WRITING

Writing is a tool I use to inhabit the place I live with intention and care. I write to step outside myself, make contact, see what I'm part of, and share what I learn. What I love most about writing is the opportunity it provides to talk with people. (Most of what I write is, in one way or another, a record of a conversation). I started writing about art, architecture, and urban life in Detroit in 2011. Below are a handful of pieces from the last decade or so that I think best illustrate my work. You can find more in my blog and in the web archives of Essay'd, Model D, Infinite Mile, Bad At Sports, and Knight Arts.

Art

 
Book

2021

"Paper, clay, and now fabric," Langford says, "function for me as a stand-in for the body." Looked at this way, her work suggests the multitudinous forces against which we humans labor, bodily: stress, gravity, aging, illness, anxiety, obsolescence, loss of control (cf. potter and poet MC Richards: "to know ourselves by our resistances"). Therein lies the subterranean empathy and pathos of this abstract artist's work: given the right frame, we might see these objects as ourselves, bearing tell-tale signs of our perpetual physical and psychic trials."

"Phthalo / Cornflower / Cebra" by Addie Langford
Essay'd

2020

"The conception of the art world as a sprawling site of generative transfer is a helpful lens through which to look at the lively, multiform art of Lester Johnson, a master craftsman and inveterate community member. Over six decades, Johnson has created a capacious body of work in a dazzling diversity of forms, and he has done so in large part by embracing opportunities to expand his expressive capabilities through germinal creative collisions."

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Essay'd

2019

"In its reductive simplicity, minimalism ultimately leads to a conceptual dead-end. 'What you see is what you see' only gets you so far in a time when art aspires to boundlessness. Taking cues from feminist artists, Patrick Hill circumvents this impasse by using minimal forms to go deep inside, to explore the body and aspects of subjective experience like identity, sexuality, frailty, and failure. (In his words: “It’s Richard Serra, only less ‘dude’.”)"

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Blog

2020

"Filled now with a real curiosity to see what this work actually looked like, we began to clean off the larger panel with our feet, scraping off the layer of dirt and mud. We could tell that there was much more of the panel beneath the surrounding sod, but without tools, cleaning products, or a way to transport the sod from the site, we thought to leave well enough alone for now. Content that the sun was touching more of Glacial than it had the day before, we departed, planning to return at a later date to finish the job."

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Essay'd

2020

"Bakpak Durden’s quest to connect with others by making elements of their private experience public has led to several eye-catching murals around the city...At the heart of Durden’s practice, which includes painting, illustration, and documentary photography, is a love of storytelling—of the small detail from which a viewer is invited to build a narrative. "

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Essay'd

2018

"Scieszka’s astonishing output to date can be understood as an extravagant explosion of American violence, fantasy, and myth—a deranged, bedazzled, go-for-broke freak show that is informed by history, interpolated by trash and post-internet pop culture, and framed by anxiety about the horrors of contemporary life. Her work is a funhouse mirror reflection of the world today, hilarious at one turn and terrifying the next."

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Essay'd

2017

"It makes sense that Nicola Kuperus was onstage at the Detroit Institute of Arts recently, running her big yellow vacuum up and down a strip of beige carpet. And that a few minutes later, her face obscured by a long, black wig, she started to play the vacuum, using an effects pedal to modulate and amplify its heavy roar. It makes sense."

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Model D

2017

"Art, which plays so many different roles in life, has long been used and understood as a means of social critique. 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?"

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Blog

2017

"Common Time" is lavish, overwhelming, transcendent. It is at once a sprawling survey of some of the most groundbreaking American artists of the latter half of the 20th century, and a tightly focused examination of some of the circumstances and concerns that united them. (It's nuts to think that this is just half of a show, the other half filling the galleries of the Walker in Minneapolis.)"

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Essay'd

2017

"Stovall thinks of Liquor Store Theatre as a “backstage view” of one Detroit neighborhood. By using her work to amplify the voices of her neighbors, whom she has summoned with her surprising, surreal street dance, she privileges the underprivileged, moves the marginal to the center, and presents a close-up look at Detroiters who, in turn, present some of the complexities of real life in Detroit."

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Detroit      Research

2017

"I’ll say it was a potent admixture of accident and intention that led me up a creaking staircase and into an expansive, well-worn room, where I joined a handful of other audience members and three unassuming dancers who disarmed us with friendly banter as they prepared to perform their beautiful, terrible dance. (Imagine a work of elegance, discomfort, whimsy, filth and fury, all set to the sounds of increasingly labored breathing and the unforgiving impact of bodies on wood floors.)"

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Essay'd

2016

"David Philpot is an antenna, finely tuned to subtle frequencies. He listens carefully, receiving transmissions from as far away as West Africa, and from as nearby as God or the wood in his hands. His primary medium, fittingly, is the staff, an energizing rod that joins the earth to the sky via the human being who wields it."

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Model D

2016

"The vivid, boundary-stretching productions the Hinterlands creates are wonders to behold. They also reflect an unusually profound engagement with their subject matter, as well as a long and intensely physical creative process. The result is a theatrical experience like no other—something that's alive, intimate, multilayered, and that reverberates long after each performance has ended."

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Model D

2016

"It's just like Joni Mitchell sings, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?". Once I had accepted that "Color Cubes" was really and truly gone, I started to wonder what it was, exactly, that we'd lost. Who had made it? Why? Under what circumstances? So I embarked on a journey to piece together the story of my favorite mural, and the story, as it turns out, is one that bears telling (and re-telling...), especially now that "Color Cubes" itself exists only in our collective regional memory."

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Architecture

Curbed

2019

"The Coleman Young years were a boom time for Howard Sims (1933-2016) and Harold Varner (1936-2013), Detroit’s most prominent 20th century black architects. As Sims-Varner and Associates, the pair earned acclaim for adventurous and innovative civic buildings like the 1980 Redford Branch of the Detroit Public Library, noted for its abundant natural light and pre-cast long span structural system, as well as the Golightly Technical Center (1982), an expansive brick educational facility nestled sensitively within its east side landscape and crowned by a soaring, pyramidal atrium."

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Book

2019

"Lafayette Park is a special place. A place like no other. I'm not sure, in retrospect, how much we appreciated that when we first moved in in 2008. We liked the view, the location, the proportions of the living spaces; we couldn't believe the price. It was only over time that we began to understand that we had intertwined ourselves with a place that was utterly unique—a well-worn utopian dream from a more aspirational age, ambitious, unlikely, and overgrown with layers of good intentions and neglect."

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Blog

2018

"We recently ventured to Midland, two hours north of Detroit, to tour the Alden B. Dow Home & Studio, and to Flint, where we visited Lawrence Halprin's Riverbank Park. Both sites were recommended to us by friends, and both represent significant but perhaps underappreciated achievements in modernist design in Michigan. I'm grateful to have had the chance to get to know both of these developments, and to assess the startling contrasts between them." 

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Model D

2017

"Back in Glassline's Plymouth workshop, Guy Kenny and I are close to finishing our conversation when he shows me a final, show-stopping sight: the shrink-wrapped remains of a 10 foot tall terracotta sculpture. "The Maiden," as Kenny calls her, is one of 12 caryatids—columns sculpted in the shape of nude female figures—that have supported the 14th floor cornice of the Book Building since 1917. Renovation of the Book Building and adjacent Book Tower has just begun, and Glassline is responsible for fixing up these remarkable maidens, whose heads alone weigh 400 pounds each."  

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Model D

2016

"You may have noticed that lately, a number of historic buildings are standing prouder, thanks to the revitalizing wave that continues to wash over the central business district. For many of these grand old piles, neglected for decades, reinvestment means rebirth, and rebirth, in turn, means opportunity for a new generation of architects. You might not know them by name, but these architects, working in the here and now, are charged with a monumental task of their own: bolstered by a newfound market confidence, they're rehabilitating our well-worn historic buildings for new use in the 21st century."

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Model D

2015

"Broadly speaking, the decision to outfit a new, mid-sized urban building in glass is hardly a noteworthy one. But context matters, and in downtown Detroit in 2005, it really meant something. The Boll Family YMCA says "Yes" to the city. It opens its long arms to the urban fabric, and after decades of abandonment and near-fortification, this was not only an optimistic gesture, but a transformational one."

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Model D

2012

"Thanks For the View, Mr. Mies is fundamentally descriptive, not prescriptive. It is more interested in realism than idealism, or, perhaps more accurately, in what happens when real people inhabit idealized spaces over time. There is no finger wagging at the apartment residents who've never heard of Mies ("Is he a good architect?"), only an earnest desire to understand each one's individual experiences and represent them as a true part of life in an extraordinary place."

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Urban Life

Model D

2018

"On my bookshelf sits a collection of Detroit city poetry published in 2001 that bears the memorable title "Abandon Automobile." Note that it's "abandon," not "abandoned." That's a verb there, not an adjective. It's open to interpretation, but I have come to think of that provocative title as a call to Detroiters—not literally to give up our cars, but to begin the ambitious, long-term process of de-throning them, of imaginatively abandoning our knee-jerk psychological, economic, and physical prioritization of them."

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Model D

2018

"While LGBT Americans have made great political strides in recent years, the need for our own spaces has not diminished. Not only have those advances been unevenly distributed among our people, many of us still face discrimination (some of which remains enshrined in law in Michigan), as well as isolation. And let's face it, even if all of us get all of the rights to which we're entitled and feel 100 percent socially accepted all the time, we're still going to want to spend time among our own people, our queer family, with whom we've shared so much."

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Model D

2013

"The long and short of it is that apis mellifera, the European honeybee that was brought to North America by English colonists in 1622 and has thrived here for centuries, is in trouble. And over the decades, as honeybees' health has become more and more threatened, the practice of small-scale beekeeping has declined, especially in cities—until now."

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Blog

2018

"The first time I caught the bus in Detroit, I used DDOT's "Text My Bus" service, where you send a text and get an automatic response telling you how far away the bus is. It worked perfectly — it said the bus was five minutes away, and five minutes later, the bus showed up. But the next time, it said the bus was two minutes away, and two minutes later, no bus. Five minutes later, no bus. Ten minutes later? No bus. I texted again: next bus, 35 minutes. It was like a ghost bus had gone by. What was going on here?"

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Model D

2013

"Looking back on what's happened here in the intervening 300 years, including the displacement of native peoples, the industrial revolution, and a turbulent period of post-industrial decline, it's hard not to think of Detroit as a kind of paradise lost. but even today, after centuries of development and environmental degradation, traces of the original landscape remain. And some Detroiters find themselves drawn to these sites, where they can escape the pressures of daily life and commune with the natural world that once proliferated here without having to leave the city limits." 

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Model D

2013

"What can we learn from observing the self-sustaining ecosystems of the natural world? And with that knowledge, how can we design systems of our own, systems of all kinds, that mimic the intrinsic balance of ecosystems, with their capacity for diversity, renewal, and the transformation of waste into energy? These are the kinds of big questions posed by practitioners of permaculture, an approach to systems design with deep roots in agriculture but implications for, well, just about everything."

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Model D

2012

"It was evident that the students I met were in the process of developing valuable technology skills, but also extraordinarily sharp analytical skills and a powerful sense of their individual ability to investigate, understand, and change their communities. And in their egalitarian classroom, where their teacher encourages open, productive self-expression, they’re developing empathy too."

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Model D

2012

"In 1969, Delores Bennett saw that her neighborhood needed a safe place for children to play. Around Smith and Beaubien in the North End, there were several empty lots and homes, as well as a vacant restaurant and apartment building. Envisioning all that space repurposed as a park and playground, she went downtown to the Register of Deeds to learn the names of all the property owners. She contacted each, asking if she and the neighborhood kids could start maintaining the lots with the possibility that the city might one day buy them. (She was planning ahead.)"

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