CLEVELAND — Anders Ruhwald’s current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, Unit 1: 3583 Dubois has a tantalizing hook. “3583 Dubois Street in Detroit, Michigan, no longer exists,” the museum states.
Above image: Anders Ruhwald, Unit 1: 3583 Dubois, 2016. Photographs by Jerry Birchfield.
We learn later that the building wasn’t knocked down to make way for gentrifying apartments, selling at obscene amounts of money in a deindustrialized city. Nor has the run down building been torched by arsonists on Devil’s Night, an infamous part of Detroit’s history. No, the erasure is an existential one. The city reassigned its address to 2170 Mack Avenue. Big deal, right? Well, to Anders the change is a metaphor for the loss of identity the city as a whole is experiencing. Within this one haunted apartment building visitors find themselves inside an abandoned pocket dimension, a part of Detroit that can no longer be reached from our world. Profoundly eerie, it’s as though this low rent apartment, complete with very basic fixtures, was snatched out of this realty. Floating on it’s own off in who-knows-where, entropy has started to eat at the apartment, covering everything with a matte black corrosion.
“Haunted” comes up in the discussion about this installation, but it’s not how the word is conventionally used. Having lived in an deindustrialized city for several years, I can say there’s a sense that you’re living at the end of time— not in an apocalyptic Mad Max sense, but as though the engines that power the universe are starting to putter out. You are surrounded by relics, grandly designed parks with crumbling concrete and robber baron mansions that have been turned into cheap apartments with sickly yellow security lamps and junkies who scream at each other at 3 a.m. You’ll wake up one morning to make coffee to find that the home you could once see out of your window is now a smoking crater. Someone (your next door neighbor, in fact) burned it down while you were sleeping. He’ll start more fires before the skeleton crew police department manages to catch him. The chaos only serves to underscore the realization that this was once a place that lived. For you, you’re haunted by the ghost of the city, though after a while in this limbo you start to wonder if you’re the wraith.
In time, investors will move in, sensing opportunity. A high-end wine bar will replace your favorite punk dive next to the regal abandoned theater that is now a boutique craft shop. When that happens, you’ll miss the grim, strangely peaceful atmosphere of limbo. You’ll wonder what’s wrong with you. The foul, probably hazardous apartment you rented years ago has gone to wherever flophouses go when they die and you’ll mourn it.
We have a fascination with ruined places, so much so that people derisively call photographs that come out of cities like Detroit “ruin porn.” I’d counter by arguing that for as much as we despise these places, dignity still clings to them. There’s an elegance to Unit 1, even if it looks like it would rent for no more than $300. It isn’t falling apart; note the quality of it’s simple, but perfect fixtures. This apartment has coalesced its miasma of poverty and melancholy into jet black sculptures that make me think of ritual scarification. This room is facing the Void with the kind of grace you should emulate when it’s your turn.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
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