I spent this past Labor Day weekend visiting friends in Ann Arbor, and I was lucky enough to spend a day in nearby Detroit, touring what is left of the city. Having grown up in Cleveland, I was a bit flippant about the day trip. “I know everyone says Detroit is a rough place to live, but it can’t be worse than downtown Cleveland,” I’m saying to myself on the way there.
Wrong. So much worse.
Abandoned buildings everywhere, windows blown out, roofs collapsing, lots empty and overgrown, streets deserted. Skyscrapers sitting empty for decades. Urban decay.
Amidst all of that, though, there was a lot of beauty to be seen in Detroit.
For example, the old train depot:
And the Heidelberg Project – spanning multiple city blocks, this public art installation draws people into a part of the city where the mortality rate for young African American men is 55%.
I can’t convey the full effect of this project here. I can post some photos, but it’s certainly not the same. If you live near Detroit and haven’t yet been down to Heidelberg street, go.
Artists Tyree Guyton and Tim Burke, who live on the street amongst the installations, use found objects from sites all over the city to create their art. The use of charred dolls and mannequins was striking. This photo of the shark above is one of my favorites from the day, because not only does it show Shark vs. Man, but they are both battling a tiny wasp there, too. (See it?)
Creepy? Yes. Unsettling? Yes. This particular doll head is attached to the handle of a vacuum cleaner.
So what does this have to do with plush, you ask?
A lot. Much of the refuse and found objects used in these installations were plush. Charred and dirtied plush, ripped and torn plush missing limbs, plush that had been exposed to the elements since the 1980’s. Look:
There is something so evocative about stuffed animals displayed in such a way. Suddenly something that used to bring comfort doesn’t feel safe at all.
The piece above is called Noah’s Ark.
A grimy octopus sits on the front steps of the house.
Obviously, anyone can look at these images and feel something. For me, seeing plush used as art in this way reaffirmed the importance of what I do and create.
Simply stated, art evokes emotion, and plush does too, in the most basic way. It is soft, it hugs you, and it keeps you company. It participates in the bright, imaginative world of your youth in a way that nothing else can. It didn’t strike me so clearly before as it did on Heidelberg Street.