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Museum Of Contemporary Art Detroit Shows Highlight Sustainable Factories, Individual Makers

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Detroit might be the only place this summer where you can ruminate on factory design of the past and see a homemade maple syrup collection system -- all in one place.

On Friday evening, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit will open its two summer shows, "Post-Industrial Complex" and "Vertical Urban Factory," which examine the history and future of manufacturing and production from two unique angles.

In Vertical Urban Factory, curator Nina Rappaport, a New York-based architectural historian, teacher and critic draws together several years of research into an exhibit that looks at the past role of the factory in the city as a catalyst for urban development. The exhibit, which debuted at the Skyscraper Museum in New York, starts with Albert Kahn's iconic Detroit factories and their architectural influence on European modernists, but it also looks at how factories have evolved in urban settings up to the present day.

"It's seeing a factory not as an eyesore, but something we're proud of," Rappaport said. "I'm trying to use history to provoke ideas for the future."

With architectural models, films, maps (including one of factories in Detroit then and now), infographics and photographs rounding out the text-heavy exhibition, Rappaport intends her show to inspire ideas for sustainable industry and more self-sufficient cities. She sees factories of the future as cleaner and greener, engaging the public, local, small and high-tech.

The second show, "Post-Industrial Complex," takes a step closer, looking at manufacturing through the eyes of individual makers. After putting out an open call for "makers, inventors, problem solvers, fabricators, modifiers, etc," MOCAD's Curator of Public Engagement Jon Brumit and Curator of Education Katie McGowan selected 12 makers from a pool of 200 submissions to represent the breadth of what the metro Detroit area has to offer.

The makers' pieces, including a custom motorcycle and sweetgrass baskets, vary widely. They also differ from what one normally expect to see in an art museum.

"We're interested in the egalitarian nature of including people who work outside the realm that's previously been described as 'art' versus that of 'craft,'" McGowan said. "Especially looking at the microcultures in Detroit -- so often people work 9-to-5 jobs that may be related to mechanics or engineering, and on their own time they use those skills to make the things that drive them."

The show is meant to highlight the nuances and personal stories of makers in the Detroit area that the curators say often get lost in meta narratives. While the museum show only presents a select group, any maker who submits his or her work online or by postcard before the show's closing will be included in a companion book.

"This is a good opportunity to disregard what we think we know … and just inventory what is here," said Brumit. "Whether it's 'art' or not, I think it doesn't matter; either way, it will be made."

The curators have planned a wide range of public programming around production and goods. There will be a more traditional curators' talk for both shows on June 2, film screenings, a clothing swap and a BBQ and trading post.

McGowan believes the novel show will help MOCAD reach new people.

"None of the participants have shown here, and most of them have never shown in an art show," she said. "By including people from disparate communities, their people will hopefully come and check it out and create a discussion about the role of the institution in their community."

"Post-Industrial Complex" and "Vertical Urban Factory" open at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Avenue, with a free reception from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, May 11, followed by a $6 performance by hip-hop duo Passalacqua and '60s Northern soul singer Melvin Davis. The shows close on July 29. For more information on museum hours and events, see MOCAD's website.

Below, take a peek at the two MOCAD shows.

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Flickr photo by Angela Anderson-Cobb.

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