Public Program

  • House Opera | Opera House
    Dawn Lundy Martin, V. Mitch McEwen & Sienna Shields

McEwen Studio, House Opera | Opera House, schematic design. Courtesy of the artists.

Inspired by the flexibility of uses for houses in Detroit, in proximity to major cultural institutions for opera and diverse forms of performance, this project stages an opera as a house, the house and its dramas of occupancy and vacancy, demolition, and repurposing, as an opera. Instigated by an architectural designer working with a multi-disciplinary arts collective, the House Opera | Opera House project situates built form in active relationship with choreography, costume, music, language, and drama. Implications at the urban-planning level include: How can residential vacancy be converted into an opportunity to support local cultural assets? What are the zoning, planning, and building code changes that make this possible? The experimental aspects architecturally include strategies of interactivity, portability, and expanded territories of adaptive re-use.

Dawn Lundy Martin is the author of A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering (University of Georgia Press, 2007), recipient of the Cave Canem Prize; DISCIPLINE (Nightboat Books, 2011), selected by Fanny Howe for the Nightboat Books Poetry Prize and finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Lambda Literary Award; Candy, a limited edition letterpress chapbook (Albion Books, 2011); and The Morning Hour, selected by C.D. Wright for the 2003 Poetry Society of America's National Chapbook Fellowship. Her forthcoming book, Life in a Box is a Pretty Life, will be published by Nightboat Books in 2014. Martin has lectured on race, gender, and poetics at universities across the country, including most recently, Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and the University of California at Berkeley. She is associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Focused on public urban culture, V. Mitch McEwen's practice bridges various scales of spatial design with curatorial, theoretical, and activist work. As principal of McEwen Studio / A(n) Office and founder of SUPERFRONT, McEwen has received international recognition. Collaborating often with artists, theorists, and cultural institutions, McEwen explores architecture's potential to participate in new ways of understanding the relationship between site and collectivity, including experiments with temporary spatial construction, portable architectures, collective manifestos, and built work in adaptive re­use and urban design. Currently visiting professor of urban design at the University of Michigan, McEwen holds an MArch from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and an AB from Harvard in Social Studies. Recent projects include Primate, a gesture recognition plugin for parametric architectural software, and How to Buy a House in Detroit (for the Woman You Love), a solo exhibition in a truck trailer in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Sienna Shields, born in Alaska, is an artist in film, painting, and sculpture who enjoys crafting and collectivity. Her large-scale collage paintings layer delicate, paint-spattered fragments of paper into dense, abstract collages; painted with vivid color and intricate texture, the paper shards coalesce into what resembles topographic maps articulating unspecific landscapes. Her work has been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, SUPERFRONT, and the 2014 Whitney Museum Biennial.

HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? is an evolving collective of multidisciplinary artists of the African diaspora who have lived and worked together, in various iterations, for over a decade. The collective includes Dawn Lundy Martin, V. Mitch McEwen, Sienna Shields, and over thirty other artists, writers, composers, academics, filmmakers and performers who collaborate across disciplines and cities.  At the 2014 Whitney Biennial, HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? presented a multipart film that re-imagined the traditional opera to pose a central question: "What happens to the black body when it is haunted by a 'blackness' outside of it?" Good Stock on the Dimension Floor: An Opera featured an original musical score and moved between multiple highly-crafted film sets, urban scenes, landscapes, and colorful abstraction.