Thursday, November 26, 2009

Farewell To The Cupcake Girls & (Ben)

For the last three months The Cupcake Girls have been doing a residency with the 555 where they made concrete cakes and displayed them in abandoned storefronts along Chene Street. What started as a project that we were somewhat skeptical about, has been a powerful experience that has taught us a lot about making public art pieces in Detroit.

The concrete cakes and cupcakes that were topped with tinted joint-compound frosting first went into an old drycleaners shop across from a Post Office. From the start it affected many people. Folks on the street wanted to know what was going on, they helped set-up the displays on old pieces of wood and upside-down drawers. People got into the project from the start. Some of the cakes disappeared, and then were brought back. People began monitoring the display, straightening-up the cakes that got knocked over, telling people not to take them. As the artists came and went bringing new cakes and sometimes taking some for another window, they began to meet people in the neighborhood. When they would drive-up people would say “Hey it’s The Cupcake Girls. What kind of cakes do you have today?” Cupcakes started turning up at places all over town. Old ladies were pulling up in their cars and loading them in their trunks saying they were the cutest things they had ever seen. The community got involved. People got interested.

There were hard parts too. A lot of the cakes got smashed. In the old Polish bakery on Chene and Palmer the window was ransacked almost immediately. Were they mad the cakes were made out of concrete? Were they pissed off that artists had the time and resources to make concrete cakes when people along Chene Street have so little? Did it just look like too much fun not to smash a cake on the way home from school? It was difficult for the artists. It’s always hard when you spend time making something and then someone destroys it. One thing was for sure it was definitely getting attention, and causing a strong reaction.

The turning point happened in the beginning of November. The project was almost over and all the remaining cakes had been rounded-up and brought back to the 555 for the closing show. We heard sirens and then someone said a building on Chene and Palmer was on fire. Everyone immediately started walking in that direction. When they got there the unbelievable was happening. The Bakery was on fire. Someone had torched the Bakery. Was it a coincidence or a message- stay the fuck away? Who knows. Who could tell what was happening it was all just too strange. The Girls felt awful, they thought their project had caused the building to burn. Maybe it had. Our friends from the Fire Department tried to soften the blow. “It’s not your fault,” the captain told them. It wasn’t much consolation.

Last weekend, with the 555 show over and the Cupcake Girls time in Detroit coming to an end we went back to the Bakery. We brought the beat-up cakes that remained and installed them in the burned-out storefront. Everyone knew it had to be done. You can’t burn us out, were the artists, were resilient, were fighters. With all the cakes in the window the installation was complete Jane said, “It looks good.” Krysta gave here a sideways glance. There was broken glass everywhere. The entire building was charred and a smokey smell hung in the art. She thought about it a little more, “That’s fuck-up I said that.” “It looks like shit.” I told her. “But the cakes look great.”

Thanks again to the Cupcake Girls (& Ben) for inspiring us with their decication to their work, their resilience, and their ambition. Detroit was both gracious and harsh to them- as it is to most of us. It proved again to be a place where the unbelievable happens. Were there are really high highs and really low lows. Living in the D the city always has something to teach you. They will be missed. But they will be back.

Check out their adventures on their blog
Rock on- The Yes Farm


Anonymous said...

Where were the Cupcake girls from? How did they come up with the idea of cakes?

Its bizarre about the fire

Wild news from Detroit as usual

Anonymous said...

NY but all over. their travelers. i don't know about the cake idea. u should ask them

Stephen Magsig said...

What an interesting story. I just completed a couple of paintings of the cakes and the bakery on my blog: Postcards from Detroit, and was in complete confusion about the cakes. Thank you so much for such an intriguing art project and solving the mystery of the cakes. Great job. Detroit Art Rocks!

Fortuna said...

Here's a link to a video made by Ray Feldman for Michigan Radio about Stephen Magsig and his Postcards from Detroit paintings. Part of the footage has Stephen painting the cakes.

biba said...

yes! i saw those cakes in that storefront on chene when in town just last wkend. they were fabulous, strange and wacky. after meeting the cupcake girls when they first came to detroit, it was nice to see their traces turn up in concrete icing and frosted colorfulness.

Anonymous said...

The Van Dyke Pastry Shop was a home to a family that lived there for 33 years. The man that owned the place brought his family from YUGOSLAVIA to raise them and start a new life apart from the evils of Communism!! His children, mainly his oldest his son, also raised their children there. The image of fake cakes and pastries you put in front of the store is totally DISRESPECTFUL & INAPPROPRIATE, and the fact that you would post it on the internet and call it art defies all human logic and comprehension!!! You may think you're beautifying the area when in fact it's like you're mocking the family that lived and worked there. More trash in Detroit won't solve the problem of that area. Maybe you should put some thought into your little "projects" and take into consideration how this affects the people who have had so many great memories at that bakery. It is understandable of what you are trying to do but you shouldn't be so quick to make a glib decision. Very, very trashy is the only way it can be described (and this is an understatement).

The Yes Farm said...

wow anonymous- this project seems to have really had a strong effect on you- trashy and inappropriate as you describe it. It seems you find this to be some kind of mockery of the Van Dyke Pastry Shop. In fact the opposite is true- the project voices our sadness that the shop is no longer open, and we feel begins a dialogue about why our neighborhood has become so abandoned and inhospitable to businesses. When the project started the shop was completely trashed glass and garbage were everywhere and the place was a mess. We cleaned up the storefront, swept the sidewalk as was probably done by the family you mention everyday, and in our own way tried to imagine the time when the bakery was open and Chene street was a thriving place. We can't open another bakery, but we can try to send a message that reviving the neighborhood is a possibility. The project was not a glib decision, it engaged many people from the neighborhood and was sincere and respectful. I'm sorry it upset you so much. We are upset too- at the people who burned the building down, at the state of our neighborhood, at the lack of care and respect most people have for our neighborhood who rob, dump and steal here. Perhaps instead of being angry at us, you can direct your anger at some of those things and help us as we try to improve our neighborhood. Thanks.
Blake- The Yes Farm