Cranes, change and permanence on East Michigan Avenue

 

This exhibition of paintings included in the 2019 October Art Hop at Suzanne’s Organics Salon features the downtown Kalamazoo urban landscape; it juxtaposes elements from the vintage architecture and the ongoing metamorphosis with new construction going up on all sides.

Fascinated by the feeling of inhabiting a Hopper painting the vintage architecture of Kalamazoo has drawn me as a theme since first coming here in 2013. Six years on and the fascination keeps growing as the city emerges from the throes of the 2008 recession (it felt very quiet still in 2013) to a full blown boom this year with all the encompassing development, renovation and gentrification. This last year has seen some dramatic changes to the skyline on East Michigan Avenue and beyond, and as the main street of the city it already has some emblematic vintage buildings. The WA Doyle Building with its ‘solid commercial Queen Anne and Romanesque style architecture’ has long been one of my favourites, inasmuch for its own style as for the links to European architecture that I grew up with. This need to make buildings with such a look of hunkered down structure and solidity, perhaps in an effort to establish a sense of permanence and belonging in a place with such a recent colonial history seems almost whimsical in the chosen references. Somehow the revival of styles from the Middle Ages (which began in Europe before being brought here) can seem charming and unsettling at the same time in the things it adheres to and those that are reinvented.

Researching the historical attributes of each building also brought up interesting details on the site of Suzanne’s Salon itself. This Red brick gothic building originally constructed as a hardware store, evolved in 1878 to incorporate on the first floor Madam Jannasch-Shortt’s Musical Institute, run by Anna Jannasch, and built for her by her father. An interesting development in itself considering women could not own property or even have a bank account until the pioneering suffragettes -led by Lucinda Stone founder of the Ladies’ Library in Kalamazoo- lobbied and obtained these basic rights in the State after a long struggle. The Ladies’ Library itself another Victorian Gothic gem, was the first building constructed by women for their own association in Michigan and third of its kind in the USA.

While it’s sad to see old buildings go, the energy and movement palpable in the city is inspiring when new uses are made of old buildings. I also used an 1871 map of the city  as a visual reference, to see the original layout of the town and compare where that still exists today. Even then many towns and routes were established on the foundation of indigenous peoples cultures and communication. The I94 was built along one such route connecting the places where Detroit and Chicago are long before those towns existed, making me wonder what they would have looked like then.

Project MAPEA in Child in the City seminar in Antwerp

As a visual artist it was something of a novelty to be attending an academic seminar broadly designed for architects, urban planners and other professionals from this area. But since our mapping project began in Caracas from involvement with youth and children in shantytown communities, when I saw the call for the Children in the Sustainable City Seminar it seemed the right place for our proposal.

This trip to Antwerp turned out be a stimulating and fruitful experience over the two-day meeting. Above all, it was so reassuring to find oneself talking the same language when it came to sharing experiences, it can get very frustrating trying to explain this multi-disciplinary workshop model even in the art world.

MAPEA has reached four editions in the last four years so it continues to grow and prove its validity. At this moment it seems more urgent than ever to bring this activity to children amid such violence, encouraging a conversation about the environment and developing tools with which to do so. My participation in the seminar was a way of continuing our work when the crisis in Venezuela frustrated this year’s plans. By the end of March, when I should have been travelling to Caracas, flights were cancelled and the possibility of achieving the results we hoped for seemed pretty remote. It was a heart-breaking decision to cancel the trip, and we continue to wait for a change in tide to resume our plans.

 

Antwerp centre 4

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Cheo cuenta MAPEA

 

 

Talleres MAPEA en el Calvario y casco del Hatillo, Caracas 2018

Video de Andres Catalano

MAPEA: Natalya Critchley, Cheo Carvajal, Monica Santander, Yoandy Medina con el apoyo del Sr Jose Gonzalez y Carlos Barreto de la Co-operativa en el Calvario

Talleres con los estudiantes de 4to, 5to y 6to grado de las escuelas Maria May (el Calvario) y Juan Manuel Cajigal (en el casco del Hatillo)

Walking, mapping, opening doors

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Connection Calvario-Hatillo town centre

An essential condition for a sustainable city is that it can be walked around comfortably and safely.  That it should be accesible to all.  Another is that it should be mixed, not only in it’s uses -residential, offices, public spaces and features-, but socially as well.  Another condition? To achieve a balance with whatever natural features still exist: water courses, green spaces, trees, biological diversity. Even though it sounds obvious the air must be clean to be able to breath properly! But also in a metaphorical sense, what is on offer should be so diverse that you just want to be there, day or night. That ‘habitability’ leads us to an additional wish: it must be enjoyable.

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Andar, mapear, abrir puertas

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Andar, mapear, abrir puertas

Conexión El Calvario-Casco

Una condición indispensable para que la ciudad sea sustentable es que se pueda caminar de manera cómoda, segura. Que sea accesible para todos. Otra es que sea mezclada, no sólo en sus usos –residencias, comercios, oficinas, espacios y equipamientos públicos–, sino también socialmente. ¿Otra condición?, que logre un equilibrio con lo que ella todavía tiene de natural: cursos de agua, espacios verdes, arbolado, diversidad biológica. Aunque suene obvio hay que decirlo: ¡que se pueda respirar, que tenga aire limpio! Pero también en sentido metafórico: que la oferta sea tan diversa que den ganas de vivir en ella, de día y de noche. Esas “ganas de vivir en ella” nos lleva a un deseo adicional: que sea lúdica.


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Papermill DNA

This pop-up exhibition is the result of my participation in the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency series here in Vicksburg, MI. The programme was established as part of the Papermill renovation project.  The drawings were carried out both onsite at the mill, and in the Hills Pharmacy as the idea for the show was developed.

expo complete view

It was fascinating to finally visit a papermill building, I had already seen many in the area. In Parchment, Kalamazoo there is a huge abandoned factory that I was very curious about when I first saw it, but was warned it was difficult to get into and dangerous. Having been such an important industry in the region I was sure there must be an opportunity somewhere. So, on reading about this residency programme I could hardly contain my enthusiasm, and it was very rewarding to be admitted.

My initial reaction on visiting the mill was admiration for the early industrial architecture, as in the specialised designs for the work spaces required at the beginning of the last century, with so many windows to make the most of natural light.  The beautiful wooden beam structure of the top floor of the East wing, which allows overhead light in through the roof with north facing windows, would make the perfect studio for any artist.  And it goes to show the attention to detail for producing a high quality product, since it was here that the cotton rags were first sorted before washing and beating into pulp. Continue reading “Papermill DNA”

Prairie Ronde residency

This week I was so happy to begin drawing at an old paper mill in Vicksburg, a thirty minute drive from Kalamazoo. This is part of the Prairie Ronde residency programme which has been ongoing while the renovation of the mill is in the planning stages. Paper mills are dotted along the rivers all around these towns, it was a big part of Michigan history at the beginning of the last century. Getting to find out more about that history through the buildings themselves and the communities that grew up around them has been fascinating.

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