Really, who doesn't have a favorite pedestrian bridge? Mary Beth Carolan doesn't own a car, so she rides her yellow Schwinn with a flowered banana seat across them all the time. But she prefers one particular bridge. "We have all talked about it," she says, "the way it spirals up and down and has two round gathering places. It feels like a secret."
A year ago, Leah Retherford wanted to hang flags on that bridge, above I-75 near the Rosa Parks Avenue exit, not far from old Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Carolan improved on her friend's idea by turning it into a flying art show and parade with brew and jams.
"Get in a gallery" or "sell to a museum" was never on the manifesto. The party, which was held at dusk a couple weekends ago, was just another example of creative types taking it to the streets, seductively slipping art into the civic conversation.
"Fun was had by all," says Brooke Hug, who snapped lots of pics. "It was the perfect day for waving flags around, with the strong winds, and the brightness made for awesome photographs."
Steering bikes with one hand, a heavy metal pole in the other, almost a dozen artists passed the early evening making wobbly laps back and forth. Lindsay Karty (aka Vicki) DJ'd with considerate speakers, crafted from cardboard, a battery and her iPod. The sound system was attached to a baby cart, which was also used for hauling other stuff like extra flagpoles, grommets and zip ties. Karty's anthems blared for at least two hours as folks occasionally braked for a beer and then pushed the pedals again.
Most of the flags were fashioned, like quilts, from old clothes. "Remember how medieval shops had advertisements of what was in the shop?" Carolan asks, "That really graphic illustration? Each flag had a flavor of that."
As one of the oldest symbols of imperialist propaganda, a flag is invested with social power. Choosing to wave your own means something.
"It was almost like a parade of individual parades," explains Hug. "For instance, Kathy's flag of cats speaks to her love of feline."
While Kathy Leisen and Alex Wright chose to raise one in honor of four recently deceased kitties, Karty swayed a polka-dot booyah flag. Patrick Crouch and Stacey Malasky said goodbye to their youth with a bloody teddy bear flag and pulled out their "pants" flag, and Carolan held her "freak" flag high.
Abby Newbold promoted a few of her favorite things on black cloth: 1) a hamburger 2) wine and a cigarette 3) a log on fire. Claire Foxx had a batik textile and Sarah Berger played it simple with a pennant. Leah Retherford waved her flag of faces and also mixed it up with an abstract "scrap" flag.
Two passers-by joined the crew for a short time. "These gentlemen were oozing with thievery," Carolan says. "They just walked from someone's yard and had half a dozen sprinkler heads and were going over to the train station to scavenge more things and they were planning on selling these. I asked if they wanted a beer, and they started talking about everything they steal. I kept giving them more beer and made them promise not to steal a flag. One of them wanted my freak flag. They promised, but who knows. They talked about stealing anything, copper out of the train station. I tried to challenge them on that. I said, 'Don't you think it would ruin the building?' He said, 'No, that thing's too far gone.'"
Fliers inviting the public to participate in the art show and parade were distributed in advance. There was a note at the end that read: Flags will not be returned and might be removed by interested or disinterested parties. Who knows? Plan accordingly.
The group welcomes anyone who wants to add a flag at any time, but they'll be back in force at 3:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 11. Grommet kits and zip ties can be purchased in advance at hardware and craft stores around the metro area.Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts and culture editor. Send comments to [email protected]