Metro Times // Mike Han uses destruction as a means of creation in Playground Detroit exhibit

Metro Times // Mike Han uses destruction as a means of creation in Playground Detroit exhibit

‘United by Design’ is up for the month of September as part of Detroit Month of Design

By Randiah Camille Green on Fri, Sep 8, 2023 at 12:29 pm

The cycle of life is creation, life, destruction, and rebirth. Designer and graffiti artist Mike Han is adding another layer to that: preservation through destruction. Rather than birthing something completely new, he prefers to continue the life cycle of objects by injecting them with new meaning for a true rebirth.

In his latest exhibition, United by Design at Playground Detroit, Han debuted two series of graffiti paintings called Modern Vandalism that use Albert Kahn and Minoru Yamasaki blueprints as a canvas. Informed by the idea of sustainability, Han’s creations are the result of destruction.

“It’s very problematic to make things because there’s a sacrifice that has to be made, and so I’m enamored with these because in this series I take things that are garbage or are no longer useful,” he tells Metro Times. “The building is made. They’re not plans anymore. So how do you then take this thing that no longer has any life, value, or purpose, and then change that? How can you make it so that you want to preserve or treasure it, and it becomes an heirloom?”

By painting Korean-inspired graffiti patterns on them, apparently, preserving instead of defacing, like graffiti is most commonly perceived as doing.

A closeup of the Albert Kahn blueprints Han used for his Modern Vandalism series. These reprints are from the ’60s but the original plans were drawn in 1927.   Randiah Camille Green

“That act of destruction becomes an act of preservation,” Han says. “To do that with architecture, with graffiti to me is very fun — the idea of destroying to preserve or enhance as a result of vandalism.”

The literal blue Albert Kahn blueprints Han uses for this exhibit are of a Sales and Service Building for Argonaut Realty Corp. at Alexandrine and Vermont in Detroit. In the corner, we can see it dated May of 1927, but Han says they’re actually reprints from the 1960s rather than the 1927 originals.

Blueprints in the Minoru Yamasaki series are from a building in San Francisco and were salvaged by Woodward Throwbacks and given to Han.

“When they go into abandoned buildings or projects they’re going to rehab, a lot of these things are just left behind,” he explains. “They’re saved, then they collect dust and get thrown out. Blueprints are not as rare as one might think, but finding an Albert Kahn or Yamasaki is pretty amazing.”


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