Detroit, are you ready to speak your truth?
This city is a place where several layers of truth coexist—sometimes peacefully, sometimes in harsh opposition. Many aspects of Detroit are painted as black-and-white issues, when it is, in reality, a place that contains various shades of gray and a lot of personal stories.
Seeking truth is ostensibly the guiding principle of In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth), a mobile recording studio by a team of artists known as Cause Collective that has been touring the world since 2011, offering participants of all stripes the opportunity to record their personal truths. Due to the efforts of Cranbrook Art Museum and their Curator of Contemporary Art and Design, Laura Mott—not to mention a large piece of funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation—The Truth Booth is slated to make an lengthy tour of the region with their Michigan debut scheduled for July 31st at the Cranbrook Art Museum. They hope to reach all 50 states by November 8th—Election Day—but their Michigan stop is the longest and most extensive of their U.S. tour.
“I started this project with Hank Willis Thomas and Ryan Alexiv about eight years ago when I was still living in the Bay Area,” said Mott. “I wrote a grant to get funding to kind of build the idea they had, and then I moved to Sweden. Fast forward, eight or so years later, and following the Nick Cave Here Hear exhibition, I had some introspective thinking as a curator, you know, what’s an interesting next step? I think in some ways, serendipitously, The Truth Booth was supposed to happen now, in this year, in the city of Detroit, when there’s so much conversation and very little opportunity for individuals to be heard—it seems kind of perfect. So it’s on its own correct karmic timeline in terms of coming together as a project.”
The other artists, designers and ethnographers who comprise Cause Collective include Jessica Ingram, Bayete Ross Smith, Natasha L. Logan, Jorge Sanchez, Jim Ricks and Will Sylvester.
The format of The Truth Booth is simple: an inflatable structure shaped like a giant comic-style word bubble pops up in locations as a piece of interactive sculpture. Visitors are provided with an opportunity to record up to two minutes of testimony, their “truth,” following the prompt, “The truth is…” The resulting recordings are arranged by Cause Collective into different exhibition formats, which enable viewers to see vast swaths of people, each engaged with speaking truth on a personal level.
Over the course of The Truth Booth’s two weeks in Southeast Michigan, it will visit a wide range of locations in Detroit, as well as making a special visit to Flint, a city plagued by some extremely harsh truths this year.
“I felt really strongly that the idea focus on Detroit and Flint,” said Mott. “I felt like as a city, we’re desperately in need of listening to each other, so if that’s what this can do, that’s great.”
The submissions collected during this time period—which by Mott’s estimate should be at least 2,000– will be compiled into a Michigan-intensive exhibition that will open at Cranbrook Art Museum in November.
The Truth Booth’s Metro Detroit locations include visits to institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts (Tuesday, August 2) and the Arab-American National Museum (Wednesday, August 3), neighborhoods like Banglatown (August 4) and Osborne (August 5), and cultural landmarks like the Sidewalk Festival for the Performing Arts (August 6) and the Heidelberg Project (August 7).
Mott describes some of the efforts that have been made to prepare these myriad sites for a visit from this art vehicle:
“Will Sylvester is the main lead of the Cause Collective, and has been doing a lot of work on the ground with me—and Hank [Willis Thomas] was also out here a couple of times, as well. We did extensive tours of locations, we had personal conversations, we did a lot of research. What was really important is that each location of The Truth Booth have an anchor in the neighborhood; we work with an institution or an artist-run collective or a park coalition, or somebody who is already embedded in the neighborhood. And because of that, we’re bringing programming to them, which is exciting—and for us, they already have a lot of trust with their neighbors, they already have people that they know, so that is really important. So for instance, when we’re going to the Arab-American National Museum, we’re partnering with them, so we have volunteers who speak Arabic who will be there.”
Sylvester outlined The Truth Booth’s broader mission. “For us, the mission is to be able to connect people through their truths, and this idea that we all have truths. Whether they are the same or not can be debated, but we all have them. Being able to witness and understand and listen to other people speak their truths is another level, that I think we, as a collective, want to be able to demonstrate through this project. Also, to find commonalities within ourselves and these people that we are watching on the screen, through their truths.”
Truth is, of course, a highly subjective concept. In speaking with Mott and Sylvester, the thought occurs that it might be impossible to make a statement that is unequivocally true for all people. At this moment, Sylvester provides a crucial counterpoint. “What’s universally true is that we all have truths,” he says.
The Truth Booth opens at the Cranbrook Art Museum this Sunday, July 31st, and will be touring 10 other locations in Detroit and Flint over the next two weeks.
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