“From the Ashes: Works by Dylan Miner”
Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art
September 4 – 30
“We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.”
– Ralph Chaplin, Solidarity Forever (1915)
Departing from Dylan Miner’s better-known work as a political printmaker, ‘From the Ashes of the Old’ incorporates old shoeboxes and disassembled 35mm slides as the aesthetic means to interrogate historical memory, the saliency of objects, the consumption of nature, and the reinvigoration of American regionalism. Using local history as his starting point, Miner is romantically, yet critically, drawn to the role that the Great Lakes and its people have played within the longue durée of capitalist history. This becomes ever more relevant as the region continues to face economic and political hardships.
‘From the Ashes of the Old’ began in 1995 when, as a young art student, Miner purchased a wooden case of more than five hundred 35mm slides from a thrift shop in downtown Detroit. Amongst these Ektachrome images were typical photographic moments from mid-century Anglo-America: birthdays, Christmas, Easter, and the like. What struck Miner most about these images were the hundreds of photographic slides of road trips across the continent to National Parks and other significant natural wonders. The Grand Canyon in 1943, Yosemite in 1956, Mackinac Island at an undefined date. For Miner, little has changed in the last sixty years, while, at the same time, how different things are.
By purchasing the slides at a thrift store in Detroit, the significance of automobility and the assumed freedom bestowed by cars appeared transparent in these images. In fact, the slides, ranging in dates from the early-1940s through the late-1960s, intimately correspond with an era of economic opulence in Michigan, a time when labor unions were a key to working-class prosperity. The photographic absences, particularly the non-existence of people of color, are likewise apparent knowing the history of Detroit and what suburban migration wrought after 1967.
Beginning in these images, now over sixty years old, ‘From the Shell of the Old’ investigates the ashes and detritus of memory. It uses found images of Americana as the raw material to investigate regional history and its post bailout future. The twenty-five shoeboxes, what the artist calls sneakerscopes, were each created from the packaging used for sneakers that he himself purchased over the past few years. Combining these boxes, objects of his personal consumptive waste, with found images of the natural world, this series calls into question the relationship between historical memory, the natural environment, and human consumption.