Upon first setting foot in Detroit, the city’s automotive history is widely evident: the city is a network of driving-distance districts, connected by wide-lane thoroughfares. Its neighbourhoods are studded with industrial buildings – functional, abandoned or, in the case of spaces like POST, repurposed. But despite its clear automotive roots, Detroit also has a deep history as a design centre – it was named UNESCO’s first American City of Design in 2015 – that continues to this day.
The city’s creative pulse – one that, over the years, has birthed Motown, techno, furniture – is being celebrated during the Detroit Month of Design, an evolution of the week-long Detroit Design Festival that runs from September 1 to 30. Along with sukkahs in Capitol Park, an art-filled transformation of Eastern Market and a photography-themed takeover of the Michigan Bell Building, the month will bring a number of can’t-miss installations to the city. Here are four that demand to be seen.
Colloquy of Mobiles
Location: A. Alfred Taubman Center for Creative Education (460 W. Baltimore St., 7th Floor)
Why we’re intrigued: Gordon Pask’s Colloquy of Mobiles, first displayed at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1968, was a highly influential work – and one that foreshadowed artificial intelligence. Pask’s installation included a series of sculptural mobiles that interacted with visitors – and each other – using light, sound and movement. The colloquy, or conversation, happened between “male” and “female” mobiles, armed with photosensors, lamps, sound sensors and sound sources.
A full-scale reproduction of Colloquy of Mobiles has been recreated by interaction design masters students from the College for Creative Studies. Far from being an exercise in rote revivalism, the exhibit poses a uniquely contemporary question: do intelligent machines affirm or challenge our humanity? Find your speculative answers here.
Location: The Drinks x Design: Design Crawl in the Fisher Building (3011 W. Grand Blvd.)
Why we’re intrigued: During Detroit Month of Design, the Fisher Building – a Art Deco skyscraper that has towered over the New Center neighbourhood since 1928 – will host a vertical design crawl, with curiosities to be found on multiple floors. Among them is Prom Picture, a playful exhibition by Suzanne Lettieri of JE-LE and photographer Desmond Love that celebrates Detroit’s prom culture. Using professional photos of local prom attendees, the exhibit uses their colourful clothes to create custom backdrops – often to gorgeous effect.
The exhibit promises to be an exploration of the design, culture and aspirations of a coming-of-age ritual in Detroit. Better yet, a green-screen app will allow users to create their own customizable prom images – which will surely be an Instagram hit.
Location: Simone DeSousa EDITION (444 W. Willis St., Unit 111)
Why we’re intrigued: For PICNIC, Campo Studio will transform Simone DeSousa EDITION, a gallery / gift shop tucked away from Midtown’s Cass Corridor, into what it calls a “spatial feast.” The installation, made from mobile furniture armatures, will connect gallery to courtyard, using objects to sculpt a playful landscape that straddles the line between interior and public space. Expect to find Campo pieces, such as the Birdhouse lamp, Deco planters, the Miter collection and EXF tables on hand.
The space will be activated with what the studio, led by Cranbrook Academy of Arts grads Fernando Bales and Elise Dechard, calls a multi-sensory experience. Arrive hungry for the pairing of architecture, objects and everything in between.
The Urban Furniture Design Competition Winners
Location: Light Up Livernois, Livernois Ave.
Why we’re intrigued: Along with SHAPE Exhibition, which will explore the city’s furniture design legacy, Detroit Month of Design held an urban furniture design competition that aims to celebrate contemporary local talents. And at Light Up Livernois – a celebration of design on Detroit’s fashion district, now in its seventh year – the winners will be on hand. Expect to find two works: the City Frame, by local designers Nina Cho, Seonhee Kim and Jiaxiang Shen and Jenn Baugher Design‘s Veg Bench.
Let’s start with the former. The City Frame is, at its core, constructed from four 4-by-8-foot birch plywood panels. Each is carved into geometric shapes that, within the installation’s compact footprint, provide stools, benches, tables and doors painted in painted in playful yellows, greens and blues. The most surprising part of the installation, though, appears in its negative spaces, which frame Detroit’s skyline. Call it a functioning love letter to the city.
The Veg Bench, meanwhile, is a simple intervention that supports urban gardening initiatives. Made from a folded strip of kerf plywood and acrylic, the curved structure – whose form was inspired by a hug – features a bench that seamlessly transforms into a planter box. A canopy provides shelter from the elements while simultaneously providing information about the plants held within. It’s a minimalist, but not insignificant, gesture towards a more sustainable city.