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Detroit Focus Quarterly Volume 12 Number 1-3

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P O C O !
Detroit
Focus
Quarterly
A
Visual
Arts
Publication
Volume 12
Number 1 -3
Fall 1996
Community Visions of
Royal Oak: A Series of
Architectural and Urban
Design Projects
Thomas Barrie
"Glass: A Woman's
Touch": Ariana Gallery
Dale Sparage
Roni Horn: Susanne
Hilberry Gallery
Kevin Castile
"Syntax Error.
Natalie Cox,
Matthew Gollnick,
Mark Mothersbaugh,
and
Stephen Schudlich":
The Cement Space
Vince Carducci
Jeffrey Silverthorne:
Book Beat Gallery
Holly Jennings


Detroit
Focus
Quarterly
A Visual Arts
Publication
Volume 12 Number 1-3
Fall 1996
Publisher:
Darlene Carroll
Editor:
Vincent Carducci
Copy Editor:
Mary Clark-Gage
Contributing Editors:
Doug Aikenhead,
Richard Axsom,
James E. Hart,
Glen Mannisto,
Dennis Alan Nawrocki,
MaryAnn Wilkinson
Designer:
Franc Nunoo-Quarcoo
Art Director:
Loralei R. Byatt
Business Manager:
Tess Tchou
Sales Manager:
Christine Welch
Advisor:
Mary M. Denison
Printing:
Clark Graphics
Paper:
Seaman Patrick
Detroit Focus Quarterly is
published four times per
year by Detroit Focus, P.O.
Box 32823, Detroit, Michigan
48232-0823. Copyright 1996
by Detroit Focus. All rights
reserved. Contents in whole
or in part may not be repro
duced without permission.
The opinions expressed are
those of the writers and are
not necessarily those of
Detroit Focus. Address
correspondence to Detroit
Focus Quarterly, do Detroit
Focus, PO. Box 32823, Detroit,
Michigan 48232-0823, or
telephone 313/965-3245.
Manuscripts must be typed,
double-spaced and
accompanied by a stamped,
self-addressed envelope.
Ad salespeople receive a 20
percent commission. Detroit
Focus is a nonprofit, equal
opportunity organization.
Programs made possible in
part with support from Detroit
Council of the Arts, the
National Endowment for the
Arts, the Michigan Council
for the Arts and Cultural Affairs,
and the Arts Foundation
of Michigan
Cover by
Skip Farley,
Detroit Focus Board Member
and computer artist
Detroit Focus,
uarterly
Editorial
Vince Carducci
At long last, an issue of Detroit Focus Quarterly.
Given our erratic publishing schedule, I have often
referred this beleaguered little journal as "Detroit
Focus Intermittently." Rather than bore you with
excuses for the continual delays in publication, let
me just apologize for the extremely long wait. While
the material contained in this issue of Detroit Focus
Quarterly might be considered somewhat dated, for
historical reasons, and in deference to those who
spent so much of their time and energy in preparing
their manuscripts, I felt it was important that it finally
(however belatedly) reach an audience. It is my
sincere desire that the community will not have to
wait so long for the next issue.
Figure 1 Scale model of Royal Oak looking north showing examples of the four projects. Foreground right: commuter rail
station. Mam between 5th and 6th (project by Tom Foos); left: housing project, corner of Washington and 6th (project by
Matthew Coates) Background left: performing arts center, corner of Washington and 5th (project by Andrew Bader),
right museum project, corner of Main and 11 Mile (project by James Mulka) Behind: figure-ground drawing.


Introduction
Just as the crowded and unhealthy conditions of the
English and American Victorian city resulted in
utopian and garden city movements, today's
suburban environment, with its wasteful, car-
dependent sprawl and banal, unsightly lack of place,
has prompted us to reconsider the city. By the city I
refer to the vitality, density, diversity, sense of place,
public orientation, and facilitation of community that
urbanism has traditionally provided. The appropriate
translation and application of these characteristics in
suburban areas can strengthen existing centers and
transform our scattered, undifferentiated
surroundings.
For the past two years, the design studios I have led
at Lawrence Technological University have rigorously
addressed contemporary suburban/urban issues by
means of architectural and urban design projects set
in Royal Oak's downtown. The methodology has
consisted of four avenues of inquiry: (1) to consider
the timeless elements that have traditionally created
and defined place and community; (2) to recognize
recent and contemporary patterns of development
and note their reasons, cost, and effects; (3) to
research substantial, timely, and appropriate
alternatives and approaches which serve to foster
healthy, sustainable, and viable urbanity; and (4) to
develop these approaches through "real" projects in
a suburban setting that already possesses a
modicum of urbanity.
While these fundamental environmental and spiritual
needs have perhaps changed and are arguably
diminished today, they still remain essential to a sense
of identity and well being. Traditionally, religion, sacred
space, mythology, and ritual have been deeply rooted
in the definition of place. According to Mircea Eliade,
meaningful places or centers have served to
differentiate the "sacred" from the "profane": it was the
"place" where the gods were present and the setting
for communal activities. One's existence was always
directly related to specific places and their identity and
meaning. Architecture was created with the knowledge
that the experience of meaningful places profoundly
affected one emotionally and spiritually.
Our modern perspective insists that contemporary
humans are significantly different from our recent
ancestors. This myopic conceit ignores the similarities
between our basic social needs and responses to our
environment with those of our more distant
predecessors. Our bodies are virtually the same and
much of our social behavior originates from our
primitive past. According to Carl Jung, our psyches are
"not only of today," but are a result of the legacy of
preceding generations, a thread of interconnections
woven back into the fabric of time. One important,
timeless aspect is an undiminished need for identifiable
places to serve meaningful social interaction and
communal participation. In the introduction to Town
and Town-Making Principles, 1991, Alex Kreiger states
that, "In an age of instant communication and mobility
Community Visions of Royal Oak:
Place and Community
Human orientation and identity are contingent on
our sense of belonging to a place. As Christian
Norberg-Schulz wrote in 1980, "The place is the
concrete manifestation of
man's dwelling, and his
identity depends on his
belonging to places." A
"place" is where we are
from, a center which is
differentiated from others.
To be meaningful, a place
needs to possess what
Norberg-Schulz terms an
"imaginable structure"
that gives its inhabitants a
sense of belonging and
connection. Moreover,
identifiable places have
meaningful content and
provide the setting for individual and group
interaction, a need architecture has historically
fulfilled.
it is easy but wrongheaded, to assume that physical
proximity is no longer essential for urbanity."
A Series of
Architectural
and Urban
Design
Projects
Contemporary Patterns Our contemporary built
environment is more often
described as lacking
discernable centers and
places. As James Howard
Kunstler states, "there is little
sense of having arrived
anywhere, because everyplace
looks like noplace in
particular." (The Geography of
Nowhere: The Rise and Fall of
America's Man-Made
Landscape, 1991.) It is this
landscape that is
characterized by sprawl, and
Thomas Barrie
Thomas Barrie is a practicing architect and Assistant
Professor at Lawrence Technological University; his
book Spiritual Path-Sacred Place: Myth, Ritual and
Meaning in Architecture was recently published by
Shambhala Publications.


Figure 2.
Theoretical
exercise exploring
issues of
threshold,
commuter rail
station project.
which has been built according to the dictates of our
dominant transportation system, the private
automobile. The result is the predominance of
fragmented, isolated enclaves and a paucity of true
public spaces. The street, traditionally the place of
commerce and social interaction, has been reduced
to a conduit between the separate entities of home,
shopping, recreation, and work. Pedestrian access
and transportation choices have been marginalized
and the use, function, and population of our cities
and towns has become increasingly segregated. The
disturbing phenomena of gated communities and
"edge cities" eloquently encapsulates these
patterns and their broad ranging societal
implications.
Contemporary patterns of development have been
attributed to the global communication and
transportation revolution of the late-twentieth
century, but this is only partially accurate. Our
increasingly dysfunctional built environment is also
the result of specific transportation subsidies and
development practices. It is not simply the effect of
laissez-faire, "natural" market forces which therefore


represent "what people want." Even if it were a
natural reflection of our needs, we can no longer
afford it socially, politically, economically, and
ecologically. It is ironic that a country defined by
notions of personal freedom has created an
environment of limited mobility which serves to
segregate our society by age and socioeconomic
status. The family budget is increasingly devoted to
paying for automobiles, and our communities are
disproportionately burdened with the cost of
maintaining roads, infrastructure, and services. As
we relentlessly continue to spread out, more and
more farms and open lands are lost and the health
of our water and air declines.
Moreover, our built environment's relentless assault
on our senses compels us to retreat psychologically
and become passive. We structure our environment,
but it in turn structures us. Analogous to the
dialectical interrelationship of culture and language,
our environment possesses a depth of content in
terms of national identity. It is a legible sign system
that succinctly tells us "who we are"—our values,
beliefs, and priorities. Michael Sorkin argues that
dispersed suburban enclaves are antithetical to a
free society and that "the effort to re-claim the city is
the struggle of democracy itself." Christopher Lasch,
in his last book, The Revolt of the Elites and the
Betrayal of Democracy, 1995, writes about the loss
of true public discourse and its implications
regarding the practice of democracy. The
"sprawling, amorphous conglomeration without
clearly identifiable boundaries, public space or
identity" that he describes is attributed to the
balkanization and polarization of society. According
to Lasch as the "privatized classes" retreat from
public life behind their gated enclaves, or in their
rootless mobility, democracy and its institutions are
put at risk.
Responses and Strategies
Contemporary theoreticians such as Peter
Calthorpe, Margaret Crawford, Mike Davis, Andres
Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Harrison Fraker,
Doug Kelbaugh, Kreiger, Daniel Solomon, and
others argue for the transformation and urbanization
of suburbia. Their arguments are based in part on
the premise that viable urban environments are
created by a straightforward response to timeless
qualities of human community and the appropriate
application of traditional urban precedents. This is
not a nostalgia for past forms and symbols, but
timely responses and strategies that satisfy essential
human needs in the context of their contemporary
setting.
In Calthorpe's "transit-oriented development," for
example, public transportation is an essential
component. However, the aim is not to eliminate the
automobile, but to integrate a diverse range of
transportation, commerce, business, and residential
needs. Growth is not limited in particular areas,
Figure 3. "Community Visions of Royal Oak" installation view, Washington Square Plaza. Left: "Speakers Corner" project; center: housing
project; right: museum project


Figure 4. Housing project,
including ground-floor
commercial spaces and shared
public space (projects by
Cori Linnell, Julee Taylor, and
Matthew Coates).
Integrated
Design
Studio for
Commuter
Rail Station:
Thomas Barrie
(architectural
design);
Robert
Champlin
(urban spatial
structures);
and
Merrie
Carlock
(landscape
design).
Integrated
Design
Studio for
Performing
Arts Center:
Thomas Barrie
(architectural
design); Chris
Wazacny
(urban spatial
structures);
and
Anthony
B Herk
(structures/
building
systems).
which often leads to sprawl elsewhere, but is
controlled in ways that foster density, diversity, and
community. In this regard, local and regional zoning
and planning laws, as well as street improvement
subsidies and traffic engineering standards, are
addressed. According to Calthorpe, successful
strategies include a coalition of urbanists,
developers, and environmentalists—a synthesis of
problems for common solutions.
The result is full-time communities that are inclusive
not exclusive and provide a healthy balance of
public and private places. Privacy is created by
interstitial spaces not barriers, security by streets
that are inhabited not guarded. Because people
participate in their community, there is a sense of
ownership and care.
The five principal characteristics of these new or
revitalized urban centers are: (1) diversity of use,
population, accessibility, economics, and
transportation; (2) sense of place and public identity
which includes a clarity of center and boundary
demarcated by civic places and buildings; i
(3) pedestrian scale and accessibility accomplished
in part by narrow streets with short crosswalks,
facilitated through traffic slowing and by humanly
scaled architecture, signage, lighting, and planting;
(4) a mixed-use commercial core with a dense
concentration of business, commercial, civic, and
residential buildings that maintains and engages the
street edge; and (5) a "downtown" area served by
public transportation with adjacent residential areas
within walkable distances.
The Projects
At one time Detroit was one of the largest cities in
America; now its population stands at less that one
million, many of them poor. Woodward Avenue,
once the grand boulevard of Detroit, epitomizes the
city's decline—miles of abandoned buildings, empty
lots, loss of any sense of meaningful place. Looming
over its sparse downtown is the Renaissance Center,
intended to revitalize Detroit's downtown, but now
functioning like one of many self-contained
corporate fortresses that ring the city. A metropolis


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Figure 5. Museum project,
including artist live/work studios,
street-level commercial spaces,
public exhibition courtyard
(project by James Mulka).
Figure 6. Commuter rail station
project (project by Kirk Phillips).
Students:
Grace
Abou-Chebl,
Andy Bader,
Matt Badrack,
Andy Bennett,
Brad Boyer,
Brian Carr,
Matt Coates,
David
Czeszewski,
Brent Folkert,
Tom Foos,
Joe Furwa, Greg
Gibbard, Chris
Lauinger,
Cori Linnell,
Beth Malberg,
David Miller,
James Mulka,
Brian Neeper,
Shelley O'Brien,
Kirk Phillips,
James Renaud,
Jack Runkle,
David Stone,
Adrian Ursu,
Dan van Dyke,
Slobodan Varga,
Rochelle Vogel,
Matt Weeks,
Tracie Withrow,
and
Tricia Wolters.
that evolved according to the economics and
dictates of the automobile, contemporary Detroit
and its suburban environs are defined by sprawl,
auto dependence, and lack of place. It is
characterized by borders, edges, separation,
economic and racial segregation, fragmentation,
and defensible enclaves. It offers a striking example
of suburban settlement patterns run amok and
contemporary attitudes about urbanism.
However, interspersed among the miles of freeways,
corporate enclaves, and faceless strips and housing
tracts are pockets of urbanity. Royal Oak offers a
striking example of a community struggling to
provide a meaningful, humane center. It is a popular
place, known for its restaurants and "street life," and
people drive there from the surrounding suburbs to
sit in its cafes and walk its streets. The small-in-
scope, upper-level student projects which are set in
Royal Oak's "downtown" respond to, and build
upon, the modicum of urban fabric that exists there.
These projects explore issues related to the
urbanization of suburbia and have been grouped
under the constructs: "Place and Community:
Alternative Housing in Royal Oak," "The Street and
the City: A Museum of Contemporary Cultural
Artifacts," "Threshold: An Urban Rail Station for
Royal Oak," and "Place and Occasion: A Performing
Arts Center for Royal Oak." The goals of the projects
were first of all to introduce the morphology and
experience of a viable urban environment. Most
students have not experienced urban environments
and often have not been sufficiently introduced to
issues of urbanism, though they are from junior and y\ n exhibition
senior level design studios. Urbanity was the Q f
principal focus of the studios, but because they are "Community
student projects they also included other Visions of
educational goals. Royal Oak"
was on view
The educational methodology of the studios at
included precedent, context, and theoretical Washington
exercises. Precedent studies of each project's Square Plaza,
specific building type as found in urban settings Royal Oak,
were researched. Context studies included drawing April 7-30,
and model exercises to document the range of 1995.


Figure 6.
Commuter rail
station project
(project by
Kirk Phillips).
public space and the scale and texture of Royal Oak.
For example, in the housing project (figure 1) the
students were asked to create a series of model and
sketch studies that explored issues related to shared
or public space. Specific questions were posed:
"What is the scale and texture of the streets and
buildings surrounding the site?" "What is the rhythm
and cadence of the street as one walks along it?"
"What are its horizontal and vertical layers, its
materials and forms, its openings, corners and
edges...?" Students were asked to consider how the
surrounding urban fabric of Royal Oak might be
strengthened and made more cohesive.
The rail station project began by building a model of
Royal Oak's downtown that identified public spaces
and the scale and detail of the street (see figure 1). In
the museum project a figure-ground drawing of the
downtown area was developed by the students as a
group, using Giambattista Noli's 1748 plan of Rome
as a model. The drawing illustrated interior and
exterior public spaces that allow for human assembly,
repose, and interaction (i.e., sidewalks, plazas ,
markets, cafes, coffeeshops, restaurants, churches,
and theaters), and showed as much detail as
possible, including planting, paving, seating,
lighting, awnings, etc.
Theoretical exercises were used to identify
fundamental issues related to both formal and social
relationships. Their emphasis was the
interrelationship of elements and patterns as
opposed to formal objects. In the museum project an
exercise entitled "Interface" identified certain
relationships inherent in streets and asked that they
be conceptually expressed. Similarly, the rail station
project had a theoretical exercise entitled "A Place
of Meeting" (figure 2) where the students
constructed a 1' x 3' relief, material collage that
conceptually addressed issues of threshold, limen,
border, meeting, interaction, convergence, and
interpenetration.
The performing arts center project utilized an
exercise entitled "Speaker's Corner." This latter
assignment was site specific and concluded with a
performance in situ. Its (not so hidden) agenda was
the notion of the value of taking possession and
care of public spaces (figure 3). The project abstract
was based on Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde
Park, where, in a tradition which dates back to the
nineteenth century, on Sunday mornings anyone
may publicly speak. Established by the local
government of its time as a place for public
gatherings and debate—a service it still in part
performs—a simple podium serves as a stage for
political or otherwise orations, inevitably with
audience participation. (Today, the polemics often
take the form of marginal political performance,
street theater of sorts.) Based on the concept that
open societies and communities depend on the
freedom to publicly debate issues, present ideas, or
entertain (often in simple urban settings: street
corners, squares, the public green), students were
directed to imagine a place in Royal Oak that would
fill a similar need.
Once the preliminary studies were completed, urban
strategies, which emphasized the elements of viable
urbanity previously noted, were developed in


concert with the architectural design. The housing
project set in downtown Royal Oak, for example,
addressed issues of public space, density, mixed
use, and economic and social diversity (figure 4). It
included research on alternative housing and
urban/suburban issues and acknowledged that, as
the typical American family has changed (along with
work patterns and community structure), the need
for alternatives to the single-family house has grown.
Responding to economic and social needs, shared
housing, among other benefits, can fill the need for
affordable housing and community. The program
included a range of housing units, indoor and
outdoor community spaces, and street-level
commercial spaces, including a
gallery/bookstore/cafe.
The museum project focused on the social and
formal qualities of the public street, public space,
and urbanity; and its program included a street-level
cafe and commercial spaces as well as artist
live/work spaces. Its diversity of use and pedestrian
street scale was intended to engage a prominent
site on Main Street currently used as a lot for a car
dealership (figure 5). The project definition of "a
museum of contemporary cultural artifacts" was left
open to each student's interpretation; meaning and
cultural context were givens in the studio's enquiry.
Context surveys and precedent studies were utilized
and the projects were developed through an
emphasis on the scale, use, and viability of "the
street;" shared positive public space and
contemporary urban theories.
The rail station project identified the conflict in
American culture of celebrating communication,
mobility, and transportation, while depending on the
slow, wasteful, and primitive mode of transportation
of the private automobile. It served to introduce the
students to issues of public transportation, including
its implications regarding civic identity. The projects
transformed the site on Main Street into a prominent
entry point to the downtown; the station became a
threshold to Royal Oak and points beyond. The
building program included commercial spaces, a
restaurant/coffee bar, a station hall, and a public
plaza, and addressed their implications regarding
public space and pedestrian access. The necessity of
a "kiss and ride" drop-off area and short-term
parking required the accommodation of the
automobile. The project was integrated with urban
and landscape design studios to comprehensively
address a range of issues. It focused on issues of
public space, street edge, and appropriate scale and
materials, while recognizing that "traditional" urban
strategies do not need to be mimetic, nor do they
preclude timely and evocative architecture, (figure 6)
Conclusion
When the post-World War II suburbs blossomed in
America they provided an option to the city and the
country, as they still do today. However, if we lose
the city due to fragmentation, and subsume the
country due to profligate sprawl, then we will be left
with no choice or diversity at all. Moreover, radically
changed demographics and the resources necessary
for the development and maintenance of suburbia
make it an increasingly marginal option. Alternatives
are desperately needed for a world that is
dramatically different from 40 years ago. We may
not need radical change, even if that were possible,
but simply a broader range of choices that serve
more of our population.
The need for change is apparent and yet we find
ourselves in an interval between the realization that
the old ways no longer work and the discovery of
new patterns, a characteristic of a transitional time.
In many ways we do not know what to do and thus
the plethora of debates within architecture and
urbanism as to its role and responsibilities. Too often
this results in paranoid and arcane debates that
suggest a profession without a center. Our
perceived impotence to effect positive change has
resulted in a professional placelessness of sorts.
Often, the debate is polarized between nostalgia for
the past and passive acceptance of the present.
Both approaches, by utilizing selective criteria and
information, are inadequate. We need a middle way
that recognizes archetypal human needs, responds
to our contemporary milieux, and perhaps
anticipates the future. We need to synthesize
traditional patterns of human habitation and social
interaction with contemporary issues of suburbia
and urbanism. Lastly, it is essential to reestablish a
proactive social agenda toward the creation of place
and community in our built environment that can be
rigorously tested in a full range of theoretical and
constructed projects. ^
This issue of Detroit
Focus Quarterly was
made possible by a
grant from Detroit
Council of the Arts and
services donated in
kind by Clark Graphics,
Warren, Michigan, and
Seaman Patrick Paper
Company, Detroit.


“Glass: A
Woman’s
Touch”
Arianna Gallery
Royal Oak, Ml
March 31-May 1, 1995
by
Dale
Sparage
Dale Sparage is
an artist and
educator
working in
Pontiac.
Eight years ago when Ann Kuffler opened Ariana
Gallery, her husband hung the lights and kept the
books. Today she is the sole proprietor of the
3,500-square foot space and the employer of a staff
of five. Recently, she curated the show "Glass: A
Women's Touch" at the gallery. Inspired by a lecture
she attended by the Guerrilla Girls, Kuffler wanted
to present the art of glass from a feminine
perspective.
Techniques and expressions of women artists from
all over the world were represented in the exhibit
which, in many instances, have revolutionized an art
form traditionally thought of as male dominated. (In
a recent interview, Kuffler spoke of herself as a
frustrated artist, claiming her two great passions to
be glass and ceramics: "glass blowing requires a
great deal of physical strength and stamina; women
bring a more subtle, delicate view, creating
smaller-scale objects.") Inventive methods, such as
fusion, engraving, weaving, and incorporating
various hand-made and
natural objects into the
glass, were to be found in
the show and the artists
included Carol Perry, who
weaves colored strips of
glass, then heats the
structure into freely formed
shapes; Zoe Adorno, who
fuses and slumps her pieces
to create sculptures that are
further embellished with
strips of latticcino (woven
canes of glass); and Susan
Batian Gott, who heats the
glass to pour it into
Sand-Cast molds. Lisabeth Levine, See No Evil,
The effect of these innovative techniques was
compounded by the highly personal,
autobiographical, and emotionally charged
expressions of the work, much of which appeared to
be informed by the physicality of the body, in both a
sexual and sensual way. Lucy Lippard in her latest
book, The Pink Class Swan: Essays in Feminist Art,
1995, states: "I, for one, am convinced that there
are aspects of art by women that are inaccessible to
men and that these aspects arise from the fact that a
women's political, biological, and social experience
in this society is different from that of a man.”
Although she acknowledges that, "It would be
ridiculous to assert that the characteristics of the
female sensibility...are not shared to some degree by
male artists.... The fact remains that certain
elements...are found far more often in the work of
women than of men." Validation of Lippard's position
could be seen in works such as Alone in the House
of Dreams, 1994, a mixed-media glass sculpture
composed by Margaret Stone. Another pointed work
in this regard was the installation of blown glass with
intimate oil paintings of various images that the artist
finds fearful by Diana Purnell titled, 50 Things to
Fear, 1994. Other titles— Divorced, Not So Private
Hell, Protection Too Little Too Late, Archaic Maiden,
Be Safe, Caring For the Weak and Wounded
suggested content dealing with tears, condoms,
goddesses, marriage, and more.
Another significant aspect that was brought to light
through the exhibit was the blurring of boundaries
between craft and fine art. In his book Art Worlds,
1982, Howard Becker devotes a chapter on the
relationship of fine art to craft, or as he states, "The
new standards artists create to insure that a work's
only utility will be as art to be admired, appreciated,
and experienced." Artists, Becker holds, "denounce
the mere virtuosity of the old school of craftsman.
They discover and create a conscious continuity with
work in other areas of art, especially the traditional
areas of painting and
I sculpture. They announce
their independence of
others' ideas of what their
work should consist of and
denounce any attempt to
saddle them with the
requirements of utility." The
women participating in
"Glass: A Woman's Touch,"
illustrate a high quality of
professional craftsmanship,
while concurrently imparting
emotional and socially
relevant qualities within the
work.
black engraved bowl
The art community is
fortunate to have Ann Kuffler in its midst for she is
among those whom are contributing to the creation
of new standards within the arenas of criticism,
exhibition, and the market place, standards that
promulgate images of women within a context in
which they can identify with one another rather than
fit into conventions predetermined by male
standards. Through accepting the risk in supporting
a female sensibility, she and others are instigating
social changes and promoting renewed canons
within the art world #


m -o
Roni Horn, in her frjpg Sc
recent exhibition
at the Susanne
Hilberry Gallery,
presented what
appeared to be
fragments from
the various series
and installations
that she has
produced over the
past decade.
Initially, the
fragments jostled
each other,
refusing the
expected melding
into a coherent
whole. The show
coalesced only
when the viewer ^ on ‘ *~* orn ' When Dickinson Shut Her Eyes No.
dipped below
visual surfaces to analyze the influences and
procedures that Horn brought to the making of this
body of work. Straddling the separated twins of
minimalism and pop art, she blended elements of
collage and an intimate relationship with the terrain
of Iceland to create a stark installation that slowly
revealed its beauty and connections to the patient
viewer.
Roni Horn
Susanne Hilberry Gallery
Birmingham, Ml
February 18 - March 25, 1995
886, ed. 1/3, 1993, plastic and aluminum
mark-making activity. In Horn's procedure, the
shapes are first painted randomly on paper, then cut
into strips and rearranged as new configurations
arise amongst the liberated forms. This collage
technique, with its implication of movement and
transmutability, encouraged reading the balance of
the installation as random elements in a continuous
state of realignment.
Four large, solid aluminum bars were leaned against
each of the walls in the first gallery, each bar
accommodating the first line of a poem by Emily
Dickinson which also served as its title. The letters,
which appear on the outward-facing surface of each
burnished beam, were fashioned of inlaid black
plastic. The inlay continued around the other three
sides, creating alternating bands of varying width.
The effect was spare, resulting in the desire to see
more lines of poetry (in the past, Horn has exhibited
whole poems, one line to a bar and the bars
grouped together). In this installation, the tactic of
one line to a wall seemed to leave too much inactive
space, and as a result, the beams assumed the role
of flaccid buttresses in their attempt to support the
wall's expanse.
However, a large drawing, accompanied by two
floor sculptures and a framed page of script, which
occupied the next room provided more visual
interest and supplied the cues for decoding the rest
of the exhibit. The drawing, titled Just XX, 1993,
consisted of smallish, lush acid-green shapes made
from ground pigment and varnish that played across
the vast white surface of the paper like charted
choreography. Closer inspection revealed penciled
markings, smudges, and variously pigmented
fingerprints: a relative plethora of incidental
From this perspective, Dickinson's poetic fragments
became, by turns, Horn's and the viewer's, each of
whom can generate a different poem upon
successive encounters. Regeneration was also
alluded to through the list of Icelandic lava fields
which constituted the text of the framed script. The
reconfiguration of language and visual image that
occurred throughout the exhibit worked
metaphorically to describe the ever-changing and
self-engendering geology of Iceland. Horn has
made frequent, extended visits there, and the
sparse quality of the installation, as well as the
recombinant quality of individual works, might be
attributed to this. Even the cloven mounds of
copper and stainless steel that hugged the floor
began to appear as solidified bubbles or lava, split
as they hyper-cooled upon exiting the earth.
Utilizing simplified procedures and minimal
materials, Horn created a complex and an ultimately
active mindscape. Too much current art simply rests
on a nexus of process, material, and idea: both
social agenda and formal stricture can act as screens
that deny access to the intentions of many an
artwork's creator. In contrast, Horn's human response
imbued her art with character; the aura of personal
experience brought to pared-down means
resonated throughout her work with desolate grace.
Kevin
Castile
Kevin Castile
is an artist
and writer.


“Syntax Error.
Natalie Cox,
Matthew Gollnick,
Mark Mothersbaugh,
and
Stephen Schudlich”
The Cement Space
Detroit, Ml
November 18-
December 23, 1994
by
Vince
Carducci
Vince
Carducci is
editor of
Detroit Focus
Quarterly
Certainly one of the more interesting developments
on the recent art scene in Detroit has been the
opening of The Cement Space in the warehouse
district near downtown. In the past year, The
Cement Space has mounted some notable
exhibitions and generated keen interest among the
art-going public. Perhaps the most significant effort
to date has been "Syntax Error," which brought
together four Midwestern artists who address issues
of visual culture in the twilight of the age of
mechanical reproduction.
From a strictly promotional point of view, the
exhibit's main attraction was Mark Mothersbaugh,
who is more widely known for his project, Devo, the
New Wave group from Akron, Ohio, which rose to
international prominence in the late-1970s.
Mothersbaugh has been a visual artist all along,
having done cover art for Devo's recordings,
directing films, and otherwise supervising the
group's image. As with Devo, Mothersbaugh's art
production sounds the mindnumbing shallows of
America's cultural waters. Many of his images are
drawn from tabloids, print ads, the comics, porno,
and other segments of so-called trash culture.
Mothersbaugh deals with these sources mockingly,
defacing images with hand-drawn interventions and
collaged elements to reveal the lameness of it all. As
with graffiti, however, which began as an outlaw
practice and now graces the walls of some of the
tomest residences and cultural institutions in the
world, the market always seems to extract its
revenge; and it is no small irony that Mothersbaugh's
disaffection with lowbrow culture has itself entered
the cheese canon through items such as "Whip It,"
his pop composition which has found its place in the
weddmgband repertoire and performed each
weekend along with "Proud Mary," "Feelings," and
"Achy-Breaky Heart."
Although nowadays easily created digitally using
computer programs such as Photoshop, Natalie
Cox's photo-montages are made the oldfashioned
way; by painstakingly assembling layers of images in
the darkroom. Cox refers to her work as
"propaganda for my thoughts," acknowledging the
ideological function of symbolic representation. Her
free floating images, utilizing now familiar surrealistic
techniques, also point up a paradox of the avant-
garde's position within the field of cultural production
in late-modem consumer society.
In "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction," Walter Benjamin wrote, "One of the
foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of
a demand which could be fully satisfied only later."
The example used by him is Dada's destruction of
the ritual sacredness of the art object, what he
termed its "aura," which was subsequently
acknowledged in the public sphere through the mass
distribution of film. Another case is surrealism,
which—inspired, in part, by Freud—juxtaposed
seemingly random signs through devices such as
photo-montage in order to unlock the inner workings
of the mind. Along with the splintering of narrative
developed by experimental filmmakers such as Stan
Brakhage, these techniques are now part of the
advertising lexicon and used to stimulate desire in
consumers for all types of goods, absorbing the
putative opposition of avant-garde and kitsch into
the market system.
Steven Schudlich, whose day-gig is freelance
commercial art, draws upon his personal experience
as a mercenary for the media. Having cranked out
illustrations and graphic designs for major
publications, TV networks, and ad agencies,
Schudlich is well-versed in the techniques of the
culture industry. In "Syntax Error," Schudlich
presented a series of computer generated images in
which the trace of artist's hand is effaced by the pixel.
Beginning with manually created materials which
were then scanned into Adobe Illustrator, Schudlich
used the computer's electronic editing capabilities to


produce a variety of graphic effects. Final proof
copies were printed, framed, and presented along
with 3 1 /2" diskettes of the files. The works depict
catastrophic situations in cartoon-like planes of
outlined flat color, setting the cheery
representational code of advertising on its head. An
interesting aspect of Schudlich's method lies in the
process by which the objects are marketed: images
are purchased with reproduction rights, legally
transferring the "aura" of the work to the collector
and questioning the concept of "original" in a way
that, by foregrounding the privileges of ownership,
reflects the nature of art under capitalism as
described by Benjamin.
The post-pop, neo-neo-geo paintings of Matthew
Gollnick are distinguished by a sophisticated use of
vibrant, hard edged color, display typography,
corporate logos, and other visual elements which
conjure up contemporary package design. Over and
above the sheer retinal pleasure of his canvases,
Gollnick's work is of special interest because of its
resonance on several levels.
The first level addresses the resilience of painting in
the information age as a tool for pure investigation
into perception. In a practical demonstration of what
Yves Alain-Bois has termed "painting as model,"
Gollnick equals, and in many respects surpasses, the
computer in making palpable the multivalent
expanses of cyberspace; indeed, digital tools
cannot duplicate the subtlety of tone and planar
modulations attained by the artist. That this is so
comes as no surprise. Painting at the service of the
eye and the mind in conjunction with the hand
operates in the phenomenal world whereas the
machine only samples it by grid-coordinate.
The second level of resonance brings us back to
Benjamin and the concept of the "aura." Gollnick's
mapping of the forest of signs asserts the work of
art as a site of ritual celebration, embracing the
unique object as intrinsic to the project of cultural
production. Mass society, molded by mechanical
reproduction, is based upon the dissolution of the
singular, the "aura," into the infinite, ultimately
propagating alienation which is redressed
ostensibly, although never truly, through
consumption. High-culture theorists, such as Harold
Rosenberg, have postulated the autonomy of the
aesthetic realm as the last refuge of individuality;
and from this perspective, Gollnick's art appears to
be a riposte to the dehumanizing process of
commodification.
On the other hand, according to Benjamin, "...the
instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be
applicable to artistic production, the function of art
is reversed." Thus, in the age of mechanical
reproduction where "originality" disintegrates in an
endless sequence of copies, rather than locate its
meaning in sacred homage to subjectivity, art
instead becomes significant in terms of its political
function. Gollnick's reference to
virtual reality and other
manifestations of the corporate
state are not in critique so much
as in rapture of the ecstasy of
communication. Like a Phoenix
rising from the ruins of the
Machine Age, postmodern
informational civilization has
established its authority through
the decentering of social
interaction: a Teflon-coated
fascism slipping through the
fingers of ham-fisted proletarian
revolt, it commands allegiance in
pay-per-view, distributing the
means of production via network
and dispersing the mass's ability
to unite. Perhaps beguiled by the
alluring puissance of this new
master, Gollnick suspends a
consideration of the political
implications of his work and its
effectiveness in the current
debate on cultural representation
is diminished as a result.
While it is romantic to demand
that art necessarily be the
instrument of social change, as
certain simplistic readings of
Benjamin have done, to presume
an awareness as to its role in a
larger social context on the part of
the cultural producer has become
fundamental. The merchandising
of alienation, the complicity of the
avant-garde, the proprietary
interests of creation, and the
gelded existence of the
autonomous, modernist art object
are all issues which must seriously
be considered when plotting and
evaluating potential paths of
action within the held of cultural
production. To its credit, "Syntax
Error" provided a glimpse of
these concerns even though
ultimately fell short of offering a
solution. The primary lesson was
twofold: first, in terms of the
framework of study still to be
addressed in terms of visual
culture and, second, the
continued relevance of
Marxist-based analyses, such as
Benjamin's, in that regard.
Matt Gollnick, Superannuated Idol, 1994,
acrylic
a
Stephen Schudlich, Death in a Box, 1994,
color output on film


Jeffrey
Silverthorne
Book Beat Gallery
Oak Park, Ml
September 24 - November 25, 1994
Holly
Jennings
Holly Jennings
recently
graduated from
the Cranbrook
Academy of Arts
master's degree
program m
photography.
While living, our bodies are a private sphere over
which we exert a degree of control to shape and
mold ourselves. When we die we relinquish that
control and privacy. It is ironic that just when we, as
ultimate voyeurs, may look unreservedly at a corpse,
even unclothed as in some morgue photographs,
most of us on instinct will turn away. For, though it is
natural to identify with another human form, the
sight of the dead places us in an uncomfortable
position. We do not wish to identify with a corpse or
be reminded of our own mortality.
And so it is, with unsettled emotions and unsure
reactions, that we approach the photography of
Jeffery Silverthorne. For some twenty years
Silverthorne has made, with a direct and
unsentimental eye, the post-mortem portrait his
hallmark. Although Silverthorne first began
photographing in morgues in the early 1970s, it has
only been fairly recently, through publication and
exhibition, that his graphic imagery has been made
available to the public.
The 1993 monograph of the artist's work Jeffrey
Silverthorne: Photographs, as well as the recent
show, "Jeffrey Silverthorne: Mr. Lotus Smiles and the
Businessman's Lunch," held at the Book Beat, offer a
glimpse into the truly diverse and eclectic nature of
the artist's career. This is particularly true of the show
at the Book Beat, which displayed primarily the
recent work of the photographer (1991 - 1994). The
monograph and show revealed the artist's past and
ongoing explorations in subject matter and
technique, which extend well beyond the now
"classic" black and white, documentary-style morgue
work.
Those who visited the Silverthorne show at the Book
Beat found an almost dizzying and certainly crowded
array of work that encompassed the following
subjects or themes: post-mortem and living
portraiture, formal studies of nudes as well as
individual images and series which suggest
mythological and/or contemporary narratives; i.e.,
"Silent Fires" and "Detroit Negative," flower still
lifes, tabletop tableaux constructed with miniature
toy figures, and the recurring subject of the artist and
model.
Suggestive of the artist's technical experimentation
is the wide range of media and formats featured in
the show; i.e., collages, straight and manipulated
photography, photographic transfers on canvas with
paint, and even a high relief painting with a gumby
doll. Most marked in the nineties work is
Silverthorne's increased use of color, which include
small Polaroids, large type-C prints, paintings,
hand-colored photographs, and photographic
collages.
The task of making sense of such a diverse and
seemingly disjointed body of work is indeed off-
putting. The discoverable connections and the
associated questions, however, form the core of
what is potentially both most interesting and
problematic about Silverthorne's work. Most
importantly, such a critical examination helps place
the morgue work, for which the artist is most
well-known, in context with the other work exhibited
at the Book Beat.
The far-flung explorations in Silverthorne's artistic
career can be divided into two major areas of
concern: the dialectical relationship between
Silverthorne's role as artist and our own as viewers—
particularly in regard to the construction and control
of identity, memory, and narrative; and Silverthorne's
treatment of the feminine which due to the artist's
conflation of sensuality and death, fertility,
reproduction and creativity, can be linked to the
morgue work on various levels of interpretation.
Silverthorne's treatment of identity, memory, and
narrative are intermeshed throughout the
development of his work and serve as underlying
structures of meaning and interpretation. The
relationship between the living and the dead, and
between the viewer and the post-mortem portrait
are interrelated to these three issues, especially in
regard to Silverthorne's own position as a maker of
images and meaning. At death, just at a time when
we relinquish our ability to construct our own
identity, others begin to sustain, if not alter it,
through subjective memory. This is true as well of
our relationship with Silverthorne's post-mortem
portraits; as viewers we form a group of the living
looking at the dead. When looking at the portraits,
our emotions may be triggered to recall those we
have known who have died, or we may project a set
of memories onto the corpses, creating narratives
perhaps about how they died, who they were, or
what they were like.
Silverthorne completes the same operation in his
role as an artist; that is, he projects, suggests, and
creates identities, memories, and narratives for his
subjects. In some images his directive hand is more
clearly evident. This is especially true of those
pieces in which he has introduced supplementary
imagery either by manipulation in the dark room or
by physically placing an image or object in the


picture frame. An example which employs both methods
is My First Dream, Letters from the Dead House, 1988. In
this piece Silverthorne first placed a photograph in the
hands of a corpse and later, in the darkroom, added the
image of a 1950s style pin-up girl to the work. The
post-mortem portrait, therefore, becomes a passive
recipient of both Silverthorne's and our own emotions and
associations. With fragmented and joined imagery
Silverthorne suggests a narrative, a memory and hence an
identity to these anonymous corpses.
Two small color Polaroids from the show at the Book Beat
express, with an economy of means, Silverthorne's dual
attitudes toward female identity. In the first, undated,
untitled Polaroid we see a close-up of a female hand
resting on a flat surface. The hand is in a closed position,
though it does not appear strained. A flower is placed in
the hand which, in its closed form, serves as a vase for the
flower. The hand is not holding the flower. Rather, it
serves as a passive receiver for the flower, a vessel, a
carrier of life and vitality, which the flower symbolizes. The
relationship of the hand to the flower is not unlike that of
the corpse's hand to the photograph in First Dream,
Letters from the Dead House, 1988,—-as a passive
recipient to suggested memories and pictorial meaning.
The second Polaroid forms part of the series "The
Businessman's Lunch" from 1993. In the image we see a
nude woman lying on a bed. Next to her lies a dead white
rabbit. Its nose is bloodied and a rope is tied tautly
around its neck, forming a noose. The rope stretches at a
diagonal from the rabbit's neck to beyond the upper
frame of the image. In her left hand she holds the end of
a cable release, which stretches beyond the lower frame
of the image. The possible associations are numerous:
rabbit to reproduction/fertility, woman to
reproduction/fertility, blood to death, blood to menstrual
cycle and life, fertility/destruction to the creative act.
This particular Polaroid may have been inspired by the
earlier post-mortem portrait of a mother and infant from
1986 which must have so clearly signified for Silverthorne
the particular connection women share to the thin line
between life and death. The cable release and rope may
therefore be viewed as life lines: lines controlling life,
death, creation, and the creative process.
The image also raises questions about women's relation
to the process of creation within the structure of society;
that is, as artists and as bearers of children. With cable
release in hand, the woman in the image appears to be in
control of the picture making process. The noosed and
bloodied rabbit, however, suggests that if women are to
take control of the creative act (become artists) it is
necessary that they must sacrifice their reproductive role
in society.
Interpreted as such the image represents an act of
displacement, something must die before something else
may be born. This is obviously related to the process of
regeneration, to the cycles of life and death. This
interpretation, however, shares too great a resemblanro
to the film Interview with a Vampire in which, before
one can be born as a vampire one's human body
must first die. For female artists in our society,
however, the displacement theory is in practice not
an equal one. Women who give up their role as
child bearers to choose a career of artistic creation
are like the vampire, a perverse and unnatural being
not accepted by society.
The messages these two Polaroids express
regarding female fertility and identity are trite,
reinforcing as they do familiar platitudes concerning
male and female relations, especially sexual ones, in
the first image the female is represented as a
passive receiver. In the second, she is represented
as a powerful and mysterious force, more closely
connected to the cycles of nature, and of life and
death, than man. Furthermore, Silverthorne's
preoccupation with female fecundity, as well as
women's identity within a patriarchal society, is a bit
tiresome.
What is far more interesting is a consideration of
Silverthorne's role as an artist in relation to these
aspects of the feminine, and in particular how he
has used both the corpse and the female form as
neutral fields on which to suggest and (sometimes
literally) project identities, memories, and narratives.
As such, both have served as gracious receivers of
the artist's visual juxtapositions and metaphorical
connections.
In images, however, where Silverthorne has
arranged less, there is more room for the viewer to
participate in the interpretive process. This is
certainly true of those post-mortem portraits in
which we are directly confronted, in a seemingly
one-to-one relationship, with the absolute residue of
the corpse. In the less obviously directed portraits
we are more apt to ponder the identity or narrative
of the corpse or, in turn, ruminate upon the deaths
of those we have known. Further yet, the corpse
may cause us to reflect upon the constructions of
our own identities: how much time and effort is
spent in its formation and how quickly it is
extinguished; how strongly we cling in modern
society to notions of self determination and how
quickly in death we relinquish the controls of our
own making, of our individual identity.


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