Ruining the Ruin: A Photo Essay of Detroit

I was in Detroit for the Rust Belt to Artist Belt Conference. By Day 2 I was getting itchy, flaked a little substantially as far as paying attention to such topics as “How our universities are building the creative class”, and so decided to see the art of Detroit for myself—to see the city for myself—which means not from Time or Ruin Porno, or from the bleeding red on GIS evacuation maps.

I left from the College of Creative Studies near Baltimore Ave and Woodward and was going to Gratiot Ave Downtown. The rain of the past few days had stopped. Warmness had come. And my only preconceived notions dealt with what so many say: Detroit is dying. Detroit is leaving. Detroit is magical in a Duchamp’s Étant donnés kind of way.

And while the goal of my journey was to find the art of Detroit as opposed to hear how art’s going to “remake it”, what I found was a city percolating with life just fine: with people, and buses, and stretches of vacant-less blocks. And yes, I found signs of a death. But in this death I found something else. Something that a one-time giant has that current day giants are incapable of having given the fact these latter giants haven’t yet needed to be reborn.

The following are some photos of images I may have overlooked in another city. But in Detroit, it’s kind of contagious this sense you get: like a giant is waking in its ruins—and its got new eyes that see into the rubble, and into its history that’s still intact.

Pic 1 was taken at Forest and Woodward. Perhaps the best placed Church’s Chicken ever. Fits the setting like a glove.

Pic 2 is the MOCA of Detroit. The building reflects the art scene perfectly.

Pic 3 is a 1894 mansion turned restaurant called the Whitney. It is at 4421 Woodward and proves that everything isn’t Ruin Porno here. Will the titillation ever give way to a cleaner intrigue?  That is, less gawker, more respect.

Here is old school morphed into grit-chic–the Majestic Cafe and Garden Bowl. The latter is America’s oldest running bowling alley. They are at Alexandrine and Woodward.

Pic 5 is the Professional Plaza. Definitely a design that says Detroit is secretly a commie city.  Its at 3800 Woodward.

This is some street art.  There is a loss/re-found motif with the references to “satan falling”, and then being a dead battery “without you”.

An art exhibit by Tyree Guyton was happening on a Thursday afternoon. The exhibit is shoes placed in a little forgotten stretch on Edmund Place off Woodward that is anchored by the bodies of magnificent–if emptied–buildings. The shoes represent people going in different directions according to Guyton.  This no doubt is a reality here.

A bit more conventional–at least from Detroit’s unconventional standards–is this shot of Hotel Eddystone on Spoat. This sight is common as you get closer to Downtown,  mostly off Woodward itself. The surrounding aesthetic makes you think that you are in a strange spot at an odd time. Like one big collective body that just woke up from a dream.

Another sight inducing the notion that a past paradigm has split and the fissure is here: in Detroit.

Pic 13 shows a Downtown playground with a green roof.  Imagine your eyes as a child playing in the just-after-death of your city.

Pic 14 was taken at Farmer St. and John R St. When your looking at this building it exudes a sense of calm.  Often, abandonment exudes a sense fear. Again, Detroit is remaking the way we are used to looking at a city’s image. This no doubt reflects a yet-differentiated change in us Rust Belters.

This is a subtle work on a billboard-like spot that was just out my hotel window.  Un-sad and ready faces are being projected into our failed landscapes. I reckon there is some healing working in the country’s industrial heart.

–By Richey Piiparinen (Photo credits: Moca photo [top right] taken by Detroit Derek)

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