The Heidelberg Project is an outdoor Raw Art installation on Heidelberg Street, Detroit. It was started in 1986 by Tyree Guyton, raised as a boy on Heidelberg street, assisted by his grandfather, Sam (Grandpa) Mackey (deceased), and his former wife, Karen Guyton. Tyree started the project as a form of political protest against the deterioration of his neighborhood following the Detroit riots, and as a way to help the local community feel safe and proud of their street once more. Assisted by local children, Tyree started to paint abandoned houses and decorate them with found objects, to transform them into outdoor art installations.
The Heidelberg project faced destruction twice from the city of Detroit, in 1991 and 1999. Both times, a handful of decorated houses were destroyed. Today the Heidelberg Project is recognized as one of the most influential art environments in the world, and attracts tourists from all over the world who come to visit a street whose inhabitants were once scared to stroll in daylight. Its capacity to generate hope and a sense of community in decaying neighborhood is respected and it was one of 15 projects representing the United States at the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale. Art workshops, talks and various activities are regularly organised on site.
I spent 2 hours walking the site, taking pictures and also shooting a video, which might turn too shaky because I had no tripod, limited time and freezing fingers!
The first 5 pictures are from Detroit Industrial Gallery, an artist studio/home that was later purchased and maintained by Detroit artist Tim Burke.
All the following pictures are the original artworks by Tyree, aided by the Heidelberg street residents.
I was sent to Detroit last week for my day job and was able to take a few pictures. However I had limited free time during daylight, limited access to a car, and no time to find a local guide in advance, so the possibilities were rather limited.
As said in a previous post about Ghost towns in the USA, there are loads of abandoned houses all over Detroit. However, some of these areas are very dangerous and the Ghost Houses in the relatively safe areas are often inhabited by junkies, so it’s not safe to go in without a couple of tough local guys. Sadly, I had to look from the street, however frustrating that was!
Those street photographs have nothing special about them but I really like the light in them, I think it has a ‘Stephen Shore’ feel to it 🙂 I was lucky to have such beautiful ‘American dream technicolor’ light that contrasted with the general setting of urban decay. I would have liked to take more photographs of large freeways lined with abandoned buildings because outdoor photographs were safe enough to take, but sadly I had to give back the car to the day-job-colleague I was sharing it with. I hope to be able to go back for a proper art trip and be free of these frustrating limitations.
Traffic lights dangling from a cable over a deserted street: an iconic ‘Twin Peaks’ image!
The corridor from my hotel which reminded me of Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’.
This is the ballroom from the hotel which for some reason caught my eye. It looked like a set from a Roy Andersson movie in its creepy blandness.
The Mc Donald logo and Spangled banner juxtaposition is so very cliché, but I could not resist 🙂 (but WordPress does and censors the flag on the right !)
The hotel, ubiquitous malls and 6 lane streets made me think a lot of Marc Augé’s book ‘No Places’ (‘Non lieux’).
On Triple Canopy website, I found a presentation by Bryan Finoki ‘The anatomy of ruins: New American landscapes: varieties of blight, idylls of desolation, the lifespan of decay.‘
It presents the new phenomenon of Ghost Towns, caused by economic recession (Detroit) or natural disasters (New Orleans). The case of New Orleans is also not purely natural because it is the lack of State investment in public infrasctructures that made the city unprotected from known natural threats. Therefore, as argues the author, these images are in all cases a symptom of the failure of Capitalism. He links these Ghost Towns to Naomi Klein’s concept of ‘disaster capitalism’, that is the strategy of private corporations exploiting natural catastrophes and lack of governement infrastructures as opportunities for profit.
The author says that these images of no man’s land have become contemporary icons expressing our ‘infatuation with our own destruction’ and the ‘phantasmagorias of the End Times’.
An article about the destruction of Michigan Central Station, Detroit.