Fine artist & Detroit Community High School Teacher Paula Schubatis presents “The Dream Is Now,” an exhibition featuring her own work as well as the collaborative artwork that her students and her have made together. Schubatis is showcasing her large-scale installations in the old theater space on the third floor of The Carr Center. The exhibition opened in late May and the closing reception for “The Dream is Now” is Friday, June 12 from 6-9pm. This is the last opportunity to see the exhibition installed in the beautiful and strange top floor of The Carr Center with 24 Karat Karaoke hosting the evening!

PLAYGROUND DETROIT sat down with Schubatis to learn more about her process and the meaning behind all the glitter, recycled materials, and what she calls her ‘inspirational typographic inventions.”

Tell us about the exhibition, “The Dream is Now.”

The Dream is Now is an exhibition of collaborative installations with my students at Detroit Community High School, and a narrative of my relationship with my students.  The show is a sort of retrospective of all the projects I’ve done with them through the course of the year, as well as assemblages of their individual work, and artifacts from our school.

I have never been more inspired, being able to share experiences, and be able to get a glimpse of the lives of my students. “

The space, which the show is in, is also spectacular.  The Carr Center is in the old German district of Downtown Detroit.  It is the old German Community Center, so it sort of has that kind of vibe.  There is a “magic door” to the third floor, where our exhibition is, is a grand old crumbling theatre with floor length windows and skylights.  The context of the space is Ms. Schubatis’ dream world, a sort of narnia my students and I have created, using projects made out of utilitarian objects found in their environment.

When did you decide to be an artist?

I never really decided to pursue art, it decided to pursue me. I went to art school [University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design], but it never really dawned on me until after I graduated college that I wanted to be a full-time artist and an educator. I found that pursuing an existence which revolves completely around my studio practice can very liberating- but also very tiresome, lonely, chaotic and frankly, depressing. Balancing the two worlds is difficult however, it is very rewarding.  Working in education has allowed me to create a new interdisciplinary platform for my work which involves performance, installation, and community engagement.

What is your medium of choice?

I like to think of my mode of existence as being a “cultural ethnographer” of sorts. I have a very curious mind and I find that the best way to learn about the world is to physically put myself into a space or community and practice participant observation.  My work is a direct response to whatever environment I find myself in.  I recreate and manipulate the experience through fiber, painting, sculpture, installation, performance, and just about anything else you can think of that could have glitter in it.

I consider myself to be a painter, although most of the work you’ve probably seen me exhibit in Detroit does not fall under that realm.  I was trained as a painter in art school.  I’ve always been captivated by interactions of color and form that I observe in the world.  My work revolves around the attempt to capture the degenerate, awkward, and sometimes-beautiful relationship between architecture and nature, and use this relationship to convey a personification of the figure.  I see a painting as a world which I can explore, manipulate and understand.  In the past few years, I have become very aware of the discrepancy between my experience of a painting, and the experience which my viewer has with my painting.  It is frustrating that no matter what, there is no way in which I can create a painting which my viewer can empathize with fully.

I was trained as a fiber artist, with a specialty in woven fiber.  Fiber is also a way which I can express color and space which is more finite than paint.  Woven fiber is like a binary code, a sequence of over an under, which can act as a way to organize information.  It is also a medium which helps me to tap into the feminine tradition and domesticity associated with textiles, which I’ve always felt very drawn to.

Most of my recent work which I’ve exhibited has taken the form of installation.  I find myself more and more not creating one piece, but rather reassembling a series of pieces together to create one singular experience, in what is described by Alfred Schutz in his discourse of phenomology as a “communicative common environment”. I have no preference to a specific way which my work should be displayed, and let the constraints of the environment which it is in tell me that.  My work becomes a fluid part of reality, which is intended to be interacted with and manipulated by other parties than myself.

How does Detroit influence your work?

When I moved to Detroit, I was very inspired by the specific moments within my surroundings. The places I encountered in the city were new, but also old, empty, but also full of energy of synthesis and new life.  The urban landscape was like a painting, which has burnished patinas and crumbling layers are perpetually in a state of unrest.  I began to not only depict the spaces which I saw, but also use the material remnants and artifacts themselves in my work.  In my analytical mind, this material artifact becomes a control variable, which can give validity to the truth and basis of whatever I’m making. In the city, I didn’t have access to many of the fancy yarn I used to weave with living in Ann Arbor, so I began to use laundry rope, bungee cords, plastic bags, and anything which I could get my hands on.  The resulting objects were in theory useless, but made from many utilitarian purposeful objects.

How has your experience been as a teacher working in Detroit?

Working in education has brought back much of my own nostalgia of being in high school.  Like most artists, I’m a glorified hoarder; I can’t bear to get rid of anything, because it either holds sentimental value, has some unforeseen use, or a combination of the two.  I have kept every single t-shirt from years of playing sports, and instead of donating them to Salvation Army like a normal person; I cut all of them up into rag rug yarn.  I had my students at DCH weave tapestries out of my t-shirts, and I’ve been sewing and weaving patches for the quilt as well.

Next week, my students at DCH and I will be having a performative installation in collaboration with the Detroit Department of Public Works called Pothole Prevention, in which we will dress as construction workers and fill potholes in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit with unconventional materials such as glitter, resin, and gummy bears. Pothole Prevention will take place on June 16th from 12:00 to 2:00pm.

The Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan and its partners in Brightmoor are spearheading the development of the Brightmoor Maker Space.  The Brightmoor Maker Space will transform a currently vacant 3,200 square-foot building on the campus of the Detroit Community Schools into a place for youth and adults to build their creative making skills and incubate business ideas. We are fundraising $25,000 in matching funds through a Patronicity campaign to launch the maker space for its first year of active programming. This $25,000 will be matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), bringing us up to the $50,000 needed to activate the first year of the Knight Arts Challenge grant. [DONATE HERE]

What projects do you have planned coming up?

I’ll be going to Arusha,Tanazania in a few weeks for an artist residency with Arusha Meru International School.  I will be continuing one of the projects which I’ve been working on as a part of my Michele Schara Artist Residency at Detroit Community called, I Love My Canton Soccer Gurlz, a strange quilt like combination between an African Kente Cloth, and a Midwestern soccer mom’s homage to her child prodigy.

Students at Arusha Meru will also weave pieces for the quilt.  I will sew all the patches together to create one utilitarian sort of multipurpose textile object, which can act as a blanket, pillow, tent, poncho, etc, which I’ll engage in a series of performances with on my journey back to America.

What do you love about Detroit?

The thing I love most about Detroit is that there is space. Space for (big) art, space for life, space for people. Detroit artists enjoy a somewhat slower pace of life than other cities which allows us to not just make our art, but make it our life.

The large expanses of empty physical space in the city are optimal for the wandering mind of a dreamer.  I love being able to ride my bike for miles on a summer day, and being able to encounter all of these unique spaces.  Because of the problems with the city, there is also space for individuals to create change and make their own opportunities.  I’ve met some of the most honest and amazing people in Detroit, who are and are not involved in “the scene” here.

There is no way which I would have ever been able to accomplish all that I’ve done thus far in my career living in any other city.

In Detroit, there is nobody that shits on you and tells you no. “

You can do whatever you want really, if it is within your means.  That being said, one of the most challenging aspects of being an artist in Detroit is making large, fairly unmarketable work in a city who already does not have a large collector base. Having the freedom of space comes with the tradeoff of having to hustle more than our counterparts in other cities.  Being an artist in Detroit means being resourceful.

Describe what you imagine Detroit to be in 10 years.

I spent last summer in Berlin doing an artist residency.  There are many parallels between Detroit and Berlin; both are post-industrial cities with varying degrees of crumbling infrastructure on the rise, which have become meccas for contemporary art and culture.  Berlin is much further down the road than Detroit.

When I spoke of Detroit to Berliners, they longed for the same idealized gritty lawlessness, and cultural enlightenment which they remember after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Although many were happy to see changes in economy and infrastructure, they were also upset with the threat which they saw that gentrification of the city posed to arts and culture.

Gentrification is inevitable in the future of Detroit.  I don’t live in Detroit because I think its cool, and want people to think that I’m cool because I live here.  It’s great to see cool hipster coffee shops and boutiques popping up.  Although I am more concerned for improving the quality of life and increasing opportunities in the impoverished areas like which I work in, I’m glad to see the growth of small businesses and influx of young people moving into the city.  Let the “yuppies” come here.  Progress is not exclusive.  I live here because it is my home, Michigan is my home.  My mind breeds such wild and unusual things that I feel the need to be surrounded by the familiar.  When my family moved to America, they first came to Detroit during the boom of the auto industry.  Although I didn’t grow up in the city, I feel intrinsically connected to it, which comes out in my work.

There are already many exciting things happening here in terms of progressive movements in infrastructure, arts, culture, and technology. I hope to make known what’s going on here to the rest of the world.  Detroit won’t become New York, it is going to be Detroit, and it will be like no city that the world has seen before.  In the next 10 years, I want Detroit to be the cosmopolitan model of the new postindustrial city, but still maintain the charm, which I feel intrinsically, connected to.

The exhibition, “The Dream is Now” closing reception is Friday June 12 from 6-9pm.

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