Stories Told on a Crumbling Stage
and Several Digressions
The seed of the idea for this picnic came from a pair of photos. About a month ago Lauren pulled out a photo album of images taken about seven years ago. The pages of the album were filled with romantic Polaroid photos of her and Ryan. We paused a moment longer at a pair of especially beautiful photos. The ethereal photos were taken with the very last light of the day and in them Ryan and Lauren are the only figures, the ground beneath them resembled a crumbling stage. The moody sky behind them looked like a painted theatrical backdrop, the perfect setting for their evening motions. Lauren suggested that we have a picnic there. And so we did.
Objects are Vessels for Stories.
I visited the site of the photos (on Piquette and John R) later that week and collected several geologic samples: coal that probably tumbled off a rail car, a piece of glass with wires running through it, a crushed steel pipe filled with soil and moss, a multilayered chip of paint, and a tiny piece of red brick. This got me thinking about what cities are made out of and the movement of materials, first out of the earth, then reconfigured or reshaped, and finally deposited in a new place and in a new form… where they will be eroded, impacted and reshaped still. As I pulled on this thread of inquiry, I realized that what interested me even more than the physical narratives was the projection of imagined narrative onto found objects.
In my first visit to the site I was unable to find any real concrete clues about the history of the mysterious and sprawling foundation. Instead the remaining artifacts tell a meandering story that is limited only by the imagination of the curious onlooker. Later I learned that it was the foundation of an enormous car factory. The current topography of the site was formed through a complex collaboration between humans and machines, fire, animals, erosion, corrosion, and passersby.
The building that once stood here was erected in 1906 by Wayne automobiles. Eventually it was used to manufacture Studebaker and Chrysler Cars, and later still, it was home to a market. A ravenous fire destroyed the building in 2005. Everyone who lived in Detroit at that time remembers that fire. A line from an article about the fire struck me as a particularly poignant illustration of the power of history recounted through the movement of material objects “On Tuesday, the warehouse sat in ruins. Water from firefighters’ hoses pooled under nearby railroad underpasses, stained orange from the building’s bricks.” These days so little of the building remains… the slab of concrete and remaining artifacts cannot tell the story of what was made there or who worked there. To learn more about the Piquette Studebaker building, this article is a great place to start. Instead of recounting what is known and said about the history of the site, we scoured the landscape in search of an imagined history.
We arrived at the North East Corner of Piquette and John R at 6pm. After a good number of people arrived Joey Landis led us on a meditation that he calls an “Optical Rebirth”.
Then we spread out to look for objects. The objects we found interesting were placed onto a table at the picnic site. To stimulate the construction of stories, we brought along some tags, pencils, and a jar full of words and phrases that Lauren and I cut from articles about the Piquette site and National Geographic magazines. The cut up phrases and words were used to generate ideas for stories. The “cut-up” technique was first used by the dadaists in the 1920’s and was later popularized by William S. Burroughs. Below are some of the results.
At the conclusion of this picnic, my brain was buzzing with ideas and critical thought. Below are some “digressions”. They represent ideas that I encountered that I feel could be explored in much greater detail, however in the interest of brevity, I will only allude to.
Digression #1: The Danger in Romanticism
This sort of imaginative play can be beautiful and whimsical, but it can also have a dark side. The oversimplification of what we see is almost always the result of a lack of awareness and empathy. An important part of picnic club is to explore and experience places that we may not have been or may not have given much thought to. There was something that happened at this picnic club that made me feel quite conflicted.
When Vanessa and I first arrived at the site, we encountered a lone pick-up truck. It was nestled amongst the vegetation, completely hidden from view. The passenger side door was open, and I felt that there was probably someone there. We decided it was best to keep our distance. The person in the truck obviously was taking refuge in this place, and it seemed to me that they would most likely not appreciate an interruption… it felt right to allow them this respite. Also, It seems very unwise to approach someone who appears to be hiding.
Later I saw that people were walking right up to the truck. People had gotten so close that the person in the truck said “this is a private party”, in an attempt to defend their privacy. After a couple disruptions, they left their vehicle. My goal in writing about this is not t to demonize anyone, but instead to discuss something I feel is important. The picnickers that approached the truck were motivated by curiosity, an admirable and necessary feeling for exploring and learning, but I think they may not have considered the situation very fully.
The Piquette site is basically viewed as public property by all who encounter it, therefore it is basically a “shared space”. Everyone who was there had the same right to be in that space, and really, the people who approached the truck closely didn’t do anything wrong. That said, I feel it is important to know when you are a visitor, and to be aware of others’ boundaries.
What I mean by identifying as a visitor is that you are sensitive and open to realities that are not your own and that you are not entitled to an undue sense of ownership to the world around you. I think something else happened too… being with a group of people changes your perspective and can make people behave much differently then they would alone. I don’t think any of the people who walked up to the truck would have done so alone. Although Picnic Club is designed to be social, it is important to me, that picnic club doesn’t promote a sense of “mob mentality”.
Digression #2 : A New Epoch
In Google searching the term “human geology” I stumbled upon a word I had not seen before. Many environmentalists and scientists believe that we have entered a new epoch, that they have named the Anthropocence.
Digression #3: The Shortest Story Ever Written
The “shortest story ever written” is a testament to the narrative qualities of objects.
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. – Ernest Hemingway
Young Ruins (99% invisible)
I would love to hear your thoughts about the shape of Picnic Club. If you have ideas, stories, challenges or criticisms, I want to hear from you! I cant wait to picnic with you again.
With Great Enthusiasm & Curiosity,