Friday, November 21, 2008

Detroit Detours

As we woke up to a beautiful sunny winter day, we set out for a planned-unplanned drive through the city. We aimed for the T-Ford factory (a now dilapidated factory that ran the world's first conveyor belt, and therefore can be seen as the birthplace of modern industrial production), Grosse Point (a town bordering Detroit to the northeast; in a matter of meters, the battered-up last houses of Detroit give way to fabulously rich mansion) and Mexican Town (in the southeast), but detoured into many other neighborhoods.

(Mexican-Americans protesting against unjust immigration raids in the Mexican Town)

After the relative denseness and beauty of Hamtramck, we got a taste of the desolate and ruinated. Making our way through the neighborhoods just south of eight mile was a pretty disturbing affair. Lots of empty lots, lots of burned down, boarded up or ruined houses. Closed stores, ruined factories. Although we set out to go beyond the spectacle of the ruination and the places of catastrophe, it was pretty compelling nonetheless, and a just reminder of the dire state the city is in.

(Abandoned house in empty grid, downtown sky rise in the back)

Turning back onto Woodward Avenue, Detroit's spinal route, we stopped at an odd collection of grand buildings. Sitting in the middle of grassy nothingness, they turned out to be the Police Headquarters, the Fire Department and the Court House of Highland Park, one of the most heavily affected parts of town. The mail on the doorstep of the wide-open entrance to the Court House suggested the place had been vacated in 2004. The inside was a mess. Apart from police paraphernalia, we stumbled into a bonanza of files. The basement was literally paved with thousands and thousands of financial records and slips. Other floor were strain with records of cars took into custody, complete with Polaroid’s of the most outrages vehicles. And boxes and boxes with mug shot files. The whole criminal record of the area lay bare: a deep look into one of the most important infrastructures of the state.

(Court House, Highland Park)

(Court House, Highland Park)

Then we went to Corine Smith’s place, a wildly beautiful townhouse in Mexican Town, where she showed us some recent photography. As a photographer in Detroit she decided not to focus on the ruin in the city, but on opportunity and beauty. Resulting in a very powerful series on urban ecology. Wide panoramas or intimate enclosures of green, with only scant and very subtle references to the urban environment. Apart from being highly esthetical, they told stories of loss, radical change and renewal; from the little garden inside the brick walls of a church to the wild grass planted to cleans the polluted soil.

(Corine's hall way)

Finally we discussed some of the pillars of the project. Since we agreed on the curatorial line, there are still a number questions that need to be answered. What sites will we acquire in the area? How do we engage the neighborhood? What initiatives, ambitions and agenda’s do we hook up with? What projects do we solicit from our students? How do we program the two weeks in April?

More tomorrow..

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