Monday, June 25, 2012

Companion MOCAD Exhibitions Debate the Future

Installation view of  "Vertical Urban Factory," 2012, showing the Ford Model T assembly line in 1913. (All photos by Corine Vermeulen, courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.)
While most art institutions have wound down for the summer, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit has been busy cranking things up. The companion exhibitions now on view, "Vertical Urban Factory" and "Post-Industrial Complex," are arguably the most timely and thought-provoking in recent memory. Running through it all is the simple yet profound question: "Who owns the future?" This question not only applies to Detroit, although arguably this is the place where its implications are most starkly presented, but to the United States and indeed to the rest of the world. The exhibitions capture a dialectic of opposing forces at work in the city as it looks to reboot for the twenty-first century.

One force is working from the top down and it's what might be termed the "Techno Utopia." The other works from the bottom up and can be called the "Postindustrial Arcadia." The former seeks to catch the wave of postmodern capitalism; the latter exists if not in outright opposition then at least in resistance to it. One reinforces the typical gentrification model, the use of the so-called creative economy to drive speculation and investment, basically the purview of what post-OWS is known as the 1 percent. The other operates within the cracks of the capitalist system to open up new ways of thinking and living for rest of us. Tied together, the shows explore the potential for realizing what sociologist Erik Olin Wright terms "the real utopia."

The summer exhibition ("Vertical Urban Factory" and "Post Industrial Complex" are a curatorial yin and yang and thus need to be discussed as a single case study) pick up a narrative that began five years ago with the "Shrinking Cities" project, exhibited at MOCAD in conjunction with Cranbrook Art Museum. In that exhibition and its surrounding research, Detroit was posited as an extreme example of the abandonment of the urban environment in the wake of the demise of the modern mass industrial system AKA Fordism. 

"Shrinking Cities" is not the first effort at documenting this phenomenon. In the late 1990s, a group of architects, urban planners, and theorists converged on the city to study the psychogeography of its dissolution and produce the book Stalking Detroit, published in 2001, which still stands as required reading. Before that, Camillo Jose Vergara published his documentary photographic essays New American Ghetto, 1995, and American Ruins, 1999. In 1989, a team of Cranbrook architecture students, James Cathcart, Frank Fantauzzi, Terrence Van Elslander, Jean-Claude Azar, and Michael Williams, working under the direction of then architect-in-residence Dan Hoffman, produced 9119 St. Cyril Street that disassembled an abandoned bungalow on the city's east side and reinstalled it in piles in the Willis Gallery. They also guest edited a 1991 issue of New Observations magazine under the title "Editing Detroit."

Taken together, this first move is what one might call the deconstructionist phase of conceptualizing the evolution (or devolution as the case may be) of Detroit. It examined patterns of demassification, the rise of spectacle, and other manifestations amenable to postmodern critique. Its recent fetishization is the genre known as "ruin porn." (Kind of a stupid term actually, but if looked at through the lens of the feminist media theory concept of scopophilia, it's serviceable enough.)

The second chapter was the exhibition two years ago co-curated by then MOCAD Director and Chief Curator Luis Croquer titled "Spatial City: An Architecture of Idealism," inspired by the work of visionary French architect Yona Friedman. Taking its cue from Friedman's 1958 manifesto, Mobile Architecture, a user-centric model of the built environment adaptable to the ever-changing needs of what would come to be known as postmodern society, an architecture that would tread lightly on the earth, going with the flows of an emerging global cultural economy, "Spatial Cities" was a thought experiment in different ways of approaching the built environment in Detroit and elsewhere in the shadow of the regime of post-Fordism. It was an iteration of aesthetic community, as understood in the work of Jacques Ranciere,  a conscious collective of ideas that acknowledges what is coupled with a vision of what could be.

The current MOCAD offering is a new phase, one that really gets down to brass tacks.

"Vertical Urban Factory," installation view.
Techno Utopia: Vertical Urban Factory
"Vertical Urban Factory" is an expansive investigation into the structure, ideology, and social effects of the modern capitalist political economy as seen through the evolution of the production system, which has increasingly come to dominate all aspects of everyday life. A team of designers and fabricators worked under the direction of curator and critic Nina Rappaport and graphic designer Sarah Gephart of MGMT. Design. The arrangement of wall texts, architectural models, and other objects is a fine example of museum installation as an art form and in particular the power of graphic design to visually organize and present complex information in a readily comprehensive way.

Entry into the exhibition starts with a display panel that explains the project's underlying strategy of focusing on the design, structure, and economics of multistory factories and their impact on the urban environment. As an expression of the modernist dictum form follows function, factories in the modern mass manufacturing system were initially conceived on one of two prototypes, integrated and layered. Integrated factories trace the progression of assembly work from start to finish either following gravity, working from the top floors down, or in defiance of it, working from the bottom floors up. Famous examples of the former include Henry Ford's Model T factory built in 1910 in Highland Park and of the latter the Fiat factory built in 1928 in Turin. Layered factories organize primarily batch work on each floor, the lofts of New York City and other urban areas being examples. Later in the century, work came to be organized horizontally in the sprawling production facilities of the suburban and exurban areas that contributed to the abandonment of inner cities such as Detroit.

On the wall across the way is a detailed timeline on the history of labor that comes right out of chapter 10 of Karl Marx's Capital, which discusses the working day. The wall panels trace the struggles between labor and management over the course of modern capitalism with notes on technical innovations and other landmark events inserted along the way. An introductory graphic compares the wages and hours of workers at the height of the Industrial Revolution in mid-nineteenth century England, the introduction of the high wage/high output model of Fordism in the early twentieth century, and Chinese workers today. Expressed in today's dollars, an English textile worker in 1842 made $81 a week whereas a Ford employee in 1914 effectively made $688 a week. (By contrast the current UAW-GM contract starts workers out at $600 for a 40-hour week.) Chinese workers today make about $209 a week. They also put in many more weekly work hours than their American counterparts. These statistics further give evidence for another chapter in Capital, namely chapter 16 on absolute and relative surplus value.

Working off David Ricardo's labor theory of value, which argues that the value of a good is proportionally related to the labor needed to produce or obtain it, Marx devised the concept of surplus value upon which capitalist exploitation of workers is based. Simplistically, workers in the capitalist system are compelled to contribute more of their labor power to producing commodities than is actually required due to the monopolization of the means of production by owners. Marx further distinguishes between absolute and relative surplus value, i.e., that which results from the expenditure of pure labor power and that which is leveraged by technological innovation. One of the great inventions of modernity in that regard is the moving assembly line, which as Terry Smith outlines in his brilliant analysis of Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry mural cycle, 1932-33, is a gigantic infernal machine for harvesting surplus labor power, so much so that Ford was able to double his workers wages, substantially reduce the price of his product, and still become one of the richest men of the Industrial Age.

The rub, however, is that relative surplus value is unsustainable over the long run and exploitation must revert to absolute surplus value to ensure continued capital accumulation. Mainstream economists (read: capitalist apologists) generally discredit the Marxist labor theory of value, and yet the evidence of the wage and work week graphs in "Vertical Urban Factory" suggests that a major contribution to corporate profits in recent decades has come from outsourcing production to substantially cheaper labor pools in China and other parts of the world.
"Vertical Urban Factory," installation view showing "Future Factory" display.
The rest of the exhibition comprises a visual ethnography of historical and current production zones in the United States, Europe, and emerging economies primarily in East Asia. Ultimately, the project embraces the Techno Utopia, optimistically arguing that architects, engineers, and urban designers can help to "integrate industry with everyday life, creating self-sufficient and sustainable cities." This will be accomplished primarily through creative economy solutions that are greener, more flexible, convergent, and connected. Unfortunately, broad application of many of these ideas, however admirable, depends on  capital investment for which there is little incentive in the existing environment of so-called strategic dynamism.

What is to be done in the meantime is where "Post Industrial Complex" comes in.

Postindustrial Arcadia: Post Industrial Complex
Assembled by MOCAD Curator of Public Engagement Jon Brumit and Curator of Education Katie McGowan, "Post Industrial Complex," according to the curators, surveys "human-scale production at the heart of Detroit." Many of the projects are examples of what the curators term "neo-cottage industries" that constitute a counterpoint to the story of large-scale production being told in "Vertical Urban Factory." The selection of inventors, artisans, hobbyists, and other creative types is intended to resist metanarratives, though, of course, as a critical perspective, that's a kind of metanarrative in and of itself. What holds the group together is a reliance on individual initiative in the face of an apparent lack of resources and institutional support.
Aisling Arrington and Jill Bersche, Human Powered Pothole Fixer-Upper, 2012.
Among the quintessential projects is the Human Powered Pothole Fixer-Upper, 2012, a couple of bicycles by Aisling Arrington and Jill Bersche that have been outfitted with makeshift devices for fixing potholes -- which proliferate on the poorly maintained streets of Detroit -- on the fly. (Full disclosure: Arrington and Bersche are students at College for Creative Studies where I am Dean of Undergraduate Studies.) In a city where public services are seriously dysfunctional on a good day, it's a DIY solution to provide for the common good literally at street level. The apparatuses are simple machines, bent chrome-plated bars fashioned to hold paint cans that mix concrete as riders pedal, ready for application as needed.
Anthony Reale, Strait Power, 2011.
Of ostensibly broader application is CCS adjunct faculty Anthony Reale's Strait Power, 2011, a marine hydroelectric generator turbine whose design is based on the anatomy of the basking shark, which spends 18 hours a day with its mouth open sifting for food and using the flow of water through its body to aid in swimming. Tests of the prototype conducted at University of Michigan's marine hydrodynamics lab suggest a 40 percent power improvement over a conventional single-blade turbine. One version of the Strait Power turbine is collapsible into backpack form for individual use to power small electric devices. A residential version supplies the power necessary to serve the power needs of a household. Tying multiple residential turbines together could be rapidly deployed for use in emergency situations.

Most of the remaining projects are of the amateur or handicraft variety. (Not a bad thing, BTW.) Fred Ellison creates mosiacs in the spare time he has from family obligations and a day job. Phenomenal Woman -- Evelyn Pickard makes jewelry with a meliorative spiritual intent in the face of tough times. Four Colors Productions uses the efficiencies of on-demand printing to create books that propagate the Ojibwe language, the region's native tongue. Angela Keil has been at work for a decade on a macrame sweater that has grown from a simple vest to a floor-length coat complete with hood. Perhaps the most well known of the group is Dozer, whose 1200 cc V-twin powered rolling steel sculptures have appeared in the Discovery Channel's "Great Biker Build Off." In all cases, personal labor is a form of expression and its result objects of cultural production as valid as any with institutional imprimatur.

The question of who owns the future is far from decided, but it's a vital question for us all to think about. The summer offering at MOCAD is a good place to start parsing out the terms of the debate.
"Post Industrial Complex," 2012, installation view.

"Vertical Urban Factory" and "Post Industrial Complex" are on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Ave at Garfield, until July 29, 2012. Call 313-832-6622 or go to for information.

Note: Thanks to my dissertation committee at the New School for Social Research where the question "Who owns the future?" was first posed in relation to the field of contemporary cultural production in Detroit, and also my fall 2011 MFA Graduate Seminar II class at College for Creative Studies where the dialectic of the Techno Utopia and Postindustrial Arcadia was first worked out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Clinton Snider: Painter Among the Ruins of Modernity

Clinton Snider, The Fall, 2009, oil on board, 12 x 12". (All images courtesy of the artist and Susanne Hilberry Gallery.)
The ruin has had a prominent place in Western culture going back to at least the Renaissance. As Brian Dillon notes in his Cabinet essay "Fragments from a History of the Ruin," in Quattrocento Italy the ruin functioned as an indexical sign of classical culture, a trace of the Elysium that was lost with the fall of Rome and left to lie in pieces during the long night of the Dark Ages, legible only to those who had access to the redoubts of preserved knowledge. Early Renaissance paintings of St. Jerome, for example (see these works by Ercole de Roberti, 1470, and Giovanni Bellini, 1480/90), often depict the Great Doctor of the Church reading amidst a landscape of ruins, fasting, meditating, and otherwise preparing himself for the task of translating the Bible into Latin.

For the Romantics, the ruin was a symbol of artistic creation, a marker of irrepressible natural genius pushing through the strictures of academic form. Western civilization's vestige of the  Noble Savage, the artist was seen to possess intuitive knowledge that wells up solely from within. Through what Raymond Williams terms "the green language" -- reveries on the natural in words, images, and sounds -- Romantics sought to reverse the disenchantment of the world that came at the hands of industrial modernity, and in Romantic paintings, such as those of Caspar David Friedrich, the ruin serves as a harbinger of what is to become of its edifices.

Sociologist Georg Simmel presents a similar idea in his 1911 essay "The Ruin":
According to its cosmic order, the hierarchy of nature and spirit usually shows nature as the substructure, so to speak, the raw material, or semi-finished product; the spirit, as the definitely formative and crowning element. The ruin reverses this order.
For Simmel, the ruin is a symbol of the dissolution of moral codes and social structures, of estrangement and alienation, key aspects of the modern urban condition under capitalism. It's a theme that carries through much of his writing, in the famous 1903 essay "The Metropolis and Mental Life" and in what many consider to be his masterwork, The Philosophy of Money (1907). But for Simmel, the ruin does not simply signal decay; it is a kind of collaboration between humankind and nature: "Nature has transformed the work of art [Simmel is referring to architecture] into material for her own expression as she had previously served as material for art."

The ruin holds a different fascination for postmoderns. This attraction goes beyond the proclivity for pastiche and quotation, as Svetlana Boym notes. It is neither the evocation of a Renaissance sensibility of a lost cultural utopia or a Romantic fantasy of a timeless natural arcadia. According to Boym, what she terms "ruinophilia" reflects an awareness of "the vagaries of progressive vision as such." It constitutes a multivalent perspective on place and time and of what may have been, is now, or might yet be possible. A contemporary, if arguably rather unsophisticated, expression of ruinophilia is the photographic genre known as "ruin porn," of which Detroit is America's top model. A much more thoughtful expression is the art of Clinton Snider, whose work from the last three years is on view at Susanne Hilberry Gallery.
Clinton Snider, Ten Thousand Things, 2011, oil on board, 32 x 54".
For more than a decade, Snider, sometimes in collaboration with fellow artist Scott Hocking, has surveyed the wreckage of the failed modernist utopia known as Detroit. (Their installation piece Relics, first shown in 2001, consists of some 400 boxes stacked up along the wall to form grids that catalog all manner industrial and domestic castoffs. For my review of a 2005 exhibition of it, click here.) Snider often paints on recycled substrates, adding an allegorical element to the physical forms. Many of these constructions violate the conventional quadrilateral pictorial field, fragmenting the image and metonymically referencing the broken worlds being depicted. The 2005 Yellow House, for example, is painted on uneven lengths of reclaimed wood slats nailed together to form the picture plane. It depicts an abandoned bungalow surrounded by barren trees, weeds, and cracked pavement, the image conveying a narrative of ruination that the recycled wood registers.
Installation view of Clinton Snider's exhibition at Susanne Hilberry Gallery, 2012.
With only a few exceptions, the new work accepts the framing constraints of the right angle, though it acknowledges material form in other, more subtle ways, not the least of which is the proliferation of small scale in the expansive white cube of Hilberry's ultra-modern exhibition space. Snider's subject continues to be living in the erstwhile Motor City in the aftermath of neoliberalism's scorched earth blitz, with the addition of new elements of fantasy.

A number of the works directly reference ruination. Black Top Forest, 2009, depicts tree stumps emerging from cracked asphalt, devastation doubled in the sense that a patch of pavement long abandoned is further devoided of the trees that subsequently grew there. Studebaker Razed, 2010, shows the rubble of the original manufacturing facility of the E-M-F Company, an automotive start-up from the turn of the twentieth century, when Detroit was the Silicon Valley of industrial production. The company was later absorbed by the Studebaker Corporation (which in turn was acquired by Packard) and the building later served as a parts warehouse for Chrysler and other companies before being completely destroyed by fire in 2005. The classical and Romantic ideas of the ruin are conflated in The Fall, 2009, which presents an example of modernist architecture in the process of being overtaken by nature.

Romantic studies have recently evolved an area known as ecocriticism to investigate the relationship primarily of literature to the environment. Inspired initially by the example of the nineteenth-century English Lake Poets and taking its cue from Raymond Williams, ecocriticism is also known as Green Romanticism. By contrast, Snider might be recognized as a proponent of the decidedly postmodern genre I term Brown Romanticism, which embraces the toxic world in all its ugly beauty.
Clinton Snider, Stalker, 2012, oil on board, 32 x 46".
A number of the new paintings look past the ruin to the life, however damaged, that persists amidst the devastation. Several of these show animals or solitary figures in otherwise desolate landscapes. One of the more hopeful, Heavenly Garden, 2008, shows urban farmers tending the land, making real a utopian vision of a postindustrial arcadia. (Detroit is one of the acknowledged centers of urban agriculture in the United States.)

A relatively new painting that points to an interesting, more allegorical direction is The Hay Wain, 2011. Here Snider riffs on the Romantic legacy he works both with and against. The Hay Wain refers of course to John Constable's 1821 masterwork of the same title that is a hallmark of Green Romanticism and a staple of the art history survey course. Constable's painting depicts a bucolic scene in the English countryside: in the middle of the canvas a couple of farmers guide a horse-drawn wagon across a stream next to which is a quaint peasant's cottage, a canopy of trees in the middle ground opens up onto a verdant pasture with cumulonimbus clouds dominating the sky in the background. Constable's pastoral was consciously created to stand in stark contrast to the gritty factories and their drudgery in the teeming dirty old towns of the Industrial Revolution, in full swing in England at the time.

Snider's rendition is of a subdivision development, the mass-produced knockoff version of the Romantic country idyll. Upon a bale of hay sits a fairy tale McMansion, with the clouds actually a plume of smoke emitting from the structure's chimney. It's a parable of the NIMBY utopia, an acknowledgment of the impossibility of ever getting back to a pristine nature at this stage of the game, what with climate change and all, and yet tinged with more than a little regret that things haven't worked out quite as planned in the great postwar escape into the country and into the past.

Ultimately, Snider's art is one of ambivalence. But it's an aesthetic perspective that commands attention in these times, as we are left to make our way through the ruins of modernity.
Clinton Snider, The Hay Wain, 2011, oil on canvas, 39 x 32".

The exhibition of Clinton Snider's new paintings runs through June 30, at Susanne Hilberry Gallery, 700 Livernois, north of 8 Mile, in Ferndale. Visit or call 248-541-4700 for information.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Patti Smith: Photographer In Search of Lost Time

Patti Smith, Arthur Rimbaud's Utensils, Charleville, 2005, gelatin silver print. (Courtesy of the artist and Robert Miller Gallery, New York. Image credit: © Patti Smith.)
During the media preview for the show of her photographs that opened June 1 at the Detroit Institute of Arts, musician, author, and artist Patti Smith responded to a question about her most enduring memory of the 14 or so years she lived in suburban St. Clair Shores, just northeast of Detroit. She told of taking her two children, son Jackson and daughter Jesse, at the time 10 and 5 respectively, for a morning walk on a crisp autumn day. The sun was shining up ahead, the sky was clear, the birds chirping. The two children walked ahead holding hands, perfectly silhouetted by the light. She remembers thinking to herself, "This is a perfect moment and soon it will be gone." That statement is an apt description of the sentiment underlying the relationship of photography to human existence and it's a pretty good guidepost to some of the key ideas in "Patti Smith: Camera Solo."

The show is the first traveling museum exhibition of her photography and it comprises an intimate self-portrait of the artist and her influences and interests in a career that has spanned over 40 years, from her early days as a starving artist in New York City to her emergence as a significant figure in the punk music scene in the mid-1970s to her current position as a doyenne of indy culture. In addition to some 60 black-and-white images, the majority taken with a vintage Polaroid Land 250 camera, the exhibition contains a number of personal artifacts that often appear in the photographs.

The show is installed in groupings that articulate several themes. A large segment of the exhibition is devoted to artists and their creative surroundings. There's a photograph of the chair in which Roberto Bolano sat when he wrote and another of Herman Hesse's typewriter. There's an image of a jar of brushes from the studio of Bloomsbury Group artist Duncan Grant. A large section is devoted to the poet Arthur Rimbaud, including several images shot at the museum dedicated to him in Charleville-Mezieres in northern France. One image that gives pause is a view of the River Ouse taken from the bridge under which Virginia Woolf's body was retrieved three weeks after she had drowned herself in March 1941. In a display case next to the photograph is a rounded rock Smith collected from the river similar to the ones Woolf had filled her pockets with in order to prevent herself from floating, thereby ensuring the success of her second attempt at suicide. There is of course a section devoted to Robert Mapplethorpe, about whose deep relationship with Smith is chronicled in the best-selling awarding-winning memoir Just Kids. In the DIA installation, it constitutes the bridge between the external world of artistic influences and the internal realm of personal emotion, which takes form in pictures of Smith's family and their associations.

In his seminal, if under-appreciated 1927 essay on the subject, "Photography," Siegfried Kracauer compares the medium with what he terms the "memory-image," a comparison that resonates in considering this show. "Compared to photography," Kracauer writes, "memory's records are full of gaps." He further notes: "Photography grasps what is given as a spatial (or temporal) continuum; memory-images retain what is given only so far as it has significance." Which is to say that a photograph captures and records what is present at the place and time that is within view of the camera's mechanical apparatus while the memory-image is highly selective based on the subjective import accorded the scene by the individual perceiver. The photograph fixes what consciousness sometimes lets slip away. So had a camera been present at the episode Smith recounted at the media conference at the DIA on the morning of Thursday, May 31, 2012, that perfect moment now gone would still be available for us to see.

And yet the photograph is only a specter of the reality it presents, a ghost image of the once seen, a trace of a fugitive moment that, however perfect, is gone in the instant it is captured, a condition that becomes ever more pronounced as the distance from the point of origin increases. An old photograph, Kracauer observes:
has been emptied of the life whose physical presence overlay its merely spatial configuration. In inverse proportion to photographs, memory-images enlarge themselves into monograms of remembered life. The photograph is the sediment that has settled from the monogram, and from year to year its semiotic value decreases. The truth content of the original is left behind in its history; the photograph captures only the residuum that history has discharged.
The chasm between the dead physical gelatin silver print and the living memory-image is something that Smith seems to want to close. This is where the artifacts in the installation, the actual things that inspired some of the images, in a sense come into play. At one point in her guided tour of the gallery, Smith pointed to objects around the room -- her father's cracked teacup, her late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith's cherished 1964 Mosrite "Ventures"-model electric guitar, an unadorned red marble cross left to her by Mapplethorpe -- and pronounced each "priceless" in its turn. And indeed each thing by its continued presence sustains a relationship that loss has threatened to take away; the objects serve as talismans of a reality that is photographically destined to remain unredeemed.

In writing the essay on photography, Kracrauer was influenced by Marcel Proust, who meditated on the vicissitudes of memory for a better part of his illness-plagued abbreviated life. Proust's notion of involuntary memory (that cathartic release triggered unintentionally by a chance encounter, the episode of the madeleine from In Search of Lost Time being the most famous example) at first blush stands in contrast to the apparent superficiality of the photographic image. But upon further consideration, the photograph, through the capturing of certain details, has the potential to open up what Walter Benjamin in One-Way Street terms the "optical unconscious," a more broadly available memory-image, a cultural, i.e., a collective one, that not only conveys meaning for the creator but for others as well. And for both Kracauer and Benjamin (who were contemporaries and friends) this provides photography entry into the realm of art.

One of the details in "Camera Solo" comes from thinking about the juxtaposition of artifacts in the gallery and the images Smith took of artifacts of artists and other figures she admires, many of whom were dead long before she became an artist herself. In particular are the images taken around the Musee Rimbaud, shrine of perhaps the most significant influence on Smith's creative development. Arguably, the most important image in this regard is that of Rimbaud's eating utensils, shot in 2005, more than a century after he last used them. These prosaic items, tools used to sustain life, are transformed in the photograph into sacred objects, fetishized in a way they likely never were when the poet sat down to use them in an evening's repast. The mediated condition of the fork and spoon (which are probably still set at table in a room in a small French town "over there") provides a phenomenological distance that allows them to enter into a cultural discourse that the physical artifacts, as personal mementos, cannot. The distinction is one of intentionality, which separates works of art from mere things.

There's a lot more that could be said about this exhibition. One line of discussion might investigate how the show is a essentially visual memoir of Smith's travels, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and aesthetically. Another might be how the Romantic notion of authenticity plays throughout. In that regard, the choice of Polaroid serves an essential function. Unlike traditional film, the latent image of the Polaroid develops in daylight before our very eyes. The elusive reality lost at the instant of tripping the shutter is miraculously brought back to life, albeit virtually, almost immediately authenticating the moment one has sought to preserve. (Digital does the same thing of course, but the subsequent image is easily susceptible to alteration in a way Polaroid prints are not.) The fact that the more recent images are being shot on expired film provides another, if unintentional, authentic effect. The dropped-out sections of deteriorated emulsion and other imperfections foreground the mediated aspect of the image, acknowledging the photographs as artifacts in their own right. (The actual prints in the show are images of the original images, printed on gelatin silver paper for archival purposes. But that's another discussion altogether.)

While that perfect moment in St. Clair Shores is gone about 20 years now, "Patti Smith: Camera Solo" is here and now at the DIA. Catch a glimpse of it before it slips away.

Patti Smith: Camera Solo" is on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Avenue in Detroit until September 2. Go to or call 313-833-7900 for information.