Interviews

The Cycles We Go Through as Humans on Earth: In Conversation with Scott Hocking

photography by Ruthie Abel, c/o Scott Hocking

Scott Hocking is a Detroit based visual artist whose works primarily take the form of site-specific installations and photography projects that utilize found objects and neglected locations. 

Did your art practice begin with installation work?

I was probably like a lot of students, I went to CCS and they trained you in all the different things, and I was quickly just drawn to sculpture, mostly because I came from a working class background.

You’re from Redford right?

Yeah I’m from Redford, but we moved from Redford when I was 12 to literally just over Inkster on 6 mile in Livonia.

And your family is historically from Detroit?

Yeah, I did a project last year. All those copper skulls you saw over there when you walked in, I learned in the last year that my English side was all copper miners that came from the Cornwall peninsula of England where they copper and tin mined, and moved to the UP to copper mine. And then when the copper mine started to wind down and the industry started to appear in the place called Detroit, they all came down here. So that’s my English side. My Polish side just immigrated here just slightly before the English side, they might be just one generation longer. But they came to the east side of Detroit where there was the first Polish church, and then moved to the west side where there was the first Polish church on the west side, which is now I-96 where it goes to the Ambassador Bridge, the neighborhood’s gone.

When your family moved to the inner ring suburbs, was that a product of white flight?

It wasn’t, it was post-war. My grandfather on my English side came back and bought a house, that’s my understanding, that it was well before what you would call the white flight of the sixties. Although I feel like just saying “oh well they came back and got a house in Redford because of the army” and acting like there wasn’t some aspect of racism would be lie. Where I grew up in Redford we lived on dirt streets, we had ditches, and it was definitely racist white people. In hindsight it was like white people that were too poor to live anywhere else but they were too racist to live in the city. They just wanted to be outside of where the black people lived, and if a black person was to move into our neighborhood, people would talk about the property value going down. I lived in Redford until I was 12, we moved around 3 times in Redford. I also got tossed around because of my parents, so I was with my grandparents, with my dad and my mom. There was a couple times where I was in some apartment complex, I didn’t know where I was. It wasn’t Redford. But then Livonia for middle school and high school, and then after that I went to Michigan State for one semester. I dropped out because all I was doing was acid and drinking, in high school already I started drinking and smoking pot and basically trying to figure out who the fuck I was. Everything was kind of going down hill, I was depressed, all the things that happen when you come from a place where everything’s fucked up. So by the time I was lik 19 I was really transient. I dropped out of college and was living in my car for maybe four months, I ended up in a flophouse with a friend, and then moved to another one with a girlfriend, and then almost lived in a squatter church in Detroit on the east side, and then ended up living in Detroit proper for the first time in, I think it was ‘96, it might have been ‘95.

And was that the result of circumstance or were you deciding, “I want to live in Detroit”?

No that was the result of circumstance. I ended up there because I was specifically living with a girlfriend and I had to move out, there was a strange thing that happened with her and her family, and I was like desperate to find a place to live or else I was gonna be in my car again. And I was really just bad at finding places to live when I was 19, 20 years old, I just was kind of stupid like a lot of people when they’re that age. So a friend reached out and said “you can stay with my friend” so I ended up in this house in Old Redford, so like Lahser and Grand River where the Redford Theatre is.

Which I think is getting redeveloped correct? Isn’t that supposed to be an “artist’s community”?

Oh yeah. That whole area was rough. We’d hear gunfire with such frequency that we didn’t mind it. You kinda knew it wasn’t people getting shot, it was people with guns just walking around. And occasionally you’d hear semi-automatic gunfire. I never saw anything happen, but it was definitely an area where there were drug houses and drug related things because it was a border area, and there were suburbanites coming in to buy drugs. That’s what we did while I was in high school, we’d drive just over the edge and there’d be somebody selling something. So it was pretty rough, but the blightbusters–a guy named John George and a lot of people who worked with him cleaned up Brightmoor, Old Redford, and his partner, more like the artistic side, a guy named Chas, but he was the guy who would paint butterflies on everything and got kids to help paint abandoned buildings, and then specifically there…

How’d you end up at CCS then?

So that’s the story, I was living in that house in Old Redford, and I had a series of unfortunate events that led to me being like “fuck it I’m done” and it was the second time I thought of moving out of Detroit. This time I had everything lined up I had figured out a way to get to Seattle to work in the fishing industry. I had a ride and I was going to sell my car and all these things, and I got into a car wreck and it was like three days before I was supposed to leave. I took it as a sign that I wasn’t supposed to leave. I don’t really have– I know some people who are like ‘I remember the day JFK was shot’– the only day I’ll never forget was that day, which was October 6, 1996. I kind of went into like a weird depression, but also like a moment of clarity, it was one of those epiphanies where you realize–there’s a certain clarity you get when you hit rock bottom emotionally, financially, everything, there’s a certain clarity you get– and that clarity led to me saying “I think I’m going to try to be an artist”, with the clarity I saw that it was something that I was always good at but didn’t believe in.

Did you take art classes at Stevenson (high school)?

I think I always pushed in it by teachers. I had a teacher named Mr. Wagner, and Mr. Wagner still follows me and will still write things. It was just such a fucked up time, I didn’t believe in anything, let alone that I could be an artist. It really took a lot of shit for happen for me to go ‘fuck it, I’m going to try it’. And I had a friend that I went to high school with, a very successful illustrator named Matt Gordon. And he went to CCS. I didn’t know what art school was, I didn’t know what any of that was. So I took the Grand River bus from Grand River and Lahser and took it to Warren. And took the Warren bus to Woodward, and I walked up and went and met Sabrina Nelson. I didn’t even know what the word ‘portfolio’ meant. And she explained to me that I needed to make a portfolio and bring it back. So I did that, which was just like me drawing from photographs, and I brought it back– this was all happening between Oct. 6 and me getting admitted in January.

Did it feel exciting, taking on this new sort of identity?

Yeah, it was like taking the worst things in my life, and all of a sudden I had hit the bottom and I was starting to like redirect it to a direction where–it felt like everything that depressed me about my life, all the hardships, I was suddenly able to redirect and have an outlet for. It was more than exciting, it was like–I felt like I was alive for the first time. And man did I bust ass in school. I didn’t give a shit about the teachers, they were upset with me a lot because I wouldn’t do what they wanted me to do, because all I wanted to do was do what I was imagining, like go into the metal shop, go into the foundry, and they’d be like, ‘you need to learn how to make the figure in figure class with the clay’ and I’d be like ‘I’m just going to go into the metal shop and do something else’.

Do they have a foundations program at CCS?

Yeah they force you to-

You do not sound happy about it. (laughs) Do you have an MFA?

No, I should. It would have been good for my career to get one. Two things, I could never afford it anyways, and when I came out of school I was already so sick of being in school and I was so broke, the idea of going back to school was just a ridiculous thought financially, and personally I didn’t want to be back in school. I didn’t really ever like it. I kind of did it just to complete something. About halfway through I was like “I can’t do this anymore” but I just did it to get that piece of paper.

Was your BFA in sculpture?

You didn’t have to specify. But the other thing I was going to say is that I think that I was actually successful enough right after school that it didn’t actually make sense career-wise to go to grad school. There have been down times, there have definitely been slow years, but realistically I’ve been pretty fucking busy ever since. I know some people get an MFA from Yale and suddenly there career skyrockets, they get connected to the east coast or something. It just hasn’t been like that for me, I’ve been steadily climbing up a little bit, maybe get a show in a different state or a different country, maybe I sell some things here or there. But the countries and the cities aren’t maybe the top tier ones but its been ok.

You showed in Germany, the Kunsthalle and Kustwerke?

Yeah multiple times, the Kunstwerke Institute right in Berlin, that was the Shrinking Cities exhibition, a really big exhibition in 2004. They brought me in in 2003 to do a talk at a big salon. That was my first time in Berlin. I came back the next year for the project. I had other shows in Germany too, I had a site-specific project in Wolfsburg, which is the Volkswagon city, it’s the city that Hitler and Porsche made the Volkswagon city. So they brought me there thinking “guy from Detroit, auto city.”

Berlin feels a lot like its Detroit’s European cousin, at least the way it’s marketed– the urban ruin, and I suppose the techno connection too.

Yeah the gritty thing, and a lot of times before people talked about Detroit being the next Brooklyn, people talked about Detroit being the next Berlin. They have a very different history, but the idea I think that connected them was how Berlin really was decimated, and how artists saw opportunities in places other people didn’t. But Berlin is definitely a bigger, more cosmopolitan city. But all cities are so different, like Berlin doesn’t feel like New York. But yeah I did a project in Wolfsburg, and I did a show in Hamburg. But to my point, I’m getting a site-specific show in Wolfsburg, and I have to tell you where Wolfsburg is, I’m not like getting a show in Paris. For example, I did a project in Northern France, in a city called Lille. It’s two hours north of Paris. I don’t think many people in America have ever heard of Lille. But it’s a giant city, at least a million people. They had a lot of money, I did a crazy, great project.

Does Lille bear cultural cache in France?

They do kind of make fun of themselves there. But you just brought up something funny that I forgot about. A long time ago somebody made some joke to me about how Chicago views Detroit, in terms of the arts, they were like ‘Chicago people view Detroit’s art scene the way Detroit people view Wyandotte’s art scene.’ And that’s basically how Paris views Lille.

I never got a Master’s and I never felt like I had time. Every now and then even now I think ‘I wonder if I should look into getting it somehow where I work satellite or something’ just to have it, because it is true that people look at that on your resume. I applied for something years ago and I remember they sent the rejection and they highlighted two things on my C.V., they highlighted my education and the year of my first exhibition.  People want to know that you are somehow trained. I think if you had Harvard vs. Wayne County Community College, that makes a difference to some people, and I hate that it makes a difference–

Like it authenticates you or something

Yeah, people evaluate that shit all the time. So I do think in that sense, the fact that I never got an MFA, to some people makes a difference. But how many people, when they’re looking at my work in a gallery, are asking if I’ve got a masters.

“Seventeen Shitty Mountains” photography by PD Rearick

When did you first start doing site-specific art and installation art?

That was just kind of a natural evolution at CCS just trying to figure out what the hell art was, trying to break through all my Redford stereotypes of art.

Which was what?

I just didn’t grow up knowing anything about it or respecting it, or thinking of anything other than the most generic stuff, like I had probably heard of Picasso.

Like that art is painting?

‘Art is painting and sculpting, painting is what Picasso does, sculpting is what Michelangelo does.’ That kind of stuff. I remember specifically going to the DIA for a class at CCS and the curator taking us through the modern and contemporary section and talking about work and my little Redford kid coming out and thinking “what the hell is that crap, anybody can do that, he didn’t even do a good job painting” like that kind of—like my father, any kind of working class person not understanding.

That’s  a point I find really interesting, is that a Midwestern or industrial thing—there seems to be a real emphasis put on how much time was spent making the work, the amount of labor.

Yes, “if I can see how much time was spent on a piece”.

So what was the first piece of yours that broke that for you? Maybe not in your work but seeing it in someone else’s?

There were a number of moments. I had moments early on where I was enraptured with an artwork and I didn’t understand why, and I had moments later, well after I was learning to be open-minded about art and ask questions and go deeper. Even after that I had moments where the shallow, childlike part of me would come out of me and be like “that’s crap”. And I think its something you always struggle with, especially when you’ve been around art for so many years, it’s always a struggle to be open to everything.

I feel like there’s a validity to that child part of you, that it’s like fighting against the elitist, academic view of art.

That’s where I feel like there’s a balance. If you have an immediate feeling about something, I do trust my instincts, but I also don’t want to be so judgmental. There’s art that I loved and then heard the artist do a lecture and then been like “this art sucks now”, and then the opposite, I’ve seen stuff where I didn’t like it and then heard the artist talk or read something and was like “oh I get it now.” So for me there was one particular thing that happened when I was probably high as a kite and in high school, I saw a painting by Paul Klee and I like went into a trance. And to this day that painting is one of my favorite things because of how it affected me. I don’t understand why it did that, but I just knew like ‘this was an art moment, this is what art can do’, and you don’t get it, like you connected it in a way that was subconscious. There are Pieter Breughel engravings that have done that to me. But yeah the thing for me was that as I learned more about art and became more open-minded to it and paid more attention to what people were doing and why they were doing it, expanding my ideas from whatever I thought sculpture and three-dimensionality was and drawing and painting and all those things, at some point I started to learn what an installation was. But I remember that one of my first thought when I learned what an installation was was “but how do you sell that?” That was like my young, Redford mentality of art, how are you gonna survive on this? So it took me time to get it. And now I hear myself trying to explain it to other people and I find myself trying to explain it in a way that would have made sense to me at the time, like trying to translate it to someone else who has that same kind of gut reaction of “this is a pile of garbage in a room”.

Your work feels slippery in that way, it can fit into the academic side of things, but also that idea of how much effort did you put into it, but like the Ziggurat piece, there’s obvious labor involved in that. It’s labor intensive. But I can also see someone looking at it and saying ‘anyone can do that, fuck that’. How do you feel about your work in that capacity?

I think you just illustrated it because that for me, the process over time that I’ve been going through of trying to understand who I am through art, and just working on art, and grow as a person and an artist, it’s just kind of melded all my things into one now. One of things that I love about how I work now is that it is really speaking to my working class background and those people, like if I’m in an old factory working like the way those people used to work, basically just repetitive, sometimes really labor intensive, Sisyphusian tasks, doing the same thing over and over, and you’re questioning ‘why am I doing this’ the entire time, but it kind of puts you in this meditation about ‘why are you doing this’. That kind of thing to me, it connects me with—my father could come in and be like “I don’t know what the fuck that is but that’s a lot of work.”

And also, you’re trained to do certain things as a boy. As a kid you’re trained to build blocks, and legos, and at some point I was taught to use a hammer. So there’s an element of me just coming to terms with that I just want to stack blocks. I want to do the same thing I was trained to as a kid and make a comment on it, because really that’s what we’ve always done. Humans just keep building something and building something and then it gets destroyed and we keep building something and building something. So for me, melding together a lot of different concepts and bridging the gap between the art world and art theory and art conceptualism with my working class background and regular joes and people who might encounter these things but have nothing to do with the art world. So like if I build a pyramid in Fisher Body there might be scrappers or homeless people who find it, but there’s not going to be a fancy art collector from New York who finds it, but they’re going to see a photo of it in their gallery or museum and they’re going to have their own experience with it, they’re not going to understand what it’s like to actually be there. That kind of stuff is interesting to me.

You just led me to a bunch of different questions, how much theory reading have you done? Do you consider it part of your practice?

No. I’m very bad at that kind of stuff. When I was at CCS they didn’t make us take classes like that. Michael Stone-Richards wasn’t there yet. He kind of is the one who pushed that. But Michael Stone-Richards is a great friend of mine, and one of the things I really respect and appreciate about Michael is that he’s so incredibly intelligent and well read. That guy could reference anything. He’s well-versed. But we can have a conversation and it’s not like he can’t speak to me because I’m going to speak in layman’s terms. He can talk to me about a complicated theory and I can get it and we can have a conversation about it without it being like condescension, and I don’t feel insecure talking like that. But yeah I just haven’t done a ton of reading about art. I get a lot of my ideas and inspiration from pretty much everything but the art world.

I’m in it because I’m an artist and I want to make art, but I kind of hate that so much art is about art is about art is about art. It becomes so insular and talking about itself and playing off itself and all the references of itself.

Do you find yourself actively working against that?

Yes

So you wouldn’t say that you feel a responsible as an artist to be up to date or well-read in art theory?

I think I don’t personally care. There’s an element I think too of as you get a little older you start to be like, “you know I just don’t have time.” I’ve figured out this is what I have time for, and I don’t have time for that, and it could be to the detriment of my career, but oh well, I don’t really care. But I think that there’s probably a lot of people who are great friends of mine who would tell me that I need to concern myself more with that, that I need to become much more well-versed, and pay attention to art history right up to right now and know what’s happening all around.

photography by Ruthie Abel, c/o Scott Hocking

Outside of art history though, a lot of your work seems very research based, the photographic work almost feels like research projects. Do you do research? Do you do research on Detroit history? In all of your work the materials are rooted in Detroit history, do you feel a responsibility to do research and have knowledge on that stuff?

Yes. I’m a crazy researcher. That’s where the evidence of how you divide your time becomes clear. It’s not that I don’t have time to read books on theory, it’s that I choose to spend my time reading something else. I’m a crazy research. I’ll spend hours and hours on Sanborn Maps, they’re just a wealth of information.

A lot of your work seems related to the concept of “ruin porn”, not that what you do is ruin porn, but it has that same aesthetic. As a white artist dealing with ruins that are a product of white flight—do you think about that stuff a lot?

Yeah, well that’s a lot in one question so I’m going to try to break it down a little bit first and say that ruin porn to me, it’s been like a buzzword for a little while now, and I’ve really had to evaluate how I feel about it and what I think the definition of it is, because I think there’s a very specific definition of it, that instead of it being talked about in that definition, it gets launched around—if anyone has a photo of anything in any category that might show blight, it is now ruin porn. For me that was something early on that I got irritated with because I thought it just seemed like people had latched on to the latest buzzword. I feel like I would definite it as being like the difference between a relationship and a one-night stand. Ruin porn is for me like porn, it is masturbatory, it’s self-gratifying, it has no cultural value, it feels very selfish, it feels like something people get off on. And I think that what really spouted the ruin porn idea, if I remember correctly it was a blogger in Detroit who coined it. And I didn’t know the guy very well but I’m pretty sure he was a guy who would go around into abandoned buildings and take pictures of them.

And when he used the term was he using it as a pejorative?

Yes, he was pissed because at the time Detroit was getting a lot of news and press people coming in who wanted tours of the ruins so they could photograph them for their news stories about—it was always like whatever was happening in Detroit, there was always a news story about it that made it seem like that reason Detroit was how it was, so if the city went bankrupt that’s the reason all these houses are abandoned, if the auto industry needed to be bailed out, that’s the reason. But this has been, like I said I’m 44, I’ve been doing this kind of stuff, like walking around and exploring the railroad tracks, the old industry of Detroit and the suburbs since I was a teenager. Even as a kid in Redford I would walk on the railroad tracks and go into the old industry in Redford. To me this is something I’ve been doing my whole life. I never thought of it as the way people think of ruin porn, but yeah, around 2010 or sometime between the Super Bowl and then there was just a huge influx of people wanting to come from all over the world. I think it was connected to social media, the advent of Flickr and sharing photos being a big thing. People just started doing a lot of ruin tours here. I used to be in abandoned buildings for days and I’d never see a soul, and suddenly it became a thing that you’d run into other people with cameras touring around. I think that his response to that was really angry with these people parachuting in to basically go on safari in Detroit and photograph all the decay and ruin and blight and then go back to wherever they came from.

To go back to how I define it, to me ruin porn is like you’re fucking the city and not having a relationship with it that is deep and meaningful over many years. So for me, this is my life, this is where I have been for my entire life, and it is a long term relationship that is not just traipsing around vacant buildings, I don’t even do that anymore. I do things pretty intentionally. And it started off in school being an important source of materials. In the 90’s there was just an abundance of waste, you can’t even imagine. Some of these buildings were left abandoned with everything in them and then busted open by the scrappers, and then the scrappers would just make paths through all the debris to get all the things they wanted, which were things I usually didn’t want. They wanted metal, and I wanted the random old thing that was in my mind a beautiful artifact. So the amount of material and the fact that I had no money, it was just a really useful way for me to recycle waste for me back then.  I still feel that way. If you look at the threads in my work, I’m interested in using wasted space. And to be honest, to connect back to when you asked me being a white artist and the idea that I’m working in a predominantly black city that in spaces that might have been part of the white flight, the answer is actually a lot more complicated because a lot of those spaces were not really vacated strictly connected to white flight, but they were directly connected to was an economic disparity, meaning that somebody with a lot of money owned that building and decided they don’t give a shit anymore and went somewhere else. Whereas everybody around that building has no money, they can’t afford that building, they could never afford that building, I could never afford that building, but clearly the people with the money who left these places behind do not care. So for me, the thing that always infuriated me was that there’s this neglect by the people who  have, and the helplessness of the have-nots. So for me that was irritating enough and also it felt like it gave me the right to say, “I don’t care if I’m trespassing”, like you have lost the right to tell me I’m doing something illegal now because it should be illegal what you’re doing. You have all this money, and like this giant historic factory, and you’re just saying, “let the trees grow and take it apart” and “let it burn right next to somebody’s house”, you know whatever it is it just infuriated. So that element of being white guy in Detroit was actually connected to me being pissed at rich motherfuckers, and a lot of those rich motherfuckers were white guys, but I was a poor white guy. So yeah it was like my own angst towards an economic disparity, the same way that I imagine a lot of black folks could have anger towards white folks in any of these categories we’re talking about— fled the city, gentrified the city. I also felt not just bad for the people that lived in the city of Detroit no matter what their race was, and the way things happened around them but I just was really angry, I still am, I still feel pissed at the wastefulness of the haves, and the people who can afford to waste. And part of that is because money for them too, they were like “it’s cheaper to go buy a plot of land where there’s woods, cut down all those trees and build a new factory than it is to fix this old one up. And that still happens to this day because guess what, that’s what fucking humans do over and over again. So my anger towards rich people who don’t care about poor people also just extends to the patterns that humans have, human behavior.

So yeah to bring it full circle, when I build a pyramid inside Fisher Body I’m not just talking about a ruin within a ruin, I’m also talking about how this is spanning thousands of years, the way humans act. Think about what you always learned about the pyramids in Egypt, now we don’t know if it’s really true, I don’t really know how those fucking things are built, I’m pretty suspicious because it’s crazy, but supposedly what we learned is that they were built by slaves over hundreds of years. It’s crazy to think that this is the cycle that humans have, over and over again is this really fucked up disparity between class and race and you name it.

When I first moved to this neighborhood I was the only white person in this neighborhood. I’m somebody who’s never really cared about that but I certainly felt like early on I had to overcome a lot of the stereotypes that were put onto me by my family. When you grow up in the suburbs I think what you learn a lot is that the whole city, all the abandoned things are just disgusting and need to be torn down, people would just say things like, “tear it all down and start anew.” I think people still say things like that, because Trump is president, obviously there are still people who say things like that.

One of the things that happened really early on for me was overcoming this idea that these buildings or houses that are decaying are all bad. That it was always a negative thing, it was always sad or nostalgic, like I get that too, there are shrimp shacks in Detroit that used to exist where I’m like, “oh Miley and Miley is gone.” But the quality of just seeing all blight as sadness or negative, I started to move away from that and I started to see how there was a beauty in that because it showed that no matter what dumb things humans do, nature comes back. To me, one of my greatest things in life is just learning from nature, really slowing down and watching things, and paying attention to nature. That to me is really, really powerful. And so when I’d go into these old factories where they were making cars two decades ago. Some of these factories were built in the early 1900’s and they’ve been abandoned since the 80’s, meaning that they only functioned for eighty years, but when they did it was this incredible amount of production and force and humans and material—I just feel it’s just a relatively short amount of time for so much to happen and for it to all be gone, and just lay at waste, and pretty quickly nature comes back, plants start growing, the rain gets in. To me that’s pretty heartening, as opposed to being depressing, where I think a lot of people think, “oh that’s so sad because that used to be there,” or, “I used to work there,” or, “my father worked there and they used to make cars and now it’s all gone,” like that kind of nostalgia I really moved past it and I started to see it as evidence of the cycles we go through as humans on earth, and that this happens, and we often try to cover it up. What usually happens, like in other cities, they’re like, “we gotta tear all of this down, nobody wants to look at that or be reminded of that.” And here’s where I take a turn a little bit, it’s my belief that the main reason for that is that humans don’t want to be reminded of mortality and how we are a part of the natural cycle, so I feel like any evidence of decay, which is all nature, is just talked about as the worst thing and we have to get rid of it. So eliminating any sense of decay or ruin, to me, is like acting that it doesn’t exist. But what we see in Detroit is evidence that is very prevalent and definitely exists. I think it’s kind of fantastic in that way for making everybody confront it. But we usually just build something else there—I don’t know I feel like the way Detroit has so slowly evolved in an excruciating way so that you can see all these layers, like I can still see Detroit in the 1980s if I drive to the right neighborhood, it still looks like it did when I was a kid. That to me is really powerful, it’s not just negative, it’s not just sad. There’s always going to be people who say, “how can you say that, people worked here, people lived here, these are people’s lives,” and I say, “yeah, exactly, that’s what I’m trying to say, this is how it really happens.” And I’d rather us be confronted with it then it all be, excuse the term, but whitewashed.

So the idea that blight removal erases history?

It erases what we did, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be blight removal, I’m just saying the way that Detroit has been so slow and agonizing about it, the way it’s been drawn out for decades here is very unique. So it’s not that it shouldn’t happen, it’s just that it’s revealed the process. It shows what happens behind the curtains. Like I did a project in China ten years and I worked in an abandoned building and it was there for like a month. Like I was in there and when I left they told me that two weeks after I was gone the building was replaced. They won’t allow it to be observed and people to be sad over it and nostalgic over it. It’s almost a way of controlling people, like eliminating their memory of a place—anyone who grew up in certain neighborhoods that are now freeways.

How do you feel about Detroit’s “renaissance” now?

I do feel like when people talk about Detroit as being so sad, it was the auto city, again I feel like it was only the auto city for maybe a hundred years, it was something else before that. It’s technically been Detroit for three hundred years, people have lived here for thousands of years, Native Americans have been here for thousands of years, this was a really kind of important crossing because it was so narrow. And thee rivers like the Rouge and Ecorse, Huron, all those rivers were really important. Grand River was a trail that took you from the camps they had at the river here to the Grand River, and when you got to the Grand River you could get to Grand Rapids. All the main roads, Woodward, Gratiot, Michigan Ave, those were all native trails. But to go back, I feel like Detroit has always been changing into something else. Just because people think of Detroit as the auto city doesn’t mean that that’s all it’s ever been or that that’s all it ever will be. I think there have been many renaissances. I don’t know exactly where it’s heading now, I think I have mixed feelings about it.

Like the ‘tale of two Detroits’ idea specifically, that the media shows Detroit as being reborn in a way, but obviously you look outside of Downtown, Midtown, and Corktown is not experiencing the same effects.

I think one of the reasons people have been here for so long, art people, creative people, people who just wanted to do their own thing, is just because you could do that here, and I think that what I’m afraid is happening is that the same thing that drew people here will vanish. So they’re all drawn here for a thing, and the more they come for that thing the more that thing evaporates. But another good example of that not happening is that it’s pretty clearly certain areas of the city that are changing so dramatically. A friend of mine said something that cracked me up, she said, “when people say, ‘rent’s going up and I can’t find anywhere to live,’ oh really why don’t you go down Joy Road.”

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