DETROIT: Scraptastic !

25 Feb

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Here we are hanging out downtown, coffee at Madcap, lunch at Rocco’s. Driving down Woodward I gaze out the window at MOCAD and then I see it, Robolights Detroit. A quick right turn down Garfield, park in the lot then inside to get a wristband. You can always count on MOCAD to have thought-provoking, eye-catching exhibits; while we’re inside we check out the latest shows. Crossing Night features work by contemporary artists from the Southern Africa region. Organized by A4 Arts Foundation, Crossing Night explores how local politics, urban landscape and place shape personal identities through photography, video and sculpture. The photographs are quite lovely, my favorite is the one of the kids laying in the sand, I can almost feel the warmth transcending the photograph. Richard Prince’s New Portraits is a study of appropriation, it asks the viewer to consider where do our expectations and perceptions around privacy and consent lead us when using social media? What are you consenting to when posting? Reproduced and enlarged versions of Instagram posts on canvas cover gallery walls, people strike their pose, write a message; most times I feel like they are speaking a secret language. Standing there staring at their images I find myself experiencing a range of emotions; some make me smile, others make me uncomfortable. 

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With our paper wristbands installed we head out back to Robolights Detroit. Kenny Irwin Jr is the creator of this site-specific installation on the lawn of Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead. Irwin is the California artist behind the original “Robolights” project built over more than 3 decades on the property of his Palm Springs childhood home. Let’s see what he has in store for us. The phrase ‘massive found-object installation’ really didn’t prepare me for what I was going to see! Think carnival, junkyard, fun house, science-fiction movie, Christmas and Halloween all rolled into one. Tunnels, pathways, structures, thousands of Christmas lights. Inflatable Santa, robots, Pikachu, toilet seats, wreaths, Middle Eastern motifs and a snarling purple dragon; that’s just to start…

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Winding through the grounds we stare up at towers of printers and computer keyboards spray-painted solid yellow, pink, blue, purple or chartreuse; perhaps they are alien Christmas trees? Gold, plastic-faced rabbits form a ring around the trees. The gates are open on the wooden tunnel, the front is a face, we enter through its toothy mouth. Hundreds of colored lights drape the walls, plastic toys are mounted to the ceiling, I think to myself, this would be really cool in the dark. Perimeter walls are created from wood, turntables, boom boxes, stacked neatly and sprayed bright pink. Santa Claus rides an inflatable tank, an old snowmobile atop a wood platform looks out at the toilet merry-go-round, a pirate ship is manned by a crew of skeletons wearing Santa hats, snails on the roof top add a little whimsy; it’s a wacky, dizzying, dazzling display.

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Several structures lure us inside. A row of robots on the porch of the candy cane house look harmless, inside narrow hallways lead us past artwork into a room of toasters and toaster ovens, white lights and garland adorn the items. A gold robot with vacuum cleaner legs stands on guard, sword raised, there’s that purple dragon again… Behind wooden fencing a skeletal dinosaur serves dinner to her newly-hatched youngsters; Mickey Mouse anyone? Another indoor space has a floor of cords, I like the way the sun illuminates the glass-bottle window. We enter another structure through a refrigerator, this one could be tough if you’re tall. Past the train with yet another Santa is the clown house, I’m not a fan of clowns but step inside anyway; there he is, the creepy clown who gives all clowns a bad name. More clowns ride the mini ferris wheel, a couple of hairy beasts join in the fun. So much to look at.

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The Mobile Homestead is a full-scale replica of the home in which Mike Kelley grew up: a single story ranch-style house in the suburb of Westland. A companion exhibit of Sci-fi-themed pen and ink drawings by Irwin hang on plain white walls. These are amazing; the flying saucer towing the water skier makes me laugh. There are some cool automotive drawings along with outer-space scenes, the detail is incredible. We exit through the front door, taking one last look as we walk back to the car.

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Karl’s Coffee Shop is located on the second floor of the Siren Hotel. This old-fashioned diner takes us back to the days of paper place mats with crossword puzzles and local advertisements, chrome trimmed tables and chairs, salmon and turquoise colored upholstery, neon lighting. The website states: Karl’s takes inspiration from Chef Kate’s great, great grandparents and the bakery they once owned on the east side of Detroit; it certainly feels as though we have stepped into the past. The menu features diner-style food taken up a notch, which is reflected in the price. We’re just here for a drink; Spanish coffee for me, whiskey on the rocks for Kris. Slowly consuming our cocktails we complete the crossword puzzle with the provided pencil, look at black and white framed family photos, check out the view from the large windows. The ambiance is quaint, the vibe chill and the Spanish coffee is excellent!

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One Response to “DETROIT: Scraptastic !”

  1. Michael Ricketts February 25, 2020 at 7:59 pm #

    Cool stuff…as always.

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