SURVIVE: TRAVELING EXHIBITION & DOCUMENTARY CELEBRATE RESURRECTION IN DETROIT
Traveling art exhibition SURVIVE has taken its one-night event to Eastern Market in Detroit this June with help from Inner State Gallery. The collection of work, curated by James W. Riley, consists of Los Angeles ‘ rising street artists DREYE, FISHE, SINER, NATHAN SMITH, and KYLE THOMAS of the LTS KOG crews. Riley purposefully chose the “Legacy cities:” New Orleans and Detroit as the first two cities for the debut, for their rich history, which at different times have made both of them a national focal point abundant with culture.
The exhibit of paintings on canvas “breathe life” into the select vacant spaces to show what a trans-formative difference one day can make when re-imagining leads to re-invention. Although the pieces hanging inside the pop-up gallery are only on display for one day, their message, transcribed in the universal language of visual imagery, is left behind in a mural to remind the viewers that one’s goal should not just be to survive the day, “but to live on […] to be great again.”
A lingering energy has lured artists from all over the world to Detroit. One cinematographer Oliver Lukacs, was admittedly guilty of prior to their visit.
“People think it’s a dead city; they come to film the ‘ruin porn.’ They come to watch the corpse of the American Dream getting wrung through the wringer before their eyes. That’s a twisted response; what changed my perspective was the resurrection I found under the ruins.”
As seen in the mini-documentary [below] from their few days in the city, the crew dove head first into their Eastern Market surroundings, where they painted the project mural on the main wall of the empty warehouse that the pop-up gallery was held in. They introduced themselves to the local community, including a stop at the 95-year old hardware store, Busy Bee, to buy paint supplies. Supporting these ‘Mom n Pops,’ shopping the farmers market, and exploring Detroit’s infamous Heidelberg Project are essential to the show’s goal, as the mural they leave behind is to commemorate those who have survived the city’s upheaval and economic drought.
As much as they are commending and encouraging the survivors of each city in which the show is presented, the powerful paintings left behind are equally an homage to their own survival; they are gifts to the multiple close friends the crew lost to death at a young age. In the Eastern Market mural, unavoidably visible on one of Detroit’s busiest streets, Gratiot Avenue, the young men of SURVIVE included a guardian angel offering in his hand a wise-looking old man. He appears to be the sage of the city, over-looking the skyline, while surrounded by a cloud of eyes that resemble the all-seeing, healing and protective Eye of Horus. This face is the portion painted by Detroit’s own street artist, Sintex.
From each city the show visits, a local artist is selected and invited to paint alongside the visiting artists to complete the SURVIVE mural. They also used music composed by Detroit-based artist, Blair ‘Dial81’ French to accompany the documentary. Riley stressed the importance of not only engaging each city’s inhabitants, but also to include them in the process, assuring any onlookers that the hands behind the painting could only be attached to honestly empathetic hearts. “People rally around positivity.” He explains. Without the “loyalty, service, and trust” essential to collaboration, the show would be as bare-boned a production as the skeletons of these cities if there were not people who stayed or moved in that have adopted a “psychic shift in the shake of the financial crisis to redefine a rich and fulfilling life.”
The unprecedented paint-dripping brush techniques amongst a world of spray cans during the SURVIVE artists early works of street art is where their exploration began. Today, FISHE assures, they would not find in the same place a large enough blank canvas to practice their aspiration:
For many years Los Angeles had been the Mecca of street art. Now, due to strict laws and narrow-minded political powers, the city as a whole is destroying public art. I feel the momentum from this culture is quickly shifting toward Detroit. The city has an ability to embrace graffiti art and muralists as part of the landscape.”
Fellow participating artist, Nathan Smith, described Detroit as “raw, chaotic, and open to new ideas. […] It’s the perfect city for a graffiti writer because nobody really cares if you paint most of these buildings. Coming from LA where it’s an automatic felony if you’re caught defacing property, Detroit was like a breath of fresh air. We had the local police admiring our work and asking us to draw in their personal black books. We even had the police offer us beanies when they saw us painting in the rain.”
Personal struggle is where the project began, and where SURVIVE meets it’s audience eye to eye.
“Detroit is the poster child of the American Dream; but not because this is where the American Dream came to die, but because this is where the American Dream is being reborn.”
Lukacs continues with the confession that he can enthusiastically consider moving to Detroit because it is “a place where one can build something.” SURVIVE will continue their campaign for care through the year, offering and absorbing inspiration as they build genuine and authentic relationships. The final stop with this body of work will be in Oakland, California, on August 2nd. The collective will present an expansion of their message with the addition of design, documentaries, and live music at Miami’s Art Basel week this December.
WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY
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