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Alley Culture
AC News V12 #2

In the 1950s and 1960s, songs coming out of Detroit often reflected the cyclical vagaries of the auto industry in those years, bouncing back and forth, for example, from the Silhouette's “Get a Job” to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' “Got a Job” to Barrett Strong's, “Money (That's What I want).” When my friend General Baker, a longtime Detroit labor activist, hit the job scene after graduating from high school in 1958, there were few new jobs in auto. But by the late 60s, Detroit assembly lines were humming and its workers were sweaty with overtime. During this period bluesman Joel Carter pleaded in song, “Please Mr. Foreman, I don't mind working; I do mind dying.”

In the late 80s, Techno music evolved from a sustained and decisive decline in the auto industry; its eerie rhythms and heavy beats recalling the pace and pounding of the assembly lines. In addition, early Techno found places of expression in the abandoned factories and warehouses of the post industrial Detroit.

This Motown to Techno shift in song is, according to General, a prime example of culture reflecting politics and economics. He should know about political and economic shifts in Detroit. General was one of the leaders of the various iterations of DRUM and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the late 60s and early 70s. In 1963, he hired in at the Rouge, stamping mustang parts; three years later Wilson Pickett was singing “Mustang Sally.” General, who is now retired and still fighting for unemployed, unorganized and retired workers, recalls “Auto work is hard work. I think the repetitive nature - speed and pace - is the most difficult. Foundry and steel work is dirtier and heavier but not as fast. The heavy work I was doing was easier than fast work of assembly.” But, he says, fast can get you in the hole, meaning behind in sequential assembly, causing wildcat strikes from workers tiring of the hole, tiring of the pace.

While General was lifting heavy, I was working fast on the motor line at the Cadillac Plant on Clark Street where I was hired in 1973. Wasn't there a song about those gorgeous Cadillacs? Ah yes, Lightnin Hopkins, “Big Black Cadillac Blues.” General's heavy stamping experience and my fast assembly line experience were really no different than the early days of auto production. In 1913 at the Rouge, the absentee rate was 10.5% with a 307% turnover, creating the need for a large pool of replacements. This was inefficient and expensive for Ford. So the $5/day pay came as a cost saving. Ford wanted to lessen the cost of production by keeping a stable workforce, plus providing the wherewithal for workers to buy the product.

So General and I, as well as others from our era, inherited a work ethic established by our predecessors - an ethic grounded in the factories. We became loyal to repetitive and heavy work and to lots of it. We became loyal to our nameplates. Even Blind Pigs developed because of afternoon overtime - nowhere to go after the shift to wash the factory grime down. It was commonly understood in General's day that those thousands migrating from the South, like his family, came to Detroit to work. If folks wanted to play, they went to Chicago.

Auto work was hard for the pioneers of Ford's assembly lines; it was hard for General in 1963, and it was no cakewalk for me at Cadillac ten years later. Evidently, it's still hard in spite of cleaner conditions and air conditioning. That must have thrown off the twenty-six new hires at Chrysler's (continued over)    (continued below)

Rick Vian, writing a few years ago about his work, said he “noticed that each species of tree conformed to certain proclivities of growth, which [he] thought of as a kind of 'grid' over which innumerable patterns could be laid. Regardless of the individual pattern, an oak could be recognized as an oak, because the pattern of its growth (its 'growth habit') stayed largely within the framework of structure allowed by its DNA; its 'grid.” Experiencing the language expressed by his trees, and his titling of earlier graphite drawings in the Ojibwa language (one translating as “I sacrifice myself, I am Holy”) one would sense he has tapped in to something beyond the grid of DNA. It was the usual assumption in the 1960s that the allness of the tree was genetically programmed, until biologist Rupert Sheldrake began asking, “How does a plant grow from a seed into a tree? A seed has very little structure. A tree has a lot. How do they develop from much less specialized structure? All this form develops from less form.” He found each species (plant and animal) create and share a collective memory through morphic resonance, and that morphogenesis (the origin of form) was a field phenomenon like gravity or electromagnetism. He found that the collective habit of a species rather than the laws of nature (DNA) created form. [1] Looking at Vian's trees, it feels he's found their elusive morphogenic field of communication. S. Kay Young's photographs in this exhibition use the tree as a medium, translating messages left in the forest by the 'great beyond.' Faces, glyphs, and the green man allowing themselves to be seen. Something one might come across fleetingly in a dream is displayed clear as a drawing in her gaze at nature. Young honors her Eastern Band Cherokee heritage with these photographs, and in an earlier luminescent, motion filled series of Native Dancers. She has also photographically chronicled Detroit's early Punk music scene. Bridget Knoche was a drummer in the 1980s and 90s in two bands (Blame Mother, Creating Buddha & The Monkey) that were labeled by the press as “grunge girl rock.” She also was a long-haul truck driver transporting art. Her visual art emerged through this as sketches, actions, gifts and (see AC's Pinewood Derby). Her drawings and constructions come from an original and post-description eye on society and its rules, or on the royalty of the animal beings. Eric Fogle, artist and journeyman bricklayer, is minimal and direct in his art works (see AC's Suitcase show). He says of these new paintings, “they look like sculptures, or like physical things that don't exist.” Minimal and direct, and don't give the poem away. But they do have an undisclosed objectness. His “objects” have changed from cross-sections, or abstract diagrams of a head to an expanding sea shell as he continues through this series. Infrastructure opens on Earth Day (as if there were only one). footnotes 1 and 2

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books: MARWIL BOOKSTORE - 1948 (832.3078 - Cass & Warren) ... and more


Ian Ingram, untitled, 2008, stencil, 8 1/2 x 9 1/4"

(continued from above)    

Jefferson Assembly last summer. They expected easier working conditions, but quit on their first day at lunchtime. The work was too hard at $14/hour. The beat goes on...

We are witnessing the transformation of methods of production so new that human labor becomes obsolete. The rise of homelessness continues unabated since the appearance of robots in the factories of the seventies. Sometime this year R2 will be unveiled. This generation of robots will have thumbs dexterous enough to function in final assembly. What will this mean for the Detroit work ethic? Then again, the problem is not the robots but who owns them. What if through the use of robots we were still able to feed and clothe ourselves and have housing? How about universal health care? No war? What if we were able to apply the work ethic to making art, writing poems, making music, expanding culture, improving our relations with the earth and each other? What if we were to have the space to repetitively explore our artistic range, get heavy into it, loving the nameplate of mother earth?

Does that sound corny? Maybe. But what do we do now that all those years of slinging steel and fabricating classy rides have lost central stage in the national psyche, already consigned to the dust bins of history? What becomes of work and our memory of it? How do we transform ourselves to perform the promise of new work? Is there new work?         Lolita Hernandez

   from an October 2010 conversation with CBC's 'Spark'
I have only recently started to look at social media, because I'd avoided Facebook and Myspace and all of the branded products of social media until Twitter. I found Twitter more street like and less like a mall and or a Disneyland experience. My previous experiences with social media had been Usenet boards, which weren't a branded experience. It's like what planners and architects call a 'gated attraction.' I think that Facebook and Myspace are gated attractions. Twitter is to some extent, but Usenet boards weren't gated attractions. Anyone could turn up. There was often minimal or no moderation. Purely public spaces. Some of them almost felt like waste ground. I spent a lot of time over the past decade anonymously participating in that kind of unbranded media. That was where the 'Footage Forum' in Pattern Recognition came from. That was where I got the material to make that seem real. ...Usenet? Oh, it's still going. It's out there. It just isn't being marketed. I still have several places where I go on a regular basis. Over the years a lot of those places actually gated themselves. They went to passwords and IDs. So they're there now as these totally private clubs and little pocket universes. They did tend to get stale that way, if people can't just wander in. I always thought the most entertaining environments on the web were environments where you might encounter criminals. The difference between a swap meet and a mall, or between a swap meet and a church bazaar maybe would be the difference.
   William Gibson is the author of Neuromancer, 1984, and a recent trilogy, the last of which is Zero History. williamgibsonbooks.com

Every action we take is to support our own lives. The predominant behavior this drive produces is the search for food. This is not new, even as nomads or pre-humans, food was the main factor of life. However, chemically and genetically processed foods have since complicated what was previously a basic approach. So what makes the modern person so sure their actions and choices are correct? Their tools are more efficient, and if we follow logic, their way of life must be 'better.' This is not necessarily true in current food production and distribution practices. People, in regards to food, have become completely disconnected.

Modern food production ignores human psychological and physical needs (the need to feel connected, vital, and contented) in favor of power, control and profit. Every day, humans are putting 'food' into their bodies without knowing what is in it or where it came from; many rely on restaurants and super markets as the main source of their food. As of 2009 about 90 percent of the money Americans spent on food was on processed products. Other studies have shown that many school-aged children in the US cannot identify fruits, but are more than capable of naming their favorite fast food. Something essential is missing. An individual separated from their food source by many miles and a long chain of preservatives cannot possibly be grounded. How is it possible that any child can identify a “chicken nugget” but not an apple? Current agricultural structures attempt to present food as a minimal portion of the average person's day. The focus instead is placed on making money, which is used largely to obtain food. In contrast, growing food allows an individual independence. Shifting control of subsistence into your own hands elevates the quality of your food and requires less money. Time and attention can then be re-directed to more 'local' concerns to the actual plants or animals which are being consumed.

To truly connect with our food, perhaps also with each other, the path of plant's life must be experienced. A fruit becomes a seed, becomes a tree, becomes a fruit (becomes dinner, becomes compost, becomes a tree). And not simply a fruit tree. The fruit tree in your backyard. You may even begin to know it personally and develop a relationship. Maybe not, but it will continue to provide you with fruit, and that cannot be ignored. Food preparation is communicating at a most basic level. A person harvests or collects food, then physically reformats it into a sensual experience; literally powering another's life and happiness with a bit of theirs. This act, this physical manifestation of support, is one of the most direct we can share, between each other and our environment.         Gwen McKay

Alley Culture's 12th Annual Seed Exchange
Sunday 13 March 2011 - 2:00 to 4:00

AC News is available at the Cass Cafe in Detroit's Cass Corridor, known for its long and continuing history of artists, writers, musicians, thinkers and activists.

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