DETROIT: Dlectricity Redux

1 Oct

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Tonight Midtown Detroit is putting on a free, amazing, festival of light, sound and art; everybody is invited! Dlectricity (inspiration for the name comes from Detroit’s own, long gone, Electric Park) features more than 35 world-renowned and emerging artists whose work will illuminate historic architecture and public spaces along the Woodward corridor from the Detroit Historical Museum all the way to Orchestra Hall, for two consecutive nights.  It is a balmy September evening in the city, we arrive early enough to secure a parking space within decent walking distance of the activities, as we near Woodward we begin to see flashes of light and color, foot traffic is picking up, let’s check it out.

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Folks are gathered around the plaza of the historical museum, the film, The Legendary Leland Club, is being shown on the side of the building, we watch a few minutes then begin the trek down Kirby to see what else is going on. This side of the DIA a piece called Sash is being projected onto the building, the horizontal design cycles through all the colors of the spectrum. Making a right on John R the sidewalks are crowded with people, fluorescent glass tubes are formed in the shape of a house on the CCS campus, across the street the DIA loggia is aglow in blue LED lights, designs of different color and shape dance on the walls. A crowd has gathered in front of the Michigan Science Center to see Kelly Richardson’s submission, The Erudition; it’s quite an attention-getter. The scene is eerie, otherworldly and tranquil at the same time; a lunar-like landscape is the backdrop for towering holographic trees that blow in a fictional wind, stars twinkle in the night sky, parts of it seem so real, I just want to stand there and keep looking at it. On the Farnsworth side of the DIA, kids are playing a Detroit version of the game Minecraft; by choosing virtual textured cubes of wood, iron, diamond and lava, players construct and deconstruct the city into an array of make-believe structures.

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I would say the main attraction of the festival takes place on the Woodward side of both the DIA and the Detroit Public Library. The front surface of the opposing buildings act as a screen, Mindfield tells a story from the viewpoint of both a man and a woman, simultaneously, one on each building; it is visually stunning. Colors, shapes, scenes, faces,  flash in front of us, we watch one side, then the other, the story is played in a continuous loop, bystanders are enveloped in music and light. Walking toward downtown, we pass a robotic sort of installation called Mechano Shards, as the name suggests 20′ tall shimmering crystal-like shards, made from clear plastic and filled with air move in synchronized patterns, it’s interesting to watch the human interaction; children seem fascinated, some stand in the middle as shards close in around them, they laugh and think it’s cool. We continue our direction, passing the WSU Welcome Center, people peer in windows at the display, we see bicycles wrapped in colored lights cruising down the street. The large green space at Woodward and Warren is host to a bevy of things; a video plays on a big free-standing screen, a large-scale projection covers a building, Design Village features the work of independent Detroit designers, in the distance a white glow attracts visitors to what appears to be a giant television; here anyone can play the part of Mike Teavee from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

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Everywhere you look buildings are awash in light and color, sound and motion, sidewalks are thick with people, across the street, the bell tower of the First Congregational church is lit. The JVS Building is covered in ever-changing images of colorful, cell-like clusters, putting me in the mind of science and biology. Kris takes photo after photo, not an easy task in a crowd, we continually point things out to one another. When we reach Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company we stop in for a drink. In addition to serving freshly roasted, single origin, organic coffee they offer a nice selection of artisanal beer, craft cocktails and natural wines. The place is packed, the line at the register long, Kris notices two empty seats at the bar and leads me there. Scanning the drink menus, we quickly make a decision and place our order, it feels good to be sitting. The front of the building is all windows, giving one a great view of the hustle and bustle outside, Edison-style lights give the room a warm glow, exposed brick and wood plank ceiling make it cozy. Kris sips an Old Fashioned, I am enjoying a great Spanish red wine, a steady stream of customers come and go. 

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Illuminated sculptures titled Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, are grouped in front of the Max M Fisher Music Center, an up close look reveals they are made from plastic shopping bags, when we reach Parsons St, the “MaxCast” of Let’s Dance has just ended, guess we didn’t time that well! A giant waterfall cascades the length of the Bicentennial Towers, nearby, the Majestic Theater is aglow with laser, spiro-graph-like patterns in red, green, blue and yellow. The street in front is blocked off, lasers occupy lanes, as we stand there on the avenue I turn away from the show and take in the liveliness, movement and life that is becoming a regular occurrence in Detroit. The people who are here tonight reign from all over the metro, state and US, the city is becoming a destination, a place that draws individuals in with these type of events, shattering the one-sided, negative image so commonly associated with Detroit. There is an overwhelming sense of community out here tonight, and for that I am glad.

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 Making a right on Garfield we pop in and out of MOCAD and N’ Namdi, one of the coolest installations we see is on the back of the Garfield Building, Sound Spheres. Supernatural 3D images and shapes continually evolve and blossom from one form to another, wouldn’t it be spectacular these projections were permanent? Inside the Catherdral Church of St Paul acoustic simulations are projected onto the surface of the chancel, simultaneous to the visual segment, a precision-timed audio piece composed to excite the natural acoustics of the space is pumped into the room; it’s pretty awesome sitting in the 1907 structure watching sound take form. In the courtyard outside, plastic storage containers are stacked one on top of another, lit from within they take on a mysterious glow. Retracing our steps, we make our way back to the Jeep, we pass multi-generational families, hipsters, students, 30-somethings, all gathered here to enjoy what the best of what the city offers; fun, art, new experiences, great food, excellent drink and a night on the town!

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