We tend to see Detroit, Michigan’s Motor City, as the flipside of the American dream. With the economic and political collapse of heavy industry, life and labor in the city came to a halt too. Detroit, in short, is a textbook example of a divided nation in which a large majority is leaning towards capitalism, populism and racism under the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan. It is one of the US’s deprived areas with one of the biggest Afro-American communities in the country, 80% of the total population. The atmosphere is dense with the side-effects of social change and impoverishment. Peter Senoner (1970) digs into this can of worms in his exhibition ‘Detroitanic’, translating his impressions into a spatial installation in which sculptures and drawings balance on the architecture. During his residency, Senoner scouted the city, mainly by bicycle. Between 5 am and noon every day, he developed ‘Open Field Drawings’, documenting the ruins of the city’s once flourishing industry in drawings and in photographs. The bicycle he used as his means of transport returns as a sculpture in the exhibition, which exhibition is given an extra layer by a headset with a background soundtrack that recalls Detroit’s role as an epicenter of music, its second industry, especially thanks to the Motown label (Motown being an abbreviation of Motor Town).
Senoner's architecture of formwork walls cuts across the exhibition space to define the visitor’s path through it. This non-space or, if you prefer, empty space echoes the empty factory buildings of Detroit. The vacant architecture acts as a starting point and support for the exhibition, providing a bridge for the drawings and sculptures, displayed like this for the first time. The haptic nude drawings are reworked with up to 200 layers of colour through repeated application and removal, and figures face the viewer in all their possible fragility, appearing as severed bodies, painstakingly carved out from their white backgrounds to remind us of our own precarious existence.
Fascinatingly, Peter Senoner captures the lost future of the American dream by draining sculpture of its volume and making the architecture collapse into itself.