Oct '11 - May '13
Finally, this is the Pontiac story, get ready.
It began with Bill (Massie) taking my fellow student/often partner-in-crime, Fernando Bales to an auction of foreclosed property held by the township of Pontiac, MI, which is currently under the Emergency Management scheme of Oakland County. I decided to join them, with no expectation—always the best strategy to handle Bill, I had learned so far. I was blown away by the surreality of it all. The properties were auctioned in an extremely below-the-market price ($250 for empty lots, to a couple of hundred thousands for a mansion on top of a hill), you can taste the ‘emergency’ state just by opening your mouth + sticking your tongue out. The developer agents (identifiable by their designer suits, always talking in their phone, and I don't know why, these agents are mostly female), on the other hand were acting as if they were in an art auction, + only if they were working for a really wealthy client who needed to decorate her new + empty house with whatever the latest Miami Basel has to show. They were going bananas. I went home with a real desire to do something seizing this specific moment + place I was in.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks later, in the end of the ‘Making Space for Culture’ mini-seminar last semester (a self-selecting for-those-who-were-interested-only kind of affair, ending up with 15-20 participants where we attended group discussions + field trips over the course of a month or so), led by the latest Cranbrook Critical Studies Fellow, Shannon Stratton of the threewalls fame, each of us were asked to come up with a proposal based on what we had learned.
We then held a Soup Grant event (a la Chicago's InCUBATE—details about the Sunday Soup event they have can be found here), in which each idea was presented + then chosen by the audience to walk away with the fund accumulated during the event.
Some ideas were made as a group beforehand, but some, like ours, were combined more naturally, as we came from different angles but unified by a site: what else but Pontiac? We managed to have 8 people in our group, mostly current Cranbrook students, mostly living in Pontiac.
Some things fell together + after I watched how Fernando bought his property for only 10% of the auctioned price (more on his project later), I saw the chance to initiate + focus our effort to exploit the opportunity offered by the unlimited (well, I'm exaggerating here of course, but for a dead-broke architecture student in an art school what we have here is well as much as unlimited) number of foreclosed + seized properties in the township. Considering my foreign student status, I began to think this idea as a ‘grandfather’ project, where if everything goes as planned, it will be passed down + given away to the students next down the line (need to be noted here, Vessel & Page, an artists'-run space founded by my fellow + dear Cranbrook students + grads are running in the same model).
We did what we needed to do, + while I was in Miami for the Basel weekend (a really regrettable event, I got to say), I received a text from Beverly Eichenlaub (an architecture first-year member of the group) saying that we won the grant. The time to get to work had come.
With the fact that we won, I made the project as a part of my Artists-In-Residence Review, still thinking that I might make this as my final graduating project, as it falls in line with my line of thinking (underlining the absurdities of the life our society has by the means of a really simple gesture a la Gordon Matta-Clark's ‘Fake Estates’ come to mind, not to mention to challenge the notion of architect(/artist)-genius belief by presenting a ‘group work’ as an individual ‘graduation project’). I found out a little while after this semester started that it was not a good idea. It still might be a good idea for me, but it certainly was not a right thing to do for the project.
All 10 of us (I believe that this is the current number of people involved, as we are joined by Fernando himself, & Meaghan Barry, a Cranbrook 2D Design alumn) did not know the others pretty well to begin with, neither personally nor are we familiar with each other's body of works. To agree on what exactly we need to do was a stretch. Taking myself + the burdens I have (with so little time to our Degree Show) I deemed to be the right thing to do. And it was proven right, only after a couple of meetings (assisted greatly by Shannon's visit to give another workshop not too long ago), we finally did something that could be considered as our first step as a group during last Easter Sunday.
Joining forces with Convenience to Convene—a separate endeavor started by Fernando Bales, + his partner, Meaghan Barry, whose new-found office Unsold Studio is kind enough to do our identity—over the course of one Sunday we did some tremendous dumpster-filling fun, hosted an on-site sculpture building using stacks of phone books from inside the structure, and displayed by members + friends' artworks at a pop-up gallery in the garage. All was done while we barbecued some food for artists and neighbors.
We are currently calling ourself SITEUNSEEN, “an artist-run initiative founded as a means to explore the implications of space and location on artistic practice. As a revolving conglomerate of artists and thinkers, we are seeking to explore the socioeconomic conditions surrounding Pontiac, Michigan in order to engage with the aesthetics of labor, space, and urban decay. We also look to establish a dialogue between artists and the Oakland County community, and further aid and develop additional artist-run projects in the area.” Relating to the contemporaneity of the moment + place we are in, we realized that “since its conception, our members have predominantly been graduate students from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Participation is not limited to students and alumni, but the group recognizes the need for continual and sustained growth, and often mines its members from this readily available, constantly renewable academic source. In essence, our community will always embrace a chance to provide artists with an alternative space to educate and inform their practice.”
Please visit our blog for regular updates. Thanking everyone in advance for your supports. Videos + photos are taken from SITEUNSEEN + Convenience to Convene respective websites. More info, photos, videos, details, + stories are also available there.
SITEUNSEEN current members:
A school blog on Arch Dept, Cranbrook Academy of Art. By farid rakun, admitted Fall 2011.