Feature—Mitch and Gina of Powerhouse Productions and the Story Behind Juxtapoz in DetroitJuxtapoz // Wednesday, 19 Jan 2011
Chronicled in our February issue (#121), the Power House X Juxtapoz Project in Detroit has grown considerably since it first began as a small neighborhood project. With the aid of our 15th Anniversary Benefit and Auction and the talent of Swoon, Ben Wolf, Monica Canilao, RETNA, Richard Colman and Saelee Oh, six leading artists, the project has grown into its shoes and its city, with portions of a block which were once abandoned and in disrepair, now blinding in their beauty and art. Back in October, when all of the artists were in Detroit to create and add to the city, I took a moment to sit down with Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, the creators, hearts and souls behind the project. Here is a conversation we had on a final day in October of 2010. —Jason Jaworski
All photography by Tod Seelie.
Jason Jaworski: Let’s begin at the beginning- how did this all start, the Power House Project and all?
Mitch Cope: Well, before we moved into the neighborhood, we always wanted to buy some sort of property and play with it and we started getting interested in doing something socially interactive that was more artistic. Then, when we bought this house four, almost five years ago, the first thing we did after we moved in was have a talent show out in the studio and invited our neighbors to show up. A couple of them did, most of them didn't, but that was our first initiation into the neighborhood. From then on we kind of did different things within the neighborhood and tried to talk to the kids about having art shows. The whole idea of infusing art or artists into the neighborhood was always a goal because there wasn't much here and we always thought that everybody needs art, not just the galleries and museums of the world, but that it really benefits your everyday life.
Jason: And the community and the neighborhood-
Mitch: Yeah, it's culture and enlivens and it also brings out the humanity in the neighborhood, especially in this neighborhood where it's so diverse and there is a lot of culture already. It becomes an expression of the culture, an out-worldly expression that you can really see, so we're trying to figure out how to do that.
Gina Reichert: We're also sort of drawn to having some sort of public space. We used to have a storefront space attached to our house which I kind of miss because it was a chance to have a conversation with people that aren’t the same people that go to museums and galleries in general, and it's also a different conversation than what you would have at a museum or gallery, because it's more an everyday retail experience and a conversation that's not strictly looking at art as something separate and exclusive from everyday life. Presenting art doesn’t have to be a big fancy exclusive thing, it can happen on a totally different level.
Jason: How has the neighborhood changed? Has it been progressing in any way?
Mitch: When we first moved into the neighborhood, all these houses here were occupied, every single house that we're working on was occupied and even houses that are now gone were occupied.
Gina: I'd say in the past 3 years there have been a lot of new vacancies in the neighborhood. For example, the family that was living in the blue house that Monica Canilao is now working on had just put up the blue vinyl and the roof and then the downturn started happening-
Jason: It’s hard to believe so much has happened in such a short amount of time.
Mitch: When the foreclosure thing first started to happen, we started to see the cycle of when the houses go empty. First, things get scrapped or stolen and then drug issues pop up and this whole cycle starts and we knew that, from being in Detroit so long, if you don't hit something right away, then it just gets really bad, really quick. So when the house that is now the Power House came up for sale, we kind of watched the price drop every month and when it came down to $1,900 dollars, we asked Mr. Cope to help us out and he loaned us the money to buy the house. That was the first property that we started working on. In the beginning, kids in the neighborhood helped us paint the side and it was sort of like this moment of engaging in the community and then people start asking, “What are you doing?” or “Are you renting this?” and we would tell them, “well, no, it's an artist-residence house and it's going to be off the grid,” and then you start talking about all these other issues of renewable energy and what art is and it becomes a conversation piece. A lot of what we do is a conversation piece with the artists here. Before that, a lot of times, we would meet our neighbors through crime, and we would form a coalition of neighbors through that, which is good in that you get to know your neighbors, but it's bad in that you get to know your neighbors through crime. So we're trying to have another element to meet our neighbors, a positive element which is the art, and that's what's happening now more so than ever on Moran Street, because it is such a concentrated effort with four houses being worked on by six different artists.
Gina: That block has been vacant for so long and there's been all this negative activity in and out of the houses that, for the families that are still there or the ones that have sort of interspersed in between, they feel cut off from that vacancy and have been trying to figure out how to leave, they just wanted to get their families out of there, and now, with so much activity on the street [with the project], they're saying that maybe they wont leave.
Mitch: Or at least maybe they wont abandon their house, maybe they will stick it out a little longer, because the problem was that you couldn’t leave if you had a $50,000 mortgage on your house- you can't sell it for nearly that much anymore. So people were just abandoning houses and the foreclosure thing just got worse and worse exponentially. It became this big problem and so, if we could sort of make certain neighborhoods or certain streets more livable, more safe and more exciting, that's really why I think, at the end of the day, we invite artists to come and work here.
Jason: What’s the condition of the houses out here, the abandoned ones?
Mitch: A lot of the houses are still structurally fine, but to bring them back onto a livable standard would take a lot of money and a lot of work, but to turn them into an art project is a step in the right direction in a sense that you're not going all the way, but you're going to a certain point where the artist can clean it up, turn it into an installation of some sort and the house can become energized into a positive element. Maybe later down the road it becomes a livable house again or it just becomes an art project- but it's still active instead of something that detracts from the neighborhood.
Gina: Yeah, it's not something that kids walk by on the way to school and feel bad about. There's a couple of burned out houses on Klinger Street that kids play on as if it's a stage and you can only tell the kids that that's not a good idea for so long. But then you're like, “well, it kind of is a good idea and it's totally like a stage and what fun!” The kids want a recreation space, they're already using it as a recreation space- let's make it a recreation space! Instead of, you know, waiting to find an investor and two years later maybe something will start to happen.
Jason: The city seems like it’s bogged down with so many other problems too, that a small recreation space, which is so essential for a neighborhood, can seem insignificant to someone looking at the city like a board with a bunch of problems.
Gina: Exactly. I just think that there's a million other ways you can use these houses and that residential isn't the only answer and it's not the only thing that a neighborhood needs. The old urban plan is, you know, put the giant ball field and recreation center across the street, across a really busy street that's dangerous for kids to cross so parents don't let their kids go over there and then in the neighborhood you have only residential homes and on the edges of the neighborhood you push all of the commercial industry and so the only thing on the block that the kids have is a residential area? It just doesn't work. That’s why, down the street, kids play basketball in the little alley and hang out and cause trouble.
Jason: Because they don't really have anywhere else to go.
Gina: Yeah, because they're not going to walk way into the depths to get to the other side of the ball field where there's not very good lighting and no one's around if something happens and there's broken glass and drug deals going on.
Jason: That's what I see that's really admirable about the project that you guys are doing. There's an atmosphere out here in Detroit where if you want something done you just have to do it yourself and definitely out here it feels like it's more possible to do things because, not that the city's in such a negative state, but it's in such a malleable state to where things can be formed into something new.
Gina: Yeah, it's very malleable and frankly some of the stuff we do gets done because, as you said, the city is overwhelmed with other issues that what we're doing is not on their radar for some reason.
Mitch: We also take the example of watching criminals take over other houses and properties and realize that if this negative element is able to get away with it, then maybe we can turn it around and do something more positive and get away with it.
Gina: It's true, we use a lot of their strategies and at first that was kind of hard for me. I'm not one of those people that goes out and explores vacant buildings, so for me it took a little bit of a leap to cross somebody else's property line even though the house was vacant, because I knew that I technically didn't have a legal right to be there. But then you realize that, if you don't do it, someone else will- they will. The drug dealers do it- they set up shop in these abandoned houses. That's a strategy, and when we call the police and they tell us that if somebody has set up a residence in a house then they have to be evicted, that they can't be arrested for trespassing, that is the system, that is the legal structure. We’re learning a lot of good strategies from criminals.
Mitch: A lot of what we do is about flipping negatives into positives, which is why we like DC power.
Gina: Then there's the whole thing about what is value and who defines it. So if you start talking real estate numbers, there's obviously no logic around here to real estate numbers. There's no reason why that house, the one Monica is working on cost $900. How is it possible that we bought that house for $900, you know? Once you realize that the monetary real estate land values system doesn't make any sense here, then you have to figure out what does have value here and what do you value.
Jason: And bringing that into a new space and an old neighborhood.
Gina: Yeah, just thinking of how you make something more valuable.
Jason: Before, you were talking about how you were trying to engage conversation through the neighborhood in positive means with the project. I was curious as to the type of feedback you have been getting.
Mitch: When it involves the art projects it's mostly people that really enjoy it and are glad that we're there, glad that we're sort of occupying the space and doing something. They actually like looking at it too. Some of the stuff we are trying to do legitimately with the city, so that slows it way down. We talk a lot about what we want to do and the kids and people here are trying to hold us to it. As opposed to just going- “What are those crazy people doing?” they're actually like- “Great- now, do it.”
Gina: They're actually on it, on us. We do get some funny comments, like with the Power House, we get a lot of people saying “When is it going to be ready?”, “Who's living there?”, “Why aren't you done yet?” because that one is a little bit more blurry between a traditional house and an art project. There was this funny experience with Ingo and Annette, two of Mitch's collaborators for the Detroit Tree of Heaven Workshop. They were working on the fence this summer for about a week outside and so a lot of neighbors came by while they were working to talk with them and they were cracking up because of all the feedback they got on the project. Some people were not into the aesthetic at all- they thought it looked too country, and Ingo and Annette got really into it because, they said, how often do you get that kind of direct response, criticism and feedback as you're working, you know? And whether they agreed or not or altered the work I think is something totally different, but the fact that they're having this totally immediate dialogue with people who have pretty strong aesthetic opinions was really refreshing for them.
Jason: Everyone I talk to here seems really opinionated- either into it or not, curious, or don't know what it is going on- regardless, they have their opinion and aren’t shy to voice it because the work is being done around them, in their neighborhood.
Mitch: There was this one time we were painting boards outside and I was playing with some patterns with rolling paint and one of the kids came by, a teenager, and he was like, “Mitch, what are you doing, what's going on with the windows?” I told him, “well, I don't know, I'm just trying something out.” He looked at the paint, then at me, and said “try something else.”
Mitch: And I think that because it's obviously public what we do, it's not in our studio and then we invite people in- everything is either on a building and whether we own it or not, it's always in the public realm so people feel obliged to comment and to me I feel that's really great because one of the ideas is that we want people to feel that it's their neighborhood. We want people to feel responsible for the neighborhood and not just responsible for their little rectangle or corner.
Gina: I do think there's this other funny thing from the other side of the fence, the more art world side of the fence, where we talk about community engagement and social art and certain people assume that that means that we're involving the community in the aspects of our making, and that’s not how it is at all. Our whole thing is we put our art practice out into the public realm. That doesn't mean that they're helping us make the work; the public is a part of the process in other ways. We're making the work in their presence and for some people that just isn't enough for them, it’s not community art for them.
Mitch: The idea is that we're not trying not to dumb it down so that everybody can participate in it. We still consider it high art that would work in any museum in the world, but instead, it's in the neighborhood. When you have a show at a big museum somewhere, you don't invite all the museum workers to do everything, you give them instructions on what to do.
Gina: It's more treating them like an artist's assistant, like when Wes showed up the other day to help Monica, it's like, “okay, this is what we're doing and you can do this.”
Mitch: And on that level too, it's about educating people, because all of these artists have training and expertise aesthetically and otherwise and so it's up to us to pass that along. It's the same with musicians. There's a history here in Detroit about jazz and blues musicians who pass on their knowledge to younger generations, and it would be great if that happened here too, with people understanding the value of art and certain people taking it along with themselves too.
Jason: I think that it’s beneficial for them to see it in the public realm too. I was talking with Wes and he was saying how, “all this art shit is so crazy, I think maybe I can do better. I'm gonna go home and try some stuff.” He was so engaged, and I think that that's really great, but also really interesting in that you don't have to take someone in and have them create something. If you just give them an idea- that’s enough. Kind of why artists go to galleries or museums to get a glimpse of something outside of themselves, to get inspired and to create something of their own.
Mitch: Exactly. There's another guy down the street that I see once in awhile that started his own project decorating his garden and his house and he's really into designing and doing artistic stuff. He says based off of what he's seen and based off of what we've done, it's inspired him to do something over there, and that's exactly what we're looking forward to. Just to inspire people to take on their own projects.
Jason: And it doesn't necessarily inspire solely and only art, but general creativity as well.
Mitch: Yeah, definitely.
Jason: I was talking with one guy and he was saying how he just wants “to fix shit up now,” because there’s a reason to now. It’s easier for a person to better their neighborhood once they see that it’s getting better. Once that first step is taken, the hardest step, the one which you guys have taken with this project- everything after that sort of becomes easier.
Gina: It's so easy to get frustrated or overwhelmed otherwise.
Jason: The same way if you watch the news over and over again, there's just bad shit happening constantly. If you're driving down the street here it's like, okay, there's just more shit, more and more abandoned houses.
Mitch: Yeah, and why would I be the only one on the block that paints my house or cleans something up.
Gina: Especially if, after the downturn there's got to be some point where it comes back up, and if it doesn’t- of course they want to leave. I can't blame people who have looked down the street and felt themselves wanting to leave.
Jason: How do you guys work through that, the negative air which surrounds so much of the street and everything since after the downturn?
Gina: I think part of it is that we strategize but everything is really loose, you know? We don't have some master plan to make things better, it's more that an opportunity comes up and we have this bank of ideas and we know who lives where and then we kind of shuffle things around until they make sense. Ideally, there would be some kind of a project or active art practice on each block.
Mitch: At least one artist or one person within the creative industry, someone who is the link to the art world on each block. It's sort of being set up like that, because every time you put an artist in a house to live in, at least the artists we've been encouraging to move into the neighborhood, they are really open to sharing their ideas to their neighbors and their neighbors get excited and so it kind of fuels that.
Jason: It spreads.
Mitch: Yeah, so we sort of strategically place people around it.
Gina: And it helps us that we know more people on different blocks so if there is a problem, everyone can try and share the knowledge in the problem and try to figure out what to do and you don't end up feeling isolated and hopeless.
Jason: I was talking with one guy and he was down on how all the spaces are abandoned but said how he didn’t have it in him to leave, because the city is home for him, and I was wondering your attachment to Detroit. I know you went to Washington for awhile and then came back, were you always drawn to come back to the city?
Mitch: Well, originally I went to school far away to get away from the city and to get a clear head, but the further away I got, the more I wanted to come back and all I could think about was doing stuff here because it is so rich and once you sort of live here for awhile it just ingrains in your brain- all the textures and all the people and everything that goes on. When I decided to come back I really wanted to do something more like what we're doing now. I didn't know exactly at what level then, but I started a gallery and ended up running it for awhile-
Jason: The Tangent Gallery?
Mitch: Yeah, but I really wanted to be involved in doing things with people in the neighborhood as opposed to just being a painter in a studio. So yeah, the further I got the more I wanted to come back, even against all my other instincts.
Jason: I was talking to Richard Colman and he was saying how normally for him he'll just wake up and go to his studio and paint until near morning and then go to sleep and do the same thing again and again. And art, sometimes, can be really solitary because you're dealing with your mind and the canvas or the page or whatever and he was saying how it's just so cool to come here and be surrounded by people doing the same thing, that it was like art camp with all these different energies and artists coming together and creating things and how it's so different for him to be out here, that it's so much different than the way he works and it's good to see the way another artist like Monica Canilao or Ben Wolf works where their process is much more communal. Saelee was saying the same thing how she's normally just by herself and she really missed having a studio and sharing a space with other artists. And, in a way, it feels like the whole neighborhood, or at least the one block where everyone is working, has become this one gigantic art studio with all the artists, houses and projects.
Gina: Yeah, I think part of it is that in art school there's other people in other studios and so one of the nice things about the neighborhood is partly because the scale you're working on you need help and it’s available, but sometimes you just get tired of doing your own thing or thinking about your own work and so you go over next door to see what someone else is working on and if you need help, there’s someone there to help you and you help someone out as well. There's an exchange and you can still let go and go to your separate corners and be alone, but there's all this opportunity for interchange and I think it's good for the artist too. And it's not some do-good thing where everyone's trying to save the neighborhood or save Detroit- I think that's a totally bogus mentality. What works is what's mutually beneficial, and if the artist has space and it's affordable and you're independent and can have a network of people to work with, then it becomes an environment that helps the art and the artist. A bunch of people showed up here only hearing negative things about Detroit, now they can go back and explain what their experience was and that, no, they didn't get shot.
Mitch: Not yet...
Jason: It seems like Detroit’s becoming a new type of city where, previously, it was a big “American Dream” city, with suburbs and the car and that didn't really work out so well.
Gina: Yeah, it did the boom and bust cycle.
Jason: Now, with projects like this, it's become a place where artists can come in and create. For example, Ben Wolf saying how he’s never been to a place that felt this free before.
Mitch: Well, it has it's draw backs too, that's why when we had the show at MOCAD, we called it Too Much of A Good Thing, because all the freedom, the accessibility of materials and the inexpensiveness of it all has its downsides too. But if you are focusing on what it can offer, without getting overwhelmed, it can be really great.
Gina: It's also why, usually, our ideal in terms of visiting artists is three months minimum as opposed to the two weeks or couple of days that you guys have been here for. Three months gives you enough time to show up and see some of the city and after that you still have the time to think and process ideas and make work. Two weeks is a little short, especially for the scale of the projects that everyone here is doing. Everyone here has kind of been going at breakneck speed.
Jason: Some of the artists are also talking about buying their houses.
Gina: Which is something I didn’t expect at all! But I guess a bunch of you guys live these nomadic lives and lifestyles and you're all traveling a lot. With all of that, Detroit's a pretty good home base.
Jason: Also, it’s so vast out here that your mind has the ability to wander and run. Every one of the artists I’ve been talking to talks about how when they first got here they just immediately started to think of what they could do with this large and vast a space. It’s refreshing to be in a city where you’re not stultified by your surroundings.
Gina: Yeah, I think a part of it is, I don't know how to explain it, but it's almost like these territorial ownership things. When I lived in New York I definitely felt a distance between all the different layers of the city.
Jason: Like it's you against something?
Gina: Yeah, definitely. I'm not too sure how to verbalize that.
Gina: Yeah, people share more in the Midwest. Just last year when we did the Heartland Project and toured around, that is something very common in the Midwest. We went to Minneapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha, and people were very open with their resources and ideas, just super generous.
Mitch: I feel like you see less of that in New York or LA or Paris where it's more competitive and people are more like “I don't have time,” or “I don't have space,” or “I just have to get this thing done,” because there's other pressures of money and time and space going on in those places.
Jason: Sometimes a city can start to become a burden and you don't even realize it. When I first came here, it felt like an exhalation, like I had a moment to breathe and I could wander off in my mind and the city. To have that was so interesting and surprising a contrast with what is said about here in the press, although there are definitely some issues within Detroit as well.
Mitch: Yeah, Detroit definitely has other issues that can be a huge burden too because you have to watch yourself, because it also doesn't have the resources that New York and LA have as far as good restaurants, coffee or all the amenities that a big city has to offer- or jobs. But if you are somewhat more creative and don't need to be located in one spot- then it's super perfect. If you're an import-exporter, then it's the perfect place to be.
Gina: I don’t want to overly romanticize or gloss over anything- the city definitely has its problems, and some of them are the same as in any other city and some of them are a little bit more unique to a place like this, more unique to Detroit.
Jason: With the way it is so malleable, it can go either way- people can do good or bad. On one hand there’s people like you doing a project like this that benefits the neighborhood, and on the other hand you have the drug dealers a block away doing their thing with their neighborhood project. Everyone is kind of using the city and its freedom to get by with their own means, which is why it was so interesting to me that you were taking cues and using some of the strategies that the drug dealers were using for your own projects.
Mitch: They're more daring and they see that they can get away with it, so if we’re doing something that's actually positive for the neighborhood, maybe we can get away with more and actually work with the city or the police or with people that also want the same thing. Maybe it's not so conventional or breaks some rules or bends some rules, but the city is so messed up that the rules don't apply anymore. The rules apply for a city that's functioning correctly; if it's not functioning correctly then you need to figure out new rules. So, it's up to us- I always felt Detroit was a very democratic city because I feel that you can affect change more here or you can at least talk to people on a different level here than in other places. You can really get into places and create organizations a lot quicker here than in other cities and change the government, change the rules.
Jason: How do you guys see this project changing and moving the neighborhood forward?
Mitch: I think that getting more artists to actually come and live here and not just to make an art house, but making these houses actually livable, because then that permanently stabilizes the areas.
Gina: There's also an issue where, working at this scale, one of our concerns is long term maintenance. Right now it’s great and the houses can probably stay as is for maybe a year, but in a month people are going to realize that the activity has died down and they'll probably get broken into if there's not something happening. Maybe something wont get taken, because there's not really anything to take, but it's a hassle. The houses are still vulnerable and if they’re not occupied then they become a maintenance and security issue. So our goal right now is to make sure that everyone's project gets to a point where the artists are happy with them and then we need to start thinking long term. And there are people who are ready to move here, we know some people locally that are looking for someplace else to live, but the houses need more work to get to that level.
Jason: Will the houses be open during the day for people to come see the art inside of them?
Gina: We can't do it daily because it's just the two of us, the organization is just the two of us.
Mitch: We could set aside a certain number of days where we stay open and sit inside like a gallery, but usually it's by appointment only because we have other things going on.
Gina: Ideally, one model would be that the house, or a house next to it, will have an artist living there and they would act as caretaker or superintendent of the house next to them. We're kind of playing with different models. A lot of the other houses in the neighborhood are- an artist owns it and it's a live / work space, so it's up to them to open it up to people or give tours, but it's more a private space. With these houses on Moran Street, this is kind of the first real art installation spectacle.
Jason: It's interesting too, the way the houses are just building upon what was previously there, or with Ben Wolf who's taking portions of houses and building houses on top of those houses.
Mitch: What he's doing is actually taking away a lot of the house structure that's rotting, mainly the fire damage, and restructuring it for his purposes. But he's also, at least in my mind, the house is closer to being salvaged than it was before and it's become more interesting too. A house doesn't need to be what it was before but can evolve into something new.
Jason: Do you guys see the project evolving to a point where it's done? Is there an end? Or do you think this will be a continual project as Detroit grows as a city?
Mitch: It is potentially endless. For us, the dream would be that, at least Power House Productions, the nonprofit, would someday be signed off to someone else to take on, or it just becomes a self-sustaining thing to potentially move into other neighborhoods to keep other neighborhoods going or just to keep funneling this residency program. But yeah, it's an endless project, whether we're always involved in it or not. We're trying to make it so that it's not too reliant on the two of us because that's not sustainable.
Gina: I think it could be some kind of model for other people to use, maybe not exactly the same way, but this idea of where you start with a small concentration and then you sort of create a network that covers a larger area. It's already bigger than us, which is great, because that was one of our goals. Now that it's bigger than us though, how do we envelope it so that it's self-sustaining and we can turn control of it to somebody else and have our lives back-
Jason: RETNA was saying how it's so refreshing to see someone that has an idea to better a community, but then, not only has the idea to do it, but actually does it, and then not only doesn't it, but follows through. It seems like this project is great and all of that stuff, but ideas are only ever 1% of a project. For something to really happen and work, you need to work, which is where the 99% comes in after the 1% of an idea.
Gina: Well part of it is that it only really works because of someone like RETNA and all of you guys that showed up here and were game.
Mitch: And also Juxtapoz sort of blindly going into the fundraiser and raising money to make all of this happen. Otherwise, it probably would have just been at the scale of the Power House and maybe one other house. It would have been much more scaled down and really different if everyone who is involved now wasn’t.
Gina: Yeah, the fundraiser and just with you guys being here, which we weren't totally sure about. We were like, “how are we going to deal with six artists showing up?” But the magazine really pushed for it and I'm glad, because it did push the project into the next level. Before, it was just us and our little network of friends that were slowly popping up in the neighborhood. Now, all this activity and all the efforts has doubled, so it's been really good for us and the project.
Jason: It seems like it’s becoming something like the city, where it's able to be formed out of nothing and then all of these artists come in and do their work.
Mitch: Well, it's not out of nothing- it's out of this city, the city itself. Especially Monica Canilao’s house- it's the city compiled and reorganized. If it was out of nothing then I don't think it would be interesting. It really does come from the interesting aspects of the city. People ask us that too, “is Detroit great because it's a blank canvas?” And the answer is no. First of all, there is no place that's empty. Detroit is great because it's malleable. There's a lot of resources here that you can use and you have the ability here to do things where there's nobody stopping you. That's sort of the interesting part is that there's nobody, at least not too many people, being like, “no no no...”
Gina: Yeah, to me it's great because it isn't blank. You're not starting with a white wall that's blank, a canvas or whatnot in your studio- you're starting with a city where you can incorporate all the different ideas, people and places and then the challenges of, “what do I do with all of this without getting overwhelmed?” I think one of the interesting things about the project is the difference in aesthetics. Saelee's aesthetic as opposed to Monica's aesthetic- totally different. Monica along with Harrison being like, “look at all the crazy beautiful things we can get that are just rotting otherwise or are just going to be in a landfill!” And then Saelee is more, “I'm going to create this whole fantasy land that sort of comes from all of these things,” but it's all her making. I don't know if it's a reaction to the city, but it's more this little dream escape inside all of this existing material. And I still really love the day when RETNA and Richard decided to work together on the same house. Originally, I was trying to push them to do something on the wall behind Ben Wolf and Swoon's house because it's kind of begging to be painted and because I thought that that would be what they were interested in doing, but after looking at the wall and a few houses, they were like, “well, we could do that and it's a great wall, but we can do that anywhere. When else are we going to be able to take over a house- inside and outside, floor to ceiling, with every wall?” Everyone’s creating these total environments inside of the city, so that's been really nice to see.
Mitch: Also, what's great with what happened with Juxtapoz was that they didn't fund it- they facilitated a fundraiser and artists funded it. To me, it’s kind of humbling and really great that the reason these artists were able to come here and hopefully further their art experience is that other artists made it possible with their art.
Gina: Those 200 other artists. It was really heartwarming, we went to the auction anniversary party in LA and we were just standing in this huge warehouse room. It was definitely for the magazine's 15th Anniversary, but we were looking at all of the art on the walls and we were like, wow, these people that we've never met before, and they've never met us, and I don't think we knew, personally, a single artist except for Matthew Barney- they all just agreed to donate their work. And art auctions are art auctions and the artist doesn't really get a lot in return from them, but that was totally humbling, just standing there and seeing all of this beautiful work and how just any one of these people could have said no but they all said yes.
Jason: What makes it interesting is that it was funded by them, all artists, from a magazine that was started by artists, but also- you two are artists as well.
Mitch: Yeah, it wasn't them funding a non-profit organization doing neighborhood redevelopment. It was them funding us and our ideas for the neighborhood which in turn directly benefits these artists and then the neighborhood. It really expands and networks out into this huge network and hopefully makes its way back to all the individual artists. Also, I think artists in general just really like it when they can see other artists produce crazy stuff- it's not just about their career moving ahead, but about seeing what's possible.
Jason: It’s the same with all of the artists here too- RETNA was like “man, Ben's doing some crazy shit,” and Saelee was like, “man, Monica's house is so beautiful.” It's all of them feeding off of each other, the city and everything.
Mitch: It turns into this little competitive whirlwind, so it's cool. It also helps us as artists too, because we can open up to new ideas and rethink things as well.
Gina: And to see what they're all doing with the houses and what direction they're willing to take it to- that helps us too.
Jason: Also, the way in which you're not really directing them with what to do is, I imagine, really freeing for them, especially on something this new and grand of a scale.
Mitch: Sometimes it's good to have boundaries and there are boundaries here, but they're kind of out there. I’m just excited to see what they’re doing. I'm always fascinated to see what other artists will do when given a chance to do something new, so it's just part of the deal. We'll deal with the consequences later.
For more images and an exclusive story on Juxtapoz in Detroit, check out the Feburary Juxtapoz on newsstands now.