Scott Hocking: Bone Black
1520 Washington Boulevard
Detroit, MI 48226
April 21, 2020 - May 5, 2020
Based on an 1890’s photograph of a massive pile of bison-bones at the Michigan Carbon Works plant in Detroit, and the “bone black” pigment created from their process of burning animal bones, practiced for approximately 150 years, the Bone Black installation was created over the course of 5 weeks in the Spring of 2019. Commissioned by Cranbrook Art Museum, for the exhibition “Landlord Colors: On Art, Economy, & Materiality,” curated by Laura Mott, the work was designed site-specifically within the vacant Assembly Bay building of the former Northern Crane industrial sites, along an old railroad street called Guoin, one block from the Detroit River, in the historic Warehouse District.
Focusing on the metaphorical “bones” of Detroit, approximately 35 abandoned boats – Shipwrecks - and related debris, illegally dumped and neglected throughout the City, were collected via trailer-towing pick- ups and various winches, and hauled to the Northern Crane site as materials for the work. 33 of these Shipwrecks were suspended and stacked within the Assembly Bay, creating a sort of “ghost fleet,” or funerary procession through time, flowing westward just as the Detroit River does. 22 of the boats were washed with the Bone Black pigment, allowing each Shipwreck’s colors, graffiti, and history to bleed through. Multiple boats had trees and plants growing within them, sprouting from years of sitting in the same forlorn spots – all of which were preserved during install, with the tree-boats situated under the collapsed sections of roof, so they could soak up all the rain of one of Michigan’s wettest years. Playing with ideas of archeology, anthropology, ceremony, and mysticism, the installation was designed to transform the cavernous factory setting into a future-archaic scene from some alternate history, and perhaps convey a view from underwater, looking at the entire work from the stillness of a seafloor. Photographed and documented over time, the suspended Ships were lowered in stages, hanging nose- down in the final days, followed by being stacked into one central burial mound – a Shipwreck version of the Carbon Works bison-bone mountain.
Exhibited from June through October of 2019, the entire installation was dismantled and destroyed by Autumn, with all 33 fiberglass wrecks being smashed into bits and crushed into dumpsters, as they have no scrap-value and cannot be recycled, and why they are so commonly dumped in Detroit. Along with various boat artifacts and hardware saved before destruction, the work lives on as a dual photographic series: Bone Black (2019), which documents the entire installation, and the 20-year series Shipwrecks (2000-2020), which served as inspiration for the concept of this work.