My landlord, kind Bridget, stepped in today asking me ‘whether all is allright?’ for me being so silent in the appartment above hers. On my confirming answer ‘yes, quietly sitting here, trying to read all there is to be read’ she said ‘OK, just checking’. But there is a little more to it, of course. The way the residency here is shaping out for me, I do wonder what is the result from this residency for Detroit. I suppose the answer is simple: Not a lot for Detroit.
As you are aware of the enormous pile of publications on this town and the various methods to observing, participating, changing this town I need not extent on that. But being me, not a producing artist, rather a thinker and connector, I thrive in circumstances where I am able to make a differerence. Here in Detroit, I don’t have the feeling a residency of this kind, two months without being introduced properly at beforehand, enables me to make that difference. Confronted with the wide array of people active already here nobody needs yet another artist in residence reflecting on Detroit and the turning of the American dream into the American nightmare. But still I am here and doing just that.
So yes I did dive in the enormous amount of stories here. From bloggers writing about Detroit’s history, to books about the new 21st century Detroit, to the mountain of slightly neglected African American contributions in shaping this town and country, to books about city planning, to the great reservoir of music connected to Detroit, to the experiences of other residential artists. And let me assure you, there is a lot of great findings there.
But still, I wonder on the added value of artist in residency programs in this town. For a number of reasons: 1. So much happens here already, what could an outsider possibly add? 2. Living in a town, Utrecht, which is almost an antidote to Detroit, my pack of artistic experiences doesn’t fit the short timed situation I am in right now. 3. Exploiting Detroit is a real danger awaiting all residents just ‘round the corner – and if there is one thing I don’t want to do in life, it is exploiting other people’s dire circumstances. 4. As long as no Detroiters comment on Utrecht, why would Utrechters comment on Detroit? 5. Lacking the artists’ need to express myself being convinced the world needs my view, I’d rather pull back in the reflective mood I apparently am in.
Let me tell you a anecdote. In Utrecht we have a neighbourhood called Overvecht. It is a neighbourhood known for not being the best neighbourhood in town. It turned out to be a playground for artists. Some doing their own work, some pulling out the so called community art card. And without willing to play into the hands of those critizing the funded art world, who were always lacking at the art openings in that neighbourhood: exactly, the regular habitants of the neighbourhood. A municipal survey conducted in 2008 found out the incredible number of 217 art project were in process in that single neighbourhood. But did it make any difference for the actual residents? Wouldn’t they benefit more from some investments in the livelihood of their flats and streets?
So what is my actual contribution to Detroit? I can tell some stories on life in the Netherlands, on my experiences in life in general, those at the Balkans in particular, but I suppose that is it. I chose the vehicle of movies to do so – showing some European movies at a local art centre with an introduction by me. An introduction that doesn’t necessarily touch on Detroit, but actually might. The evenings are nice, the food and thoughts provided for by me well appreciated, the crowds not enormous. And, logically, the crowds are those of the insiders already. For the bigger part people I have met during this artist in residency already. Flyering at universities, in some bars and shops, don’t attract the people that are not already in these circles already.
So to public space than. In the Netherlands we know the phenomenon of Loesje. I thought one of my small contributions to this town should be putting out some of that posters here. Just making people smile on their way in town. Not an enormous contribution in the light of eternity, no. But a small contribution indeed.
At the same time I think a lot on the presentation back home. I produced enough material, stories, thoughts, images, I collected a lot of books, music, images I could fill the Expodium art space on all walls with three layers. Now that will be nice for me. That will be nice for Expodium. That will be nice for the visiting crowd. But will the people of Detroit benefit? Perhaps only if the presentation brings some unexpected angles to it. So for the moment I am more than occupied in musing on those angles.