This enquiry questions the cultural representation of post-industrial cities, whose ‘reason for being’, their industry, has transformed so significantly that the use of their nicknames e.g. ‘The Motor City’ (Detroit), becomes a melancholy gesture that talks only about the past.
Growing out of her interest in soul music and the central role of Detroit in its history, Brown developed a method that she terms the ‘Soft Rebellions’ as a way of giving citizens direct and indirect agency through a series of filmed actions and events that involve dancing, eating, talking and applauding in places where it is considered transgressive. This approach focuses particularly on a propositional rejection of the cultural production of so-called ‘ruin porn’ in favour of strategies that result in artworks that seek to positively contribute to how place making, place meaning, belonging and occupying can ultimately allow for new forms and platforms.
The first research visit took place in August 2015 to connect with citizens, explore the terrain and begin to comprehend the city as an outsider through artistic research. Subsequent visits over a two-year period, including two residencies at Spread Art and Radical Heart, deepened and broadened the enquiry through the production of seven outcomes: two films, a participatory event, two vinyl records, a drawing and a bone china dinner service. Brown’s methodology here is purposefully multi-media: encouraging concurrent co-investigative strands where each collaborative conversation helps determine the final form her research takes.
The research was disseminated via an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), the delivery and publication of a conference paper at Wayne State University, a chapter in a publication, interviews, reviews, and the acquisition of three artefacts by the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The research was funded by Arts Council England’s Artists International Development Fund, ADMRC, MOCAD and DIA.