A preliminary last note
Q: So, now that you are leaving tomorrow, was the residency worth your time?
A: My time, yes. Maybe you remember I arrived with two notions in my mind to dive in deeper here. One being the idea of ‘hope’, as expressed by many political thinkers around the globe as a possible answer to the political hegemony of the neoliberal right. That idea of hope is than opposing the vast presence of Fukuyama’s idea of the End of Ideology. With most governments in the West paying tribute to the notion no other arrangement for society is possible anymore than the economic neo liberal one we live in, hope in itself is becoming an oppositional idea. One scholar who wrote nicely about these matters is Stephen Duncombe, check here.
Q: Nice, but what about the second notion?
A: Let me finish on the first one, please, as I wasn’t finished formulating. I think my time here showed me many people in this time are trying to find a way for themselves to be living, to make a living without falling in the traps of that neoliberal economic trend. It is not that a new formula for living together came out yet, but people are trying rather than merely consuming. As I wrote somewhere: the American Dream turned into the American Nightmare here in Detroit and people don’t buy into that shitty story anymore. That could be a first step to working out a new Dream, one in which solidarity, localities and an end to consumerism are main features. Surely, if you look at Detroit and the changes it undergoes nothing is yet stable for future – some here even think Detroit did not yet hit rock bottom - but the sparks one sees are promising.
Q: Big words my friends…
A: Perhaps, but being the political thinker I am, these are little sparks of hope I will take home and keep on lingering about. Now to get your second notion. That one was inspired by a great book by a Canadian journalist, Doug Saunders, who wrote a book by the name of ‘Arrival City’, in which he investigates the way cities are changed by newcomers coming into town. As you probbly know most migrants move into neighbourhoods where they know people already. Saunders arguments that these migrant communities are the motor for cities, are the bastions for change in the towns they arrive. At a meeting in February last year he even convinced the audience, including me, the Arab Spring started by those newcomers in Cairo. They have been living in some parts of ton and have been making their way up in economical and political spheres. Untill they found out there is this glass ceiling. In order to break that glass the complete system of privileges and ingrown corruption had to be changed. Hence their wish for a complete overthrow of the Mubarak regime.
Q: Again you are using some big words here..
A: Yes, I agree, but the story also reveals to me, that personal stories, when combined, do make for big narratives. And having spend just two months in this town all I actually did do was collecting personal stories, some from today, some from the past, some for the future. So in order to find a common denominator for my experiences here I came up with two notions that were in the back of my mind already.
Q: Does that mean you were really working with a plan here?
A: To say that would be a lie. I struggled with the idea of being in town where so much is happening at the same time and actually being unable to contribute to one of those changes, that for a moment I wondered about the idea of residencies in general. But whilst looking back now there are plenty of new ideas that came into my mind. One of the most predominant being the idea of representation of towns. The ruin porn Detroit is associated with is a great example. The mediatised image of Detroit is – for many outsiders – just that: decay. But one can find completely other images here. So I took to some theories on photograpy, finding Susan Sontag’s ‘On photography’ a great treat again. Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ was a great introduction to the way the USA is represented in pictures, whereas jacob Holdt’s work also gave some socio-political input. I guess I will be using some of the pictures I took in Detroit – not completely ruin porn free, see here as nails to hang some stories on.
Q: So photograpy came in, any other things you would like to share here?
A: Well, having been a curator for many public debates on urban planning and having been sent out by Expodium to dive deeper into the urban dillema’s of Detroit I tried to dig up some stories on urban planning in the USA and most notably on that part of the American phenomenon people call suburbanization. But a lot of reading on that matter is awaiting me. I do know however that the notion of the capsular society will play a big role in whatever I come up with. Raging from gated communities via the American lovestory with their cars to the way people plug their headphones in when walking their dog. It seemed to me public sphere in the USA is smaller than I expected and that the car and the life style connnected with cars has a lot to do wit hit.
Q: Well, again those are big ideas, didn’t you do think or do some ‘normal’ stuff?
A: Hell I did. For the first time in my life I saw a roller derby, I dove into the classic soul and rock sounds of Detroit, and I to be honest I also semi-wasted some of my time on seeing some American movies I had never seen before. On topics I had never considered to be my topics for this residency, but here they seemed relevant. So I saw some movies on the Civil War, on slavetrade and the slavery system. And surely did I do some drinking and eating with new found friends here.
Q: Ah, that was a word I was waiting for – friends.
A: I know, you are as sentinemtal a bastard as I am. So I will affirm you, yes, friends. As Detroit gets under your skin, so do people, no? And I met some real nice people here, friends that were interested in me being me, rather in me the resident. I hope they will remain people I am in contact with, for friend stuff and for commenting on the stories I put out afterwards on this residency here.
Q: You don’t ask the questions, I do. So what are your plans for the follow up of this residency?
A: Well, first of all my girlfriend, who came over to visit me here, and me will spend some days in New York. Than we cross the big pond where it is still holiday season. That offers some time for additional reflections on my time here. Than – as I mentioned – I hope to do something with pictures, something with the found ‘scientific’ ideas on what happened here, and combining all that with personal impressions. In the meantime some institutions here and back home are already thinking of some follow up to things I helped put into motion, as a movie series followed with open discussions.
Maybe even the idea of reframing public space as I tried to do with putting some Loesje posters could be one of the things in future. And there’s plenty more, but you’ll read about it on this blog in due time.
Q: Ah, becasue it is continueing?
A: Oh, yes. See you here again, but for now: Happy Holidays!