Heartland Research, Travel 2, 01.05.2005 – 10.05.2009 Chicago, Detroit, Omaha, Kansas
Uit de keuken van de curator

Heartland Research, Travel 2, 01.05.2005 – 10.05.2009 Chicago, Detroit, Omaha, Kansas


by Kerstin Niemann

Chicago greeted me with an event in the vicinity of art and history, a re-enactment of a panel discussion by art critics and historians like Rosalind Krauss performed by Jackson Pollock Bar as part of “Our Literal Speed”. After 12 hours of traveling time from Europe and 2,5 entertaining and yet forgotten movies, this performance was a warm welcoming into the world of conceptual art and yet into the world of art in Chicago. Programmed around the time of Art Chicago “Our Literal Speed” (http://www.ourliteralspeed.com/) hosted a series of events and projects in different art related Chicago institutions.  Gallery 400, College of Architecture & the Arts, was the host of the actual exhibition opening of “Our Literal Speed”, featuring the live theory installation presented by the Jackson Pollock Bar, Alexander Dumbadze’s “Fuck It”, and Art & Language’s “Confession”.

Work of Carol Jackson at NEXT Art Fair, Chicago, 2009

It is only been 3 months since my last visit to the city and altogether the 7th research travel in the Heartland from Chicago to Detroit, Omaha, Kansas and back to the Netherlands. This time Stephanie and I further worked on the concept and artist projects of Heartland “Making the World You Want to Live In” at the Smart Museum in Chicago as well as on the Heartland publication that should be ready for the opening at Smart on October 1st.

Work of Carol Jackson at Next Art Fair, Chicago, 2009

My 2nd day in Chicago I spend in and around the Merchandise Markt, home of NEXT and Chicago Art Fair. At the fair I met up with Ruba Katrib, MOCA Assistant Curator. Together we visited the Freij Collection, one of the many private collections that the city has to offer. She is in preparation for CONVENTION at MOCA in Miami. She explains: “Convention examines forms of gathering in our society; every artist in the exhibition is examining this phenomenon from a different perspective.”

“In Miami, we have seen first-hand the enormous impact of events such as Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami International Boat Show, Winter Music Conference,” states MOCA Executive Director Bonnie Clearwater.  “In most cases, these mass gatherings alter the culture of the city.  Although the current economic recession is impacting participation in events such as these to a certain degree, conventions, meetings and informal social gatherings continue to play an essential role in effective networking, innovation, and serendipitous encounters.”

CONVENTION will feature performances, workshops, site-specific installations, and video projects by international and local artists examining the effects and roles of conventions, festivals, and other social and professional gatherings.  Participating artists include: Julieta Aranda, Fia Backström, Xavier Cha, Anne Daems & Kenneth Andrew Mroczek, Jim Drain, Fritz Haeg, Corey McCorkle, Dave McKenzie, Gean Moreno, My Barbarian, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Sean Raspet, Bert Rodriguez, Superflex & Jens Haaning and others to come. As pointed out by Ruba the exhibition’s interactive elements and open-ended format will actively engage the community and challenge the definition of a conventional museum exhibition. I am looking forward to the challenges that the museum encounters in a local setting that is mainly based on seasonal event culture.

The South Shore Drill Team

The great thing about art fairs is that you get to meet with a lot of institutional colleagues from all over the states that you just know through invitation cards, essays and word by mouth. Some of the extra events around the fairs make it possible to visit sights that you usually would not be able to access or be part of.  Such as a small tour led by curator Hamza Walker through the exhibition “ Several Silences”  at the Renaissance Society.
After the tour curator colleague Rosanne Altstatt from Purdue University and I decided to spend more time at the South Side, University of Chicago. As part of another “Our Literal Speech” event we watched the South Shore Drill Team perform, which marched at the mighty main Quadrangle at the University. Followed by a performance speech by Heartland artist Theaster Gates: “ To Be Pocket: Militaristic Effeminacy, The ‘Hood’ and Adorno’s Last Sermon, or, It’s Over When The Black Marching Band Goes Home.”

Chalk board of the auditorim, University of Chicago

Only two days later Stephanie Smith, I and the Whoop Dee Doo Kansas City team returned to the very same auditorium where the performance speech was held. This time though we came to scout sites in the vicinity of the University of Chicago for a possible performance/installation of Heartland artists Whoop Dee Doo in Chicago.

Jaimee Warren and Stephanie Smith checking the stage

DETROIT and the future of Transportation
“Hybrid Tech – Wasteband – New Physica Consequences – Detroit Unleaded – Electronic Stimulus Plan”
These are a few of the invite flyer titles that announce music events, debates, expos, shows and events in and around Detroit. Coming around in Detroit and see places is not very easy without a car. The public transportation system has been basically abandoned after the car industry conquered the city and implemented numerous highways in the city center. What would I have seen and done without my rental car, my navigation system as well as the various recommendations and tips of my great hosts Gina and Mitch of Design 99 and all the other great people that I met and got to know in Detroit? Thank you all for you time and helpful talks, discussions and insights into the cultural movements and real estate culture within the city.

Inspired by the spectacular media buzz about cheap housing and potentials for (social) art projects in Detroit it was dear to me to look into what the possibilities and responsibilities are of obtaining a house or some kind of real estate. This times visit to Motor City was dedicated to look into possible housing in the Hamtramck area, bordering Detroit downtown, a densely populated area with a great mix of people originating from places like Bangladesh, Poland, Lebanon and others. What is so unique of Hamtramck?  Community life is lived in this area. Walking from house to house, house to store is possible. Walking infrastructures let my heart shine; I am not looked at as a person just arriving from another planet since other people walk as well. Yeah. I enjoy the first sun rays and the blossoming of the trees and flowers in the neatly arranged gardens as well as the wildlife in the more abandoned areas.

Foreclosure Home, Moran Street, Hamtramck

Spring Time – energy is up and the idea of the Power House is taking up more and more space in my head while I walked the streets and visited foreclosure homes in the Hamtramck area. The Power House was started by the Design 99 duo Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope in March of 2008 with the purchase of one house and two empty lots totaling $4,900. Strategizing ways of intervention while watching the foreclosure crisis, that is still continuing, their idea is to turn a negative value into a positive asset by reinventing the house as a Power House to serve two primary goals: First to develop a house as a model of architectural experimentation and secondly the house as social art project, a platform for communication between members of the community. “Every act that is made with the house is readily apparent to the neighbors and, even without asking, many neighbors give us materials, asks to take materials, offer to help, ask for help, and also help protect the house from thieves. The dialogue has already begun with just the few small moves already made.” (http://www.powerhouseproject.com)

Foreclosure Home, Pedro, Hamtramck
Part of Dmytro Szylak's Disnelyland installation, Hamtramck
Disnelyland a la Hamtramck

The process to shape their neighborhood already begun, artists like Jon Brumit from San Francisco or Corine Smith from the Netherlands decided to move in and just recently the Detroit Unreal Real Estate Agency, worked with 10 students from the DAI (Dutch Architecture Institute) on site in the Hamtramck area. This project was initiative by architects Andrew Herscher and Mireille Roddier from Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, and Dutch based curator Femke Lutgerink as well as Partizan Publik’s Christian Ernsten and Joost Janmaat. (http://detroitunrealestateagency.blogspot.com)

Rhonda, my real estate advisor was very helpful and introduced me into the world of foreclosures. Acquiring a piece of land or a house as a matter fact is not too complicated, and yes very cheap, 1900 USD for a 3 bedroom house with a fair sized garden. As someone living in a country where real estate eventually becomes part of your life, like a relationship, the opportunity of getting a house for such a non-value, is triggering. But in a way this confronts you with your own cultural heritage and your capitalistic upbringing as well as your personal values of what you think you should do with it. Yet it is not about a quick investment at this moment in time, no, even though a tax consultant would not be able to understand that idea. Properties might have lost its monetary value, but the potential is there to create other longer lasting values with it.  In a time of economical as well as political uncertainty the drive to be involved and have a physical impact on something cannot be denied. Taking over property can be seen in relation to become part of something, be responsible for something and have an influence on something in the process of redevelopment and reshaping.  To be continued…

Detroit based artist David Clement pointed out the unique Disneyland installation in one of the back roads in Hamtramck. As a retired GM line-man, Dmytro Szylak’s, turned his hobby into let’s say an American folk art collection over the last 15 years in his back yard. Former Ukranian Szylak’s places American patriotic symbolism (the cold war is certainly one of the major subjects) crafted from wood and steel in combination with found objects and original art pieces.

David Clements, artist, photographer, location scout, who recently published the book “Talking Shops. Detroit Commercial Folk Art”, was very generous and took an afternoons time to show me his Detroit.  Together we visited some historic sites such as the Freer House located in the city center of Detroit.  The Freer house, once the private house of businessman Charles Freer that hold his art collection there with works by James NcNeill Whistler etc, is considered to be Michigan’s finest example of the Shingle Style, built in the 1890 and now part of Wayne State University serving as the Merril-Palmer Institute ( renown child development research group). The house is still part of the collection of Freer (Freer Art Gallery, Washington D.C.), which is kept in shape by the friends of
Freer House, who are dedicated to raise awareness of the global cultural legacy of Freer in and outside of Detroit.

Together David and I visited photographer Corine Vermeulen-Smith, who at that time was photographing around Lafayette Park, a large park and complex of apartments and housing cooperatives just east of downtown Detroit. This area is also part of the Mies van der Rohe apartment buildings, classic examples of the “International Style” and extremely landscaped areas. Thanks to Corine and her friend we were able to get a tour in one of the buildings and it was interesting to hear all the stories about in what way you are allowed to use the gardens and how you have to subscribe to the rules and conventions to keep this place an architectural monument.

Corine Vermeulen-Smith and David Clements

Stephanie and I meet up again at the Omaha airport on Friday afternoon the 8th of May. At first we gather with artist group Carnal Torpor to talk through their installation in the Heartland show at Smart.

See image Carnal Torpor

Afterwards the Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts invited us to join the dinner of Austrian artist Paul Renner announced as :The Omaha Dinner “Gastrosophical Journey Through Europe”. The dinner was a presentation of art objects, a series of on site performances and nose-to tail cooking served to about 60 dinner guests in a six course array of culinary delights.

Ashley image

Instead of getting too drunk or in a food fight Stephanie and me saved our energy to see the concert of SSION at Slowdance (a bar in downtown Omaha) later that night. Cody Critcheloe, one of the Heartland artists, is the founder and lead singer of SSION.

The very next morning our great host Hesse Mac Graw (curator at Bemis) organized a tour through the Phillip Schrager Collection of Contemporary Art. It is a private collection, accessible upon appointment in the building complex where Mr. Schrager also established his business and office locations.

Visiting the Schraeger Collection with Hesse

MAY 9, 2009 – The quote of that day on behalf of the artist Matthew Dehaemers and his exhibition at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts titled (402) DisConnect/ReConnect is by Ellen Goodman:
“I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of the people convinced that they are about to change the world. I am more awed by the heroism of those who are willing to struggle to make one small differences after another.

Sean Wart, installation in progress, Bemis Art Center

Later that day we enjoyed meeting with Sean Wart who is installing a site specific installation in a site building of the Bemis turning that space into “The Preconscious Europe Bar”. And yet, Sean, I hope to take up the discussion about the title once we meet again. The space and its installation will be used for events and performances in relation to the exhibition program at the Bemis Art Center.

Stephanie Smith and Kerstin Niemann at Bemis Art Center, Omaha

The last night in Omaha Stephanie and I spend watching “Hunger”, the first feature film by Steve Mac Queen, at the newly build independent movie theater. Film Streams (http://www.filmstreams.org) is a non-profit organization devoted to the presentation and discussion of film as an art form. “Hunger”, an interpretation of the highly emotive events surrounding the 1981 IRA Hunger Strike, certainly was a counter program to our previous day spend at the feast.

Omaha impressions

Last stop Kansas City
Once I brought Stephanie back to the airport I drive from Omaha to Kansas to meet Kansas based artist, rocker and performer Cody Critcheloe, before returning to the Netherlands that day.

The navigation system assured that I arrive on time at Cody’s apartment, even though I got lost in the first place since Kansas City is not only in the state of  Kansas, but also in the state of Missouri. Cody luckily just woke up. His last performance with SSION took place only a few hours before my arrival in Kansas City. It is great to get to know the person that I just watched on stage 2 days ago – yet talking to an artist about his contribution for the Heartland exhibition at Smart.   Ssion is preparing to release its Fool’s Gold film in September and a new album, titled BENT, the following month.

Image Cody C

Currently SSION is touring with FISHERSPOONER (13th of May until 5th of June) on the west coast and in the Midwest. Please take a look at the videos of SSION (http://www.myspace.com/ssion or www.ssion.com) and if you are in the area make sure you don’t miss their action.

Kerstin Niemann