Enjoy the Holiday Season!
I saw some snakes in Detroit the other day. They weren’t the ordinary slithering, winding dollar sign moving reptiles that are common in woodlands and swampy bogs. The snakes I spotted were quite large. They were deep black, evil-looking creatures that don’t move about the field and grass. They are in the same place both day and night. The unusual, creepy looking reptiles are sitting on top of an embankment that lines Trumbull Avenue near Lincoln Street.
The scaly creatures are sculptures. They are made from reclaimed logs and other cast-away materials that include bicycle tires and tubes. The various sized logs are wrapped in scrap bicycle tires, with the tread out, creating remarkable reptile look-a-likes. The knobby bike tires have a crusty rough texture, oddly similar to the skin of a snake, lizard, crocodile or other cold-blooded scaly animals.
A couple of the snarly faces on the unique pieces have long textured tongues and stringy facial features made from thin black rubber bike tubes. Countless hanging entrails and legs dangle from some of them and they too are made from a variety of shredded rubber tires and tubes. In many cases, the rubber pieces used to build the slim sculptures are held in place using colorful bottle caps. The long tongues, facial accents and multi-length innards sway gently in the daytime breeze, as if they were alive and breathing.
What’s not to like about a December night in Detroit with the temperature hanging around 60 degrees, especially if you ride a bicycle? That was how warm it was a few nights ago, so I took advantage of the mild temperatures and headed out on 2 wheels to explore downtown and beyond. After all, that night may have been the last comfortable evening before that white, slippery stuff fills the air and coats the streets creating dicey road conditions for more than just bikers.
Despite a slight hazy mist in the air and damp pavement from an earlier steady drizzle, it was a great night to be out on a bicycle. There was no need for a heavy or rain resistant jacket, gloves or other cold weather clothing; quite unusual for this time of year.
My night ride took me through Detroit’s mid-town neighborhoods and streets to downtown. Once there I headed south on Woodward Avenue through the city’s central business district. The store fronts and office buildings along that 6-8 block section were lined with colorful holiday lights that reflected and shimmered on the pavement in front of me.
After zigzagging my way through the downtown streets, I crossed Jefferson Avenue into Hart Plaza, a public outdoor space that faces the Detroit River. Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the Plaza was quiet and empty except for a few people slowly wandering toward the river.
From there I rode the RiverWalk to the Dequindre Cut. Just as I entered the urban greenway, I passed a couple of runners in full stride and a security guard sitting in his car keeping an eye on things. That was about it for people. The many wall murals and intricate, colorful graffiti found on the cement walls in the Cut took on a whole new appearance in the misty, Edgar Allen Poe type of night. The images and colors appeared flatter and eerier, as if the eyes in the images were watching my every move.
My ride wound down after a quick loop through the Eastern Market, a much different place on a weekday night versus Saturdays when it is jammed with shoppers. There were no lift trucks moving crates of produce from one building to another; no semi-trucks backing into loading docks; and the specialty stores that ring the market were all closed.
However, there were a few folks buying Christmas trees from vendors that were setup at the far north end of the market. It was a rather fitting end to a bike ride in Detroit on a warm December evening.
Hey Detroiters, look up! Lurking above you on various city rooftops are orange men and they are watching you. “Who are these men and why are they up there?” one may ask. The orange men are sculptures, and over 20 have been placed on rooftops throughout the city. John Sauve is the artist behind the pieces and he started the project in 2008. He calls it “Man in the City”.
Not only are the steel sculptures now part of the Detroit skyline, they have also been exhibited on New York City’s Highline, an elevated public park built on a historic freight line, similar to Detroit’s Dequindre Cut. They’ve also been on display on New York City’s Governor Island and in Benton Harbor Michigan.
According to Sauve, “The Man in the City Project activates the skyline, and encourages people to look around. In this process of looking and finding, one re-assesses one’s own position in the world and becomes aware of one’s scale within the very fabric of the city. The Man in the City Project creates a metaphor for urban life and all the contradictory associations – alienation, ambition, anonymity and fame.”
The first time I saw the orange sculptures, I was blow away by the idea. I think these little four-foot or so, orange guys, that for some reason remind me of Leonard Cohen, are the coolest and one of the most interesting art projects I’ve seen in a while. I love the simplicity, uniformity, and casualness of the figures. I also like how and where they are placed, as if they are on the edge of our lives, watching over me and us as we travel throughout the city. But most of all, I like the idea of being challenged and encouraged to stretch my view beyond what is directly in front of me; to look past my immediate surroundings and discover what the city’s urban fabric has to offer.
On my bicycle rides around the city I’ve spotted six of the 20 installations, mostly in the city’s mid-town area. I saw them on the roofs of the Scarab Club, Detroit Artist Market, Majestic Theater, Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company, Music Hall and the Park Shelton buildings. There is also one at ground level in the Lincoln Street Art Park near Trumbull Avenue and I-94. Since discovering them a few weeks ago, I’ve had a conversation with Sauve and he’s provided me with a detailed map of the Detroit locations.
Before I post the map, I’d like to know if anyone has seen the Man in the City sculptures. If so, I’d like to know how many, where you saw them and to please post your list in the comments section of this blog. I plan on writing a follow-up story to this one in a few weeks that will include reader comments and a link to the locator map. So please post those locations and stay tuned for the follow-up! In the meantime, look up while in Detroit!