Bakpak Durden’s ‘The Eye of Horus’ steals the show at Cranbrook Art Museum

Work by Scott Hocking and James Benjamin Franklin is also featured in the museum's fall season

click to enlarge Museum-goers check out Bakpak Durden's The Eye of Horus exhibit. - Sarah Blanchette
Sarah Blanchette
Museum-goers check out Bakpak Durden's The Eye of Horus exhibit.

A human skull explodes into pieces on a wall at Cranbrook Art Museum. In the center of the room sits a strange apparatus reminiscent of a 22-legged steel spider. Each limb reaches out to visitors with a fragment of a painting, like the pieces of bone shattered on the wall.

Detroit artist Bakpak Durden has created this multi-faceted display as part of their latest exhibition, The Eye of Horus, which opened at the Cranbrook Art Museum Saturday. It’s Durden’s first solo museum exhibition and part of Cranbrook’s fall season, which also includes Scott Hocking’s Detroit Stories and James Benjamin Franklin’s Full Circle.

While Durden’s show is the last room in the museum’s exhibition hall, it steals the show in both presentation and concept.

The Eye of Horus includes some of Durden’s familiar self-portraits, but the main attraction is “Khémia,” a five-part installation encompassing the skull mural, sculpture and attached pieces, and three full-scale paintings.

There are 22 miniature paintings in the sculpture, called “Ka,” to mirror the 22 bones of the human skull. Each piece is an excerpt from a larger still-life on display across the room, like a peculiar version of Painting by Numbers.

On the side of each piece is a line of poetry, and following the paintings in succession by the numbers written on them reveals the full poem.

The reassembled painting appears twice more throughout the exhibit in micro versions reflected in paintings of the cornea and retina. The pieces on “Khémia” touch on themes of anxiety, Jungian philosophy, and how our bodies create emotion as it responds to stimuli.

Pay attention to the placement of the pieces in “Khémia.” They show how our brain interprets visual information as light passes through the cornea and moves to the retina. Here, images are received upside down before the brain processes them and turns them right side up.

The self-taught painter’s work is skillful on the surface, but the true artistry lies in the details. It’s in the testosterone bottles, syringes, and Fight Club novel crowded into the paintings. (At the exhibit reception, Durden's beaming mother tells us Fight Club is the artist's favorite film.)

To Durden, everything is a self-portrait, as objects appearing in their paintings show tiny glimpses into the artist’s identity.

The Eye of Horus is one of those things you have to see in person to grasp, and you’ll want to see it more than once to absorb it all, undoubtedly noticing new details each time.

click to enlarge Scott Hocking's "Relics" is like an advent calendar of trash. - Sarah Blanchette
Sarah Blanchette
Scott Hocking's "Relics" is like an advent calendar of trash.

Franklin’s work in Full Circle gives us a hodgepodge of textures and colors to get lost in, as each abstract piece presents a dreamscape waiting to consume you. Large-scale paintings in irregular frames see swatches of fabric, old towels, and crocheted afghans covered in rich paint and splotched with glitter.

Hocking’s retrospective Detroit Stories exhibit takes up three rooms in the gallery and features photos of abandoned buildings in Detroit. Snaps of the old Michigan Central Station, discarded boats, and shuttered shops feel like ruin porn, pushing a tired narrative of post-apocalyptic Detroit on the verge of a “comeback.”

His sculptures of scavenged artifacts are more interesting, including an installation called “Relics,” which creates a giant bookshelf with an array of items unearthed from urban exploring like plastic toys, rusted pieces of metal, and full-on sinks crammed into each crevice. A friend described it as an advent calendar of trash.

Hocking’s piece “Stalagmites from Cast Concrete in the Auto Age” is a collection of stone-like objects formed through mineral and calcium deposits across decades of water erosion inside Michigan Central Station and Roosevelt Warehouse (the old Detroit Public Schools Book Depository).

The pieces are fascinating to look at, but descriptions of Detroit's “rebirthing like a phoenix from the ashes” are offensive and grossly played out.

If we could stop talking about Detroit “coming back” as if the people who lived and worked in the city through bankruptcy and disastrous emergency management don’t exist, that would be great. Detroiters didn’t go anywhere, and regurgitating this message of decay and rebirth erases them as if they don’t matter.

The Eye of Horus, Detroit Stories, and Full Circle are up at the Cranbrook Art Museum until March 19. More info is at cranbrookartmuseum.org.

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About The Author

Randiah Camille Green

After living in Japan and traveling across Asia, Randiah Camille Green realized Detroit will always be home. And when she says Detroit, she's talking about the hood, not the suburbs. She has bylines in Planet Detroit News , Bridge Detroit , BLAC magazine, and Model D . Her favorite pastimes are meditating...
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