September 23, 2012

Paris of the West — Greg Fadell

dusk in Detroit with pre-show anticipation...

By Jim Welke

“Paris of the West.” Once, Detroit was called Paris of the West. Tonight, in Detroit, the term of endearment refers to an installation and performance work presented by Greg Fadell. In the Willys Overland Building, a former sales and service facility named for Willys brand vehicles, Mr. Fadell set up shop. “Paris of the West” will be up through October 5, when it will be a featured exhibit in DLECTRICITY, from 6PM-midnight.

Next door resides Re:View Contemporary Gallery, which last April hosted works by Mr. Fadell in a show entitled “Nothingness.” The show consisted of a series of large paintings – think six or eight feet tall and nearly as wide. On each one, the artist applied broad, dripping brush strokes sometimes in sweeping arcs, other times in abrupt, busy, convulsive swipes. Remember the title of the show, the theme, “Nothingness.” One stands before these paintings and a sense of falling overtakes the eye, probably not unlike what astronauts describe when they space walk – that is,they  climb out of the relative security of their pressurized, climate controlled capsule, and tumble into an infinite abyss of weightlessness, tethered to the mother ship by a nominally adequate umbilical cord, but not very hefty considering the implications of severance thereof. Astronauts describe a perpetual, unsettling sense of falling that requires they summons every ounce of denial they possess to ignore the looming reality that confronts them: they are falling. That’s what orbit is, a constant falling but with sufficient horizontal velocity that the body in orbit falls toward the gravitational force, but at the same rate moves horizontally away from it. Falling through a continuous series of misses – that’s orbiting.

Nothingness -- April 2012

So, Mr. Fadell gives us nothing and asks us to contemplate, and we begin to fall. The rug is pulled out from under us and below the rug, like astronauts, we see cloud tops and oceans…  a vast expanse of nothingness. John Updike contemplated nothingness vs. something-ness in an interview with Jim Holt (p.248-252), author of “Why Does The World Exist: An Existential Detective Story.”

The laws (quantum physics) amount to a funny way of saying, ‘Nothing equals something,’” Updike said, bursting into laughter. “QED! One opinion I’ve encountered is that, since getting from nothing to something involves time, and time didn’t exist before there was something, the whole question is a meaningless one that we should stop asking ourselves. It’s beyond our intellectual limits as a species. Put yourself into the position of a dog. A dog is responsive, shows intuition, looks at us with eyes behind which there is intelligence of a sort, and yet a dog must not understand most of the things it sees people doing. It must have no idea how they invented, say, the internal-combustion engine. So maybe what we need to do is imagine that we’re dogs and that there are realms that go beyond our understanding. I’m not sure I buy that view, but it is a way of saying that the mystery of being is a permanent mystery, at least given the present state of the human brain. I have trouble even believing — and this will offend you — the standard scientific explanation of how the universe rapidly grew from nearly nothing. Just think of it. The notion that this planet and all the stars we see, and many thousands of times more than those we see — that all this was once bounded in a point with the size of, what, a period or a grape? How, I ask myself, could that possibly be? And, that said, I sort of move on.

But this is not about “Nothingness.” That is background for “Paris of the West,” in which Mr. Fadell transitions from large paintings on opaque surfaces to one very large painting on a transparent surface — glass — glass that comprises the windows of four floors of the Willys Overland building in Detroit, lit from the back and projected into infinite space.

1st Floor Interior

Remembering the whitewashed windows of vacant buildings he saw on his first overseas trip, a trip to Paris, and associating that recollection with a recollection that Detroit was once known as the Paris of the West, and connecting that with his experience of the electrified Nuit Blanche (2009) in Paris,

and threading all that through the narrative of Detroit’s once economically percolating past to its current fits of re-birth with art indelibly infused in its DNA – remembering all of that, and moving on from his last series of works – “Nothingness” – Mr. Fadell undertook to create an installation and performance piece that coalesced those elements and met the rigorous esthetic requirements of the Detroit Design Festival 2012 (19-23-September 2012) and Detroit’s two day festival of light, “DLECTRICITY” (5-6-October 2012).

dusk lends glow to "Paris of the West"

Tonight, as a selected participant in the Detroit Design Festival, Mr. Fadell transformed a four-story section of the south facing façade of the building. The first, third, and fourth floor windows were painted in wide, angular, and arcing strokes of whitewash, the brush texture visible from the street at dusk before the event. As the sun set, the building interior remained dark, the glass surfaces seemed to recede. Then, at around 8PM, a soft, pulsing, beat began to play. A light flashed on behind the partitioned glass of the first floor; a bit later, the third floor window illuminated, and then the fourth. The unpainted glass of the second floor remained dark.

premier etage: 1st floor illuminated...

2nd floor remains darkened...


...2nd floor illuminated

Finally, the second floor lights came on, like a porch light on a summer night when you’re  a teenager out past curfew. Anticipation buzzed in the side street atmosphere outside the building. Silhouetted behind the glass, Mr. Fadell appeared. He positioned a stepladder, picked up a bucket of paint, ascended, and brushed paint onto the second floor glass. As paint covered more and more of the glass, Mr. Fadell faded incrementally out of sight – or at least out of recognition. The semi-transparent whitewash allowed a projection of Mr. Fadell, in motion as he painted, to form an oversize puppet figure on the backlit glass. Reflections from the interior of the glass into the room caused shadows of Mr. Fadell to counter intuitively project on the walls and ceiling behind him, producing multiple images of his body in motion.

We were there to watch, and we watched in near silence, absorbed voyeurs, enveloped by the thrumming music, until the last window was whitewashed. With Mr. Fadell’s last brushstroke up above us, the crowd let out a cheer.

The experience satisfied – it was impressive. In another section of that Updike interview quoted above, the interviewer states:

…some philosophers are so astonished and awed that anything at all should exist – like Wittgenstein, who said in the Tractatus that it’s not how the world is that is mystical, but that it is. And Heidegger, of course, made heavy weather of this too. He claimed that even people who never thought about why there is something rather than nothing were still ‘grazed’ by the question whether they realized it or not – say, in moments of boredom, when they’d just as soon nothing at all existed, or in states of joy when everything is transfigured and they see the world anew, as if for the first time.

In spite of what our rational consciousness told us — here was a guy whitewashing windows — we felt childlike joy, we saw the world anew.

But, anyone could have done that. Right?

No. Not exactly.

Mr. Fadell dreamed up the idea. Then he pleaded and cajoled to get prolonged access to four floors of a construction site. Then he figured out how to make the paint that would go on the windows and remain transparent – and come off later without marring them. Then he showed up at the site every day for three weeks, hours on end, experimenting with paint mixtures and brush strokes to achieve the patterns he visualized while lying awake at night. Often, when something appears easy, it isn’t. You are witnessing deceptive grace and finesse.

And then Mr. Fadell summonsed the courage to space walk. To get out there in public and expose his work to the opinions of the multitudes who will attend the Detroit Design Festival and DLECTRICITY, not to mention Detroit passersby not known for their loss for words. He found the courage and the enthusiasm to give Detroit an experience it won’t find anywhere else, to give Detroit an event that never happened before and never will again, and the opportunity to share it collectively. An opportunity to contemplate Detroit’s charmed past as Paris of the West, and its brightly illuminated path into the future.

So before you say, “I could do that, anyone could do that,” ask yourself if you really could stand up and dance on a big stage. Last night, Mr. Fadell did. He captivated us, and slightly shifted the axis our world turns on. For that I’m grateful.

Form your own opinion. Remember though, to admire courage where and how you find it. Detroit’s got more courage than it knows what to do with. Thanks, Mr. Fadell, for taking the leap and reminding us of that.

Thanks, too, Re:View Contemporary Gallery for the courage to take on wondrous projects.

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167

...whitewashing commences

...eery silhouette

...Mr. Fadell obscured



...the crowd lingers


props to Re:View Contemporary Gallery for makin' it happen...

a cracker box quality video… but imagery worth seeing