CapitalismFeatureMedia/PublicsReviews

A View of Detroit’s “Beautiful Terrible Ruins”

From ruin porn to a call to action

Wayne State University art historian Dora Apel’s new book, Beautiful Terrible Ruins: Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline (Rutgers University Press, 2015) is the last word (at least, I hope it is) on the disreputable photographic genre known as “ruin porn.” Bringing her usual due diligence to bear, Apel digs deep, tracing the roots …

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Arts & DesignCapitalismEssays

How I Got Over

Like most people in the arts, for many years I supported my artistic activities, along with the rest of my life, by holding down a day job. Corporate communications and advertising primarily in financial services were not such a bad gig, actually, and, in fact, were what I trained to do by having a dual major in graphic design and painting. For the last 13 years of that time, I also mounted a performance piece, Getting Over at the Office (1987-2000), whereby I recoded aspects of my daily work life as art through a series of artifacts and documents. Much of the documentation consists of news releases, sent out intermittently to a mailing list that grew with time. The performance was a gesture through which I sought to reclaim the time that had been appropriated from me by the capitalist system. …

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CapitalismEssays

Manufacturing Victory

A review essay on A. J. Blaime's The Arsenal of Democracy

These days people generally think of Detroit — with its vast expanses of abandoned real estate that have given rise to the photographic genre known as ruins porn — as the place where modernity went to die. But for a good chunk of the twentieth century, Detroit was the boomingest of boom towns. In the ten years after the introduction in 1913 of the modern moving assembly line in the automobile industry, Detroit’s population doubled to nearly 1 million. In the 30 years following that, it doubled again to become the nation’s fourth-largest city and one of its most affluent, especially for the working class. An important chapter in that story was the turning of the Motor City’s manufacturing might to arms production during the Second World War when Detroit came to embody the slogan “Arsenal of Democracy.”

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Arts & DesignCapitalismEssays

Rebooting RoboCop

Comparing 2014 with 1987

As someone who grew up with Paul Verhoeven’s original 1987 RoboCop, I can’t help but feel the dystopic and critical social commentary of the movie was lost in its reboot. What was once a critical and distopic film exploring the dangers of unchecked corporate power has become a soft endorsement of corporate warfare. Yet, some elements of the remake do provide useful insights into our changing social politics that are worth considering. The evolution of RoboCop reveals how both capitalism and imperialism have changed and deepened their hold on our cultural imaginary in less than pleasant ways.

There are basically four key sets of players in the original story: Omni Consumer Products or OmniCorp (OCP), the mega corporation which builds RoboCop, runs the Detroit police force and plans to construct a corporate utopia called “Delta City” in the ruins of old Detroit; Alex Murphy, the Detroit cop who becomes RoboCop; the police department run by OCP; and crime boss Clarence Boddicker, who is in cahoots with OCP executive Dick Jones,  The connections among these players were central to the original story. …

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Snyder and Orr Suckerpunch the Arts in Michigan

In a nifty move right out of the Reagan Revolution playbook, the governor of Michigan and his hand picked bankruptcy fixer finally revealed their plan for monetizing the art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The plan is brilliant in its simplicity and in its political nuance.

After months of hinting that the art in the museum was “on the table” for a liquidation that would generate cash to offset Detroit’s many debt obligations, the lords of the bankruptcy relented and “saved” the museum. Their idea basically runs like this: Art is worth money (they got an appraisal to prove it). People who like art have money. Thus, why not present the museum with a bill that would equate to the appraised value of its precious art and let the museum tap its rich friends across America for contributions that would pay the tab and keep the paintings on the Institute’s walls.

How perfect! How painless! How noble! This is the ideal “public/private partnership” we are always hearing about! …

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Arts & DesignEssays

Aesthetic Community in Detroit

In the Huffington Post, author and community organizer Yusef Bunchy Shakur and co-author Jenny Lee write: “Detroit is modeling life after capitalism.” One of the ways this is happening is through the work of artists who are helping to envision what that life might look like. These artists are constructing what the French philosopher Jacques Ranciere calls an “aesthetic community.”

The aesthetic community of Detroit is more than simply a collection of artists and other creative types working in the same location. It’s a community of sense, as Ranciere expresses it, which operates on three levels.

The first level of aesthetic community is a certain combination of sense data — materials, forms, spaces, etc. — that constitute the work. In particular in Detroit, this often consists of using recycled castoff materials…

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