Back in the D

After three weeks of driving around, exploring some more of the States, we came 'home' to Detroit. Strangely, it feels like a relief. All the experiences and people we met whilst driving from north to south and back up had filled our heads to a point where we just couldn't take in any more information. Our journey went from Detroit to Chicago, then all the way down to New Orleans, crossing St. Louis, Memphis, Natchez, Baton Rouge. Heading north we visited Nashville, Cincinnati and Toledo. Because we didn't take the interstate, only small roads, we've seen numerous small cities and villages. Comparing all of these places to Detroit, is seems that this city differs quite a lot from other American cities. This trip certainly wasn't recreational, more like a submersion into American culture.

Driving into any town on our way, we were confronted with an overwhelming amount of multinationals that were selling cheap crap. The actual city would lie in the middle of this desert of consumerism. For us scavengers it offered Internet (thank you Mac Donalds) and free restrooms and camping (thank you Wallmart). Entering Detroit, there are no streets filled with these multinationals. Apparently it is not profitable for them to be here.

The more southern we drove, it got warmer and warmer and that just makes life so much easier when your house is a car. We met a lot of so called 'Snowbirds'. These people are seasonal travelers who move in winter and summer to escape extreme weather. And this is where the Detroit - New Orleans connection first appeared to us. (A lot of snowbirds moved between Detroit and New Orleans) Both cities are a good place to be as an artist. Houses not to expensive, a lot of other creative people around, a liberal way of living, in some way free to do as you please. Cities with a spirit, but also with a lot of poverty, racism, violence, crime, pollution, disasters both man made and natural. A big difference is that New Orleans attracts a lot of tourism, the French Quarter at night is one big party town. That kind of thing would be hard to find in Detroit. New Orleans attracts quite some artists, however their artwork is not always welcome. One mural is a good example of a site specific artwork missing the point. A german artist was commissioned by a landowner to paint a mural on one of his properties in a poor, mostly black neighborhood. The artist depicted a handsome white man playing the blues in front of a half collapsed house. In his painting he suggested a kind of romance in poverty and ruined houses. The reaction from the people living there was, as to be expected, not a positive one. Some even tried to destroy the mural, so the owner built a large fence around it. For us this case pointed out that it is a delicate operation to make a site specific artwork in city with complicated issues such as racism, gentrification, poverty etcetera. 

During our three weeks outside Detroit, we searched for good site specific artwork. Partially because of the relation to our own art practice and interests. Moreover, in our opinion it is the only way to make a meaningful artwork make sense: make relations to this specific place visible. Especially when you are an artist in residence in a city like Detroit or New Orleans. In Chicago we saw numerous examples of perfectly placed artwork. On the roof of the Institute of Art, there stood a large sculpture made by Ursula von Rydingsvard. It's surface wet with morning dew, with a backdrop of skyscrapers in the mist. I was deeply impressed and can only hope to achieve something like that one day myself. On the other hand you could also state that it is rather easy to make something look like it could have been there for thousands of years, in an art temple designed to make artwork look impressive. Or in the park next to the museum, where other famous artists had placed gigantic site specific sculptures. In these kinds of environments you don't have to deal with social issues, they don't even exist. Thinking of it, in most of the exhibition spaces in the Netherlands, social issues also don't exist. 

Here in Detroit, these social issues are hard to ignore. It makes me feel weird because normally i'm not the artist to address specific social issues in my work. I stopped that after graduating. It became hard to keep a positive outlook on life when submerging myself in all that was going wrong with the world. Maybe that explains why we found all these angry, disappointed people while traveling. Scared of ISIS, scared of the Mexicans, scared of terrorists, scared of their neighbors, scared of other people having a gun. We asked them if the answer to their fear really was having more guns. As of now we are confused about if people are scared and own guns for a reason, or that they are scared because of the news and a government that needs war for its economy. This country has the potential to turn us formal artists into political activists. 

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