Kristine Diven's Rivertown warehouse would quickly drop the jaws of most Detroiters. Sitting dignified and still in the shadow of the old Stroh's water tower, and a stone's throw away from Atwater Brewery, the newly christened studio and gallery District 7 is all exposed brick and raw energy. Twenty-foot high ceilings and sprawling space welcome the most challenging and ambitious artistic endeavors. The unique patch of industrial real estate on the east side of town yearns for loud, abrasive noises to echo off its walls. The plot of unclaimed land Diven calls a next-door neighbor begs to become a vibrant, recycled piece of scenery. Diven could smell the potential from miles away.
Born and raised in Maryland — between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. — Diven did what most confused suburban kids do when trapped in the Rust Belt — attend raves while searching out a constant supply of bright lights and stimuli. "I was all over the place," Diven says. And when she says it, she really means it.
At the University of Maryland, she balanced a double major in math and philosophy with a minor in African-American studies. Arriving in Brooklyn in '99, she flew through job after job, "tasting all of life" along the way. From a brief flirtation with the music scene to managing an upscale club in Manhattan while volunteering at animal shelters and mulling the Peace Corps, Diven didn't give much consideration to who she really was and what she wanted to be. Her father being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in '06 helped her find her way to photography.
"He was my idol," recalls Diven. "It put the fire under my butt to live life to the fullest. Before that, nothing caught my attention for very long. [Photography] was my perfect balance — a way to express myself ... that is always technically challenging."
Diven's "huge, overwhelming" obsession with abandoned structures would quickly become a favorite subject. Her transition from traditional photography to nude, fetish-fueled self-portraits would be just as swift. Her best work wouldn't arise from bringing out the beauty of picky models, but rather from setting her own vulnerable imperfections against scenes of stark decay. Last May, she made a solo pilgrimage to Detroit to see what the industrial landscape had to offer. Within 72 hours, Diven decided to bow out of her Manhattan lease and move to Detroit.
"I had no idea when I came to Detroit how much I would like it," Diven explains. "I had no idea I would enjoy the energy of the city this much and be so inspired by it."
Since her first trip here, Diven has shown her work at more than 20 local art shows and galleries. After running a booth at this year's People's Arts Festival, her phone won't stop ringing. She has photographed inside the highly coveted and recently torched Eastown Theatre, and speaks of the abandoned hallways of Cass Tech with the confidence and knowledge of someone who has lived and breathed Detroit for decades. As it seems, Detroit has embraced Diven just as quickly as she embraced Detroit. And, like most newcomers (and seasoned citizens), she has her own idea of how to take Detroit's art scene to the next level.
On Oct.10, District 7 will open its doors to the public with an interactive art show based around the concept of art and technology. Of course, a mathematics major like Diven would note the binary code significance of 10.10.10. But the connection to human interaction and technology neither begins nor ends there.
With help of renegade projectionist and guerrilla veejay Detronik, Diven is delving into elements you'd find sprinkled throughout a science museum and bringing them to the art world. Think embedded micro-controllers that allow a patron to control the movement and sound of a projection, interactive art that changes with movements and varying body temperatures of attendees, and that vacant piece of land sitting next to her studio becoming a sculpture garden that mixes found elements with user-friendly technology.
"It won't just be paintings mounted onto a wall," Diven says with a laugh. "We want to wake people up. Instead of covering their heads and waiting for things to get better, [we want to show that] you can take matters into your own hands and create your own universe."
10.10.10 opens on Oct. 10, at District 7, 2690 Wight St., Detroit. See more information at districtvii.com.Ryan Patrick Cooper is freelance writer Detroit and (self-described) cultural stud. Send comments to [email protected]