RISD MFA Thesis Exhibition

A distinct influence, a concavity in a surface produced by pressure, an impression, to impress, to mark // To impart a strong or vivid impression, to make a mark, to implant firmly in the memory or fix in the mind // A distinct influence, an indication, an impression, to press, to apply, to impress, to mark // To imprint a kiss, a touch, a caress with the lips, to impart a kiss by pressing or applying pressure / A distinct influence, an impression produced by pressure, to impress, to mark, to implant firmly in the mind or fix in the memory //

Though Detroit’s population continues to decline their absence was imagined long before actual departures. The continued active erasure of the city’s population, particularly in the global circulation of photographs, has extended the trope of the disappearing city. It is an erasure that has helped to propel the city as an imagined frontier steeped in a market fundamentalist ideology of blank slates and boundless possibilities. This narrative of ruins allows for the projection of hopes and fears on a scrim of Detroit, unbound by the actual complexities of the production of urban space in the city. The emptiness of these photographs captures the dissonance of an impoverished theory of decline that is predominantly focused on absence and loss. It is an explanatory narrative that obscures actors engaged in systemic exploitation by dismantling the city and managing the flows of profit through and out of Detroit. This focus on what has left and what has passed contributes to the disembedded and disembodied ‘othering’ of Detroit.

The Depot closed in 1988. A monumental structure, the Beaux Arts Classical station has become the iconic symbol of urban decline. It was purchased for back taxes in 1996 by billionaire shipping mogul Manuel (Matty) Moroun and has been left vacant for the past 15 years. Moroun, who also owns the Ambassador Bridge, has become one of the largest landholders in the city of Detroit, strategically buying property and leaving buildings to decay, in order to prevent projects that jeopardize his monopoly on the flow of commercial traffic between Detroit and Windsor.

Excerpt from ‘The Annihilation of Space by Just in Time Delivery’ Joshua Akers

Fire is integral in shaping spaces in declining cities. The genealogy of fire in Detroit reveals a tool of resistance, a force of reconfiguration, an act of reclamation, and the simple desire to cash out. Fires of resistance have been with the city since 1705 when Native tribes lit fire to Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit. Throughout the early half of the 20th Century fire and the threat of fire from white mobs was a preferred tactic when black families dared to move into white neighborhoods. An essential instrument in both the 1943 race riot and 1967 riots fire continues to play an integral role in the shaping of Detroit. In July 1967, before the riots, H. Rap Brown gave a speech in which he said ‘If Motown don’t come round we’re going to burn you down.’ In January 2011, Janet Jones of The Source said to me in conversation, ‘Detroit has lessons to teach, and its gonna burn till it learn’. Detroit’s city motto is:

We Hope for Better Things; It Shall Rise from the Ashes