Situated in a domestic space, this installation draws attention to our home’s most quotidien objects and sounds and acknowledges how our homes and belongings reflect the world outside, especially in a city so deeply shaped by over-policing and carceral politics as Detroit. This experience is a provocation, not a vision, intending to posit possible futures; hint at how abolition demands that we evolve through time; and pose questions about an abolitionist world through the lens of a home.
We struggle to imagine a world without police, prisons, or capitalism, myself included. We’re beholden to a crisis of imagination which is, in many ways, symptomatic of the “disaster capitalism” of which Naomi Klein writes: Catastrophic (often humanmade) moments in which “we are hurled further apart, when we lurch into a radically segregated future where some of us will fall off the map and others ascend to a parallel privatized state” (Klein 2008). Detroit, Michigan—where I live—is a city defined by manufactured disasters and disasters of manufacturing: The abandonment by the auto industry and the subsequent mismanagement by the apparatus of the City itself decades later have unmistakably shaped life in Detroit. The fallout of these crises left behind thousands of stranded workers, literal industrial and residential ruin, structural decay, streets in disrepair, gutted houses and gutted homes and gutted neighborhoods, disinvestment in people and place, a tragedy and a “beautiful wasteland” as described by Rebecca Kinney in Beautiful Wasteland: The Rise of Detroit as a Post-Industrial Frontier (Kinney 2016). The “New Detroit”—the shiny, saccharine, “revitalized” downtown—is the parallel privatized state that Klein referenced. It is the prize of catastrophe awarded those who stand to benefit from this radically segregated future.
We are convinced en masse that the capacity to “speculate,” to construct futures, is the exclusive domain of those who’ve mastered speculation in a neoliberal sense. Only through the specialized techniques of contrived calculations, computational sciences, and statistics can we model and predict the future. In The Future as Cultural Fact, Arjun Appadurai writes that the future has “been more or less completely handed over to economics” (Appadurai 2013). Speculation has become the purview, exclusively, of those who command enough capital to make new worlds appear out of ruins or thin air. “To most ordinary people—and certainly to those who lead lives in conditions of poverty, exclusion, displacement, violence, and repression—the future often presents itself as a luxury, a nightmare, a doubt, or a shrinking possibility” (Appadurai 2013).
To borrow from Appadurai, what’s needed, in a space where the capacity to speculate is denied, is a politics of hope which depends on our capacity to “convert uncertainty into risk” by—in my estimation—collaborating to imagine a world that the calculations of neoliberal financial speculation tells us is impossible.
On display from October 8 - November 5, 2021, at Red Bull Arts Gallery in Detroit, MI, “Making Room for Abolition” is an installation of a living room that evokes critical conversations around what stands between us and a world without police and prisons. Situated in a domestic space, this installation draws attention to our home’s most quotidien objects and sounds and acknowledges how our homes and belongings reflect the world outside, especially in a city so deeply shaped by over-policing and carceral politics as Detroit. This experience is a provocation, not a vision, intending to posit possible futures; hint at how abolition demands that we evolve through time; and pose questions about an abolitionist world through the lens of a home.
That this imagined world takes place in a living room is an acknowledgment that our homes are microcosms of our wider worlds. The artifacts that populate our homes express, articulate, embody, and reflect the social relations and systems that govern our lives outside of them. They contain histories and forecast futures: The bills that pile up on our tabletops; the artwork that decorates our walls; the TV shows we stream; the songs we listen to; the chatter we hear from the street; the heirlooms we cherish and the ones that collect dust; the views we glimpse from our windows. They tell stories about who we were, where we came from, the worlds that shape us, the rules we follow and break, the environments we inherit, the ways we survive, the worlds we presently inhabit, the things we fear and protect, and the worlds we hope to shape.
Each artifact in the room poses a set of questions to visitors: A side table littered with various forms of currencies asks: How would our economic system change? What would constitute economic value? How would we navigate in a world where the American dollar doesn’t dominate? A bag of chips and a ginger beer question: How would our food systems change? A guaranteed income check asks: What would labor look like? How would we make a living? A graphic novel called “Chrysanthemum City” designed by Glenn Miles wonders: How would popular media shape our kids’ imaginations? What might replace cop-aganda? A messy workstation where a mother studies for a “water steward” certification exam ponders: What would our relationship to the environment, specifically water, be like? What kind of labor might support our environment, instead of degrading it? A mug featuring notes about Assata Shakur questions who we might venerate and what heirlooms we might hold onto?
This work intends to immersively propose possible worlds through domestic artifacts for the sake of contestation. It struggles against and with time, contends with the ways our institutions evolve, and posits earnest questions about how our lives might shift to make space for the work of abolition through the lens of a home.