July 30th, 2019
By Terence Trouillot
The second edition of Detroit Art Week (DAW)—organized by its co-founders Aleiya Lindsey and Amani Olu—was a jam-packed, exhausting, and thrilling affair. The event, which took place July 17–21, included 36 exhibition openings, 13 performances, 7 panel discussions, works by 150 artists from Detroit and all over the world, and was host to many, many parties and studio visits. But, apart from the scale and expanded programming, this particular iteration truly hit home (or at least attempted to) Detroit’s rapid ascendancy in the art world as an international hub for cultural exchange.
A fascinating facet of the program this year was its emphasis on place, both physical (e.g. hotel room, house, gallery space, neighborhood, city) and conceptual (e.g. identity, culture, refuge, escape, darkness). This manifested through themes of displacement, gentrification, and race—hot button topics in Detroit especially, but also across the globe—but resulted in a critical mass of works that, intriguingly, focused on site-specificity and materiality not just to honor local histories, but as a means to find points of symbolic connection between Detroit and the outside world.
[The] idea of an imaginary safe space was also at play in the work of Pamela Council, presented at Red Bull Arts Detroit (on view through August 25). One of three artists spotlighted in the Red Bull Residency Art Exhibition, Council’s exhibition also deals pointedly with the idea of personal history and trauma, however here with a generous dose of humor and camp.
In BLAXIDERMY PINK (2019), Council presents a shrine to her 14-year-old self: a delicate pink space with a plush carpet; fondue fountains spewing gallons of Luster’s Pink Moisturizing Hair Lotion (an African American hair product that Council remembers fondly from childhood); a Sqweel 2 oral-sex toy dangling overhead on a string; mounted field hockey sticks that the artist used as weapon for self-defense against child abuse; and silicone reliefs of the soles of her favorite sneakers.
In effect, the space is filled with objects that hold emotional weight and have their own relations to a particular place and time for the artist. Council has created an environment to house these transitional objects (i.e. objects that provide psychological comfort), in turn building a “transitional” space for herself and for her viewers to experience.