I started this series of drawings in the spring of 2020. At first the series was Hamtramck Power Lines, since I started making the drawings out of a desire to capture some of the more striking power lines complexes I see around Hamtramck. The series has grown into Power Lines Drawings around Hamtramck & Detroit & maybe some suburbs. But that’s mostly because that’s where I’m sticking close to these days.
In many ways, the power lines drawings are meditations. Since I need to find real power lines complexes to draw, they give me a specific way of paying attention to the built environment around me while I’m moving through the world. The drawings themselves are then a simple sequence of lines I make following a found pattern that’s the result of human activity with no single intention or instance. My favorite lines take quick, single strokes of the pen to look right, at which point the drawings become a record of how those movements worked out. If the drawings are thoughts, they’re a kind of thinking that’s done outside of my mind, performed by looking out and moving around.
So what kinds of thoughts are these drawings? Hamtramck is the most densely populated municipality in Michigan, and one of the poorest. Detroit, which surrounds Hamtramck, was built out with an infrastructure for a population nearly twice what it is now. Decades of racist hostility towards Detroit and resource hoarding by suburbs and by the state of Michigan have left the infrastructure around here bloated and neglected, a patchwork of semi-functional fixes that look like it. People in Detroit and Hamtramck pay some of the highest rates in the country for utilities for some of the least reliable services. In some sense, these drawings are a record of what one aspect of this institutional neglect looks like.
But Detroit isn’t the only place power lines look like this. You can find absurd complexes of power lines and cables everywhere in this connected world, sometimes more carefully crafted but often just as makeshift and messy. They’re out there skirting industrial areas or strung across the most bustling modern streets. We don’t notice them or we ignore them because they’re supposed to be background, the obstinate, inconvenient material that builds up and breaks down everywhere in order to maintain the ostensibly seamless flow of information and capital. This is the world we all live in. These drawings are part of my way of trying to live through it.
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