Detroit Resists

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Detroit Resists A Call to Action


Grace Lee Boggs A Time for Resistance


Gloria House Detroit Resists: A Legacy of Art, Culture, and Political Struggle

Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty 10 A Time for Visionary Resistance Detroit Resists 12 Map of Digital Occupation of U.S. Pavilion Detroit Resists 14 Statement on the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale Sara Dean & Andrew Herscher 16 Digital Occupation: Augmented Reality as Contested Space Detroit Light Brigade 18 Protest in Front of Michigan Central Station Andrew Herscher & Ana María León 20 Architectural Melancholy: Diego Rivera in “The Architectural Imagination” Raiz Up 22 Free the Water Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty 23 Detroit: The City We Won’t Let Die Lela Whitfield, Feedom Freedom, Detroit Eviction Defense, and community members 24 Eviction Defense Fence



Curation Bryce Detroit, Gloria House, Stephanie Mae Images Kate Levy, Shanna Merola Augmented Reality Sara Dean, Emily Kutil Catalogue Andrew Herscher, Ana María León Contact

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Detroit Resists is a coalition of activists, artists, architects, and community members working on behalf of an inclusive, equitable, and democratic city. We came together to respond to “The Architectural Imagination,” an exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion in the 2016 Venice Biennale. “The Architectural Imagination” appropriates contemporary Detroit as a place for “visionary American architectural practices” to develop “new speculative architectural projects” with “far-reaching applications for cities around the world.” Detroit Resists understands the city differently. We know Detroit as a place where Afrikan, indigenous, and activist art communities have been architecting resilience through culturally-literate design. Our “architectural imagination” creates and activates spaces for Detroiters historically and systematically omitted from conventional architecture’s imaginings. The digital occupation of the U.S. Pavilion uplifts the rich legacy of grassroots design-based activism in Detroit. In this catalogue, we present an introduction to the legacy of art and activism in Detroit; we guide you through our occupation of the U.S. Pavilion; and we offer a few images from the many recent and contemporary instances of resistance. This is resistance to mass water shutoffs, mass foreclosures, mass evictions, unconstrained gentrification, and other examples of spatial racism. These dynamics are playing out in cities across the globe in distinct but related ways; we invite you to join us in resistance. Detroit Resists May 2016




A spirit of resistance is growing in Detroit, echoing acts around our country. Every day, we endure attacks from a corporate elite determined to remake our city into a place where the wealthy can live, work, play and be served by the rest of us. Corporate interests are grabbing land while people are unable to pay escalating utility bills and property taxes and mortages are forcing people out of their homes. Speculators are buying up apartment buildings, evicting long-term residents in hopes of attracting newer, wealthier tenants. As some people, desperate and despairing, turn against one another, looking for a quick fix, a moment of relief, our neighborhoods have become war zones, with private police forces and federal agencies uniting to impose control. These assaults have challenged us to deepen and grow our resistance. Drawing on our experiences as a movement city and the depth of relationships we have woven, we are struggling to recreate life in the face of abandonment.


We have mounted petition drives and court cases, challenging the legality of emergency manager laws and privatization. We are organizing people’s conventions, neighborhood councils, people’s law schools, forums and teach-ins. We are demonstrating in Lansing, being arrested at city hall, marching in front of federal, state and city office buildings and the banks that are responsible for much of the pain in our city. We have moved people back into homes and challenged foreclosures. We are developing nonviolent ways of problem-solving in communities, turning to one another to resolve

differences and to provide for our own safety and security. These are more than acts of protest. They are reassertions of our humanity, acts of resistance to the immoral policies of vicious forces bent on the destruction of all that we cherish in the pursuit of profit and power. We will not be silent as schools are closed, and people go hungry and lose their homes. We will not be silent as our land is taken for private gain and used as a dumping ground for the waste of the petroleum industry. We will not be silent when we are told we must kill other people to protect our way of life. We will not be silent when we are told there are no alternatives. Enough is enough! This is our city, our state and our country. We can and will create a new world— beloved communities that heal ourselves and our earth; and cities that value our children, reconnect our generations, provide for our needs, and promote sustainable, productive and peaceful ways of life. We are doing it every day. Some of us are creating new schools based upon a commitment to redefine, respirit and rebuild our communities. Others are creating Peace Zones for Life, engaging in restorative justice. Muralists, writers, spoken word artists, musicians and artisans are sharing visions across our city. Detroiters are creating food security, healthy food, urban gardens, and new policies that will allow us to feed ourselves and one another. Others are committed to digital justice, exploring new forms of work and culture. Cooperatives,

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neighborhood businesses, technology centers for children, and new forms of local production and selfsufficiency are emerging in our neighborhoods. We resist the cynicism and hopelessness spread by the corporate media about our city. Detroit is not a city of ghosts. It is not a city of decay. It is a city of vibrant, resilient people, calling upon a deep legacy of struggle to create the relationship and values for a better future. Join us this summer as we unite to resist the mushrooming assaults on our humanity that we cannot accept. Excerpt from text originally published as “A Time for Resistance: Detroit 2013 June 23-30,� The Michigan Citizen (9 June 2013). Thanks to Shea Howell and Alice Jennings for the permission to republish.




Considering Detroit from a distance, the EuroAmerican elite art world sees a vacant landscape upon which to project an imagined reality. How reminiscent of the European settlers who found nothing on the North American continent they were constrained to recognize as living and real—not the Native Americans with whom they would not coexist peacefully, nor the natural environment which they forced into submission, carving grids upon the land, and erecting the fences of private property. How disturbing that this colonial oblivion persists so many hundred years since first exhibited by the “founding fathers,” blind as they were to the cultures and ontologies of Native American peoples. Must the colonial imagination persist forever?


Detroit: the city of approximately 700,000 residents, currently deprived of democratic governance by the state-imposed rule of emergency managers, marked for decades by crippling unemployment following the flight of corporations and White citizens to the suburbs, the South and abroad; where thousands have been forced from their homes by tax foreclosures, and traditional neighborhoods are being dismantled to make space for gentrification; where families in 30,000 homes have been forced to live without running water; where the public school system has been looted by private contractors and corrupt administrators, leaving the children stunned by the chaos they are being subjected to in overcrowded classrooms and unsafe, neglected facilities. This is the Detroit where City assets are being systematically extracted from the commons and rendered to private interests, and where people of color and the poor are resisting this ruthless corporate dispossession.

This resistance has deep roots in Detroit’s working class history, its legacy of militant immigrants and African American abolitionists who took to the streets, picket lines and strikes to win greater freedoms and a better standard of living. Art and all forms of cultural production have been integral aspects of this highly sophisticated working class heritage. This rich sediment of working class agitation, selfdetermination and courage inspires contemporary artists while undergirding Detroit’s contemporary movements for justice and equality. From this milieu of ongoing political struggles to create a city where everyone can enjoy a good life has sprung one brilliant artist after another. Beginning in the 1940s, there emerged an impressive group of African American artists in Detroit. These men and women, born in the 20s and 30s, included visual artists Harold Neal, Charles McGee, Shirley Reed, and Oliver La Grone. Decades later, this generation of artists began to win recognition for their work in the exhibits and collections of mainstream galleries and museums. Their counterparts in Detroit’s literary community were the poets of the Boone House group—Margaret Danner, Robert Hayden, Naomi Madgett and Dudley Randall. Detroit artists of this generation often sustained their creative work while continuing to earn their living in the auto factories. This was true of Randall, Philip Levine (appointed Poet Laureate of the United States towards the end of his life) as well as sculptor Oliver LaGrone and jazz innovator Ahmad Jamal. In these artists’ lives, physical labor, union organizing, and creative production were woven in a single fabric. This practice, in which art production fuses with—or is inseparable from—life’s daily exigencies distinguishes Detroit’s unique cultural legacy, its persistent resilience and power.

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7 Figure 1: Ibn Pori Pitts, Katherine Dunham, The Remembrance Dance Spirit of Africa (2006), mixed media. Private Collection of Gloria House,


Detroit’s arts community has been characterized by rigorous intellectual engagement and a ready groundswell of progressive political campaigns. From the 1960s to 1980s, independent publications such as the Fifth Estate (ed. Peter Werby), City Arts Quarterly (eds. Michele Gibbs and John Sinclair), and Solid Ground (ed. Kofi Natambu) fostered highly charged discourse on the cultural issues of the period. The 1960s brought a wave of antiwar activism and the creative surge of the Black Consciousness movement. Detroit became a mecca of the Black Consciousness era, with Broadside Press leading in publishing the most revered poets of the period, Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde and Haki Madhubuti, and playwrights Ron Milner and Bill Harris championing Black theater in Concept East and other venues. Black Consciousness asserted the beauty of African art and culture, rejecting definitively the longstanding Eurocentric narratives of a backward “dark continent.” Detroit artistic production in all genres energized African American artists across the nation as well as artists throughout the African Diaspora, where independence struggles were underway. Ibn Pori Pitts (Baba Ibn) working in all genres of the visual arts as well as poetry, led the way for many of his contemporaries, articulating his revolutionary spirituality through bold, audacious art pieces and spoken word performances (figures 1, 2). The murals of Wayne Curtis, which protest the current onslaught of home foreclosures, police brutality and water shutoffs, take up the fight where Baba Ibn left off (front and back cover). In the 80s and 90s, the emerging younger poets enjoyed a much wider creative perspective, thanks in part to the ideological decolonization wrought by Black consciousness. In Detroit, such poets included Blair, Jessica Care Moore, Aurora Harris, and later, into the new century, the Raiz Up Collective (p. 22-23) and spoken word artists Will Copeland, Bryce Detroit, and Tawana Petty. Over the years, institutions and programs such as LINES: New Writing at the DIA (George Tysh, curator), Broadside Press, Lotus Press and the National Conference of Artists provided stability and continuity for the arts community.


Today’s art scene reflects Detroit’s history of popular, community-based engagement in the arts. In the late nineteenth-century, Detroit’s sizeable German community built one of Detroit’s finest, enduring structures, the Harmonie Club (architect Richard Raseman, 1895), a facility of the Harmonie Society, a group devoted to the performance of German lieder. The building illustrates perfectly the integration of cultural production and progressive community engagement. From the basement beer hall to the third floor classical theater and stage, the Harmonie Club supported the thriving cultural life of Detroit’s immigrant communities. Since its late twentiethcentury renovation, the Harmonie Club building has

become the Virgil A. Carr Center, a vital hub of African American art exhibits, jazz performances, and artists’ workshops. The original rathskeller is now a restaurant where progressive labor policies are implemented and young people are trained in the food service business. On the plaza outside, a mosaic pathway centerpiece celebrates Detroit-born African American artists, for this area of the City has been known alternately as Paradise Valley (an African American enclave), Germantown and Greektown. Many such sites of community self-determination and self-expression serve as icons in the cityscape: the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, with its striking African roundhouse inspiration, materializing from the dreams of its founder, Dr. Wright, and the deep longing of the African American community to bring its history to light; or the murals in Mexicantown, where painter Vito Valdez celebrates his people’s enduring relationship with the land, and George Vargas advances Chicano politics, reminding the viewer of Aztlan with powerful images from the indigenous past: before the United States seized the land that now constitutes California, Nevada, Utah, most of New Mexico and Arizona and parts of Colorado and Wyoming (figures 3, 4); or the Patterns of Detroit Community Mural Project at the Center for Creative Studies, designed by Hubert Massey, and brought to completion by a collective of Detroit artists, including Sabrina Nelson and Gilda Snowden, working with neighborhood youth. All such cultural emblems have risen out of a community’s desire for selfexpression, with artistic visions realized by artists who belong to that community. Absolutely no need for a presumptuous imagination projected from afar— especially an imagination in the service of corporate domination and dispossession of the historic citizenry. The pieces featured in this Detroit Resists exhibit highlight the artists’ and activists’ intense resilience in the face of the current corporate reclamation of the City, and the extreme inequities it is engendering in the people’s access to basic necessities. The exhibit also affirms Detroit’s extraordinary cultural legacy, in which creative production, community self-determination and social justice activism have coalesced for two centuries. Represented here are the works of several generations of artists, writers, designers and artist-activists, who honor the legacy of the artists who came before them. Their imagination rises from their dreams and lived experience in this City to create beauty despite socio-economic limitations and in resistance to the supremacist assumptions of the cultural elite. Gloria House, Ph.D. Detroit May 2016

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Figure 2: Ibn Pori Pitts, Faruq Z. Bey Saxophonist and leader, Griot Galaxy, Detroit avant-garde jazz ensemble, mixed media. Private Collection of Gloria House,

Figure 3: Martin Moreno and George Vargas, Cityspirit (St. Anne and Bagley St., Detroit, 1979, restored by Vito Valdez, 1997). Image Kate Levy.


Figure 4: Vito Valdez and James Puntigam, Corn Field (St. Anne and Bagley St., Detroit, 1997-1998, restored by Vito Valdez with assistance from Jen Boyak, 2006). Image Kate Levy.



Over 50 years ago, ancestor James Boggs wrote “The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook.” In this book, he warned Americans of the insurmountable impact of automation, increased individualism as a result of that automation, a decreased desire of the oppressed to organize against their oppressors based on minuscule material gains, and a growing racial tension, rooted in the capitalism. It is clear today he had foresight that we should have listened to. He was not under the illusion that jobs were going to be our saving grace. He was adamant about the fact we needed to create something new, but in order to do that, we needed to persistently resist the capitalistic system, while resisting the desire to have our silence bought out by the highest bidders. “Most American workers have geared themselves to a standard of living that is based on a five-day week plus—either in the form of overtime or another job, part or full-time,” Boggs wrote in 1963. “And any time this standard of living is threatened, it is a personal crisis, which means that more and more decisions are being personalized and individualized rather than collectivized and socialized.” In Detroit, we face a rapid increase in joblessness, emergency managers, corporate land takeovers, increased right-wing/counter-revolutionary governmental policies in Lansing, attacks on our water systems, our public parks, our educational systems and our food system.


In recent months, we have seen hundreds of renters evicted in brutal, inhumane fashion with little to no notice, in order to make room for entertainment downtown. We have seen an emphasis on gentrifying neighborhoods and the promotion of a superficial upswing in city value, while urban areas continue their decline in city services. We have been forced to endure over 20,000 water shut offs and rising, with no regard for the health and well-being of children and elderly. We have witnessed a school, which supported young people with disabilities, closed down, shipping them into various schools that cannot support their needs, with little concern for their welfare. And while our educational system has been reduced to standardized test preparation for the smart kids

and suspensions for the “at-risk youth,” the city has heightened its militarization. With the formation of ICE, as well as former Mayor Bing’s initiative called Detroit One, which fosters a collaboration between the Detroit Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshal’s Service, Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Corrections, Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and U.S. Attorney’s Office, it is clear the City’s backward thinking solution to crime is what inspired the state-of-the-art juvenile detention center in the heart of a rapidly gentrifying downtown. Turns out oppressed people can live downtown after all. Increasing law enforcement with no real plan to address the systemic issues in our communities, further adding to an already explosive situation, is yet another example of the negligence of city government. It is decisions like this one that makes it that much more urgent that we all come together as human beings in order to turn things around. With all that has been said about the challenges we face, Detroiters and people across the country recognize we live in the land of opportunity. We live in a time where the empire is dying and those in government and finance lack the answers to provide us with solutions to move this city and this country forward. We live in a time where those who have the illusion of power attempt to continue their authoritarian rule with increased militarism at home and abroad. We live in a time where those in government and corporate America continue to evade the global environmental crisis, while flip flopping sides on where they stand, leaving the American people to suffer as a result of their indifference. So, as we often say in Detroit, “we are making a way, out of no way.” We recognize now we must continue to resist, because resistance is constant, protracted like the struggle. Therefore, we cannot continue to suffer in our oppression, waiting on the system to bail us out. Resistance moves us beyond protest, because it involves the challenge to our movement and to those living in our cities as well as the suburbs to make a choice that makes it clear we are committed to the beloved community.

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Resistance involves a moral struggle with our own people. It involves relationship-building and a commitment to healing ourselves from the cynicism and defeatism that allow us to dwell in hopelessness. Resistance involves telling our stories and regaining the dignity and pride in our stories, thereby redefining, reinventing and rebuilding our communities. It requires a long-term commitment to civil disobedience and the threat of public arrests, while standing firm on the fact we will no longer be silent while our schools are closed, while families in need are thrown off of food stamps, are evicted for the inability to pay inflated taxes, being foreclosed on by banks like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and while banks profit off the backs of pensioners. It means we will lay claim to our planet, rejecting environmental destruction on every level, including fracking, global wars and drone attacks. Resistance also creates an opportunity for us to develop new forms of participatory democracy and self-governing communities. Grace Lee Boggs, 99-year-old widow of James Boggs and lifelong revolutionary/philosopher/activist is adamant we must always be cognizant of what time it is on the clock of the world. In Detroit, we recognize that we live in movement times, although very different from the movement times of the 1930s and the 1960s. We realize the necessity to build upon the resistance and energy that emerged from the Battle of Seattle, the Occupy Movement, the Idle No More activism of native people across the Western Hemisphere and the Ferguson movement sparked by Black youth in response to the murder of Mike Brown. From the Motown slowdowns and blocking of freeway ramps, to the constant picketing and protests against Governor Snyder, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, to the standing up against the continued school and library closings, to the commitment to stop foreclosures orchestrated by Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, the resistance against the massive deportations and increased arrests and harassment of our young people, and the struggle against internalized violence and oppression that has us killing each other in our own communities, to the struggle against massive water shutoffs by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Detroiters have shown that we speak and act based upon our morals and principles, as well

as a commitment to turn to each other, refusing to “beg” those in power to make our world better. We have demonstrated in Lansing, been arrested at city hall and while blocking Homrich trucks from turning off water. We have marched in front of the federal, state and city office buildings and invited the United Nations to witness the atrocities against us. Many of us are creating new schools based upon a commitment to redefine, re-spirit and rebuild our communities. Others are creating Peace Zones for Life and engaging in a commitment to restorative justice. Community artists, poets, spoken word artists, muralists, DJs and MCs are sharing their visions of resistance throughout the city. Growing numbers of Detroiters are working to create food security and healthy food alternatives through urban gardening, while encouraging new city policies which will allow Detroiters to feed ourselves. Women and men are turning to each other and creating caring communities, while working feverishly to restore the village mentality We are exploring new forms of work, creating small businesses, developing maker spaces, utilizing 3D printers, as well as solar forms of energy in order to bring ourselves off the grid, while sharing a commitment to digital justice across our city. We stand firm on the belief that an emergency manager is nothing less than a dictator, designated to give corporate restructure to the billionaires who have stolen from, are stealing from and are raping our city and region. In Detroit, we are saying, “enough is enough!” We will not be silent about the Grand Bargain that leaves the least of us behind! We will not be silent as the millionaires and billionaires celebrate our demise! We will not be silent as the bankruptcy is lauded as a victory over poor people! This is our city, our state, and we are committed to creating a new world, for the people and by the people! Originally published 14 December 2014 at https:// conversationsthatyouwillneverfinish.wordpress. com/2014/12/14/a-time-for-visionary-resistancetawana-petty-aka-honeycomb/



MAP OF DIGITAL OCCUPATION OF U.S. PAVILION Pamphlets, posters, and banners from recent movement-based protests in Detroit (see inserts throughout catalogue for examples).

Raiz Up, Free the Water (p. 22-23).


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Lela Whitfield, Feedom Freedom, Detroit Eviction Defense and community members, Eviction Defense Fence (front and back cover).

Detroit Light Brigade, Detroit Light Brigade in front of Michigan Central Station (pp. 18-19).

To view occupation see instructions in back cover.





The US Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale will host The Architectural Imagination, an exhibition of new speculative architectural projects commissioned for specific sites in Detroit but with far-reaching application for cities around the world. The exhibition will emphasize the importance and value of the architectural imagination in shaping forms and spaces into exciting future possibilities. The birthplace of the automobile industry, the free-span factory floor, the concrete paved road, and Motown and techno music, Detroit was once a center of American imagination, not only for the products it made but also for its modern architecture and modern lifestyle, which captivated audiences worldwide. Like many postindustrial cities, Detroit is coping with a changed urban core that for decades has generated much thinking in urban planning. As advocates of the power of architecture to construct culture and catalyze cities, curators Cynthia Davidson and Monica Ponce de Leon will commission twelve visionary American architectural practices to produce new work that demonstrates the creativity and resourcefulness of architecture to address the social and environmental issues of the 21st century. “The Architectural Imagination,”

We thank the curators and architects involved in “The Architectural Imagination” for their interest in Detroit. We understand the ambition of “The Architectural Imagination” to commission architecture in Detroit with “far-reaching application for cities around the world.” At the same time, however, we are aware that nothing facilitates such applications more than architecture’s indifference to its political context. Indeed, what the project description refers to as “the power of architecture” might serve as simply another name for architecture’s political indifference—the capacity of architecture to be of service to political regimes, no matter their ideological orientation. This architectural power has been manifestly apparent in architecture’s recruitments against indigenous, impoverished, marginalized, and precarious communities across the globe, usually in the name of “development” or “modernization” in the second half of the 20th century. Now, as the project description aptly points out, it is being increasingly mobilized in the name of “the social and environmental issues of the 21st century.” As the curators of “The Architectural Imagination” note, “the power of architecture” has been very apparent in Detroit. We appreciate that the project recalls Detroit’s “modern architecture and modern lifestyle, which captivated audiences worldwide,” although we cannot avoid noting the dependence of that architecture and lifestyle on the city’s enduring legacy and reality of racism. Nonetheless, we believe that the power of architecture is being demonstrated

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in Detroit even more emphatically today, in the wake of the city’s emergency financial management, forced bankruptcy, and current austerity urbanism. We see audiences worldwide still captivated by the power of architecture in Detroit—awestruck by the spectacle of tens of thousands of families living in houses where the water has been shut off, tens of thousands of “blighted” houses demolished while the need for affordable housing remains acute, and tens of thousands of families evicted from their homes in the course of the largest municipal tax foreclosure in U.S. history. Indeed, if the mass dispossession of Detroit’s predominantly African-American residents by the mobilization of their homes in austerity urbanism does not exemplify the power of architecture, then we do not know what does. We therefore wonder who and what benefits from an idealization of “The Architectural Imagination” in Detroit at a time when architecture is being violently re-imagined by austerity politics. We are curious to see the relationships that emerge between the speculative architectural projects produced by the U.S. Pavilion’s visionary architects and the urban catastrophe that many of Detroit’s residents are currently attempting to survive. We fear, however, that the U.S. Pavilion, precisely as an attempt to advocate “the power of architecture,” is structurally unable to engage this catastrophe and will thereby collaborate in the ongoing destruction of the city. Originally published 20 February 2016 on





The capacity to construct and inhabit physical space in the city is granted by political, economic, and social structures, each of which is made manifest in law, policy, policing, custom, and architecture alike. The architecture that constructs the city, then, is itself a construct of wealth, power, privilege, and ownership. “Augmented reality” is a recently-developed term for the supplementation of physical space by digital media. This supplement produces spaces that are at once three-dimensional and immaterial; through smart phones and other roving devices, digital media can be viewed, walked through, investigated, and engaged.


The powers of the city have begun to domesticate the specter of augmented reality: these powers include the state, techno-corporatism, consumer capitalism, and most of the thought leaders who are developing ambient media, pervasive computing, smart cities, everyware, and other intersections of physical and digital structures. If all goes according to their plans, the answer to the question that this technology typically prompts—“how will augmented reality change the reality in which we live?”—will be “not much.” The visible but immaterial presences produced by augmented reality will continue to be used to advertise consumer products, train unskilled labor, and perform other functions associated with extractive capitalism. But the domestication of augmented reality does not negate its potential as a political agent in the city, acting outside of these agendas. The technology of augmented reality, that is, allows for a visual occupation of physical space that is unchallenged not only by ownership, law, and policing, but even by atmosphere and gravity. The imagery and data

that augmented technology makes visually available are indifferent to their physical location and to the politics, privacy, and programming of that location. Augmented reality thus offers new possibilities to advance a right to the city. Detroit Resists’ digital occupation of the U.S. Pavilion utilizes the socio-economic asymmetry between the physical occupation of urban space and its technologically-enhanced visual occupation as a political and design opportunity. In doing so, it directly locates art, design, and activist communities in a space built by the academy of architecture to speculate on its own future by speculating on the future of Detroit. The digital occupation of the U.S. Pavilion thereby instrumentalizes the gap between the invited and uninvited inhabitation of the pavilion for political protest and resistance. The occupation of the U.S. Pavilion by a nonphysical installation instantiates a counter-politics that invalidates normative equations of space, material, labor, and the power to be seen and heard. The occupation is built on the basis of geospatial coordinates and software platforms; it is a construction of code, imagery, effect, and proximity. Through augmented reality, points and lines were digitally dropped on the surface of the Earth in order to decolonize the U.S. Pavilion and open it up to a counter-spatiality repressed in conventional architecture’s imaginaries. Jacques Rancière has famously pointed out the ways in which political systems are, among other things, aesthetic orders within which certain “distributions of the sensible” are defined and enforced: what can be seen and what cannot be seen are simultaneously political and aesthetic concerns. Augmented reality

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does not necessarily disrupt hegemonic distributions of the sensible, but it does offer possibilities for disruptions that are unavailable in physical space. The digital occupation of physical space is not structured by the same rules as the occupation of physical space itself. Operating within this discrepancy, digital occupation offers new possibilities to contest existing distributions of the sensible by including images and words that these distributions would otherwise repress, neglect, or annihilate.





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For more information, please visit DetroitLightBrigade. Image Shanna Merola.



Diego Rivera in “The Architectural Imagination” Andrew Herscher & Ana María León The Architectural Imagination is an exhibition of new speculative architectural projects designed for specific sites in Detroit but with far-reaching applications for cities around the world. It will open to the public in the US Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. “The Architectural Imagination,” The exhibition in the U.S. Pavilion, called The Architectural Imagination, intends to showcase the power of architectural thinking in regenerating postindustrial cities. Cocurated by critic and editor Cynthia Davidson and former dean of architecture at the University of Michigan and now at Princeton, Monica Ponce de Leon, it will look at the potential of four abandoned or underused sites in Detroit, as radically reimagined by 12 teams of architects. Catherine McGuigan, “Design’s Social Agenda: Architecture in the Public Interest is Now Part of the Zeitgeist,” Architectural Record, February 2016.

In the months preceding the 2016 Venice Biennale, the U.S. architectural media has enthusiastically begun to amplify the rhetoric with which the U.S. Pavilion was launched in the Summer of 2015. The projects branded by the curators of the U.S. Pavilion as “speculative” are now circulating as exemplary of (to cite just one recent article) “design’s social agenda,” “architecture in the public interest,” and “the power of architectural thinking in regenerating postindustrial cities.”


The journalists who have begun to write about “The Architectural Imagination” do not have the speculative projects that will be exhibited in the Pavilion available to review and we don’t either. However, we do have one potent image—an image that might shed light on the politics of the U.S. Pavilion and thereby offer a frame within which to re-read the product placement statements of the sort that have begun to circulate in the architectural media. This is the only image on the website of the U.S. Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale (figure 1). The image consists of one panel from the north façade

of Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals, painted by Rivera in 1932 and 1933 at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This panel shows workers at the Ford River Rouge Plant building V8 engines. The website zooms in on this panel, neatly framing it between the moldings of the architecture of the Detroit Institute of Arts courtyard. What we are given to see is Rivera’s depiction of the assembly line and his deliberate highlighting of the collaboration of man and machine, with an emphasis on the tense muscles of the workers as they labor. What we see, however, is the result of a close cropping of Rivera’s murals, a cropping that cuts out Rivera’s larger narrative (figure 2). The images that are missing, literally and figuratively ‘out of the picture,’ give us some insights into the relationships obscured by the presentation of the mural on “The Architectural Imagination” website and, perhaps, of the project more generally. One missing image is the horizontal band on top of the cropped image; this band reveals Rivera’s ambitious depiction of global human and material extraction. Two bodies, one black and one brown, here represent the African and Latin American races. As our eyesight descends from these commanding presences, the bodies give way to the material resources extracted from far away lands. On the corners of this side of the mural, also cropped out of view, two contrasting views of scientific research are depicted: on the right-hand panel, a child is vaccinated, highlighting science’s contribution to health and life, whereas on the left an assembly of individuals wearing gas masks point to the complicities between science and war, in the creation of more efficient means to annihilate populations. These images—representing brown and black bodies, the violence of material extraction, the pain and suffering that extraction provokes in faraway lands, and the consequences of advanced scientific research in both life and death—are missing from the cropped version of the image that is presented to us on the website of “The Architectural Imagination.” Furthermore, the cropped image is just one part of the five surfaces painted by Rivera in the Detroit Institute of Art’s courtyard ( cuWWUV9Nek22). Rivera painted over the top of the east and west facades with stories of war and

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technology and echoed the mural on the opposite side, which includes white and Asian figures whose resources are also in turn being extracted. Lest we misinterpret these messages, Rivera printed the titles of these scenes in the floor of the courtyard, completing his depiction of the River Rouge factory as a site not only of labor and production but also of extraction, exploitation, and suffering. This threedimensional intervention does not sit neatly, so to speak, within the courtyard. Rather, it aggressively takes over and completely alters our experience of the space. By cropping the image, what we are left with on the website of “The Architectural Imagination” is an imagined version of Rivera—a harmonious story of interracial collaboration on the factory assembly line rather than the larger narrative of the exploitive process, precisely illustrated in the other sections of the murals, by means of which capitalists extracted surplus value from industrial labor and produced a society structured by inequality. One of the primary ways in which the contradictions and violence ensuing from the capitalist exploitation of labor were smoothed over in Detroit was architectural: the introduction of the single-family house as a reward for a life spent on the assembly lines of the sort Rivera depicted in his murals. It is precisely these houses, now primarily occupied by working-class black families, that are currently the targets of Detroit’s post-bankruptcy austerity urbanism—an urbanism made manifest in mass foreclosures and evictions, in mass destruction of “blighted” houses, and in mass shut-offs of water in houses contending with unaffordable water bills. So what does it mean that the website of the U.S. Pavilion includes a cropped section of Rivera’s murals? For us, this is a clear symptom of what Walter Benjamin once termed “left-wing melancholy.” Benjamin described left-wing melancholy as a means of avoiding contemporary political concerns by fetishizing aspects of the history of left politics. [1] Left-wing melancholy returns to the sites, events, images, and texts that compose this history in the belief that such returns would somehow constitute political interventions; in Benjamin’s words, leftwing melancholy is a “transposition of revolutionary reflexes … into objects of distraction, of amusement,

which can be supplied for consumption.”[2] Could there be a better example of this transposition than the use of a section of Rivera’s revolutionary murals to decorate a project that appears to march in lock-step with austerity urbanism? [1] Walter Benjamin, “Left-Wing Melancholy,” in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, ed. Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). [2] Benjamin, “Left-Wing Melancholy,” 351.

Originally published 25 March 2016 on

Figure 1: Screen Capture,


Figure 2: Diego Rivera, Detroit Industry Mural on North Wall, Detroit Institute of Arts.



Detroit, Summer 2014 - Spring 2016 #RaizUp #FreeTheWater #DetroitWaterShutoffs

22 The Raiz Up left this message in a moment of depravity from financial privation. Defund it, let it fail, take it over. Detroit’s water crisis came amidst the takeover, after austerity... We are demanding access to public space for our message in a time when public everything, from education, water, housing etc. is being privatized. Our Raiz Up artists are facing felonies for this art. For that reason, we put out an important public message on formerly public infrastructure speaking against the radical privatization. Raiz Up

MAY 2016


Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty

they try and erase us rename us displace us but we ain’t faceless our bodies are here
 we shed tears from the sweat 
 of our Ancestors
 bask in the glory of their resistance the blood in our veins is of legends
 we will not be nameless they cannot shame us with their propaganda demand our silence through their genocide
 we will not hide behind their trinkets
 their choo choo trains 
 and hockey rinks
we are Detroiters the Black mecca of possibility
 we will not go quietly into the night
 we carry the fight of Joe Louis
 got the Black fist to prove it
 we are warriors and artists the innovators 
 they call arsonists in October
 they run us over when we resist them but we’re persistent
 generations of resilience
 we wage love in a world out to get us
 productive despite their insistence Detroit the city we won’t let die
 no matter how much 
 they try us © Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty mother, organizer, author, poet

For more information please visit,, and Image Raiz Up.



Lela Whitfield, Feedom Freedom, Detroit Eviction Defense and community members, Detroit, August 2015 Fence next to Lela Whitfield’s house built as community-mobilizing barricade to her eviction. I got a call from neighbor Lela, she was starting to stress out and felt she was exhausted of options with the court battle. She came to me, I referred her to Detroit Eviction Defense ... Many positive steps were taken as well as actions on behalf of the case for Lela, but the space around her home seemed defenseless, and an easy target. So myself, Dave and Lish thought of ways to make the space less penetrable. A fence was an option but being allies with artists it became “The Home Defense Mural.” It was a collective project, many artists participated as well as the children from the neighborhood. Myrtle Curtis, Feedom Freedom

INSTRUCTIONS 1. Install the LAYAR app on your phone 2. Scan this QR code in LAYAR 3. Explore Detroit Resists’ digital occupation of the U.S. Pavilion through LAYAR

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