Friday, August 7, 2009

Art and Exodus

On Heidelberg Street, resisting decay means turning it into art. Local artists take burnt out remnants of auto-plants, stuffed animals, old phone booths, 50s vacuum cleaners, and an assortment of other riff-raff to create yard installations. A tall stump of a tree is cluttered with stuffed animals at bottom and unreachable shopping carts at top. An advertisement showing a girl with cell phones, pagers, and memory sticks is blurred with bright red lipstick and the word: God?

This is the face of the Heidelberg Project, started by Tyree Guyton in his Detroit neighborhood. Here, I’m reminded of John Water’s Desperate Living where castaways run to a secondary universe of drop-outs and criminals. 30,000 homes are abandoned in Detroit, more than any place in the nation save for Las Vegas. The amount of abandoned land in Detroit is the size of San Francisco. From 2 million people at its height to half that today. If this isn’t desperate living, what is?

Back in March, Toby Barlow wrote “In a way, a strange, new American dream can be found here, amid the crumbling, semi-majestic ruins of a half-century’s industrial decline.” Yes, here is Detroit struggling for survival in a country that has essentially doomed it to decline. In “How the Crash Will Reshape America,” Richard Florida writes that cities like Detroit and others in the “Slump Belt” may have reaching a tipping point where they will become ghost towns. The challenge for Detroit and other cities will be “managing population decline without becoming blighted.”

So far, not so good. On one hand, the decline of a major American city provides a kind of cerebral beauty, an exercise in irony, a warning against hubris. On the other, it remains a frightening specter for what may come in a nation built on manufacturing with no more manufacturing jobs. Exodus and Art, hand in hand.

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Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.
- Oscar Wilde


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