Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Selling Flint's water? Art installation raises funds and awareness for Flint, Detroit water victims

My bottle of Flint water
(originally published 10/1017 in Model D)

Art, which plays so many different roles in life, has long been used and understood as a means of social critique. We have come to expect that the work of a great many artists will illuminate inequity, draw attention to the malfeasance of corporations and elected officials, and start provocative conversations about the many social struggles and structural biases that continue to plague society.

But what if art could do more? What if it could make a difference, in ways more traditionally associated with political and community action? What if it could be used to improve lives and ameliorate social problems not abstractly, but concretely?

These are big questions for contemporary art, which is witnessing the ascent of what is variously termed "social practice" or "public intervention" art—that is, art that seeks to intentionally intervene in the wider world for the material betterment of individuals and communities.

One such intervention is the "Flint Water Project," a multifaceted installation/performance piece by the Chicago-based artist William Pope.Lcurrently on view at What Pipeline, an artist-run gallery in southwest Detroit. For six weeks, the 1,000 square foot gallery is serving as a makeshift production facility, showroom, and storefront. The product being prepared and sold is tap water from Flint, Michigan.

Proceeds from all sales will be donated to the United Way of Genessee County, which has pledged to use the money to mitigate the effects of the ongoing Flint water crisis, and to Hydrate Detroit, which fights water shutoffs in Detroit. Visitors can walk out the door with an unsigned 16-ounce bottle for $20, a bottle signed by Pope.L for $250, or a case for a sum that's more in line with traditional art world prices. The goal is to raise $100,000.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Essay'd: Gary Eleinko

Autumn, 1995, oil, canvas, wood, 33 in x 38 in
(originally published 9/13/17 in Essay'd)

What is an artist’s practice but a universe unto itself? A total environment, with the artist at the center, in which a vast but finite set of ingredients—think experiences, materials, impulses, and predilections—cohere, by means both mysterious and prosaic, into related forms that evolve over time. It’s an apt metaphor for the work of Gary Eleinko, a lifelong Detroiter who came of age as a painter during the bricolage days of the Cass Corridor movement (where any cast off thing could become art) and who remarks with frank wonder that, “Everything in the world is made up of 98 natural elements. There’s nothing else. 98 ingredients make up everything we know.”

Scientific knowledge is one of the many distinct elements that come together to form Eleinko’s ever-evolving universe. Others include a fascination with the natural world (particularly plant life and natural disasters), a tendency toward certain shapes (bars, lines, Xes and triangles proliferate), and a consummate craftsman’s concern with construction and form. In an age of increasing interdisciplinary promiscuity, Eleinko is a monogamous maker. He labors daily in the full-to-brimming Corktown studio he has occupied since 1988 over canvas, paper, wood, and found objects—arranging, considering, painting, and building. As a painter, he is part of an influential movement of artists who reconceived the painting in sculptural terms, as a constructed object—who remembered, for instance, that canvas is a malleable material, confined to the familiar shapes of square and rectangle only by stretcher bars and convention.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Beautiful people at the Dally

Yesterday was the 40th annual Dally in the Alley! The one-of-a-kind independent street festival takes place in and around the alleys in a tiny section of the Cass Corridor neighborhood of Midtown (right near where I work at the Green Garage). I started going to the Dally when I was at Wayne State in the early 2000s, and I look forward to it every year.

Maybe I idealize it all out of proportion, but Detroit feels different during Dally. For a hot second we're tight, not spread out. Not divided but loving and inclusive. Queer and open and fly as hell, not "straight-acting" and blue collar-dowdy. It's like the neighborhood puts on a mask, but it's a mask that shows the truth, because it's all real; we're all here. We're just distributed, typically -- kept apart by highways and sprawl and racism and fearful urban planning, I guess. For one full day in September, though, you can shake off the weight of the cars and the stadiums and the empty lots and live a different Detroit dream: small, freaky, human, and pretty damn splendiferous. (The fact that it's managed to go on without corporate sponsorship for 40 years is some kind of miracle manifested by an incredible volunteer corps.)

Back in 2009 and 2010, I brought my camera to Dally and had a lot of fun shooting what I saw. I decided to do the same this year and I'm really glad I did. There was a special energy about the 40th Dally. The vibes seemed extra loving and the freak flags seemed to be flying extra high. Maybe we need it more now, in these godawful Trumpy times. Resist, resist.

My favorite shots are below. I hope the love comes through.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Essay'd 2!

Last Thursday, Wayne State Press and Essay'd threw a party at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit to commemorate the publication of our new book, Essay'd 2: 30 Detroit Artists!

Promo poster by artist Scott Northrup (Essay'd #47, authored by yours truly)

Essay'd 2 follows last year's Essay'd in presenting short, illustrated essays about contemporary Detroit artists. It's an outgrowth of our ongoing web project that does the same, only it looks much nicer and is actually printed on paper!

It was such a beautiful night, with family and friends showing up in force to celebrate, peruse & purchase the book, eat some locally grown & prepared food, and generally bask in the good Detroit art vibes. This was our second book launch at MOCAD, and it's starting to feel like a momentous occasion, a unique opportunity to bring people together around Detroit art.

Artist Tylonn J. Sawyer (Essay'd #41) and me. Photo by Tylonn J. Sawyer

I'm proud of Essay'd's success, to date, in uplifting Detroit's diverse art community in an informed way. (In addition to the career-survey essays we write & publish, we also host artist talks and gallery exhibitions, all of which is to connect metro-Detroiters more deeply to the remarkable art that's being made all around them.) In the lead-up to the launch, I had the opportunity to talk a bit about the book and about some Detroit artists with Ryan Patrick Hooper on WDET, Detroit's public radio station. If you'd like to listen to the 7 minute spot, you can find it here

And if you're looking to pick up a copy of the book, you can find copies at the bookstores of the DIA and MOCAD, or order online at WSU Press's site or Amazon.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Essay'd: Maya Stovall

Maya Stovall, Havnepladsen Ballet, nr. 7, Untitled 1, 2017. Performance, Aarhus, DK. 4 months. Image courtesy the artist.

(originally published 7/12/17 in Essay'd)

Art, ever sociable, is always in conversation with something else. One of artist Maya Stovall’s primary interlocutors is the City—that ever-shifting concatenation of street, sidewalk, and neighborhood; of people, power, and capital. (This conversation started early; Stovall recalls riding her bike to the Detroit Institute of Arts as a child and developing an “obsession” with the street life she encountered along the way.) For the last four years, she has pursued a related obsession, enacting and documenting an ongoing series of sidewalk performances and ethnographic interviews made near the liquor stores that dot her eastside neighborhood, McDougall-Hunt. Stovall, who trained in classical ballet, holds a Master’s degree in Economics, and is currently pursuing a PhD in both Performance Studies and Cultural Anthropology. She approaches the sprawling yet tightly focused Liquor Store Theatre project as a means to ask what she calls “monumental questions” about human existence via “close, rigorous, devoted, durational looking.”

Monday, June 12, 2017

"Infinite Work" in Detroit Research

I'm long overdue in sharing my contribution to Vol 2 of Detroit Research, the ambitious, multi-vocal publication centered on art making in Detroit today (with a focus on social practice/post-studio trends). Michael Stone Richards, who teaches at the College for Creative Studies and leads Detroit Research, invited me to contribute what he called a "dossier" on the dance artist and scholar Biba Bell, whose work I have written about fairly extensively and who served as guest editor of Vol 2, which had a dance focus. I ended up gathering together a selection of Bell's writings and interviews, as well as a handful of images of her performing, and wrote a short introduction to the collection. Excerpted below are that intro, an interview that Bell and I adapted from a longer conversation we published in Infinite Mile, and a brief description I wrote of her 2015 apartment dance.

To read the whole thing (and a truly remarkable collection of other writings on art and dance by a diverse cohort of artists, scholars, and writers), I'd encourage you to pick up a copy of the journal, which you can order online, and which, having been designed by Josh Smith of Who's That?, is a thing of beauty. Without further ado:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Maya Stovall at home with Quaint

I'm working on my next Essay'd essay, a profile of artist/anthropologist Maya Stovall, who performs dances in front of Detroit liquor stores before interviewing spectators about their experience of art and the city. Look for the essay in a couple of weeks, but for now, here's a shot of Stovall in the loft/studio she shares with her husband, sculptor and musician Todd "Quaint" Stovall. The sculptures are Quaint's, installed for a recent exhibition in their cavernous space -- a converted historic bank building on Gratiot in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood.