The following is a Q&A interview I did for a Detroit Hostel ,www.hosteldetroit.com by Rosalind Russell.
1. What brought you to Detroit/why did you choose to do your residency here?
The work of my visual practice explores the theme of abandonment in post industrial environments. Detroit was an ideal environment for me to pursue this.
2. Can you describe the focus of your work leading up to Detroit and what impact visiting the city has had on what you produce since?
The focus of my work leading up to Detroit has been addressing the central theme of abandonment in a post industrial environment. I have produced a body of work addressing this through a series of relief prints of the abandoned cockatoo Island Shipyards, NSW. A body of oil paintings, collages, drawings, photgraphs, prints and assemblages addressing the themes of discarded and superceded childrens games, eg Monoploy, of the 1950’s and 60’s, art deco teasets of the 1930’s , 1960’s comics , damaged tin toys , old dolls and outmoded educational aides eg Cuisanair rods.
My work since returning from Detroit focuses on abandonment in post industrial environments. Detroit has many deployed workers. I got to view up close a city decimated by industry closures and its effect on the people. It challenges me to go deeper into the human psyche ie think about the history and the events behind the closures. Presently I am creating a series of paintings based on the blue windows of Fisher Plant no 21, designed by Albert Kahn, blue helped the workers feel positive . It is challenging me to look at the human psyche, and think about production lines in a grid contextual concept.
3. How would you describe the artists’ community in Detroit? And how does it compare to your experiences as an artist in Australia/ other countries you’ve visited?
The artist community in Detroit was alive, embracing , vital, energetic and welcoming. I believe as a community they have lost so much, have hit rock bottom and will come back up. I witnessed great positivity, sharing of time, resources and information .They were an extremely welcoming bunch, from the high end, swanky galleries, right down to the mural and street artists. It was most refreshing as though as a result of their economic downturn, the boundaries have shifted, its a looser community, not so bound by prejudices and social stigmas & class system, they have stripped all barriers away and are more embracive of creative output and prepared to take chances. Why, a fellow artist, Mike Sackey, gave me shoes, a hat, vest, and decals when i had no cash to pay for them at a factory relocation / garage sale.
Melbourne, Australia boasts a more traditional art scene and community with established galleries and local hierarchy, mind set and prejudices. Whilst it is constantly in evolution, there are established protocols, followers of tradition and favouring of certain art schools and promotion of specific artists. As we are a long way from established art centres there is the isolation mindset, combined with the colonial theme of ” are we good enough , compared to Europe “, possibly some negativity and tall poppy syndrome too. It is changing though and more up and coming artists are getting start projects off the ground, funding is becoming available and more money both private and government is being pumped into the arts.
New York City, by comparison seemed more relaxed with greater room for all endeavours as did Berlin, Leipzig and Eastern European communities ie Budapest, Warsaw and Sarajevo. Istanbul had a magnificent, thriving visual art scene that seemed very embracive.
4. Describe what your exhibition focuses on and what kind of reception it received.
It focused on a definitive, personal experience of Detroit whilst I believe still addressing the central theme of my work ie abandonment in a post industrial environment.
“Define Detroit “exhibition was a series of 11 A1 photographic images, both colour and b&w, of the post industrial sites I visited in Detroit, along with found objects found at these sites, assembled underneath eg tin lightshade, piece of wallpaper, empty, rusted letterbox slot and a child’s abandoned watercolour set and drawing. It contained words I had written to describe Detroit.
Building Detritus eg a tin box, copper wiring, pressed metal of a roof.
A series of 9 small watercolour paintings produced enroute whilst travelling around Detroit.Six old 33 1/3 vinyl records found on the side of the road in Detroit, which included motown iconic singers like Diana Ross and Ray Charles.
It was received favourably by most people. Those who know me believe it addresses my work succinctly . As it is housed in display cases in the entrance foyer it gets a reaction as people entering and exiting the large building see it . Some seem puzzled . When I was installing I got six favourable comments, & some puzzled glances but at least it is topical. Three D decals have already been stolen/ souvenired!
My talk went for 10/15 minutes was theatrical. It included removing my sparkly cheer leader skirt bought at a vintage store to reveal my ” detroit-still-exists tshirt dress underneath! I had their attention . Of my 20 or so listeners I was told I exuded passion, knew the artists and all the art I had seen , my memory and attention to detail was exceptional . In short I gave an inspirational talk which totally embraced my art .
Several questions , including, ” did I feel safe ?” were answered adroitly with ,”yes of course , I actually felt more unsafe in NYC.”
5. What would you tell someone who was considering visiting Detroit.
You’ll be surprised with what you will find.
Her creativity, passion, interest, beauty, old& battered facade are inspirational, and the natives couldn’t be more welcoming .