Elizabeth Weiss, a Brooklyn designer and recent resident at North End Studios in Detroit just completed her public installation, What For? which has created a space that encourages its patrons to meditate. “What For? is a temporal project- the garden is planted in the fall but will bloom in the spring, it will eventually deteriorate back into the natural landscape, highlighting her vision of the human need for freedom, relief, and daydreaming. The central image in What For? is a question mark and the intention behind the public installation of What For? to create a space that encourages its patrons to meditate.”

“What For? is a transient garden that will take place as the initiation piece for an outside space in a vacant yard behind North End Studios. Throughout the time of its existence, North End Studios plans to continuously develop this outside space, engaging the surrounding communities in a variety of cultural experiences involving youth development, public art, performance, horticulture, etc.” PLAYGROUND DETROIT interviewed Weiss after the recent ribbon-cutting ceremony and about her experiences in Detroit as an artist.

How did you become an artist-in-resident?

Weiss: I first met Ashley Cook at the New York Studio Residency Program [NYSRP] in the fall of 2008. We kept in contact afterwards and I began to follow the programming at North End, and eventually submitted a proposal of my own. The residency I just completed was two weeks long, I stayed in Hamtramck during my time in Detroit. Last October I had my solo show, Working Girl at North End as well. We then started talking about having me come as a resident there in conjunction with the Detroit Design Festival. What For? was built with a micro-grant from the Detroit Design Festival.

How was the your residency experience at North End?

I have come to deeply value my relationships with all of the North End members, they are a very supportive and engaged group of people. Whenever there was something I needed- whether it was transportation, or even just help carrying tools out to the space where I was working, there was someone there to help. They really brought me in to the center of their community and allowed me to see what their practice and lives in Detroit are like.

Can you explain more on the idea behind your installation, What For?

What For? is homage to Frederick L. Olmstead and his parks. Detroit’s Belle Isle has served the city for over 100 years now; the park, 982 acres, is now in need for massive repairs and updates, specifically dredging of the canals, bathroom repairs, and general grounds maintenance. Although the park was able to serve its citizens for over a century, now it is at the center of a budget debate as Detroit attempts to minimize its 200 million dollar deficit while maintaining its unique civic institutions such as Belle Isle. Olmstead’s practice as a landscape architect provided parks throughout America to serve its citizens at the height of the industrial revolution. In a post-industrial city like Detroit, the lack of funding to upkeep the abandoned city has created a unique urban environment where nature has been given the chance to take back the space it was once pushed out of.

My piece is the bulb garden in the backyard. They have been planted in a question mark shape and will bloom in the spring with red tulips. The back space will be used as a outdoor project space for North End and they will most likely continue to host residents to make additions to the yard. The space is open to the public and there is a hammock available by request. Once the garden is fenced in we hope to have the hammock permanently installed. Tools were donated from the Greening of Detroit and Melissa Ciaravino assisted me to build it.

What are your impressions of Detroit?

Detroit has treated me very well… I love the dramatic landscape, but most of all, I have been most impressed with the people I have met. There are great works of public art throughout the city- whether it be graffiti or commissioned public sculptures, or something somebody decided to build in their front lawn.

People are very present in their lives [in Detroit] and are taking initiative to make the city into what they want it to become. The art scene in Detroit is accessible.”

The only thing that truly bums me out about the city is the lack of public transportation.

Do you have any thoughts on NYC versus Detroit- or are there any similarities?

I try not to compare cities; New York City and Detroit are two very different animals. I feel you loose what makes each place unique and valuable. With that said- my favorite part of living in New York is the access to all of the collections, you are exposed to so many different types of art, since NYC is the center of that market. But-

Detroit offers you an incredible amount of freedom as an artist, you can really make whatever you want here.”

Do you have any thoughts on where Detroit will be in 10 years?

I hope that the foundation that my friends are building there continues to grow. Hopefully there will be a lot more art, safer streets, better public transportation, and the incinerator will shut down.

Where do you live in NYC?

I live on the edge of Bed Stuy in Brooklyn.

Where are you from originally? Tell us about your background and more about your work.

Originally I am from Milwaukee, WI. I moved to Chicago in 2005 to attend the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. I graduated in 2009, moved back to Milwaukee for a year, and then moved out to New York.

I feel that creating spaces and images that don’t allow you to easily digest them are essential to keeping our society creative and progressive. I think the most power you can have as an artist is not telling someone what to think but through your work being able to ask them “Why do you think that way?” I see art as the start of a conversation and not the end of one.

I am obsessed with mundane materials, disposable cameras, graphite, notebook paper, really any scraps of paper, and pen and ink are some of my favorite tools. I also have a new found gold spray paint, its such a mask.

As an artist, I have been fascinated with the idea of day dreaming, and more recently, garbage. Day dreaming represents the freedom of the mind to wander off despite external forces and pressures. Trash illuminates this moment where we deem something useless. After picking up garbage for two weeks to
prepare the space behind North End, I urge people to reconsider what can be re-purposed or recycled and what should be thrown away.


North End Studios is located at 5101 Loraine St, Detroit, MI.

Watch the recent profile on North End Studios on American Hipster Presents: North End Studios.