A Tree Grows in Detroit

Ailanthus altissima, a name that may not be in any way familiar, though there is a very good chance that a person who lives in the urban centers of Windsor or Detroit sees this “ancient” tree on a daily basis. This tree is known as “Tree of Heaven” or to some “Tree from Hell.”

The tree of heaven is a native to northeast China and Taiwan, it thrives in temperate climates and is capable of reaching heights of 15 meters in 25 years, though it has a relatively short lifespan of 50 years. What might be the significance of this tree you may ask. Well, it’s on the forefront of the cultural mythos of Detroit’s current revitalization.

This is not the first time that the Tree of Heaven has been reclaimed as an icon for cultural growth in circumstances and environments of neglected or “broken” urban centers. In 1943, Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which features the Tree of Heaven as its main metaphor for “the ability to thrive in a difficult environment.”

There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Introduction

Continue reading “A Tree Grows in Detroit”

Casino Luxembourg: This is Not a Casino

I recently came across some documentation of a visual arts exhibit at Casino Luxembourg called, in English, “This is Not a Casino.” The show features a plethora of sculptural and installation work that seemingly plays games with the viewer/participant.

For instance, the above image is a pool table that could never be used as such. Also included in the exhibit are a trampoline with no room for a person to jump and a basketball net with an almost endless veil of a net attached to the rim.

I really enjoy work like this, work that mocks those who think that art exhibits should be superficially gratifying and easy to digest.

Via: We Make Money, Not Art

Continue reading “Casino Luxembourg: This is Not a Casino”

Fallen Fruit Collective

Fallen Fruit Collective formed six years ago through a project by artists David Burns, Matias Viegener, and Austin Young for the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest (ps. you should read it).

Using fruit as their lens, Fallen Fruit investigates urban space, ideas of neighborhood and new forms of located citizenship and community. A number of their projects look at the social, political, and ecological issues surrounding local food, public food, and land use, though it all began with the process of mapping local fruit trees in LA.

From their site

“Over time our interests have expanded from mapping public fruit to include Public Fruit Jams in which we invite the citizens to bring homegrown or public fruit and join in communal jam-making; Nocturnal Fruit Forages, nighttime neighborhood fruit tours; Community Fruit Tree Plantings on the margins of private property and in community gardens; Public Fruit Park proposals in Hollywood, Los Feliz and downtown LA; and Neighborhood Infusions, taking the fruit found on one street and infusing it in alcohol to capture the spirit of the place.”

I really enjoy the social side of Fallen Fruit‘s work. This communal jam-making being perhaps the most interesting, as it involves a kind of process that highlights interaction and time. As well, their consideration of the legalities and local community practices seem to be very balanced with the rather “nice” focus on fruit at the centre of their questions — a tactic in which I strongly believe. How much more productive of a conversation can you have about these issues when you’re (somewhat subversively) framing it around fruit?

[via Art 21]

It takes 154,000 breaths to evacuate Boston by kanarinka

kanarinka is a new media artist whose research interests include the politics of digital information, feminist performance art, participatory culture and the emotional landscape of Homeland Insecurity. She is Co-Founder of the non-profit collective iKatun, a founding member of the Institute for Infinitely Small Things, and teaches at RISD’s Digital+Media Graduate Program and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

In Spring 2007, kanarinka ran the entire evacuation route system in Boston and measured its distance in breaths. The project is an attempt to measure our post-9/11 collective fear in the individual breaths that it takes to traverse these new geographies of insecurity.

The $827,500 Boston emergency evacuation system was installed in 2006 to demonstrate the city’s preparedness for evacuating people in snowstorms, hurricanes, infrastructure failures, fires and/or terrorist attacks.

It takes 154,000 breaths to evacuate Boston consists of a series of running performances in public space (2007), a web podcast of breaths (2007), and a gallery installation of the archive of breaths (2008). There’s also an online collection of podcasts, with audio recordings made during each running performance.

The work is being shown as a part of Experimental Geography, an exhibition that explores the distinctions between geographical study and artistic experience of the earth. I picked up the book from this traveling exhibition a while ago and it’s an interesting read. There’s some inspiring work, but as is often the case with these kind of collection books, the introduction is far more enlightening than many of the preceding chapters.

What I like about this project is the physical translation of a kind of bureaucracy along with the gesture of exploration through so much of the city under the restrictions of urgency and evacuation. It makes me want to imagine ways for exploring bureaucracies of Windsor.

Ok, I finally get #000000book

It took a while. A little over a week I guess. However, it finally clicked — FAT Labs’ latest project #000000book is starting to make sense to me in terms of how big it could be.

Part of the problem may have been just the early overview of the project that circulated the blogs: #000000book is an open repository for sharing and archiving motion captured graffiti tags. Tags are saved as digital text files known as GML (Graffiti Markup Language), which can be captured through freely available software such as Graffiti Analyisis (marker), DustTag (iPhone), EyeWriter (eye movement) and Laser Tag (laser). Graffiti writers are invited to capture and share their own tags, and computer programmers are invited to create new applications and visualizations of the resulting data.

Robotagger: GML + ABB4400 from Golan Levin on Vimeo.

It just seemed to me, initially, that there would be this collection of tags that had been sort of digitized through an open platform, but I kind of thought, so what? But, I knew that it had to be kind of groundbreaking. Most of the projects that involve this mix of technology and graffiti that I’ve seen come out of GRL or FAT have been very, very cool, in the way that they think about mixing tactics and tools.

#000000book is no exception, as you can see above, Golan Levin hooked up a robotic arm to read from the GML database to reproduce a tag. We are in the future.

[via today and tomorrow]

Love in a Cemetery: Art as Examination

If you haven’t already signed up for the Art&Education email list, do it now. Also, make sure you tick off at least the E-Flux list too. It’s nearly always a joy to get these in my inbox, always making me wish I had more time to read, to apply, to attend these exhibitions and schools and conferences that I see advertised on these lists.

Love in a Cemetery is just the most recent interesting thing to come from these lists, with the title taken from a quote by Allan Kaprow that goes like this, “Life in a museum is like making love in a cemetery.” With L.A.-based visual artist Andrea Bowers and curator Robert Sain, students from the Otis College of Art and Design and community organizations from throughout L.A. are participating in this exploration of aesthetics, pedagogy, and cultural politics.

Ok, sounds pretty good, definitely something that we’d generally be interested in, but here’s the really good part…

The project features a unique take on art as examination, as investigation into the future of cultural organizations, including art schools and community-based activist groups in the same learning circle as the better known museums of L.A.


Sain considers the opportunity and obligation for arts organizations to be socially responsible and responsive in an age of diminished resources and uncertainty.

By the way, this is all part of the new residency model that 18th Street is attempting to generate, with this year’s cycle called Status Report: The Creative Economy.

18th Street itself has recently shifted from running a standard gallery program to an entirely different model for using the space — making it active by curating artists involved in process-based work continually. It’s still art, it’s still curated art, but it’s committing to thinking about what art can do or what art can be today.

It’s exciting to read this stuff. You should be excited. It’s exciting because this is part of what we try to do and it’s nice to know that other people like doing this as well.

[via Art&Education]

A Collection of Art Collectives

Though not necessarily an exhaustive list, but definitely worth your perusal and bookmarking, Shawn Moore over at Socialart.com has created a “loose history of art collectives.”

It’s a pretty quick read and helpful to contextualize what we do here at Broken City Lab, as we locate ourselves as a part of this lineage. I’m always wanting to spend more time thinking about the context in which we place ourselves … we’ve had the opportunity to do this in small bursts on a number of occasions (one of my favourites being our trek to New York back in September), but I also think this is where the talk around generating some kind of larger text (dare I say, self-published book) keeps hanging around in the back of my mind.

Ultimately for the sake of thinking through the larger discussion that we continually have around our practice and to counter the limits that this blog format seems to present, I’d love to say that we’ll write a book this year, but don’t hold us to that.

[image of the architecture collective, Ant Farm’s Media Burn from Make]

Streetlight Storm by Katie Paterson

At any one time there are around 6000 lightning storms happening across the world, amounting to some 16 million storms each year. Such dizzying statistics are useful to hold in mind while experiencing Streetlight Storm, a new artwork by Katie Paterson.

Paterson’s work often deals with the translation of experiences of nature to representations of nature. I quite enjoy projects like this that visualize the complexities of data from the natural world in quiet, simple ways, as previously noted.


Be warned, the music kind of destroys this video. At any rate, for one month on Deal Pier in Kent, during the hours of darkness, the pier lamps will flicker in time with lightning strikes happening live in different parts of the world.

[via PSFK]

Spencer Finch: The River That Flows Both Ways


Inspired by the Hudson River, The River That Flows Both Ways is a project by Spencer Finch that documents a 700-minute (11 hours, 40 minutes) journey on the river in a single day.

On June 12, 2008, from a tugboat drifting on Manhattan’s west side and past the High Line, Finch photographed the river’s surface once every minute. The color of each pane of glass was based on a single pixel point in each photograph and arranged chronologically in the tunnel’s existing steel mullions. Time is translated into a grid, reading from left to right and top to bottom, capturing the varied reflective and translucent conditions of the water’s surface.

Much of Finch’s work relies on scientific, or at least methodological process, to re-present natural occurrences or phenomenon. I really enjoy the processes involved in his work and his continuing translation of information and data, or at times, the failure thereof.

The Detroit Medical Art Project


Installed by medical students from Wayne State University at Detroit’s Heidelberg Project, The Detroit Medical Art Project seeks to highlight the lack of healthcare for many of Detroit’s residents.

Asking questions like, “How do you take care of your patients when the community is falling apart all around you?”, the students created the project from scavenged materials and donated equipment to depict a medical clinic that is so desperately needed in the area.

There’s a video in the Detroit Free Press article that features some quick, but good, interviews with the medical students who created the project, and shows some of the installation process. It’s interesting to know that type of discussion goes on in the classroom for medical training, and quite inspiring to see the kind of dialogue being generated through an installation.

[via Wooster Collective & Detroit Free Press]