Updates & additions have been written in teal-green.
Originally published on July 11th, 2015 for the opening at Simone DeSousa Gallery.
“over over over” are words I once heard my friend Corrie Baldauf use while trying to help someone locate something in her room. If this exhibition is about anything other than bringing good people into the city to meet Detroiters, it is also a statement regarding the related intersections between these two places despite distance; sometimes it is the thing next to the thing that is important to look at, the place that appears to be on the fringe. The works in this show have no direct relationship to a place (Detroit / Glasgow), but if there is one thing that I can say to help guide your experience of these works, it would be: ‘don’t trust what you see, because it will have already changed’.
For Simone DeSousa Gallery, I have invited five Glasgow-based artists to forge conversations and links between Detroit and Glasgow, Scotland. The artists include Tessa Lynch, Francis Mckee, Rosie O'Grady, John Nicol and Ross Sinclair who are also known in other circles as important musicians, curators, and researchers. I facilitate these kinds of projects from my own vantage point as an artist, excited about the energy-giving possibilities inherent in mixing things together. The Scottish artists bring a perspective I was privileged enough to have experienced in Glasgow and that I now want to share with people in Detroit.
In 2010, I applied to study in Glasgow and planned a week long visit after the opening of my first exhibition at Re:View Contemporary. Cezanne Charles was my adviser during the Kresge Fellowship and she helped develop my application to Glasgow School of Art. Cezanne and her partner John Marshall (a GSA alumnus) lived, worked and travelled between the U.S. and Scotland since 1998. They pointed out that Glasgow and Detroit share similar DNA: both cities provide useful models for sustaining a healthy art scene.
By this time, Glasgow was already an established international art scene. Artists were not only experimenting there but many were also committing to live in the city rather than move to a more traditional art centre such as London. They understood that modern travel enabled Glasgow to have an international art scene while providing a higher quality of life and a more sustainable art community.
I didn't actually know any of this when I was in Glasgow for the first time, but I did meet the graduating class of Masters of Fine Arts students including John Nicol at a bar called 'the Vic'. With a map of the cities galleries in hand I launched into an immersive educational experience that spoke volumes about the point of an art scene and the conditions in which creative activities thrive. While attending school, I also missed my friends and networks in Detroit and wished that they could visit as I was certain the experience would give them a sense of hope that was only superficially alluded to in rhetoric of the recent changes in Detroit.
Each of these artists plays with the assumed sacred role of the artist and place, conducting abundant research to carry out their projects. Their approaches to work are both inspirational and uncompromising. They were open to my enthusiasm about both places and my invitation to come meet people in Detroit. To be clear, this is not an attempt to altruistically help the city, but to gain insight about a place and ourselves when we feel destabilized. More meaningful risks can be found when we feel a little upended.
Now is a time for much needed reflection as both Michigan and Scotland have undergone recent political and economic upheaval. Detroit is exiting bankruptcy and Republican governor Rick Snyder has been re-elected, harnessing corporate power in the reshaping of Detroit.
Proven by the ongoing Flint water health crisis.
In Scotland, a recent referendum for independence (based on a desire for a more equal society) was defeated.
Brexit may have renewed the possibility for this vote to come up again due to the dramatic uncertainty it has caused.
The future of both societies remains in limbo, as both have the potential to imagine new ways to live in the contemporary world.
What separates this exhibition from others where 'outsiders' are invited to consider Detroit is the honesty and aims of their own art practices. What can they say about a place that is bombarded with relentless documentaries, where artists are used as a sentinel species for the overall health of a city? What can be playfully explored in an era of exhausting expectations in debilitating circumstances?
They all embody a healthy scepticism that is similar to What Miwon Kwon stresses in her book 'One Place After Another': in order to not be at the whims of one particular exhibition, one could think about the thread between the last project and the next, looking beyond the agenda of a particular show or location in order to see how it ties into their interests and practice. She argues for a considered work that is well contextualized, genuinely critical, and honest.
This project is meant to provide a research opportunity for the artists and to create connections and dialogue between Detroiters and the visiting artists.
The artists from Detroit who have been invited include: Corrie Baldauf, Olayami Dabls, Michaela Mosher, and Andrew Thompson. However, other artists are still being confirmed and details for the next phases of the project are still being worked out.
I believe this is the most radical thing I could possibly be doing with my time: serving as an anchor point for a dialogue about what it means to be an artist creating and sustaining their practices in these cities in flux.