Katherine Persiconi Craig, known as Exactly Hi-Tops is internationally-known for her public art installation, “The Illuminated Mural” in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. Since the mural’s completion in 2010, this work of art has graced The Washington Post, VICE Magazine, the Palladium Boots catalog and featured in local news publications; and appears in the “Detroit Lives” documentary from Vice TV. The tremendous, abstract mural on 2937 E. Grand Boulevard adorns the birthplace of North End Studios down the west-facing wall, which she founded as a collaborative gallery and performance venue that would generate an economy for its affiliates. “The Illuminated Mural” has been a visual focal point in multiple music videos- some of which she collaborated on- fostering her ongoing creative relationship with the music community. North End Studios continues to evolve since its inception in 2009.

Following the completion of her BFA at the College for Creative Studies, Exactly Hi-Tops produced over 85 exhibitions with North End Studios and was dedicated to youth education and development through community engagement projects including Young Nation, Detroit Future Youth, The Young Social Entrepreneur Society, and Covenant House Art Outreachheld. In 2014 she accepted a residency at Red Bull House of Art and attained her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art this year. Her work explores urban studies, excavation, sound, installation, film, bookmaking, printmaking, painting, mural studies, sculpture, found object art and photography.

The focus of Exactly Hi-Tops’ show at The Playground, “Leaving Something,” stems from mid-twentieth century avant-garde  Situationist theory and the concept of the spectacle. “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images,” wrote Situationist International leader, Guy Debord, in Society of the Spectacle. The visual and auditory stimuli utilized in Hi-Tops’ installations become “site manifestations of existence” and the performance pieces “extractions” (namely the short-term rentals of her studio at Cranbrook Academy of Art to artists otherwise prohibited). While the bright colors of her paintings awaken the senses, igniting feelings of positivity, adventure, and the celebration of life, the neon works, such as “Buy Me,” playfully mock as a Situationist might. “Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior,” continues Debord, in regards to the consumption of commodities. Hi-Tops’ public art installations, collaborative performances, and ever-growing neon alphabet sculpture project are all signifiers suggesting the audience examine the experience.

PLAYGROUND DETROIT sat with the artist as she completed her latest drip paint mural at The Playground.

How long have you lived in Detroit?

I have lived in Detroit/Metro Detroit my whole life; I grew up on Michigan Avenue. I remember my grandfather taking me to the Eastern Market as a kid and all over the city to see the places where he worked. My father Geno Persiconi, immigrated to Detroit/East Dearborn from Italy in 1954. My Irish great-grandparents and my grandmother lived in Detroit and owned a speakeasy in the prohibition days. My great-grandfather worked in a shipyard on the Detroit River. He was from Ireland and his son, my grandfather, worked for the railroad in Detroit. As kids we would swim at Belle Isle, go to Clark Park, see the fireworks; my aunts would take me to the shows downtown and go to the DIA on a regular basis.

I started going to the raves, the funk and Reggae parties in the late 90s looking for the music and art scene.

“I remember going to the first electronic music festival, seeing J Dilla; car cruising culture at Belle Isle, hip-hop, and never wanting to leave Detroit.”

I’ve skateboarded in Detroit for sixteen years. By the time I was 19, I did officially have my own place- the Cass Corridor penthouse apartment. I stayed there for seven years [during and after] I went to CCS. I just finished my Masters Degree at Cranbrook [Academy of Art]. My grandfather always spoke very highly of Cranbrook. I know he would be really proud of me for staying in Detroit and making art. He gave me my first drawing books.

What are your mediums of choice?

Light, sound, (found) object, performance, photography, the body, persona, identity, and text. When I’m making I will use a situation for an image, not just a tangible object. I just came off of a series of performances at Cranbrook pertaining to my thesis statement that dealt with a critique of my own practice. When I left Northend Studios and decided to go back to school it gave me an opportunity to reflect on my performances, so I just started to a series based off of the artist life: artist residency/ gallery/ studio rental. By extracting myself from Detroit and putting myself in Bloomfield Hills, I felt like I had a power to really work with site specifications in relation to the artist and in the way in which we function. The work was a institutional critique; a self-dissipation and displacement. I make prints, take photos, draw, dance… I’m currently making sculpture– that’s what I was studying at Cranbrook and at CCS. I’ve worked on some dialogue and book making… Now I’m just giving away my secrets that might be too much information…

What inspires you?  

People in general; youth culture. My car. Looking… finding/ selling/ buying. Darth Vader. Having fun. Joking around; laughing. Talking. I like to talk; I’m a talker. Places where I can buy and sell gold. Excessive amounts of litter. Excessive amounts of drinking and public displays of drunkenness. Raves, sex, parties mirages, dark rooms. Abstract expressionism. Flux art. The situationists. German expressionism. Italian futurism. Impressionism. Postimpressionism. Fusion. Modern art. Pop art. Conceptual art. Conceptual artists. Racehorses Are Resources. Chameleons. Dyslexia. Excessive amounts fruit salad. Poverty. The past. Miles Davis. A band called Steel Pulse. The Black Bottom. Electronic music. When people do U-turns. Vans bringing in equipment. Finding free cleaning supplies. Getting a discount because you know someone. I like things on sale. I like it when you have nothing and then you become someone. I like working hard. Hard-work stories about the past; about people; family;… the World.

Who are influential artists in your life?

I just finished two years of working with Heather McGill at Cranbrook [Academy of Art] and in Detroit. She has had a major impact on my work.

What about your creative process have you found to be the most successful for you?

Drawing on a regular basis. Working with a muse. To read when I am making. Exploration of new processes and technology that may push my work further. Collaborations and positive mentorship; talking about my work with people I respect. Finding time to observe my work as a viewer.

What is the most important concept or theme that your work revolves around?  

It depends on the challenge… Concept is most important. I do not work with a theme or thematics at all. I want my work to come from a very pure place. I want it to be ultra-original and authentic. I think a theme would imply a topic or concentration on a subject that can become limiting. That’s not really what I’m doing with my work. I’m making conceptual art.

What is the concept behind the show you have installed at The Playground?

“Leaving Something” is focused on the use of sound and light in relation to situationist theory, music theory, and the tangible. The neon alphabet sculpture project gives me the opportunity to make statements with language in a gallery context to crate statements that are relevant to the existing urban culture and counterculture.

This show also opens the door to further collaborations with Racehorses Are Resources so that art and music are melded together out of a state of entropy, much like a Robert Smithson earthwork. The vinyl record becomes an art object. The persona Exactly Hi-Tops is put on display with live music as an a opportunity to see the inner-workings of leaving something worth living for.

Do you have more projects and shows on the horizon for you?

I have a [public] performance scheduled for August 28th in Detroit’s Greektown sponsored by 1XRun. I’m working with Lester Johnson on this collaboration for the Detroit Artist Market’s Ladder Auction in Corktown on October 3, 2015. “The Street Alphabet Sculpture Project” is a[n ongoing] text and design project using neon. I have included in The Playground show, “Buy Me” [from this series]. [Also ongoing is] working with Racehorses Are Resources on record covers, films, and music video production.

What do you love about Detroit?

Storytelling. The language. The past. The zombie movies me and friends would pretend to be in [while exploring] buildings that were abandoned; skyscrapers totally empty [except] dust, squatters, and scrappers. Art that glows. Skating! Heart Plaza, Eastern Market, the Underground Railroad. Renovation and new development that kind of seems pretentious at times, but is good for the economy. Music, art, the DIA collection, the Frederick Douglass Burch library, and really cool people.

What are challenges as an artist in Detroit?

Wage wars… I’m a woman still fighting for equal rights and equal wages. I’m competing with artists not from Detroit or Michigan. The trickle-down effect doesn’t work anymore. I’m done with Reaganomics. Artists that work for free really do devalue my market value. The major investments that a lot of us have made in art education is a big struggle; so where’s the turn over?

Describe what you imagine Detroit to be in 10 years.

Totally nuts. I hope Belle Isle is free again…