In exactly two weeks we are scheduled to be on an airplane headed to The Netherlands. Back home. Like always, that is the exact moment when questions are finding some answers and our minds are calming down and start to process experiences. For quite some time, it was hard to find mental space to actually create something that was not mostly 'therapeutic'. (Spend some time in your own head) Maybe because all seems so similar to the things you know, yet are so different when you observe them up close. Now that we are accustomed with a lot of the new things and are staying in one place, there is space to process.
The weeks we have left, we are trying to visit as many openings and studios as possible. Because the question remains: what is the difference between artists from Detroit and The Netherlands? What could it be that makes Detroit a special place for art? We are far from done asking questions, however for now it seems that it can be attributed to a combination of elements.
One of those elements is the presence of an overwhelming amount of waste. That the U.S. is famous for its consumer culture and massive amounts of trash is not a cliché. That is a horrible fact. The giant waste mountains along the Mississippi were not something I would like to live next to, and our porch squirrel is wearing a tight belt of torn plastic bag.
There is also a positive side to it: The recycling of waste plays an important role in the production of art. Besides the normal bulk of consumer waste products (bottles, cans, plastic bags, etcetera), there are also lots of objects dumped and left behind on the streets. The accessibility of all these free and interesting shapes is visible in the art made in Detroit. Recycling is not only for the rough sculptor: a lot of high quality materials can be picked up of the streets. Our own chicken coop project is made almost entirely out of recycled products. An old heater from the neighbors basement, found wood, a broken TV satellite that we bought from the owner of the Polish bar, parts of a fence, electrical wire, three ironing boards and lots of old bicycle tires.
Yesterday we visited the studio of an art and design collective called ThingThing. They rent an impressive old factory hall in which they are experimenting with recycled plastic. After digging around in piles of waste plastic searching for the right type and color, after washing and shredding, it is given a new life as sculpture or design object. Most of the times you think of recycling plastic, is sound like someone is into readymades. The interesting thing of the methods of ThingThing is that they reduce the plastic to a raw material and then, using experimental, self made machines, process this raw material into strange objects. Hard to describe, so here are the things they make: www.thingthing.com
Another artist we visited, a printmaker, collected objects that had lost their meaning and use. Such as telephone poles, to present her prints around, with and on. In the Netherlands, these kind of objects are removed as soon as they have lost their function. In Detroit, they are left to rust or be picked up by an artist or scrapper.
The ultimate example of recycling that we loved and would definitely want to visit again is the City Museum of St. Louis. Starting out exhibiting decorative pieces of architecture from demolished buildings with a playground area, it grew and grew into a crazy cave system where you can crawl through. The materialization of hyperactive overexcitement. Guaranteed to turn any adult into a six year old. It is a very elaborate collection of recycled objects (planes, school busses, machinery, crates, bridges, trees, pools...) all welded together to create a maze going underground and through the air. It seemed that this 'museum' was not bound to any rules, any inspections regarding the safety of these installations. (Just as the city itself seemed to be bound to no rules concerning their radioactive waste mountains next to residential areas) While climbing over a rusty object suspended 15 meters in the air on one chain, it even got us slightly worried, imagine that there are hundreds of people crawling through these tunnels every day! In the Netherlands, the use of even slightly rusty recycled stuff for a public playground would never be allowed. The artists that worked on it had total freedom in a city that doesn't control or check these kinds of enterprises. It seems cool and dangerous at the same time.
Another example of recycling is found in downtown Detroit. The Michigan Theatre, formerly used as, not surprisingly, a theatre, has been recycled into a parking garage. Most of the inside was ripped out en replaced by a concrete structure. But the decorative ceilings, upper balconies and ticket booth remained. A reminder of the history of the building and a very epic environment to perform an act of daily life in. 'High-art parking'