Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Detroit - so much more than an abandoned city

And the best way to see it all... couchsurf it!  Who better to help Detroit surprise and inspire you than the people who didn't abandon ship.  Or, like my hosts - Gary and Cathy - decided to make it their home all the way from LA.

When I told people I wanted to see Detroit, the main reaction I got was ‘why?!’. It certainly had a reputation and it wasn’t good. To most, and hell, maybe it is – Detroit is the poster child for recession. People left it and there remains less than half the population of its heyday. I'd heard enough about Detroit to be aware of the negativity that surrounded it - the crime, the abandoned and neglected buildings (and people!)... the nothing-ness. And well, that's all true but it's not the whole truth.  I'm not entirely sure why I was so drawn to it, I just was. But the Detroit I'd heard about wasn't what I wanted to see. I wanted to see the life that was still in it - and thriving.

Gary and Cathy were the perfect hosts to help me do that. Artists and passionate about their environment, they knew just about everyone in the arts scene in the city. They took me to a local art opening  and local art closing, to the Detroit Institute of Arts (which is an incredible and first class museum) to hear some music in the Rivera murals room before slipping in to see Le Quattre Volte (a quiet, unexpected, quite beautiful film with the funniest scene with a dog and some goats). I even got to help Gary out with his current project - a camera obscura film on the abandoned train station - Brother, Can You Spare a Station (see youtube vid below). By help, I mean I spent a sunny afternoon making sure his car didn't get stolen, chatting to other tourists (the majority of tourists who come to Detroit are photographers hoping to capture the beauty of the many abandoned buildings around - and I guess they must also be intrigued by the city like me) as well as a lovely conversation with one local on his bike who talked positively of Detroit's comeback and his plan to give people bike tours of the city. We also managed to bump into another of my hosts' artist friends - and one me and fellow couchsurfer, Gail, were particularly excited about as we had been admiring the beer bottle cap bathroom he had built in their home and was designed with the help of Cathy (Cathy's work around their house was also very impressive - sculptures made with colourful telephone wires, wool and pieces of driftwood, branches and all sorts of big seeds - I think they're not actually seeds but I forget the name of them...).  I also got to visit the community garden that Cathy works on - as well as do a bit of pheasant spotting.  After people left and buildings crumbled, there now is lots of space for new things to grow - perfect for a community garden :o)

Exhibition opening at Alley Culture - my favourite piece was from Bridget Knoche who did a series of drawings of a dog in slightly different positions. I got to talk to her too which was cool! It reminded me of an article I read about how Mark Rothko used to leave the room that he was paining in so that he could sneak up on the piece he was working on - and see if from a different perspective. I think it was her first exhibition to she was pretty excited about it all and fun to talk to. It was also just fun walking around the corner and finding this place as it really is local!
Detroit - Alley Culture

Music in the Rivera murals room at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)
 DIA - Rivera & Music (6)

Closing of 'Turn' at the Edwin Gallery - I can't remember the name of the artist sadly but the installation and the way the exhibition closed was so bloody cool! The installation was made up of lots and lots of rubbery strips hanging from the ceiling to the floor. You could walk around it feeling your way through, stretching the strips as you did so. For the closing, some musicians and dancers improvised on a piece which basically stretched some of the strips to their limits. The audience got to have a go afterwards too! Loved it.
Closing of 'Turn' at the Edwin Gallery

Making art and movie magic at the Imagination Station

  Detroit - Imagination Station
Detroit - Imagination Station (2)  Detroit - Imagination Station (18)

Looking through the pin hole of Gary's massive Camera Obscura
Detroit's abandoned station (8)

The abandoned train station
Detroit's abandoned station (2)  Detroit's abandoned station (5)
Somebody had planted a line of tulips in the green space outside the station leading up to it... so cool - just gutted not to be sticking around to see them bloom!

Gary's film - Brother, can you spare a station

You can see more of Gary's work on his youtube page.

I was also very fortunate to meet Gail (see her blog here), fellow couchsurfer at Gary and Cathy's and amazing storyteller, photographer and general wonder woman - and she's from the Philippines too!  We spent a very sunshiney Saturday soaking up the positive vibes at the Eastern Market (every Sat, folks from the 'burbs roll on in so the place looks packed). We ate ribs, listened to people sing, did some fruit and veg shopping (as well as looked for something for a vegan dinner party Gary and Cathy were taking us to later) and I learnt to do the Cupid Shuffle. I love markets and the Eastern Market on a Saturday is one not to miss.

Detroit - Eastern Market (5)

Yep, he's doing Prince
Detroit - Eastern Market (3)  
Some folks do the Cupid Shuffle
Detroit - Eastern Market (13)

Serious about Ribs
Detroit - Eastern Market (10)

Hells yeah!
Detroit - Eastern Market (11)

The Heidelberg Project
In the afternoon, we met up with Sherlock the Shoe Doctor who she'd met the previous day. Together and armed with our cameras, Gail gave us tips and we captured the Heidelberg Project - a piece (well, it covers two blocks in East Detroit) of street art like no other! Started off by Tyree Guyton 25 years ago, it's an evolving work that is continued by other residents (as well as him). It's their comment piece on the world around them using everyday and discarded objects. See their website to learn more - it's too fabulous to ignore!


Gail and Dr Sherlock
Gail's photography class 

Heidelberg Project - Green House (2)  Heidelberg Project - On the box (3)

Heidelberg Project - Toys (12)  Heidelberg Project - On trees (4)

Heidelberg Project (52)  Heidelberg Project - Healthcare (2)

Heidelberg Project (77)  Heidelberg Project - Ode to the Hummer (4)

Heidelberg Project - Toys (2)  Heidelberg Project - Cars (6)

Heidelberg Project - Back that ass up  Heidelberg Project (121)

Adding a Coney and some colour to your diet
I'd got a rideshare to Detroit with another Detroiter (tho' now living in Chicago but hoping to move back), Andy, who'd tipped me off about trying a Coney (it was a Detroit thing to do!) - a chili dog covered with mustard and onions - so I was excited when me, Gail and Sherlock ended up there. We were only going to have a coffee but how could we resist. It's certainly something to try and tasty too... can't say I'd put it on my 'food to die for' list if I had one though!  The vegan party we went to later ended up being an Easter bonanza where everything (aside from our offerings!) was dyed in a garish (Easter) colour. Once you got over the colour, the food was pretty tasty. I also got to try deviled eggs for the first time which was cool!

Detroit Coney  Easter food

Seeing Family and Diego Rivera's Detroit
Being in Michigan also meant I got to see some family there (my second-cousin, Mayette, her two daughters and brother and sister in law and their son). It was especially nice as it was the first time I got to meet her daughters who I guess would be my third cousins...(?)  Having family spread far and wide, it's always great to be able to see them when you just happen to be in town!  We went to the DIA and I got to ogle Diego Rivera's work again and then we stuffed our faces at a great Mexican place... so much good food :o)

DIA - Rivera & Music (8)  DIA - Rivera & Music (2)

A City to Yourself by Nicole MacDonald
My last night in Detroit, I watched a short film with Gary and Cathy on Detroit. If you're interested in Detroit, then I absolutely recommend hunting this film down and seeing it. It does an amazing job of showing you just how much more than an abandoned city Detroit is and can be. It's also like a beautiful poem - anyway, here's a trailer...

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