The Mattress Factory marks 35 years with three new exhibits

Kurt Shaw
| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

It's been 35 years since the Mattress Factory, a museum of installation art on the North Side, opened to the public, and on Sept. 12 will celebrate that fact with the opening of three new exhibits: “Janine Antoni,” “Detroit: Artists in Residence,” and “Chiharu Shiota: Trace of Memory.”

Performance artist Janine Antoni is at the center of her self-titled solo show on display at the museum's annex gallery at 1414 Monterey St.

The Brooklyn-based artist is perhaps best known for her work “Gnaw” (1992), in which she gnawed at two 600-pound cubes, one made of chocolate, the other of lard, then used the chewed-out bits to create chocolate boxes and lipstick tubes, which she then displayed in a mock storefront in Manhattan.

In that piece, and subsequent pieces, Antoni uses her own body, or the human body in general (specifically, the female form) to make art that is emotionally charged, and she has done that yet again. This time, she's created a number of milagros, or religious folk charms, the kind which are used traditionally for healing purposes and as votive offerings in Mexico.

Made from cast resin, each combines different body parts, sometimes, with each other, as a hand with an ear, and, sometimes, with animals and other things, like a snake intertwined with a ribcage.

“Each is just a gesture, but beautiful gestures,” says Michael Olijnyk, co-director of the Mattress Factory, about the milagros, which he describes as having the appearance of “translucent bone.”

The milagros have been grafted onto the roots of a maple tree that, curiously, punctures the ceiling of the first-floor gallery. Above, on the second floor, a maple table seemingly grows out of the trunk. And that's where, on top of the table, visitors will find more milagros, as well as pre-Columbian-looking pots that have been impressed with female human hipbones.

The hipbone theme continues on the third floor, in a room with run-in-place crown molding made from two female hipbones.

“The hipbones have actually been dragged through the plaster around the whole room and set in one corner as two hipbones, side by side,” Olijnyk says.

A video titled “The Honey Baby,” which features a male dancer squirming in honey, completes the exhibit. “The way it's filmed, you can't tell the gravity of the person, because he's just moving around in it,” Olijnyk says.

In the museum's main building at 500 Sampsonia Way, visitors will find the work of eight artists from Detroit in the exhibit “Detroit: Artists in Residence.”

Knowing it was a place with lots of artist activity, especially in the inner-city neighborhoods, Olijnyk and Mattress Factory founder and co-director Barbara Luderowski visited Detroit last fall to see what was going on.

“There are artists taking advantage of buying a house for $500, moving in and starting stuff,” Olijnyk says. “That nucleus of artists are making a difference, in a small way, but still, they are the ones that go to the worst place and find opportunities.”

That goes a long way in explaining why visitors will find everything from an alley re-created in both sight and sound by Jessica Frelinghuysen with her piece, “My City is Your City,” to the re-vamped solar-powered room next to it by Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope, aka. “Design 99,” titled “Following The Sun 2.”

The latter combines methods and methodologies the pair have been utilizing in a home they bought and rehabbed in East Detroit, complete with solar panels and self-generating electricity.

Most curious in this exhibit is a basement filled with creepy mannequins culled from defunct Christian theme parks in Scott Hocking's installation “Coronal Mass Ejection,” and a hilarious spoof on horror films and prefab housing constructed by Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller in their piece “Diptyching.”

The Sept. 12 opening also will include a performance by Russ Orlando, who will be in his installation “Cured,” which features a variety of salt-covered car parts hanging from meat hooks in an “ode to the history of the automobile industry in Detroit,” Olijnyk says.

Finally, visitors will be privy to the Mattress Factory's newest exhibit space at 516 Sampsonia Way. Here, Chiharu Shiota, a Japanese performance and installation artist best known for creating monumental, yet delicate, poetic environments, has filled all three floors of the building with domestic objects, such as chairs, shoes and luggage, entwined in an all-encompassing web of black yarn, strung floor to ceiling and wall to wall.

This site-specific installation fills eight rooms in the building, which is a 19th-century row home with a storied past, from working-class housing to newly developed museum space.

“When Chiharu visited the Mattress Factory to select a space for her installation, we showed her all of our available galleries,” Olijnyk says. “When she saw the building at 516 Sampsonia Way, she agreed it was the perfect place for her to work, and that through this exhibition, she would be a passenger along the way in the history of the space.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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