September 27, 2012

Community collectives at MOCA Detroit

“Vision in a Cornfield” is a large scale site-specific installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, fashioned through the collaborative efforts of Destroy All Monsters, a former Detroit art rock band, and collectives Ogun and Apetechnology. A handful of junkyard cars are displayed among freestanding cornstalks and piles of dirt, as well as hanging costuming by Jennifer Price and Levon Millross. The viewer is meant to walk through an adjoining room to get to the main installation “because there are motion detectors and stuff,” according to the guard standing by its exit where I initially tried to enter.
This first room, filled with mixed-media works by Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, called upon the prints and drawings room in the last talked-about installation at MOCAD – “Joshua White and Gary Panter’s Light Show” – in its panoply of ephemera: objects of questionable utility, paintings on unfolded cardboard boxes, a video projection, all hung anywhere from knee-level to the ceiling. Opposite the video are four unstretched canvases advertising foreign horror films painted in a style adopted by those hired to advertise on the sides of Detroit businesses. On either side, vitrines hold jazz magazines and reliquaries made from broken mirrors, glitter, and combs. This wall in particular previewed the types of materials used by the artists to create the “cornfield,” as well as the unsettling atmosphere of the installation as a whole.


Once inside the cornfield, the atmosphere is Hirschhornian. Everything is crafted using mass-produced or discarded materials. Each car is hand-painted and covered in things like broken mirrors and old stamps of jazz singers. They project chants, songs, or indistinguishable sounds that coincide with randomly moving parts – a hood opening and shutting, for instance. One is surrounded by dozens of neatly folded work shirts, many with Ford logos, their nametags prominently displayed. Tall devotional candles in glass holders – like those sold at dollar stores – are placed around the uniforms. In the center of the room hangs a giant mobile with two car doors dangling just above what looks to be a resin “pond” surrounded by dirt, cattails, and bottle caps. I remember an experience a friend and I had a few blocks east of MOCAD where we parked in a lot so overgrown that it looked like a field. No one had driven past, let alone approached, for hours. We talked about how nature has begun to reclaim its land, like Chernobyl, in so many Detroit neighborhoods. I felt just as uneasy walking through the installation as did that day, recalling the ultimate Detroit conundrum: How can a place feel so desolate when it’s so close to everything?


In its entirety, the installation is uniquely Detroit. Painting on discarded objects, especially cars and car parts, is an obvious allusion to its defunct industry, but also recalls the ongoing Heidleberg Project, Tyree Guyton’s oft referenced installation that turns vacant lots into community art spaces. And, according to the statement, the inspiration for the project came from an encounter that Kelley and Loren experienced on Halloween night. Since Detroit is the birthplace of Devil’s Night, the Halloween reference is particularly potent.

Leaving MOCAD, I almost dropped my camera and, distracted, stepped in vomit swarming with flies. On the corner a man stood selling newspapers, eating a snack size bag of Better Made pork rinds. As I drove off, I realized that the exhibition had made everything around me seem like a haunting, self-referential trope suitable for contemplation.

All installation images by Megan Major.  

"Vision in a Cornfield," curated by M. Saffell Gardner, Cary Loren and Rebecca Mazzei. Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit, MI. Through December 30, 2012.

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