During a lovely weekend in Spring 2012, I traveled away from my Northern Michigan home-place by Grand Traverse Bay to Detroit to be with gardeners, farmers and folks educating themselves about basic human needs. The theme or reason for me to travel to Detroit was meeting folks who are growing food….or “Greening” Detroit. Community gardening and food growing in Detroit is something that has been going on for awhile, and it was quite delightful to visit city-farms in full swing and spring-bloom. I met longtime garden-farming residents and folks of all ages that are re-crafting their lives and livelihoods around setting up gardens, farms and going to market to feed themselves and their families and others.
When I visit Detroit, I do see the vastness of human-made and industrial waste–but I also see and feel beautiful possibility in this place. I recognize in myself an interest and attraction to the “Re’s”, as in need of repair, reconnection, rekindling…..It may be connected to my practice and skills as an artist and designer. Someone who spends a lot of time in the fascinating land of “aha” moments of seeing all the bits and pieces of a whole, and beginning to understand the immense ways that life composts what needs to be composted, while re-generating itself and putting out, giving what needs to be given.
During my garden touring and farmer friend connections I was able to visit the DIA with my friends and my daughter, and spend time with the Detroit Industry mural. The mural pictured in part below, created by Diego Rivera, connects the car-making industry and factories—filled with bits and pieces of human and car-parts—with the hands and bodies that gather them, fit them, build them—and with the food that fuels the workers. I believe these frescoes, painted in 1932-1933, in addition to “representing the idea that all actions and ideas are one” are also a fore-telling of three very important areas we are present day dealing with regarding energy, economy and the environment. A story recorded on a wall.
I love the panel below, as it moves from dim and grim gray colors, changing over from factory-working-men and machine to colorful, sensual images of food and women giving birth. The caption on the mural wall with part of this image is “infant in the bulb of a plant”.
Art and my experiences with it, have always fueled and nourished me, helped me to understand the world all around. And now, after dozens of trips to Detroit, and viewing of this 27 panel mural, I ask myself questions about the present day—which I believe can honestly be applied in any place, any hometown across this country. Detroit has always been news worthy on many levels of awesomeness, and does grab a lot of media attention, but it really is a “home” town too. It’s grabbed mine since my country life childhood, with a few trips to visit my 90 + year old Uncle Lon, another artist and gardener living in the Detroit suburbs; listening to the Tigers; and, especially when I walk into the atrium of the Detroit Institute of Arts and get a whiff or glimpse of Rivera’s vision of Detroit’s “industry”.
I’m a life-long resident of Michigan and come from a family of blue-collar Oldsmobile workers and farmers. The questions I ask myself and others are definitely influenced from my life experience of connecting cars and food, my up-bringing in a little farming community In Laingsburg. They are also coming from a place of seeing friends and family, like Jason and Stephanie that are a present day part of the greening of Detroit. My questions also come from the basic four areas in realizing or choosing to call a place home and what we need: food, water, shelter and community: What kind of story is this gathering of people, living/working in Detroit telling in it’s brokenness? What merit does this broken, human-made car-industry-city in South East Michigan hold for all of us Reconnoiters in our home-places? Are you attracted to places like Detroit…or a believer in the merit of brokenness, and why?
Seems to me like there is significant merit to “being with the broke”. In the words of one of my young artist friends, “We are mere mortals after all.” and we “are all compost”. As a parental unit of two twenty-somethings trying to find their way as a part of the working class wanting to have food on their tables, these questions are burning through my consciousness every day, regardless of where I’m at.
Especially right now, as some of us may only feel crumbling on the edges or in far-away places or in news stories, while others of us feel it up close, personal and an everyday experience. My life-long love of bits and pieces and connecting this to that gives me a fairly positive outlook in our human ability to deal with difficulty as our industrial way of being comes to a close. Like rolling up my sleeves with the folks pictured below and planting three neighborhood gardens in Traverse City.
From Detroit to Traverse City, with massive changes in the car industry that supported my family in the past, to the places and people I’ve encountered recently, perceived as broken or otherwise, all point to the re-beginning of a new way to be. Re-using stuff to build what we need to grow our own food, makes sense and has merit to many of us, and may even involve making art out of car-parts.