29 August–3 October 2010 / Casco HQ
Opening 28 August, 17:00 hrs
Paul Elliman is an inquisitive collector and researcher of the various unclaimed languages and signs that may unintentionally and consequently form from man-made industrial and post-industrial systems. This includes the transformation of found industrial debris – the “ruins of empire” as Elliman refers to them – into an endless font of typographical characters; or the sounds of emergency vehicles and traffic horns recovered by the human voice in sudden blasts of operatic siren mimicry. If it is our common language that defines the current social relations, what we are, and the systems within which we operate (Ivan Illich), it seems to be Paul Elliman’s work to seek another language to communicate with: a form of urban phenology, part ‘natural’ and part industrial, that almost requires us human beings to become another kind of species.
In the new project Teach Me to Disappear, Paul Elliman takes this enquiry further by focusing on Detroit in close collaboration with local artist and filmmaker Nicole Macdonald. Detroit is an archetypal post-industrial city with a crumbling infrastructure and dramatically decreasing population. Whilst many take a disquieting view of the city, Detroit urbanist Robin Boyle argues that it is a place ‘where a model of open spaces or, to use a term that comes up a lot here in Detroit, the urban prairie, starts to come into play.’ From a shared standpoint, Paul Elliman and Nicole Macdonald look into Detroit’s abandoned Belle Isle Zoo, situated on the largest city island park in America, designed by the renowned NY Central Park-landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The closure of the zoo may be a typical symptom of the continued decline of Detroit through the loss of its public funds and amenities. However, Elliman and Macdonald entered the zoo not simply to witness the failure of a civilization in its state of ruin, but to encounter an abundant eco-system of flora and fauna that has since evolved there.
Populated with all sorts of animal families as well as an impressive range of bird species*, here is a section of Detroit thriving in the secret wilderness that has replaced the public pleasure park. Elliman and Macdonald have set out to document the various calls, gestures, signals and songs of the former zoo’s current inhabitants, residing and resounding freely in the dense, jungle-like overgrowth of the city’s collapsing infrastructure. These are to be presented at Casco in the form of audio and video recordings, alongside several other references to the location and its inhabitants. Casco sets out to become a field trip camp from where a new urban language can be experienced, and where a city of “neo-liberal frustration,” in fact, provides many constructive examples from which to imagine the future of our own cities, intertwined as they inevitably are within dramatically changing economic and environmental conditions.
Paul Elliman (1961, UK) is a London-based artist and researcher whose practice often focuses on aspects of graphic design. He has exhibited widely in venues such as Tate Modern in London, the New Museum for Contemporary Art in New York, APAP in Anyang, South Korea, and Kunsthalle Basel and recently participated in the New York biennial Performa09. Elliman is also visiting critic at Yale University School of Art, New Haven, and a thesis supervisor at the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem, Netherlands
Nicole Macdonald (1980, USA) is an artist, activist and filmmaker from Detroit, Michigan. Her recent film ‘A City to Yourself’, completed in 2008, has won several awards including Best Michigan Filmmaker at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Since 2006, Macdonald has been director of the Detroit Film Center. Working with the University of Michigan Ann Arbor Prison Creative Arts Project, Macdonald has lead art and media workshops for incarcerated youth at juvenile homes and adult prisons. She is also a qualified legal clerk specializing in bankruptcy law.