|The long-abandoned 3.5 million square foot Packard Automotive Plant, production site of one of America's premier automotive luxury brands, has been recently slated for demolition (photo: Albert Duce, Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0).|
It was recently announced that after more than five decades of abandonment and neglect, the sprawling, decrepit Packard Automotive Plant on the east side of Detroit will be demolished by its ostensible current owner Dominic Cristini. (For news coverage, click here, here, here and here.) Designed in the early 1900s by industrial architect Albert Kahn, the 40-acre, 3.5 million square foot complex was once the headquarters and main production site for the Packard Motor Car Company, one of the premier American luxury automobile brands of the 20th century. The plant was the first large-scale reinforced concrete industrial construction project in the world and at its opening in 1907 was considered to be the most advanced facility of its kind anywhere. The plant's opening preceded by three years Henry Ford's legendary Highland Park Plant (also designed by Kahn and immortalized by Louis-Ferdinand Celine in Journey to the End of the Night -- for $5 a Day) and the moving assembly line by six.
|Scott Hocking and Clinton Snider, Relics, 2001, mixed mediums (original installation view at the Detroit Institute of Arts). (All Hocking images courtesy of the artist and Susanne Hilberry Gallery.)|
Hocking's installation in the Packard Plant, Garden of the Gods (2009-2011), is among his most remarked-upon works, and it is arguably one of the most significant. Situated in a section of an upper floor where the roof has collapsed, the piece uses columns still standing amidst the rubble as pedestals upon which are perched old TV consoles retrieved from elsewhere in the building. (At one point in its devolution, the plant was used in part as storage space. One loft area was apparently used by a television repair and recycling service, the remains of which are still there.)
Taking its title from a sedimentary rock formation in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois, Garden of the Gods takes each of its 12 monuments as a member of the Greek pantheon. Over time some of these have also fallen over and other pieces of the structure have collapsed. The process of entropy has been photographically documented periodically since the TVs were first installed in 2009.
|Top: Scott Hocking, Garden of the Gods, West, Summer.
Middle: Garden of the Gods, West, Winter.
Bottom: Garden of the Gods, Northeast, Snow.
Closer to the present, Garden of the Gods can be read as a dystopian reflection of the effects of spectacle society. Hocking talks of thinking about the site originally as reminiscent of a classical amphitheater, a stage upon which to present a cast of epic characters. Coming then upon the trove of abandoned televisions sets, he instantly made the connection between the upright pillars and the TV consoles as the appropriate dramatis personae. "It is almost too simplistic that the TVs are new gods," the artist has said. But I would argue that in this regard Garden of the Gods is in fact quite astute.
In his classic study Television: Technology and Cultural Form, Raymond Williams asserts that the rise of TV as the quintessential mass medium of the postwar era is inextricably bound up in its ability to communicate over large distances via the broadcast signal. In the United States, television worked in concert with the personal automobile and the suburban single-family housing development to demassify the urban core and construct a national imaginary based on the concept of "mobile privatization," the idea that one could the survey outside world from the comfort and security of one's own living room. (An excellent study on the effects of this process in American society during the 1960s and beyond is Joshua Meyrowitz's No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior.) And while the inner city has been substantially abandoned and thus devastated, the suburbs surrounding Detroit are actually quite the opposite. (Oakland County, just north of the city, is one of the nation's most affluent areas.) Mobile privatization became the means by which the public sphere imploded only to be replaced by the isolation of a domestic simulacrum whose only respite is consumerism, the true god being worshipped through the medium of TV.
The physical and psychic traces of the repercussions of mobile privatization and its consumerist orientation are stunningly apparent in Detroit. In light of the recent, and some say terminal, crises of the modern capitalist world-system, Garden of the Gods is a harbinger of what the future may hold.
|Above: Scott Hocking, Zeus Summer.
Below: Zeus Destroyed.
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