Sacha Eckes is a tall, curly-haired Belgian who was living in San Francisco when she was invited to exhibit her art in Detroit. Soon thereafter, the day following her 30th birthday, Eckes’ apartment building burned down, destroying all her paintings and most of her possessions.
Eckes came to Detroit anyway and exhibited her melted art, possessions and music CDs at curator/artist Jef Bourgeau’s Museum of New Art, aptly titling it The Burnt Show.
Eckes says she felt an immediate kinship with Detroit, a city of charred buildings, so she stayed. She tried living the San Francisco ideal of an artist with no car, but found it’s harder to live sans vehicle in the Motor City.
Along the way, she decided to bring a bunch of San Francisco artists to Detroit for an art/cultural exchange to help Detroiters learn about San Francisco’s art community and vice versa. Once the idea hatched, nothing would stop her.
It wasn’t easy. Some in the Detroit art scene were aghast. “Why would you want to show San Francisco art in Detroit?” they asked. Others were too busy to get involved. At times it must have seemed like trying to host a Yankee show in Georgia — locals here just don’t play that.
Then, the detroitcontemporary gallery, where Eckes’ show was to be held, closed for renovations and a management change, and the Tangent Gallery, where the rest of the show was to be held, lost its director.
Eckes was undeterred. Weeks ago, she recruited co-curators Jeanne Moore and Billy Hunter.
This weekend, two years in the planning, Eckes’ dream becomes reality.
More than 50 San Francisco artists will exhibit at Tangent Gallery’s Bay Area Show. The show includes such West Coast luminaries as Barry McGee, Keith Knight, the collaborative Mail Order Brides, and a host of others.
“It’s really a mix of what’s going on out here,” says San Francisco artist and co-curator Rhonda Winter. Recruiting artists “was actually easier than I thought. People are curious, they want to see what it’s like out in Detroit, they want to interact,” she says.
The show will exhibit San Francisco’s innovation in mixing mediums — showing visual, musical, performance and electronic arts. Friday’s opening features the Underskatement Video Festival, an exhibit of films by skateboarders. Saturday features a performance by Ev Funes in which she will “renovate” and “remix” items of clothing donated by the audience, display the new works and send them home with the donors.
Saturday’s after-party is an attempt to foster cross-pollination of Detroit and SF artists, and will feature Jon Brumit and Marc Horowitz performing improvisational theatrical electronic music using the contents of nearby garbage cans and a bunch of equipment.
Melanie Manos will do a performance with video/painting, olive oil and other stuff in acting out “feminist and socio-political grievances by way of personal neuroses,” organizers say. Davin Brainard, Warn Defever, Jamie Easter and Hitoko Sakai of Detroit’s Electric Bear will do their noise-making character-instrument thing. Electric Bear will perform “WEEDS” featuring only the sound of weeds, shovels, concrete, and the mysterious electric bear.
“It’s an extraordinary gift in the face of a lot of adversity. It’s a real tribute to her fortitude,” says Joel Silvers, a Detroit painter since the 1970s, filmmaker and film teacher, who supported Eckes’ throughout the planning process.
“It’s a reference point for us to get a sense of our own regional aesthetic, if there is such a thing,” Silvers says.
He imagines San Francisco artists as having a “happy hedonistic celebratory look on life,” closer to “Zen happy gorgeous weather gorgeous environment … that might be a kick in the ass for us,” as opposed to Detroit’s “somber European post-industrial heaviness” that, in so many words, is less self-actualized than it ought to be.
“If the people here … really reflect on that community’s aesthetic, and make a cross-cultural comparison to what we’re doing here, and it forces people to think in terms of regionalism, it will serve its purpose,” says Silvers.
Detroit artists were featured recently in a NYC art show now traveling to England, and Motown is included in Shrinking Cities, a Berlin-based international art and architecture project. A few years ago, the Whitney Biennial in New York featured a room basically dedicated to Detroit, says Silvers, who adds that Detroit deserves a place on the national stage for its culture and arts.
“We’re on the map. Let’s work with it, let’s not run from it, and give back to the dialogue in this country,” he says.
The show leaves Tangent May 2, and opens at New Image Art in West Hollywood on June 19. Next year, Eckes hopes to curate a show of Detroit artists in San Francisco, as part of her plan to spark regional exchanges in cities across the country (she calls the program “intercourse”). Detroit artists who’ve committed to be a part of Eckes’ Detroit show in San Francisco include Glen Barr, Gilda Snowden, Ed Sykes, Kelly Parker, Odie Cash, Vito Valdez, Steve Magsig and Janet Hamrick.
Eckes hasn’t secured a venue, but considering her drive, don’t doubt it’ll happen.
The Bay Area Show should spark marvelous things. But unfortunately, Eckes is heading back to San Francisco. She misses her family and friends.
“I think I can do big things,” says Eckes. “I think that’s what Detroit does for people. It gives you the room and the inspiration to see that you can do big things. I’m grateful for that.”
The Bay Area Show opens Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m. Clothing artist Ev Funes performs at 4:30 p.m. Show takes place at the Tangent Gallery at 715 E. Milwaukee, at Oakland. Call 313-642-6143, or visit www.tangentgallery.com. Exhibit through May 2; gallery is open Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
After-party Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight, $5, at the Detroit Art Space, located at 101 E. Baltimore, Detroit. At 8:30 p.m., Brumit and Horowitz as “Sliv & Dulet” perform experimental music; at 9:30 p.m. Melanie Manos performs YelloWoman; at 11:30 p.m., Electric Bear performs “Weeds,” a piece that explores the relationship between plant life, tools, harsh electronic noise and performance art.Lisa M. Collins is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]