Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Imagination Station

Image above: Artist Marianne Audrey Burrows painting Reclamation at the Imagination Station in Corktown. Photo taken by and courtesy of Stephen McGee.

Travis R. Wright has written some whacky stuff about art since becoming arts and culture editor of the Metro Times a couple of years back. (Take his Mark Dancey review. What's with the royal plural, dude? For rock'n'roll softcore erotica? Puhleeze!) His literature pieces are much more palatable, as they should be given that's more his area of expertise. But while I think the prose is still too flatulent (when will alternative-press guys in particular stop trying to channel Lester Bangs?), his story on Imagination Station in this week's Metro Times hit on something rather significant in the visual art scene in Detroit right now, even if it was more of a profile piece than a critical assessment.

To quickly recap, Imagination Station is a collaborative project working on rehabbing a couple of blighted Corktown structures that sit in the shadow of America's top model of ruin porn, the Michigan Central Train Station. It brings together artists, community activists, and new media mavens. It's another one of the ground-up efforts that these days I'm calling the art of the commons, which seem to characterize some of the most interesting cultural production in Detroit. (Click here to see my post on the topic from a couple of weeks back.)

Simply put, the art of the commons exposes the limits of proprietary rights, in both things and ideas, that have ruled cultural production since the early days of what Benedict Anderson calls print-capitalism. (As Marshall McLuhan famously observed, the printed book was the first capitalist commodity. It also created the autonomous artist and the notion of intellectual property.)

The proprietary concept got its first major challenge with deconstruction and the idea of the death of the author. In art, it emerged with postmodernist image appropriation in the work of people like Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, and Cindy Sherman. (Or as Rosalind Krauss once put it in an especially vitriolic exchange with Donald Kuspit that took place @ the DIA, those artists who practiced "guerrilla pastiche" as opposed to the neo-Romantic hacks, like Julian Schnabel and David Salle, he was defending.)

Once deconstructed, proprietary cultural production's exposed flank opened the door for remixing and other forms of collaboration. Imagination Station is another example to add to the list, all the more so for the fact that many of the participants aren't "artists." (What does that term mean anymore, anyway? As opposed to some, I'm not troubled that Marianne Audrey Burrows might not be the most technically proficient painter. John Cage wasn't a steller pianist but what did that matter when it came to appreciating 4 minutes, 33 seconds or any other of his compositions? Similarly, aesthetics in the traditional sense isn't really what this project is about. And the fact that Jerry Paffendorf is selling virtual parcels of land so minuscule as to make any idea of return on investment completely absurd only reinforces my point about the breakdown in Detroit of the regime of property, to use Michael Hardt and Tony Negri's phrase.) (Click here for a critique of Hardt and Negri by David Harvey that ran in the November 2009 issue of Artforum along with Michael Hardt's reply.)

Of course, the forces of the dark side aren't going without a fight. That's why record companies are suing 14-year olds for sharing music P2P. But just like the pope trying to fend off the Reformation with Latin manuscripts and church frescoes, the current intellectual property regime won't be able to control the proliferation of the binary digit and all it has wrought (for better or worse), including collaborative projects like Imagination Station. Welcome to it. You don't have to believe that Imagination Station is a postindustrial equivalent of the Sistine Chapel to see it as a prime example of how local cultural producers are responding to Detroit's post-postmodern condition.

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