A tour, two pours and a sunrise.

A tour, two pours and a sunrise.

July 30th will go down as one of those Detroit summer days where too many enticing things were happening at once. On a day like this organized people are arranging and re-arranging datebooks or Google calenders, and the only sure thing we all know is that we’re starting the day with Eastern Market. The Maker Faire and 71 Pop were completely packed and filled with people showing just how they define “DIY” while really reiterating the power of doing it WITH people. I was however mostly preoccupied with all of the kinds of ‘performances’ going on in the city, which I use loosely, since I even consider an artist hanging out by his artwork all day to give tours as an endurance piece.

The Tour:

One thing that is perhaps the most exciting and under the radar are the amount of local artists willing to share intimate experiences of art making in Detroit. One particular vantage point was a diorama broken down by time period called “Plantation House” by Jother Woods. It’s in the show ‘Homeland’ curated by Rebecca Mazzei at George N’Namdi. Jother was there himself giving tours of the expansive model almost the entire day, never seeming to tire of guiding people over highways through gates and into a fictional mansion of a family of four and near the back towards the home he grew up in in Lousiana. His diagrams behind the reception desk feel like utopian plans similar to Buckminster Fuller, but the total community he has created around this one house consciously includes quite a bit of private security like something out of the book Fordlandia. With over 30 years of work on the piece he says his work is never finished and if given more room in one direction or another we’d see even more of his philosophy of the future or the past. I found many interesting unintentional ties amongst the art-ified recycled objects that made up this piece. There is a non-descript building in the thick of the woods towards the future side with the words ‘Powerhouse’ written on the roof. I can’t help but think of Mitch and Gina’s Powerhouse Project. This ain’t your dad’s train set in the basement, the work has references also to gated communities and corporations. He says it all started with a green semi-truck where he painted onto it a fake company, Joseph Pointer Sackall Corporation. His next plans include getting figures made to bring it alive.

Pouring it all in:
Ian Swanson has brought Re:View Contemporary to a new level. His piece BRB/Total Id Pigs followed a week after an exclusive party celebrating fifteen artists to be represented exclusively by Re:View Contemporary for the next two years. The completely packed space was split between objects waiting to be activated and an area where people were standing. The room glowed of red and blue from like some kind of Arte Povera Dan Flavin. Some of the standing area was taken up by a table (a broken glass mirror door slightly off the ground) littered with objects that he requested people bring with the vague comment that it won’t be returned. I’ll stop there because I actually like Mike Prezzato’s account of the evening better than I could sum it up:

“Last night at the Re:View gallery, i found myself witness to some form of neo-witchcraft that was probably taking place in whatever strange dimension Tron was filmed in. Attendants to Ian Swanson’s one night, site specific performance, BRB/Total Id Pigs, were asked to bring an item of some personal significance to offer up to him. In relieving themselves of said items to the neon altar, the mass of witnesses unknowingly had given the high priest a means to concoct modern day voodoo, hopefully leaving a sense of confusion for the uninitiated. I have a feeling some did a well enough job of confusing themselves the moment they laid their eyes on the hyper-ritualistic dance club-death cult atmosphere.

The lo-fi drum machine clicking along in the cavernous room set a cold tone, as Swanson stirred away at a cauldron of macabre liquids. His two black-clad helper witches pushed the ceremony forward by a reading of words and by magic circle, seemingly created with a mop. Numbers, symbols, rituals and a sense of summoning the unknown are as relevant in magical acts, as well to art. BRB, or Banishing Ritual Beta, was no exception.

A friend standing next to me suggested that perhaps performances like this should be more accessible to newcomers. Well, they shouldn’t. Like the true meaning of the word occult, it may be a great irony to suggest accessibility to such pagan art techniques. If for some reason you don’t know the meaning of that word, go find out yourself because if i told you, then that in itself would be the ultimate irony.”

He spent a good five minutes loudly cracking molds onto the concrete in order to pop out a recently cured and hot plastic object. Each crack made me much more aware of the mess he was making all over the gallery and my thoughts immediately went to Simone DeSousa, the gallery director.

At his gallery talk he was also aware of how successful the process had been. “They look like what they are. Receptacles of collective energy from individual objects. So now they’re like, supercharged.”
His performance was an introduction of sorts to all of the alternative scenes that make Detroit such an interesting place to make art. And all of the best parts of his practice are self taught. Pulling from the raw ingenuity of the noise scene, punk rock’s ability to break down the distance between artist and audience he fashions himself somewhere between a weirdo persona and a philosopher where no object can be without deep personal meaning.

Inaugural Iron Pour:

As much as many people describe Detroit’s art scene as the next Berlin, we might as well also be making comparisons to Burning Man. The camaraderie that was formed over the making of Matthew Barney’s performance KHU has continued and now it’s forming into Carbon Arts. Where the production of art is normally only seen by art students themselves, Carbon Arts has taken the idea of pouring as a performance. The best part may be its model of education where industrial practices become accessible, especially as their fundraiser created a really inexpensive way to get something you carved turned into hard iron for as little as ten dollars! The money raised from this will go into moving the original site of the large cupolas (furnaces) that were used in the KHU performance (the largest modular foundry in existence) to practically anywhere and make cast sculptures on site.

A photo of the small cupola being fired courtesy of Timo Ohler

A sunrise:

Within a 24 hour period there was another performance, except this time it took place at a barn/parking lot in Royal Oak at 5 am. The collaboration between Ed Brown, Kate Levant and Mike Smith was advertised only a day before and a surprisingly large group of people, many CCS students showed up. Two speakers were setup facing the barn and a recording was played of all the sounds exactly 24 hours before, a Friday morning at 5 am. The sound’s waves were inverted so that there was the possibility that it may even cancel out new sounds if they happened to perfectly match from the previous days recording. It became a constant game of ‘Is that you or was that in the recording?’ It was dark but we were all given a cardboard disc holding a mask made from a green light gel and something stretchy like underwear elastic. We were asked to put them on narrowing our sight to something similar to Whistler’s Nocturne paintings. The brightest light was streaming through Butter Project’s windows. Strangely it wasn’t that hard to see around us but we couldn’t actually see each others eyes. The world was completely green and our eyes still tried to make out any other color. Mostly people talked to each other, some sat down and peered into the sky as it lightened into a less dark green, people fanned themselves with the cardboard disc like any other church goer.

All of a sudden the piece became a collective moment. Some saw the plane first, most heard it in the recording, someone bursted out “You’ve got to be kidding me!” What had started as an experience of almost still frames accompanied by a disconnected soundtrack our eyes and ears locked onto a low flying small commercial plane in the sky, perfectly on cue, roaring from a distance. What makes all three of these artists so brilliant is the way that they make ordinary objects and interactions sincere and profound. The piece was titled Reverse Monk Sunrise Service and we found ourselves more keenly present. This piece however seemed to be their most romantic as we were held in an hour and forty-five minutes of pure anticipation, especially when the world revealed itself as a pink nostalgic photograph once we took the green filters off of our faces.

Other Performances:
There have been much more noteworthy performances around Detroit that should be mentioned too, God Club’s ‘Everything We Always Wanted’ that was on July 8th & 9th was a tribute/farce/fantasy that had titles to their lectures such as: “Archiving Lesbian Failure”, “2010 Still Banging!” and “How to be a Conceptual Artist”. What makes them all so interesting at this point is that many of the people doing these performances are either in a stage of beginning or leaving, there is a precedence that these acts will mark this time and place, and none of them feel remotely contrived.