31 July 2006

Things to Do in SE Michigan This Summer?

Well, each summer I try to go to the Institute for the Arts in Detroit while I am in the area. They have absolutely terrific Diego Rivera murals as well as a wonderful collection of African-American Art. Last summer I missed the museum (almost) entirely because they'd shut large portions for renovations and this evening I learned that they are closing completely starting tomorrow. So, another disappointment!

I thought about the University of Michigan Art Museum but they are not much help this summer either. They do have an interesting exhibition coming up "The Rouge" which is a project by British Photographer Michael Kenna. But that will not show until next spring! In any case, Kenna's work is very interesting. The imagery is extraordinary. He has done a lot of night photography at large industrial sites. The exhibition coming to Ann Arbor is of the industrial landscape at the River Rouge plant in Dearborn; he also has done a project on the Radcliffe Power Station in Nottinghamshire (see below) as well as a retrospective on the Nazi extermination camps. Once again, thought there is a political reticence that I find odd. Here is a snippet from one of the interviews posted on Kenna's web page:

"For 12 years, Kenna photographed Nazi concentration camps, visiting 27 of them, sometimes repeatedly, from 1988-2000. It started at Banbury, with the mountain of shaving brushes that emerged from the communal developer tray in a photo by a fellow student who had taken a bus tour in Poland. “I felt repulsion, and a powerful intrigue. It kindled in me the desire to know more about the Holocaust, taught only briefly at school,” he says.

Ribbons of Birkenau railroad tracks stream out to a sentinel of trees in the misty distance. Dead vines choke a barbed wire fence in Gross Rosen. Like weeds strangling a neglected lawn, a heap of wire-rimmed eyeglasses lay snarled and knotted in Auschwitz. More interpretive than documentary, Kenna’s images facilitate our gaze, so we can never forget. “But if these photographs let us remember the Nazi barbarism, they also suggest the peace. Good is in them as much as, and maybe more than, evil,” says Pierre Borhan, director of Patrimoine Photographique, in an email to me. The Paris photography organization included Kenna’s photos in their 2001 group exhibition, “Mémoire des Camps.” The year before, Kenna donated 300 of his 6,000 negatives and prints (and their rights) to the French Ministry of Culture. The rest he gave to the Caen Memorial, a museum for peace in Caen, France.

The same benign stance in Kenna’s concentration camp photos shows in his images of the Ratcliffe Power Station in England and the Rouge Steel Works in Dearborn, Michigan. “I may point a finger, but I try not to make judgments,” he says. “I do have strong convictions and political opinions, but I don’t think it’s necessary to imbue my photographic work with them. I use photography as a vessel for visual material to flow through, to encourage conversation with the viewer. I try to present a catalyst and invite viewers to tell their own stories.” The story Chris Pichler of Portland, publisher of Nazraeli Press based in Tucson, Arizona, tells is one of the “ghost-like presence” that he feels in Kenna’s work, especially his industrial landscapes. “There’s an ominous beauty, a little bit fraught with danger.” "

Ratcliffe Power Station, Study 21, Nottinghamshire, England. 1984.
© Michael Kenna.

Ratcliffe Power Station, Study 31, Notting- hamshire, England. 1987 © Michael Kenna

Sure, I agree, these are "ominous." So are many of Kenna's other images - even those of non-industrial scenes. I find that not just odd, but disturbing. Perhaps we should take the images as a warning of some sort? Perhaps I am being unfair, but there is a certain de-politicizing impulse here. As Kenna says in another interview, speaking of another topic: "I believe it is most unwise to think that we have much control over events and people." Depending on whom Kenna includes in the "we" this is either admirable or defeatist. I am unsure. And as I said I may be being unfair. In any case, I find his photographs thoroughly impressive. To bad they are not being shown here this summer.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, though you can't see the Kenna exhibition, you could visit Dearborn and see the Rouge plant - if you drive along the river road the juxtaposition of the plant and the river makes fascinating scenery. The area is quite blighted which makes it disturbing and fascinating all at the same time. While there you could visit Dearborn proper and investigate the Arab American Museum which is formulaic in some respects but still worth a visit, and there are surely political aspects to it - you can find a review here; http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C06E4DD103FF937A15753C1A9639C8B63
The area is also worth visiting to take in one of the Middle Eastern eateries where you can get very fresh and yummy food.

31 July, 2006 08:49  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

That sounds like a plan. Any restaraunt recommendations? I have never been in that area.

31 July, 2006 10:31  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would recommend Al Ameer;
12710 W Warren Ave
Dearborn, MI 48126
(313) 582-8185
It is as you can see on Warren Avenue about two blocks east of Oakman.
The restaurant is not too fancy nor too expensive.It is not fine dining if that is your preference, but the food is good and fresh. The fruit smoothies are great, and the spinach salad is excellent. They have tasty grilled fish, and the chicken and lamb smell very mouth watering. Oh and the bread is hot and tasty...I am going to stop, I am getting hungry!

31 July, 2006 14:42  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Thanks for the recommenddation. Sounds perfect. I just made plans for tonight (a friend who is leaving town) but will take teh tour of Dearborn tomorrw!

31 July, 2006 15:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you do decide to take the tour of Dearborn today - I hope you have fun. If I could I would have at least offered to be your tour guide. Unfortunately I am not in the state at the moment. One thing, you have probably already noticed, the roads in the area are in bad repair - that is especially true of the ones along the river - beware of the potholes and bumps and the glass. Look out for an abandoned church on your left, it seems it was impressive at one time.

01 August, 2006 07:38  

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