-critical assumption of art’s connection with

the cultural present as an undifferentiated and self-contained

temporal phenomenon that can simply be grasped in its totality

at any given moment. 21 What is crucial in Kester’s examples

of dialogical practices is that the “change of the world in

reality itself” is demonstrated empirically (WochenKlausur

set up a safe-house for sex-workers with drug-addiction). This

rehabilitation of art’s “empirical demonstrability” is, finally,

what reveals the pragmatist orientation of social practice

(since an art that remains caught within the constraints of

merely speculative conceptions of a future world to come fail

to take proper notice to the exigency of activist change). With

its empirical reflection, pragmatist art practice rings the final

death knell on critique.

The constitutive gesture of recent socially engaged art practices

is their affirmation, immediate and non-critical confrontation

and engagement with the reality of the present. Consequently,

any critique of the reality conditions of the social phenomena

of the present (art being one such phenomenon) is completely

dissimulated. The affirmation of the immediacy of the present

results in tacitly ratifying and idealizing the reality conditions

that determine the subjectivities that dialogical practices

underscore and attempt to negotiate and reconfigure. To put

this another way: a pragmatic transformation of the present

amounts to the reproduction of what allows us to immediately

identify a temporal entity called the “present” in which we

subsequently “recognize” certain issues and problems that need

our “urgent care.” 22 ■

/Notes on Social Practice

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

1 Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life (London and New York:

Verso, 2014), 528.

2 Maria Lind, “Returning on Bikes: Notes on Social Practice,” in Living

as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011, ed. Nato Thompson

(New York: Creative Time Books, 2012), 49.

3 The following observations take recourse to Boris Groys, ‘On Art

Activism,’ e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/on-art-activism.

Accessed 04-25-16.

4 From the standpoint of socially engaged art, what is putatively

understood as “institutional critique” is nothing but, to use one

of Jacques Rancière’s most oft used expressions, a “discourse of

impotence.”

5 I will discuss the notion of a “given site” in the accompanying essay

“Building on ‘Notes on Social Practice’ (2): Critical Reflections on

the Construction of a Concept,” forthcoming, Detroit Research, vol.

3 (Spring 2017).

6 Critique is understood here as a pre-eminently philosophical

concept and method, finding its most accomplished articulation in

Kant’s transcendental philosophy and the legacy of German

Idealism.

7 Guy Debord and Gianfranco Sanguinetti, The Real Split in the

International (London: Pluto Press, 2003), 64.

8 Significantly, Kester suggests that the emergence of socially

engaged art is in part a reflection of the September 11 attacks in

2001. It must be stressed, however, that Kester only suggests this,

which is to say, he does provide a coherent historical and

conceptual analysis of the relation. Cf. Grant H Kester, Conversation

Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art (Berkeley,

Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2004), 1.

9 If anything, as Stone-Richards alludes, social practice lacks

historical sense (this is why it is yet to understand itself). The

problem is: what are the conditions of possibility of constructing

a historical narrativity under the reality conditions of a life that is

increasingly bombarded with the radical destruction of historical

narrativity?

10 A note about the immediate distinction between the UK and the US:

The politics of “independence” in the UK is troubling, to say the

least, since it is mobilized within a context of a dissolution and

privatization of institutes of social welfare, the liquidation of the

National Health Service being the most immediately recognized

example (note also the recent dissolution of the Independent

Living Fund, which was mandated to support the UK's 18,000 most

heavily disabled individuals to live independently). In the US, the

dominant “antinomy” of discourse around notions of social care

and welfare concerns to what extent it should be implemented

(we all remember the Federal government shutdown of 2013). From

the standpoint of conservative politics, the argument usually goes

back to the distinction made by the acolytes of the “founding

fathers” between what is “man’s nature” and what are his “needs.”

In that the founding fathers tried to establish a clear articulation

of the essential separation between the individual’s “natural

rights” and his “political rights” (which require some defending

precisely because they are not natural), social welfare is summarily

dispatched as something that does not concern the government’s

necessity to uphold “natural” rights. For a burlesque defence of the

founding fathers on this point of the division of “nature” and “need,”

see Thomas G. West, Vindicating the Fathers: Race, Sex, Class and

Justice in the Origins of America (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield,

2001).

11 Claire Bishop completely overlooks the pragmatist core of socially

engaged practice even though she polemically draws attention to

it (at least minimally by the invocation of the term). Bishop’s lack

of a sustained conceptual development of pragmatism is a

symptom of her focus on the problem of the supposed ‘ethical turn’

of socially engaged art. Cf. Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells:

Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London and

New York: Verso, 2012), 26.

12 I stress the geopolitical restriction of pragmatism for two reasons:

first, a substantial part of recent positive conceptions of social

practice emerge in North America; second, the theoretical shift of

philosophical thought from being centred on the problem of the

“end of metaphysics” to a “post-metaphysical” theoretical practice

plays out as a geopolitical migration of ideas from continental

Europe to the trans-Atlantic Anglo-American world.

13 Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays 1972-1980)

(Brighton: The Harvest Press, 1982), xix and xlii. Consider also:

“Pragmatists hold that there are no metaphysical guarantees to be

had that even our most firmly-held beliefs will never need revision.”

Hilary Putnam, Pragmatism: An Open Question (Oxford: Blackwell,

1995), 21.

14 Most of us in advanced capitalist society do not talk about the

“truth” of things within the context of culture. Rather, we speak


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

in terms of plural, subjective perspectives and infinite subjective

opinions (the classical opposition of truth and doxa does not mean

anything for us anymore). Society, at the level of its dominant

cultural formation, largely exhibits a post-philosophical orientation.

15 Kester, Conversation Pieces, 95.

16 Kester, Conversation Pieces, 9.

17 Kester’s conception of dialogical practice can be understood in

terms of representing a para-avant-gardist approach. That is, the

practice shares the socio-political orientations of the historical

avant-garde but it diverges from the central methodologies of

avant-garde practices. Interestingly, Shannon Jackson’s recent

notion of “cross-disciplinary practice,” which recognizes itself

in fidelity to Kester’s orientation, is structured precisely around

the notion of “defamiliarization” (a symptom of her post-Brechtian

position). See Shannon Jackson, Social Works: Performing Art,

Supporting Publics (London and New York: Routledge, 2011).

18 I am referring here to Kester’s description of “The ROUTES Project”

(2002) in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in terms of producing a space

in which “difference [between Republican Catholics and Loyalist

Protestants] were reconciled.” Kester, Conversation Pieces, 8.

19 The relation between dialogical practice and avant-garde practices

is developed, via the notion of collaborative practice, in “Building

on ‘Notes on Social Practice’ (2).”

20 All of Kester’s artistic examples reflect this basic level connection

(of art and the ‘immediate present’): WochenKlausur’s “Intervention

to Aid Drug-Addicted Women”; Suzanne Lacy’s “The Roof is on

Fire”; Littoral Arts, “The ROUTES Project”; The Art of Change,

“West Meets East”; Stephen Willats’ “From One Generation to

Another” and “Brentford Towers”; and Jay Koh “E.T. (Exchanging

Thoughts).”

/Notes on Social Practice

21 For an excellent critical assessment of pragmatism’s “presentism,”

see Peter Osborne, Philosophy in Cultural Theory (London and New

York: Routledge, 2000), 10-13.

22 I would like to make a note here on my fidelity to thinking through

the question of the ethics of practice as a “practice of freedom”

(as Michel Foucault once put it). My reflections are mobilized by the

attempt to render more precise the theoretical orientation of some

conceptions of socially engaged practices. I think that the category

of “care,” if played out in (1) an ossified antinomical relation to

judgments of “(avant-gardist) art” and (2) without the necessary

critique of its ideological misrepresentation, obfuscates this step

toward a more precise identification.

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

6 /Collections

/ Research

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

IN CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE

VESSEL: THE COLLECTION OF JOY

AND ALLAN NACHMAN

/ ADDIE LANGFORD

/Collections

/ALL PHOTOS COURTESY ADDIE LANGFORD AND CURTIS MCGUIRE FOR DETROIT RESEARCH

Facing: Marie T. Hermann, A Gentle Blow to the Rock, 2013. Stoneware, Lower right, Ed Moulthrop, Tulipwood, Spheroid, 1988.

Above: David Goldburg, Sideboard, 2013, Jang Jin, Porcelain, 2013-2015, Photos courtesy of Addie Langford.

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So long as beauty abides in only a few articles created by a few

geniuses, the Kingdom of Beauty is nowhere near realization.

- Bernard Leach 1

In a talk in February 2016 at Pewabic

Pottery, Anders Ruhwald, curator,

and Artist-in-Residence in the

department of Ceramics at Cranbrook

Academy of Art, toured a group of forty

through seven artists’ variations on

the contemporary ceramic vessel. As

compelling as the new works was the

thought Ruhwald left us with, namely,

that the vessel is one of the few cultural

and material universals, which belongs

to no one and to no one culture. Baskets,

and pots, earth and fiber are the leveling

field of anthropology, and Joy and Allan

Nachman have created a life wrapped

around the exploration of this tradition.

Bernard Leach, who may be said to have

organized the basic modern language and

conceptual repertoire for discussing the

making and appreciation of studio pottery,

refers to the pottery vessel from the T’ang

and Sung periods in China, Japanese

master ware, Syrian, Persian, English,

Delft, German and more, and refers to the

highest grade pots from these far reaching

places as “a completely unified human

expression.” 2 Is this what Joy really means

when she insists she cannot stand fussy, or

flashy? The word Allan uses is authentic.

The wood, fiber, and clay vessels in their

home are not about narrative, or texture,

or the prestige object. They search for the

word, just the right work, to illuminate a

thirty-year fascination with pots. Baskets.

Wooden bowls.

In exploring the vessel collection of

Joy and Allan Nachman, of Bloomfield

Hills, Michigan, I turned to the revered

English potter Bernard Leach who drew

upon ancient traditions for direction and

purpose. 2016 presents art works that

range from robotics, to hologram, back

to farm-to-table and the evaporation of

the object all together in some acts of

social practice or social sculpture. This

evaporation of the object has brought into

question again, albeit in new light, the

meaning and weight of the crafted object.

No longer in need of return to the Art vs

Craft conversation, 3 the craft object has

an even more complicated position, that

lands us somewhere in the long avoided

territory of the spirit, or the spiritual - or

the ritualistic? For anyone who has ever

been aesthetically stopped in her tracks

by a tea bowl, or stared into a potter’s work

like a campfire, you will know that these

circle containers of liquid and meal can


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

feel beyond explanation. Leach has been

the many? Making, in other words, is of

can be no fullness or complete realization

heavily criticized for his taxonomies and

tradition; it is not flashy but authentic.

of utility without beauty, refinement

order-creating language (chapter 1 of A

Nor egoistic, but certainly making must

and charm, for the simple reason that

Potter’s Book is called, after all, “Towards

be reflective (and self-reflexive), or it (the

their absence must in the long run be

a Standard”!), and no more so than by the

pot) is as good as dead. I believe this quiet,

intolerable to both maker and consumer.

English potter, writer, and installation

barely- there resonance of the pot which

We desire not only food, but the zest of

artist Edmund de Waal, 4 but it would be

is invisible to most people (accustomed to

eating.” 7 Leach is making a point about

fairer to acknowledge that Leach moors

faster looking or who have more muscular

the unseen energy transmuted through

himself in such a narrow strip of pottery

motives in their association to art) is the

material, that holding water, for example,

correctness because he was confronted

sensation upon which the Nachmans have

only checks the box of utility – it may be

with the need to make a case for pottery

built their collection. To draw upon Leach,

a container, but not yet a vessel. What is

as art against a reigning narrowness of

taste and sensibility: “Very few people

in this country [England] think of the

making of pottery as an art, and amongst

there is a restrained elegance in the works

in the Nachman collection. In Leach’s

telling, the Japanese revere the qualities

of restraint and that which is subdued and

the passage from container to vessel? How

might this transition be figured or felt and

what might it be in the material and its

organization that triggers responsiveness

/Collections

those few the great majority have no

use a Japanese word, shibui, that has no

in the handler? Leach hammers out (and

criterion of aesthetic values which would

equivalent in English: “It is impossible to

at) these two principles, the ones that

enable them to distinguish between the

translate it satisfactorily into one English

are bedrock to the Nachman aesthetic,

genuinely good and the meretricious.” 5 It

term, ‘austere’, ‘subdued’, ‘restrained’,

principles which bind two ubiquitous and

could, more interestingly, be also argued,

these words come nearest. Etymologically,

complex aspects of living. Here again is

that without these imposed rules - these

shibui means ‘astringent’, and is used to

Leach on the significance of popular or

fictions - of standard to support him, he

describe a profound, unassuming quiet

folk arts, quoting from Soētsu Yanagi

might implode from the poetry of the

feeling.” 6

(“the intellectual leader of the Japanese

vessel. In the quotation from Leach used

craft movement of today” 8 ) on Japanese

as epigraph to this reflection, Leach

In an interesting passage in A Potter’s

handicraft and the role of the anonymous

argues that making is humble and belongs

Book, Leach talks about the maker

origination of form in their development.

to the work of many hands, or maybe to the

imbuing the pot with something a bit

Utility is the first principle of beauty:

every hand, though if you read Leach he is

like a fragrance: My husband returns

far from populist in his views. Still, there

home from an art opening and I can tell

One may ask: what then is the nature of

is a Kingdom of Beauty at hand – beauty

he greeted Marsha M. (Sandalwood). Or,

the beauty which has been discovered by

is eschatological? – and it can only be the

of one of our three whom we call our fairy

these masters? [...] In the first place, it

work of many hands – the communion of

Godmothers - Chanel. Leach says “there

is non-individualistic […] Some of the

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Above: Brad Sells, Long Fluted Cherry Vessel, 2000.

Below: Various wood turned vessels.

Title of the Photo Photo courtesy First Last


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Above: Christian Burchard, Small Treasures, 1996, wood turned vessels.

Below: Various antique and contemporary miniature vessels and carvings.

/Collections

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

most famous tea-bowls were originally

the simplest of utensils in popular use

in Korea or China; many of them were

the rice bowls of Korean peasants. But

the amazingly keen eye of the Cha-noyu

master has discovered in these odd

and neglected pieces a unique beauty;

for what most appeals to him are the

things originally made for everyday use.

In brief, Cha-no-yu may be defined as

an aesthetics of actual living, in which

utility is the first principle of beauty. And

this is why such great significance has

been given to certain articles necessary

for everyday life. 9

The second principle Leach speaks of is

humility, and again he quotes from Soētsu

Yanagi: “The next important aspect of

the works of people’s art is that they are

simple and unassuming […] Indeed Beauty

and Humility border on each other.” 10 If

you’ve spent ten minutes with Joy and

Allan you will not recall hearing them

over a crowd. Elegant. Inquisitive. Even

as we chatter away, the Nachman’s living

room feels quiet, and it is no mystery that

I met Allan at the swimming pool, a place

of meditation, and routine.

Allan speaks of his experience learning

to turn wood with mythic Kentucky wood

turner, Rudy Osolnik, a man who rose

at 4:00am, turning over 100,000 candle

sticks before many sunrises when he

would breakfast with his wife. $12 at a

time, he put his kids through college.

Touching and shaping material and

teaching day in, day out. Until recently

I hadn’t realized the paper-thin wooden

platters on my grandmother’s wall

were Osolnik’s. More about Rudy, later.

Thirty years, collecting bowls. There is

a centering of the space as we move into

conversation. I am witnessing turtle doves

tell their story aloud for the first time and

it is gorgeous.

BIO

Joy Nachman, a third generation native

Detroiter, grew up in Palmer Woods

and pursued education and psychology

in college. In her youth, she enjoyed

drawing, but marks a pivotal trip to Sam

Fields Art School on Wyoming street in

Detroit as an art experience that made

certain things possible, or rather, she

might have gained access to feelings

or a way of accessing thoughts. After

this, art history class at University of

Michigan filled her with images, stories,

and historical connections that made

her an informed guide to her family in

New York one summer while visiting the

Frick Collection. The combination of

this early exposure helped her to think

the Allan Nachman of 1969 was normal,

for seeking out a Picasso to hang on his

fraternity house wall. Allan, also Detroit

born, and University of Michigan

educated, traces his connection to art,

or culture, as he chiseled more closely

to say, to the ever-present opera and

classical music that filled his childhood

home. Surrounded by 78’s and his

parents reverence for music, Allan later

expanded his participation in art from

listening to making, and from making

to looking, and with Joy to collecting.

He was attracted to wood working with

hand tools in a school shop class where a

wooden jewelry box and gavel captured

his imagination. He worked side-byside

with his father, a carpenter, and

developed more than just skills, but a

relationship with material. He spoke

lovingly of this gavel, and it made me

wonder if that was his real gateway to

the Law. And from his mother, he recalls

distinct attention paid to a collection of

Spode cups and saucers. The maternal

and the paternal, presence then, as

distinctive passageways and entries

into the development of sensibility.


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

EARLY ART COLLECTING

their traveling 30 Americans exhibit-

over the Thanksgiving holiday. In tribute,

When Allan was in college, the Ann Arbor

ion, and they were riotous. The inter-

every five years Joy dawns her wedding

Art Fair, now one of the largest in the

familial negotiation of the collecting

gown to serve Thanksgiving dinner. It still

country, put up its first tent. He confused

couple can’t be underestimated as the

fits. Like Tim and Marilyn Mast, featured

friends by collecting figurative paintings

maypole of the aesthetic. Each collected

ceramics collectors in the opening salvo

instead of dormitory schlock. He hung

work has an advocate and it makes for

of Detroit Research, their creative life

the walls of his fraternity with Lyonel

great soap-opera. The must-haves, the

together was creating a domestic space

Feininger prints and again, a Picasso.

over my dead-bodies. Bringing in the

born of modern furniture design. They

“I just wanted to be surrounded by it

offspring for a swing vote. Joy and Allan

moved into a Mies van der Rohe coop on

(art),” Nachman said, and has not

missed an Ann Arbor art fair since. Later,

attending University of Michigan, Allan

took the history of art and symphony

between law. The Nachman’s commitment

established their wrestling terms years

ago and they have their approach down.

My fascination lies in the navigation,

negotiation, and sensitivity toward

each other’s inaudible preferences - the

Nicolet in Detroit and began acquiring

Knoll furniture. Allan laughs and asks

Joy, “Remember the striped couch?”

(I believe a couch launched the Mast

collection as well.) There was a Parsons

/Collections

to music continues through their

zest-meter being highly attuned and

table, a Sarrinen, and Breuer, some

creation and support of Cabaret 313, a

willing to take turns being the one who

of it imitation, some of them original,

Detroit cabaret series.

can’t let go. The collection becomes a

but the environment was nonetheless

portrait described through a reflected

curated. Allan went so far as to paint a

A delight to watch Joy and Allan talk

visual desire. And for Joy and Allan,

canvas after a Mondrian, and chuckled

into and out of a verbal serpentine, then

these vessels create a space that is about

that is was (indeed), “harder than it

a slip-knot, each looping in to interrupt

centering, not containment. The wheaty

looks!" But a beloved piece agreed on by

and finish each other’s thought, correct

palette of the space and many of its

both from the start is a wooden bench,

the story, re-route the conversation. The

hosted objects is restful, with splashes

still in the front vestibule after decades

title of this reflection might have been

of bold color. If an interior reflects a life

from Hobart, Tasmania looking nearly

Collecting Couples, because the unit

together, there is tranquility with an

Shaker in its heavy austerity sitting

is in fact always the inspiration and

enviable amount of spice.

underneath a sizable contemporary egg

limitation of any great collection. The

tempera landscape. The bench holds

Florida-based collectors the Rubells

1969 was a good year for the Nachmans.

the key to the power of the Nachman

spoke at the DIA in 2015, introducing

They met in March and were married

collection, embodying as it does what the

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/Collections

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

Previous spread: Irving Tobocman, architect, Drawing Room, 1965.

Japanese revere in pottery: the qualities

of restraint and that which is subdued.

This egg tempera (a contemporary) work

leads us back to painting. The Nachman

early life together was spent strolling

through galleries in Michigan and New

York City and later all over the globe,

buying painted works, some on monthly

payments (flash back to the Rubells, who

started buying on monthly payments).

This is where color comes in, and has

always been there, especially for Joy, and

has been quietly simmering in basketry,

ceramics, and paintings throughout the

decades of collecting vessels.

Joy sits forward when color enters the

conversation. It is clear that her interest in

baskets and ceramics is the combination

of form and the ability of glaze and fiber to

introduce color, yet she protests (in front

of their five stunning Betty Woodman

oversized, color-ecstatic, sculptural, or

deconstructed vases as Woodman refers

to them) that she doesn’t like anything

flashy or overdone. Contradiction is king!

And her favorite vessels are the Beatrice

Wood opalescent goblets: they are petite,

but bullish in their flash. Joy knows that

her taste distinguishes between the loud

and the exuberant. Betty Woodman, one

of the most exuberant artists of our time,

engages the vessel as canvas; but not

just that, with her vessels it is as though

a swarm of color were flying through

space and slashed against her pots as it

blew by leaving this sectional imprint of

something symphonic. Born in 1930 and at

the potter’s wheel by 1950, her progression

marks her practice as one of the most

ahead of her day, and one of the most

sustaining of the twentieth century. The

exuberant chromaticism of theses pots

brings the symphony of Allan’s youth back

into the embodied form of interior living

in the richest sense of this term interior.

The Woodman vessels in proximity to an

Osolnik wooden bowl, or silent totem of

the Richard Devore, exemplify the range

of vessel language and the Nachman’s

breadth of palette in the field. This brings

me back to the vessel as Greenwich Mean

Time. The intermingling of these jubilee

works and the sobriety of neutral toned

golden sectional works like Devore’s offers

a serpentine experience that is the comme

vous l’aimez (as you like it) of the collector.

PAINTING, STILL LIFE, AND POTS

1990’S

Joy and Allan walked the New York

gallery circuit three to four times each

year, where the Fischbach Gallery was

a top choice. Starting out, like Donald

and Mera Rubell, Allan bartered legal

services for paintings (works by Detroit

painter Carol Wald among others) and

he paid a New York vendor monthly for

the Picasso. Founded by Marilyn Cole

Fischbach in 1960 on Madison Avenue,

the gallery helped launch the careers of

Alex Katz, Eva Hesse, and Knox Martin,

and Fischbach helped strengthen their

eye. In the 1990’s, their interest in the

paintings of Jane Freilicher seemed

to foretell their transition to vessel

collecting and still-life composition.

Their attraction to the work of the late

Australian born Gwyn Hanssen Pigott,

a ceramic artist influenced by English

potters Ray Finch, Michael Cardew,

and Bernard Leach, points to this. The

Nachmans attraction to Freilicher’s

paintings hinted at their attraction to

handcrafted environments and the careful

still-life arrangement characteristic of

the Nabi school. Among one of the most


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Next spread: Irving Tobocman, architect, Dining Room, 1965. Upper left, Betty Woodman, Triptych, 2014.

noteworthy women in painting when the

words “nothing fussy, nothing showy -

gently containing form with sliding glass

scene was male-dominated, Freilicher

authentic forms,” Joy repeats, referring

walls, a partition wall armoire, and a roof

was one of few women artists who were

to egg forms, orbs, and curves in their

lifted open allowing a clerestory band of

exhibiting alongside male counterparts.

atrium space. There is nowhere to

light to flood the space. Present in the

Her painting of urban and country scenes

hide in the open curve of a bowl which

space, one is impacted by a profound

related in tone and texture to the still

reminds me of the Nachman’s skill in the

sensation of being as a form of vessel, as

life and interiors of the Nabi (she drew

practice of attention. Beaded baskets and

well as being in a vessel, inside a vessel,

influences from Bonnard, Vuillard, and

discovering Dona Look baskets made of

among vessels. When W.B. Yeats’ poem

Matisse), as well as Giorgio Morandi,

silk and paper birch bark at Perimeter

“Among School Children” famously

establishing her position as a tangential

Gallery in Chicago started to expand

declared, “How can we tell the dancer from

member of the New York School of the

1950’s. Frielicher’s work was important to

New York painters (Helen Frankenthaler,

Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Fairfield

the vessel language from solid to porous.

They decided to collect vessel forms

instead of collecting a broad spectrum,

which brought a great deal of purpose

the dance,” the question, the image of

inseparability, is in part one of being as a

kinesthesia of fit: this skin for this surface

and no other; this movement for this form

/Collections

Porter, Larry Rivers) and poets (John

and also the purpose and the thrill that

and no other; here – being here – like this.

Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara,

comes only from landing something

The experience of the Nachman home is

and James Schuyler). A gestural siren

you already long sought after. Many a

that, indeed, of the experience of a vessel,

made by Arizona artist Heloise Christa

collector’s methodology is to aim in a

and not merely a collection of vessels, with

floats in bronze as you approach the

general direction, then delight when they

textures of movement and surfaces that

Nachmans’ front door, and though they

encounter something unexpected. Not the

respond to different times of day and to

enjoy the recognizable, they prefer the

case for Joy and Allan. Sculptural vessels

different ways of moving around, within,

implied conversation among clustered

- wood, ceramic, or woven - and likely by

and across its forms. I am reminded

forms to the traditional narrative of

certain artists are already known. The

of the great English aesthete Adrian

representational works.

search for them has long become targeted.

Stokes – whom I first encountered in the

teaching of my mentor (the Englishman)

THE VESSEL ENTERS THE

GLENN ADAMSON AND THE VESSEL

Tony Hepburn then my husband Michael

COLLECTION

AS ARCHEOLOGICAL FIRST

Stone-Richards for whom Stokes was a

What Joy and Allan found in vessels

Sitting in the Nachmans’ drawing room, it

cult figure in the Cambridge of his friend

was inherently modernist and in their

is palpable how the space is itself a vessel,

the potter Edmund de Waal. Stokes

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

The Nachman home – architecture, décor, domesticity – as

vessel is not merely a collection of vessels but an embodiment,

it seems to me, of the carving, receptive approach to art and its

experience as a way of living-with.

famously distinguished between two

fundamental approaches to art-making

and aesthetic experience: what he called

modelling and carving. The modelling

approach was marked by the straight

line, angularity, and a certain speed. It

is the idiom of the language of psychic

violence (think Picasso or aspects of de

Kooning and the prevalence of gouging,

cutting, attacking actions on the surface

in their work), the very opposite of the

carving approach marked by the curve,

restfulness, and receptivity (think

Piero, or Henry Moore and the ease

with which thought and eye respond to

the invitation from the work). Though

Stokes was insistent that all important art

and aesthetic experience was a dynamic

interaction of these two approaches it

was clear that he held a preference for

the carving approach believing as he

did, following the thought of the great

psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, that though

aesthetic experience was a necessary

vehicle of psychic violence ultimately art

was a seeking of restorative balance. (For

Klein, and likewise Stokes, the violence

was a means by which the archaic, that

is, the oldest layers of the unconscious

mind, come to the surface.) For this

reason, Stokes regarded it as essential

that works of art be grasped not only as

discrete objects but within the larger

framework of the home and the artistic

form for thinking about the home and

domesticity that is, architecture, for an

art collection articulates an architecture

while an architecture houses and nestles

the content which it comes to embody.

The Nachman home – architecture, décor,

domesticity – as vessel is not merely a

collection of vessels but an embodiment,

it seems to me, of the carving, receptive

approach to art and its experience as a

way of living-with. No, it would be too easy,

facile, and even cheap, to say that this

is all a function of privilege. Following

Klein, Stokes sees the roots of art in

the holding position, that is, the way in

which the child experiences the maternal

form of being held. Whether being held

or being refused holding is not a matter

of material privilege, but a whole future

world will be built on this experience, and

one sees, experiences everywhere in the

Nachman house the forms and surfaces

of the carving mode of reception and few

if any violent breaks or transitions. The

vessel is not only what is collected in this

household, the vessel is the image of a

deep unconscious desire for holding and

the refusal or keeping at bay of psychic

violence.

If this collection needed to be put into

the context of other collections, it might

be helpful to mention that the Nachmans

bookended my visit that morning with

a chat with Glenn Adamson, former

Director of Research at the Victoria

and Albert Museum, and recently

departed Nanette L. Laitman, Director

of the Museum of Arts and Design. Just

finishing their conversation, Adamson,

renown curator and writer/thinker on


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Top: Beatrice Wood, Luster-glazed Earthenware, L to R c.1978, c.1978, c.1992, c.1986, c.1958.

Middle: Upper left; Richard Devore, Stoneware, 2005. Center; Richard Raffin, Cocobolo Wood Vessel pair. Upper right; Grant Vaughn, White Beech Vessel, 2001. Lower

left; Robert Howard, Cedar Vessel, 2001. Lower right; Debra Muhl, Wrapped Fiber Vessels, 1999, 2002.

Bottom: Various wood turned vessels, Center column of shelving features wood turnings by Collector, Allan Nachman.

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

Facing: Gwynn Hannsen Pigott, Still Life #7, 1995, Porcelain.

craft and design, and someone whom I

NYC. Adamson observes that Gell had

intentionalities that are complex,

read in graduate school (and I envision

been deeply impressed by the exhibition

demanding of attention and perhaps

as the Mother Teresa of Craft, saving and

Art / Artifact, curated by Susan Vogel for

difficult to reconstruct fully.” 12 This idea

uplifting, and simultaneously acting as

the Museum of African Art in New York,

of the difficult but entrancing object has

craft scholar/bouncer who has helped to

and particularly her decision to display

increasingly become a dominant model

throw off the craft underlingism of the

a hunting net (made by the Zande people

for a new museography and curatorial

past half century. He has finally made

of central Africa) tightly baled and set in

stance in all kinds of exhibition venues.

a bore of the Art vs Craft binary). Glenn

the middle of a white cube gallery, looking

is sitting at the tiled breakfast table

for all the world as if it were a piece of

Still, what I, who grew up with a

discussing business, about to leave for

contemporary art. 11

woodturning father and among potters,

his talk at Cranbrook Academy of Art; he

what I am groping after is the non-verbal,

paces the collection, evaluating the vessel

placement he curated for the Nachmans

the last time he was in town. We should

all have collections that entice a Glenn

Adamson goes on to explore how

Gell illuminates the first attempts at

making art and anthropological objects

interchangeable when he published the

pre-theoretical aspect of the vessel or

container or first carrier, the extension

of the hand, or body that is, and I mean

the object that is not composite with

/Collections

Adamson to come play in our living room.

article on “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks

words (“Seeing comes before words,” as

His thoughts on anthropology have been

and Artworks as Traps” which argued for

John Berger opens his Ways of Seeing),

most compelling to me in helping me

an ecumenical approach in which objects

even, at a certain level, before seeing or

come to terms with the mind-bending

are shown not according to preexisting

independent of seeing, the world of touch

originality of vessels. Here, originality is

category (fine art, craft, ethnographic

of which the great phenomenologists

used in terms of the first one, the oldest,

material), but rather for their potential

such as Merleau-Ponty went to such

the one that started it all. Original sin.

to ensnare the audience in a web of

extent to render – yes, through words

Original joy. The without this first thing

interpretive implication (“Artworks as

– as something pre-predicative, that is,

nothing else is possible, original. And by

Traps”). All objects that are “vehicles of

before acts of intellectual judgment,

this I mean the vessel as form. In “The

complicated ideas,” he wrote, including

not unlike the holding and being held of

Task of Re-Enchantment,” a chapter in

things like hunting nets that are ostensibly

mother and child so important to Klein

his The Invention of Craft, Adamson,

“pragmatic and technical” in nature, could

and Stokes as a root-source of aesthetic

alluding to the great anthropological

be equally regarded as suitable objects for

experience. Imagine for a moment being

thinker Alfred Gell, references the

aesthetic and conceptual interpretation:

in the middle of a trip, luggage on the

strategic conflation of Art / Artifact in

“ I would define as a candidate artwork any

sidewalk, and the suitcase disappears,

the pivotal exhibition curated by Susan

object or performance that potentially

and all contents of said luggage are on a

Vogel for the Museum of African Art in

rewards such scrutiny because it embodies

pile on the pavement. What at first you

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

saw as a hassle, or at least a trek, might

then become un-navigable. Money and

purpose made the trip possible, but, in

certain ways your suitcase vessel (in this

moment) is a condition of possibility of

the fact of mobility – the fact of the trip,

if you will. Or, let’s imagine the vessel

line-up in going for milk on a Saturday

morning. One might go from vessel (bed)

to vessel (car) to vessel (store) with vessels

(grocery cart, and later bag) paying from

vessels (wallet inside purse or pocket) and

your body within a living vessel (skin)

that contains millions of vessels (heart,

kidneys, blood cells) and this sack of

vegetables brought to you by a massive

system of vessels (water pipelines, harvest

buckets, shipping containers). Before

currency and politics made mobility

into state-sanctioned commerce-bound

systems, there was the simple desire to

walk away from one’s water source, or

carry berries to one’s family. The water/

seed bag, basket, and pot made first

mobility possible. Containing sustenance

liberated people to explore, and mobility

or the lack thereof became a foundational

feature of every culture since we stood on

our hind feet. The vessel is the profoundest

symbolization of this archaic trace in

human mobility. Containment, that is,

holding, is the possibility of growth as

also maturation.

I’m beginning to feel that I am getting

closer to what moves the Nachmans to

collect. (For all authentic collections

there is the mystery, Why collect? What

is the impulse, the drive, the necessity

to collect?) This mystery is made visible

when you see a crowd watch a potter’s

wheel like a camp fire, silent, mesmerized

and deeply entertained. The smallest of

children must touch it. Adamson writes

about the German idea of craft as linked

to enchantment when he says that “our

[English] word craft derives from the

German word kraft, meaning power or

potency, and its archaic bond with sorcery

is preserved in terms as “witchcraft.”

We also say “crafty.” Meaning deceptive

or wily (a term often applied to Native

Americans in the nineteenth century).

[Anthropologist Alfred] Gell in

another important essay entitled “The

Enchantment of Technology and the

Technology of Enchantment,” provided

a persuasive theoretical account of this

complex relationship between skill,

potency, transfixion, and deception.” 13

Adamson then quotes Gell himself:

The enchantment of technology is the

power that technical processes have of

casting a spell over us so that we see the

real world in an enchanted form. Art,

as a separate kind of technical activity,

only carries further, through a kind of

involution, the enchantment which

is immanent in all kinds of technical

activity… It is the way an art object is

construed as having come into the world

which is the source of power such objects

have over us - their becoming rather than

their being. 14

This undeniable being of an object is

enchanting, yes, but the child reaches

out to the potter’s wheel to see if their

hand can do that too. Adamson says of

this instinctual activity, “a crafted object

is enchanted because we understand it in

relative terms – relative, that is, to what we

could achieve with our own hands. Crafts

stages an asymmetry between maker

and viewer, articulated by a difference

in particle knowledge. This explains why

handmade objects, in general, are more

likely to produce an effect of enchantment

than mass-produced ones.” 15

The idea of the relativity of one’s own

skill in the realm of making and crafted

objects is complicated further still by the

idea of valuation, and the connoisseur. In

order to become a connoisseur, one must

learn, on one’s own, or at the example of

others. Joy and Allan have spent years

maintaining ongoing conversations and

relationships with artists, gallerists,


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

and connoisseurial groups. It may not

have been their intention to build such

their reach in collecting, the international

art fair circuit continues to expand access

whose fundamental thesis is that making

creates knowledge, builds environments

a learning network, but this is exactly

to national and international craft artists.

and transforms lives, argues that “the

what they’ve done as though the works

They have been so impacted by the Art

only way one can really know things - that

themselves in collection called out for

Basel Miami, for example, that they

is, from the very inside of one’s being -

such articulation of sense and it has

purchased property in Miami and never

is through the process of self-discovery.

shaped their lives.

miss a fair.

To know things you have to grow into

them, and let them grow in you, so that

COLLECTION GUIDES/ /FIRST

SIGNIFICANT CERAMICS

ACCQUISITION

In 1987 Joy and Allan moved to their

Bloomfield Hills home with daughter,

Elanah, then 12, and son David, 9. They

consulted with design duo, David and

Bobby Goldburg and began exploring

Austrian contemporary design from

Biedermeier, Vienna from the 1930’s.

David Goldburg took them to their first

Sculptural Objects and Functional Art

(SOFA) Chicago exhibition and whilst

there ceramics captured their curiosity.

They purchased a work of glass and a

triptych by Betty Woodman. Never

again collecting glass, they quickly

developed what would become an ongoing

desire for the work of Betty Woodman,

their first significant purchase. The

Woodman triptych was a breakthrough

acquisition with luscious color (for Joy),

and edgy vessel form (for Allan). Her work

exemplified the all-in-one language for the

couple. Where SOFA Chicago accelerated

David Goldburg as guide in Chicago is

just one example of how many influential

trips and conversations the Nachman’s

have had with collecting guides, be

they artists, gallerists, or scholars, and

it speaks to the communal aspect of

shared exploration and ongoing learning

over time which creates a force-field

into which collections are born and

the emergence of sense assumes forms

of its own as the collection becomes in

an important way organic and so itself

capable of spontaneity. The formation of

affective and initiatory relationships - the

friendships of artists, guides, gallerists,

and fellow collectors - inevitably comes

to mirror, impact, and articulate the

already existing relationships latent

within the network of vessel forms and

the collection. This communion of guides

allows for self-discovery to unfold over

time, giving space for understanding

and all the benefits that accompany the

state of embodied appreciation. In his

book, Making, anthropologist Tim Ingold,

they become a part of who you are. […]

The mere provision of information holds

no guarantee of knowledge, let alone of

understanding.” 16 Anyone who is close to

an art collector knows that the collection/

collecting, becomes a way of life, not

merely a hobby or activity, and further

that the process, people and objects

sculpt the very life of the collector, for the

medium shared between artwork existing

in a network or collection and the collector

is life itself. It is a creative and identifying

practice. Joy and Allan clearly note that

several galleries have been key in their

construction of quality, aesthetic, and

an understanding of the market. To be

a collector, then, is to be teachable, and

willing to be part of a larger conversation

the outcome of which is the continuation

of a process without end…

The California gallery, Del Mano,

introduced them to many wood artists

who would become the most significant

in their collection- William Hunter, Ron

/Collections

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/Collections

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

P.226: Top: Upper Left; Jun Kaneko, Stoneware platters, 1988.

Bottom: Nick Cave, Soundsuit, 2010. Viola Frey, Polyptych lll, 1990. Foreground; Toshiko Takaezu, Clay, c.1997.

Upper right self; Anders Ruhwald, Clay, 2014.

Layport, Mike Shuler, Michael Mode

and Peter Petrochko, to name a few.

They understood well by this time the

significance of nurturing relationships

with artists, gallerists, and other

collectors. Commissioning work from

artists also became a new way of relating

to artists and fleshing out the collection

with works they imagined, but could not

find. They collected Toshiko Takaezu at

Pewabic Pottery, a historic Detroit midcentury

pottery famous for its tile work

which has been an important venue. From

a similar pottery in Flemmington, New

Jersey, Joy and Allan also collected fifteen

pieces in the 1990’s of Fulper Pottery

from the early 1900’s. Nancy Hoffman

of the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, a friend

and guide, introduced them to the work

of Viola Frey, from whom they purchased

a large oil pastel in 1990. Over the years

Joy and Allan have continued to collect

Betty Woodman, and Beatrice Wood (a

one hundred and five old godmother of

pottery and Dada) whose works Joy claims

as her favorite in the collection. With its

shimmering opalescent surface and folkdancer

formal qualities Joy describes it

as feminine in form and color. Joy also

links an early collected beaded basket

from Racine Art Museum, by Jaenette

Ahlgren as another of her favorites, a form

at once open, geometric, and colorful.

Sometimes more intriguing than what is

kept in a collection is what is jettisoned.

Shifting from painting toward threedimensional

works, the Nachmans

commissioned a wall hanging from a

weaver in Caracas, Venezuela, known

for their wool productions. Allan’s sister

had lived there at the time. An early piece

that remains central to the living space

from the mid-1970’s is a marble piece by

Carol Brenner. In the late 1970’s and early

1980’s Joy and Allan discovered The West,

therefore, fine craft. They described the

Joanne Rapp Gallery /The Hand and the

Sprit Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, and

how an entire era of collecting was built

around this gallery - they may have found

their collecting language, or process, or

maybe their medium at Hand and Spirit.

The West seemed to have provided the first

intimations they were in possession of a

collector’s language. The West brought

them Ed Moulthrop as a point of entry

- a Princeton trained architect-cum

woodturner, one of a three-generation

woodturning family. Moulthrop is

credited with being the father of modern

woodturning and stocked his visual

archive with trips to Paris, London, and

Switzerland as well as a brief time as a

student of watercolor in Fontainebleau,

a forested weekend getaway for Parisians.

His influences and sensibility reflected

the Nachman’s and mirrored Allan’s early

form attraction. Joy’s friends teased them

over the years, “Why all the wood, too

round! Too brown!” She cherished the

forms, but sought works that would bring

color to the collection through baskets and

ceramic vessels.

Travel between galleries, with mentors,

and friends, has shaped the collection’s

demographic. Trips to the Riva Yares


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

P.227: Top: Upper left; Dona Look, Birch basket, 1992. Upper center; Betty Woodman, Earthenware Pillow Pitcher, 1987. Upper right

pair, Robert Howard, Cedar Vessels; Middle shelf grouping of five, William Hunter, Cocobolo Wood Vessels, c.1997-c.2001. Lower left,

Ken Carlson, Copper Basket, 1991. Lower middle, Ann Van Hoey, Earthenware Vessels, 2012. Lower Right, Linda Benglis, Clay, 2014.

Bottom: Right, Jeanette Ahlgren, Cheatham Grove, 2007. Woven glass bead basket.

Gallery, for example, shuttered in 2005,

Detroit-based potter, and former studio

see if he could head South to learn basic

provided ground to collect Norman

assistant to Edmund de Waal.

woodturning and Osolnik in turn hosted

Bluhm, now owned by the Nachman’s son,

a three-day tutorial.. For those of you out

David. The evolution of Gwyn Hanssen

HANDS- ON

of the wood loop, this is like calling up

Pigott ceramic work lead to a trip to

On the influence of the gallerist / artist

Michelangelo to see if he’d teach you to

Australia and the encounter with Karen

relationship in the training of the

mix paint. And he says, “sure, come on

O’Clery, who exposed the Nachmans to

sleek forms, also in the vein of straightsided

white and neutral toned pots, her

inclination leaning toward design and

sensibility of a collector we may invoke,

once more, Tim Ingold who makes

the argument that anthropology is to

ethnography what learning-with is to

down.” This intimate encounter tipped off

a rich exchange of meetings and intimate

mini-conventions between wood artists,

gallerists, and collectors at homes and

/Collections

industrial fabrication.

learning-from: In anthropology, then,

studios.

we go to study with people. And we hope

The Nachmans attribute much of their

to learn from them. What we might call

NACHMANS’ IMPACT ON WOOD ART

direction in collecting to several key

‘research’ or even ‘fieldwork’ is in truth

In the contemporary art world right

institutions, one being the Detroit

a protracted masterclass in which the

now, it seems every video artist and

Institute of Art, specifically the Friends of

novice gradually learns to see things, and

social practitioner is a ceramic artist

Modern and Contemporary Art for which

to hear and feel them too, in the ways his

as well as clay no longer represents the

Allan served as chair from 2013-2014.

or her mentors do. It is in short, to what

underclass of the artworld and everyone

They credit this exposure to acquiring a

the ecological psychologist James Gibson

is trying their hand at chunky pots or

taste for more textural ceramic surfaces

calls an education of attention. 17

community installations (and here one

such as the work of Ken Price, and

need only think of the meal / dinner in

Linda Benglis, and to moving back into

At a local art fair Allan and Joy met Indiana

contemporary art practice). But if potters

monochrome, but with a Netherlandish

farmer / woodturner Charlie Hutson, who

felt unseen by “fine artists” for the last

flare as seen in their installation work by

urged Allan to call Rude Osolnik, a well-

hundred years, they haven’t spoken with

Marie T. Hermann, a rising Danish star,

known woodturner in Berea, Kentucky, to

a wood artist lately. The community of

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

wood artists was unorganized, unrecognized,

and under-collected still late into the late 1980’s.

The Nachmans have contributed significantly to

contemporary craft through their collaborative

role in convening the first association of

collectors of wood art. Allan and Joy Nachman

are founding members of the Collectors of Wood

Art (CWA) who self- organized in the late 1990’s.

In fall of 1997, Robyn and John Horn invited

one hundred top wood collectors, artists, and

gallerists to her home in Little Rock, Arkansas

for a weekend of intense dining, conversation,

and an instant gallery (which turned into a

collector’s feeding frenzy), the goal being to

elevate the culture surrounding wood art. The

Nachmans and Ron and Anita Wornick, and

twenty others formed the founding steering

committee that determined the group’s

priorities. This founding board held a common

belief that the role of gallerist was the critical

bridge between the artist and collector that

created and stabilized the art market, and for

this reason they vowed to support the esteem

of wood art and the field continues to thrive.

THE CONTEMPORARY MOMENT

In comparison to Marie T. Hermann’s paired

back forms in a palette of a thousand whites,

the carved work of Robert Howard represents

the most embellished work, fluted with curves,

almost too much for Joy who maintains her

preference for simple form. But, she says this

with a full size beaded Nick Cave Soundsuit

Joy and Allan Nachman, 2016.

staring over my shoulder in hyperactive


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

polychrome. What is the bridge from

the leached seal skin Richard DeVore

vessel on the shelf to the Nick Cave? Joy

persists that even the Cave is classical,

and refined. I do buy that it is refined, but

related, I’m not sure. I think something

more interesting is going on here, the next

thread of their sensibility as collectors.

Like all good artists, the Nachmans

are standing at the edge of their next

collecting chapter, this article is a time

stamp that ten years will make more

interesting reading. The Nachmans

have been looking and joining forces with

objects now for nearly 40 years. It is now

that we can see before us what Tim Ingold

speaks of as the learner/collector who has

moved into correspondence with their

works. 18 It is a dialogical union as opposed

to a knowledge gained by way of the simple

amassing of objects, and is beautiful to

witness. It is also, I believe, the vibration

one feels when witnessing a collector’s

clarity of voice. In the Nachmans’ next

collecting chapter, I would anticipate

more color, and forms that fall out of the

round or brown category, but it will be

related to the vessel if in concept only, but

we can rely on these works to complicate

and extend the language of craft as sense

and sensibility. ■

/Collections

1 Bernard Leach, A Potter’s Book (London: Faber and Faber, 1976), 7.

2 Leach, A Potter’s Book, 4.

3 Nearly always, when Leach touches on the Fine Arts / Crafts

distinction he places the words applied and fine in quotation marks

4 Cf. Edmund de Waal, Bernard Leach (London: Tate, 1997).

5 Leach, A Potter’s Book, 1.

6 Leach, A Potter’s Book, 9.

7 Leach, A Potter’s Book, 13.

8 Leach, A Potter’s Book, 7.

9 Leach, A Potter’s Book, 8.

10 Leach, A Potter’s Book, 8.

11 Glenn Adamson, “The Task of Re-Enchantment,” The Invention of

Craft (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 98.

12 Alfred Gell, “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as

Traps,” quoted in Adamson, The Invention of Craft, 98.

13 Adamson, “The Task of Re-Enchantment,” 99.

14 Alfred Gell, “Vogel’s Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as

Traps,” quoted in Adamson, The Invention of Craft, 99.

15 Adamson, “The Task of Re-Enchantment,” 100.

16 Tim Ingold, “Knowing from the Inside,” Making (London: Routledge,

2013), 1.

17 Ingold, “Knowing from the Inside,” 2.

18 Cf. Ingold, “Knowing from the Inside,” 7.

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Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

7

/Marie T.

Hermann

/ Research

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

The Discreet Music of

Marie T. Hermann's Objects

/ MICHAEL STONE-RICHARDS

[Plays, Acting, and Music will be followed by Studies in Seven Arts] in which music will be

dealt with in greater detail, side by side with painting, sculpture, architecture, handicraft,

dancing, and the various arts of the stage.

Arthur Symons, “Preface,” Plays, Acting, and Music 1

As with the experimental dance and choreography of

1. Biba Bell, so, too, is the work of Marie T. Hermann part

of an international language of ceramics but one extended,

following the work of her mentor the potter and writer

Edmund de Waal, into installation and the language of post-

Minimal forms and poetics of placement. Rachel Whiteread,

Carl André, Donald Judd are as important for Hermann as

any potter, though Lucie Rie and Hans Coper would certainly

be regarded as part of the same universe of taste as the great

Minimalist and post-Minimalist artists. The thoughtful work

of, say, Warren McKenzie and his followers – the Minnesota

School as it is sometimes called – with its emphasis upon the

handmade and sense of measure determined by use, and so a

work for which the gallery is at best the place for the viewer

to find and select the work of choice - for it is how one uses

and lives with the vessels that matters - is not the controlling

aesthetic of Marie Hermann. Even, maybe especially in, the

work of Edmund de Waal – who long ago transitioned from the

restricted community of potters into the fine-art gallery system

as an installation artist – there is a preciosity of the hand not

to be found in the work of Hermann. 2 For this work, there is a

visual agnosia or imperceptibility between the handmade and

the industrial made, since this is not an aesthetic that sees

the organicism of the unique hand (creation) as in any way

superior to the anonymity of the mass-made (production), and

so every effort is typically made to remove the trace of the hand.

It is, aesthetically and ethically, not merely a form of refusal

but more pointedly a form and poetics of withdrawal, as may

become clear through a consideration of the kind of experience

at work in the objects, their installation and placement (or


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/Marie T. Hermann

Marie T. Hermann’s studio, Pontiac 2015. Photos courtesy of the artist

All photos of the works of Marie T. Hermann are by Tim Thayer unless otherwise stated,

courtesy of the Simone DeSousa Gallery and the artist.

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

arrangement, as Hermann and Adamson put it in their

conversation). As Hermann makes clear in her conversation

with Glenn Adamson (in this issue) when he reminds her of

the “strong philosophical weight that is attached to the mark

of the hand in ceramics,” she says simply: “I’ve just never been

interested in that.”

Environments. What, then, is the interest of these

2. works which seem to come either carefully arranged on

shelves (not unlike three-dimensional still lives of a particular

kind not, it must be said, completely unrelated to the post-

Surrealist object or construction), or massed liked multiple

unities of the same like soldiers of the Chinese Terra Cotta

Army of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE), and captured – or

overlaid - in richly associative, temptingly projective titles

such as To the legion of the lost (2007), Stillness in the Glorious

Wilderness (2010), A Gentle Blow to the Rock (2013), and most

recently, at the Simone DeSousa Gallery in Detroit, And dusk

turned dawn, Blackthorn (2015)? First, it must be said that the

gallery is the conceptual and physical frame of these objects

- platonic solids, blobs, stretched formless surfaces of latex,

mixed media, and assorted non-functional vessels. Shelf –

Frame. The presence of the shelf throughout the work, a thing

for showing another thing, is the frame that permits objects

to have articulation from the ground of the environment,

and as such to be objects of attention and phantasmatic

permutations. The shelf, and the scale of the objects in

their placement, objects not readily identifiable as useful or

functional, and frequently not even identifiable at all – whence

my suggestion of them as post-Surrealist constructions –

these objects on the formal shelf phenomenologically function

in ways comparable to the child’s perspective. Shelving, after

all, is where things are put out of the reach (of the child), and

the child is the person – or, to capture the adult’s sense of the

availability of childhood – the child is the condition of being

a person in which newness – strangeness – is always marked

by the sense of discovery and poignancy, touching something

for the first time as though it should not be touched (and so

not grasping, nor even being greedy with the eye). Be they

Platonic solids, or vessels, there is a sense of all the objects

and things on shelves in this body of work of being stripped

down – here white is not simply white but the mark of the very

process of abstraction, a process linked to both thinking and

memory – as though the objects are the remains, the forms

of a memory of what was once encountered for the first time,

as new, as mysterious. May be there was, once, in empirical

time and space, a vessel that looked like a bowl from a science

lab for mixing chemicals (of the kind seen in Untitled 11 and

Untitled 12 and You are my weather), but it is not its function

that matters now so much as the memory of first encountering

it stripped of its local markers and become part of the theatre

of memory (the question of place): we see this in the still-life

placements of Morandi – whom one cannot imagine not being

part of the dialogue of this work – and we also see it in the great

enigmatic but also fundamentally still-life placements of de

Chirico’s proto-Surrealist works such as the great Le Mauvais

génie d’un roi [The evil genius of a king], 1914, oil on canvas,

in The Modern in New York, 3 and there is a stunning suite of

photographs by Man Ray called Mathematical Objects and first

published in Cahiers d’Art in 1934 and they are what they say

they are in their titles: photographs of mathematical objects,

but taken in such a way that they become stripped down

modern sculptures of great beauty, simplicity, and mystery

– in black and white. 4 Frame – Environment. The sheet of

bricks laid out on the floor on which To the legion of the lost is

presented is every bit as much a frame as the shelves on walls

which emphasize figure-ground articulations – the movement

of verticality and horizontality needs to be interpreted


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/Marie T. Hermann

Marie T. Hermann, To the legion of the lost, 2007. Photo by Michael Harvey

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

- though in this case it is all but certain that the sheet of

bricks engages with Carle André’s grid-based floor sculpture.

Installation. Every installation, that is, every considered act of

placement in predetermined space, is implicitly the evocation

or creation of a possible whole environment – this is especially

so where the gallery is seen as a laboratory (in architecture,

in Constructivist as well as Surrealist exhibitions) or a standin

for a theatre where objects are grasped by those present as

in some sense possessing autonomy, that is, agency. In this

respect, the gallery space is a function of the question of place

(lieu), that is, the moment where (not simply the moment

when) multiple temporalities are imbricated. Wallpaper

and the question of place, or lieu de mémoire. The use of

wallpaper with apparently autobiographical associations in

the exhibition And dusk turned dawn, Blackthorn serves to

confirm the gallery as a function of place this time activated

through the place of memory. Conversing with Hermann in

the gallery of And dusk turned dawn, Blackthorn, Adamson

comments: “This brings us directly to William Morris.

William Morris designed this wallpaper to give us exactly

the effect we are experiencing. Which is, you take a room

and you turn it into this intimate warm glade, that suggests

[…] something you can’t quite touch, a dream space.” The

dream space – or psychical place, the other place as Freud

characterized it - is the very model of complex temporalities

available in social space when a place and function become

invested by its participants. We learn from Hermann that

the wallpaper in question was a part of her childhood in the

small farmhouse outside Copenhagen which her family of

architects (mother and father) owned. Such decoration was

unusual given her parents’ modernist Scandinavian tastes

dominated by white. Within the spatiality of the gallery the

wallpaper evokes a place and serves to seal a place of memory,

to project a sense of continuity and seamlessness through the

establishment of an environment – and yet for all that, the

experience is not personal but structural (what Adamson is

getting at when he comments that “there is something kind of

impersonal about the objects [of this exhibition].” What kind

of experience, then, is in question and for which the wallpaper

serves as proxy, an opening?

“The poet and paper-maker,” was how Henry James

referred to William Morris in a letter of 1881. “Wallpaper

is a peculiar thing,” begins Shelley Selim’s essay in this

volume on Hermann. The Blackthorn wallpaper designed

by Morris 5 – the design is still available in fabric and

wallpaper – may well have autobiographical associations

for Marie Hermann, but in the context of the gallery it

functions as the attempt to project a seamlessness of

environment in which a certain kind of dramaturgy

can be played out with the bodies of audience present,

immersed in it – the drama of what the great Belgian

Symboliste Maurice Maeterlinck called the treasure of

the humble, and Morris the lesser arts of life.

From Henry James to Adolph Loos who wrote: “anyone

who goes to [Beethoven’s] Ninth and then sits down

to design a wallpaper pattern is either a fraud or a

degenerate.” 6 (One is tempted to ask if it would be okay,

then, to design the wallpaper before one goes to listen to

Beethoven’s Ninth.) Yes, wallpaper is a peculiar thing.

And yes, there is poetry in wallpaper, which is to say,

there is poetry derivable from ordinariness: “In 1938, the

20th century’s greatest painter [Picasso] made a work of

art of wallpaper [Femmes à leur toilette, 1938 7 ],” 8 and

there is poetry already latent in ordinariness, whence

Maeterlinck’s great essay on the poetry of stillness and


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

/Marie T. Hermann

Marie T. Hermann, To the legion of the lost, 2007. Photo by Michael Harvey

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

ordinariness, “Le tragique quotidien,” and its quest for

an ethic of sentiment where “It is no longer a question

of [the pursuit of] an exceptional and intense [violent]

moment of existence, but of existence itself,” 9 that is,

existence without the masking of great passion which is

but the projection of the ego. This is what is at issue, what

is in question with the ethic and aesthetic of withdrawal

as found in an aesthetic of the ordinary and for which

what Morris called in nineteenth-century fashion the

lesser arts - which, since the avant-garde assault on the

very epistemological foundations of the fine arts and its

history, namely, the history of art, are no longer thought

of as lesser in significance - have become the vehicles

in contemporary practice. The ordinary is not banal.

The objects of And dusk turned dawn, Blackthorn or To

the legion of the lost are not banal objects – we shall not

chance upon them in the street or in the home - for they

are not familiar to viewers unfamiliar with the body of

this work of art (or even comparable practices), yet any

sense that such objects might convey of unusualness is

quickly dissolved by the mode of repetition of the same:

the same or near indiscernible shade of white repeated

in an indefinite number of all but the same vessel-form

and in a finish of mid-gloss as to be industrial, that is,

devoid of distinction. Rhythm comes from the placement

and arrangements of the forms, indeed, there is more

rhythm in the arrangement of the rims of the vessels than

the bodies themselves – another way in which this work

differs from that of de Waal where rhythm is the very

body of the work inviting the body, the hand of the viewer

to feel. Still, the lineaments of repetition make for the

ordinary and after a certain point neither more nor fewer

of the same will make for the interesting: our habits, our

routines, our rituals, they are what they are, the social

forms of repetition, and these forms, vessels, objects

in their repetition present the conditions of becomingordinary

and the conditions of the transformation within

the ordinary that is the experience latent in these objects,

that is, indeed, liminal to their configuration.

Modes of liminality. Perhaps now we can approach

3. again the question, What kind of experience, then, is

in question and for which the wallpaper serves as proxy, an

opening? (This question points also to the subject of the work.)

By liminality in its simplest sense we understand threshold, in

particular, experiences marked by thresholds: the approach,

the crossing of thresholds, and as such experiences where the

difference between this and that, here and there could be as

infinitely small (inframince) or as large and for which there

need be no clear mark of transition, for only afterwards (aprèscoup)

might one be aware that something has happened,

whether accidentally or no. The approach of sleep, dreaming,

being conscious yet not self-aware, hypnogogia are all threshold

states (in this instance what psychiatrists have long called

états secondaires / secondary states); but so too is the crossing

into puberty a liminal transition, as are heroic adventures,

etc. Certain places – deserts, forests, the Zone in Tarkovsky’s

Stalker (1979) – are understood to be in states of liminal

suspension. More simply, the approach of night (dusk) or the

emergence of morning from the night (dawn) are modes of

temporal liminality and are conditions where the conventional

logic of identity breaks down – this is why this temporality was

so beloved by Romantics, Symbolistes, and Surrealists and in

their painting and poetry is often marked by mauve / violet

/ purple (just think of the role of violet in T.S. Eliot’s Waste

Land (the violet light, the violet air) especially when spoken by


Volume Two / Spring / Fall 2016

the liminal being par excellence Tiresias, “At the violet hour

[…] / […] when the human engine waits, like a taxi throbbing,

waiting,/ I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two

lives”). Liminality is pre-eminently the experience of a state

of suspension variously theorized as the interval, the between

(entre), or in-betweenness. The exhibition And dusk turned

dawn, Blackthorn evokes and invites a temporal mode of

liminality and in this volume of Detroit Research Anthony

Marcellini has much to say about this mode of experience in

Hermann’s work. There is another mode of liminality that is as

important and helps one to comprehend the role of intimacy as

distance – one of the subjects of this work – as well as the role

of the ordinary where such intimacy can be found. Hermann

in her interview – and also in the teaching studio – speaks

of the “very interesting moments in our ordinary lives,” and

it should be clear that her forms and her language for taking

about her forms – puddles, sticks, blobs, tactility – point to

the small scale and the intimate marked by a phenomenology

of approach in terms of proximity, point, and tension, that is

to say, it is the approach and not the thing reached, the kind

of space (the problem of place) and not the thing in space

which is but there to give shape to space, to allow space to be

embodied as provisional place, an entre (between). She speaks

of “That contrast [my emphasis] between the very still and the

unchangeable to this hovering movement, that is neither here

nor there [my emphases]. It is just there for a little while”; and

to Adamson’s question, “What about the crystalline forms that

look almost like natural geological specimens?” she responds

that “They are kind of a development of those block forms.

Which is a way of looking at tactility and the moment when

we touch something, the moment where our hands meet an

object. […] So these things were a way of thinking of that space

[place] where you touch something.” (My emphases.) The role

of titles is part of this phenomenology of approach to space

and proximity insofar as the title in these works always opens

up and itself takes place (the title is an event) in-between

work and resonance in a kind of respect for and ceremony of

intimacy with the work: as if to say, the title is there, but leaves

the work alone. Do you think, for example, that the title The

Evil Genius of a King explains the painting by de Chirico with

that title, or even indicates the subject of the painting? No,

yet the title belongs to the painting; likewise To the legion of

the lost or And dusk turned dawn, Blackthorn belong to their

works at a distance, hence resonance, the music of the work

removed from the physical into an interior and visual music.

Not for Hermann the large-scale statements and marshalling

of affect of her mentor de Waal as evidenced in his recent

Gagosian show Atemwende (2013) where the ceramic work

is a meditation on Paul Celan and how to approach the body

“after Auschwitz,” or in his recent book The White Road (2015)

where white in de Waal is death, the death of people on the Silk

Road or through exploitation of labor, but also the transfigured

death expressed in Eliot’s, The Waste Land

Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you

Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

I do not know whether a man or a woman

- But who is that on the other side of you? 10

There is a playfulness to Hermann’s titles no longer to be

found in de Waal, though both share a pursuit of the question

as to what kind of affective weight can be carried by ceramic

pots and vessels: in Atemwende, de Waal ups the challenge, in

/Marie T. Hermann

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DetroitResearch /On Dance

effect, by compelling the viewer not to forget that ceramics is

the art of fire – whence the appearance of black tones in the

more recent work, especially that work Atemwende, devoted to

reflection on the fate of Paul Celan where the representability

or not of the burnt Thing is positioned as the subject of the

work. 11

Hermann’s industrial / serial production prefers

distance as condition for intimacy and playfulness, and a

certain lightness of affective touch which requires the distance

of the viewer and the transformation of the work into a visual

music of abstraction and thought. It is not even to be touched. 12

The ordinary. “These are very interesting moments in

4. our ordinary lives, these contrasting things are played

up against each other without making a fuss. It just happens,

objects accidentally, there and here are my keys and my things.

That normalcy, systems of insignificance, that I think are

very beautiful.” The ordinary is the place of appearance (this

is how Cage thinks of sound: no sound is more interesting

than another, “music” is not organized or in some way more

interesting than sound; he finds this laughable) and what

Hermann addresses here is not insignificance but rather

liminal, infra-mince forces, a hidden, or better withdrawn

orchestration bespeaking an agency to objects in relations and

networks. Accident: in its origin a philosophical (Aristotelian)

concept, here meaning not without necessity but rather, of

their own accord, thing become event, as things appear (as

relations, as forms) and so become perceptible, as in relation

with human desire, for without my “insignificant” keys (what

kind? house? car? studio? bank vault?) I cannot get to, do,

leave, cross space, pick up my child, and so I scream: Where

are those damned keys?! and the exasperated frustration

comes out diffused as if being addressed to everything and

no-one, and yet when found we then proclaim in relief, “There

you are!” The liminality of objects that accidentally happen

speaks to this mode of appearing, of finding significance where

one might not have sought it, of visibility shaped by sudden

configuration. To Adamson’s question, “Why don’t you want

the marks of your hands on the object?” Hermann replies:

“Because I’m just interested in the shape and what it does