If you haven't yet had a chance to see "plant," the three-dimensional video installation at the Detroit Institute of Arts, you're in luck. The museum's hosting of the film has been extended to April 29.
Shown as two separate 20-foot-tall projections on two walls, the 15-minute-long piece created by digital artist Paul Kaiser and his collective the OpenEnded Group plays on a loop. The installation lets museumgoers explore a digitally altered version of a Detroit Packard plant, a former automotive factory shuttered in 1956 and known today for its sprawling ruins.
The artists spent several weeks in the building, taking 10,000 still photos. In "plant," those images are joined together. The film has an ambient track of electronic music interwoven with sounds recorded on the site. "If you were to close your eyes, you would think you were in a park somewhere," Larry Baranski, the museum's director of public programs, told HuffPost. "Very soft wind, bird calls -- it's incredibly tranquil sound."
The artists also used software to transform the Packard plant images so unnatural things, like blooming or becoming transparent, transpire, Baranski said. "None of it is by accident," he said, adding, "These are all really beautiful and carefully planned manipulations."
"The sense of decay … really becomes an incredible gold mine of textures and colors," Baranski said.
The film's appearance at the Detroit museum amounted to a lucky convergence. After a University of Michigan Institute of Humanities showing late last year, museum staff managed to find exhibition space and add it to the "Detroit Revealed on Film" schedule, offered with its "Detroit Revealed: Photographs 2000-2010" exhibition.
A documentary about decay in an old auto plant might sound all too familiar to those watchful for tired tropes repeated in many Detroit-themed documentaries, where buildings in ruin, particularly the Packard pant and Michigan Central Station, serve as stand-ins for a city's decline.
But "plant" has a different take than many other films. The film "doesn't contribute to this worn-through argument, existing instead on its own unique axis, almost entirely disjointed from the many complex entanglements surrounding its subject matter," according to a Knight Arts blog. "There is no paternalistic elbow nudging, no knowing winks communicating the why of the ruins, no insultingly unrealistic ideas about how to 'turn things around.' Instead, the film is 'merely' a work of art."
When noted architect Albert Kahn built the factory, its system of reinforced concrete used a new technology that transformed manufacturing, Baraski pointed out. So the idea that it has become a symbol of Detroit's decline doesn't add up for Baranski.
"This is my favorite nonsensical idea, that this is 'ruin pornography,'" he said, referencing a term used -- usually pejoratively -- to describe photographs of abandoned buildings and decaying structures.
Instead, Baranksi believes the plant's history, as well as the loaded interpretations generated by others' documentation of it, are wiped away upon viewing the film. "Here's someone who has created true art out of it," he said. "It really frees you from all the negative associations we have with it."
Baranski has no objection to the recent slew of Detroit-centric films, ruin porn or not. "Detroit Revealed on Film" will include four other upcoming movies about the city, and as far as he is concerned, this should be only the beginning.
"It doesn't cost you anything to make a film except your time and some equipment; you could probably borrow from a teenager," Baranski said. "In Detroit there's this passion to talk about what's going on here," he added. "There's no reason to stop the conversation."
The film "plant" runs continuously until an hour before closing at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit. It will be on view through April 29. For the museum's hours, see its website.
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