At last, things are coming together! Following from my last post, I now have permission to hold a performance at John K. King's store. This will form the first part of a two-part piece, the second of which will (probably) take place in Cass Park, also on the West Side of Detroit. Watch this space for more details...
Unfortunately, it will only be possible for a small number of people to be present during the performance, due to lack of space. Because of this, and because I want to make something which lasts somewhat longer than the remaining period of our time in Detroit, I also intend making a video work - of which the performance will form a small part.
This work is provisionally entitled Michigan left, after the the strange traffic arrangement of that name which is (almost) unique to this state. The basis of it is: to go left, you gotta keep going, turn left twice, go back the way you came, and then finally right. For me, this over-complicated and mixed up way of doing something simple spoke right to the heart. And of course, like most over-complicated and mixed up things, there's a good reason for it in the end (as usual, Wikipedia will tell you more). And it agrees to a great extent with how I have felt about my (almost) eight weeks in Detroit.
So I've been busy with two things - preparing the performance, and filming as many shots as I can for the film - since it will not be so easy to fill in any missing ones when I return to the Netherlands.
And to satisfy my desire to get busy with tools and bits of metal, I've been building the thing below - it's a sort of bricolage camera dolly (thanks for the photo Ben!).
I can't tell you how good it feels to be doing something practical, after all the weeks of meeting, thinking, drinking, and absorbing. In the end, artists are supposed to make things. And if you don't make things, you don't understand shit about what life is all about. Well, that's how I see it, at least.
But all this doesn't mean that I've stopped thinking about what it means to be here. Continuing from what I have written earlier about what exactly the point is of our being here, I would like to turn to the issues faced once you have accepted that you are here for a good reason.
There are practical difficulties, analytical difficulties, as well as moral difficulties. The first of these needs no explanation - anyone who has spent any time in a foreign country will know what I mean.
The second, the problems of analysis and observation, stem from the fact of your own otherness and newness, and that also of the place in which you find yourself. In the first instance, there is the difficulty of distinguishing that which is typical from that which is special - for if you are seeing everything for the first time, how are you supposed to know what happens every day and what is unusual? Whilst cycling in Poland a few years ago, I wrote about this too. Time will eventually erase this difficulty, which is in part the advantage of us spending an entire summer here. But of course, who is to say that this season is typical, or this year? All the time, I find myself making guesses and piecing together clues about what is really happening, what is really characteristic, and what are in fact ephemeral aberrations.
There are other problems, too. As I stand in line at the gas station, or waiting for the lights to change, I am torn between finding everything around me endlessly fascinating, or else so banal that I feel nothing but despair. What am I to think of the packet of Twinkies before me, or the traffic light swinging in the breeze? Are these things iconic, immortal, telling, poetic in the extreme, shining examples of what it is to be human, American, alive, and finite? Or are they simply objects, commodities, as meaningless as words in a dead language? I don't know, I really don't, and this constant switching between one and the other, right before my eyes, makes it harder than it already was to form any sort of concrete opinion about what I see.
And to the moral difficulties - these at least are easier to explain. How long must you reside somewhere before you have the right to criticise it? I have dealt with this question before in the Netherlands - where, incidentally, I feel totally within my rights to say anything I feel like (and where, incidentally, I must pay the same taxes as everyone else, behave as a responsible citizen, and respect the law, but may not vote).
But here, it still seems too new, too recent a development in my life. There's stuff here I just don't get, where I want to scream “why can't you just be like us?”, however much I know that I cannot and I should not do so. Other things I can be much more positive about. And of course, two months since leaving home, I am doubtless forgetting a bunch of annoying Dutch/Scottish/European habits too. I've also mentioned this point before, shortly before returning from China. And oh, that was a hard one.