Detroit Transect — Spine (2014 DOWNIE KAISER)

Spine (42 minutes) is the central hub of the Detroit Transect suite of 3D films by Marc Downie and Paul Kaiser. Detroit Transect forges a new kind of visual documentary radically different from the conventional documentary form.

Spine presents repeated visual searches along the full length of the Brush Street transect, moving south to north. It comprises 10 distinct sections, which may be viewed in sequence in a cinema or, for installation purposes, split apart for spatial juxtaposition.

Prelude: East Side — A blazingly fast traversal of the east side of the street plants key features of the transect almost subliminally in the viewer’s mind. This section presents itself in strips of frames moving right to left and alternating between far and close views.

Atlas: Aerial — A survey of the Brush Street line from a helicopter. Simultaneous cells of footage are ranged spatially left to right, with right being north. The virtual view shifts closer to or farther from the cells, with corresponding shifts in speed (farther is faster). Periodically a site is highlighted and a “landing” is effected: we cut to hand-held footage onsite, including an underground tunnel of the Detroit Medical Center; several dioramas of the Museum of African-American History; and the abandoned Greenfield Elementary School at the end of the street.

Alight: Graffiti — Moving south to north, all instances of graffiti on both east and west sides of the street are highlighted.

Contact Sheet: Neighborhood Watch — The cells surrounding the 8 instances of neighborhood watch signs are isolated in single stationery strips of stills, with the virtual camera zooming in on the sign positioned in the center of each strip.

Tally: Signs of Life — A rippling search along both east and west sides of the street for all living figures, which are ever-sparser in the emptying Detroit landscape.

Graze: Alleyways — All residential alleys are telescoped in together so that they can be presented adjacently. Along the bottom are clear thumbnail images of each alley; each is magnified above its corresponding thumbnail when it reaches the center of the row.

Atlas: Palimpsests — Digital imaging allows us to peer beneath the layers of a beautiful artifact of the analog age: the Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas, which devotes an oversize page to a color-coded spread covering roughly four city blocks. This reveals the rooming houses and mechanics’ shops that were replaced by parking lots, freeways, and ruin.

Accordioned: Prairie &msdash With much of the Detroit landscape reverting to nature, we concatenate all vacant lots to form a continuous vision of the prairie taking over.

Contact Sheet: Churches — Using the same mechanism as for Neighborhood Watch, we zoom in on the four churches to be found on the transect (three active, one abandoned).

Coda: Two Schools — An elegy to two abandoned el- ementary schools to be found at nearly opposite ends of the transect. The transect spine is seen here complete for the first time, after which we zoom in turn to the Sanborn floorplans of the old schools, which give evidence of the once crowded residential areas they once served, before cutting to hand-held footage of each school in its present condition.

Detroit: Transect

Our artists’ statement and a well-illustrated account of the sections and methods of the entire Detroit Transectproject is provided in this PDF document (18 mb).


The executive producer was Dennis Scholl. Support provided by the Witt Residency Program at the Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan and by Knight Foundation

In early 2015 this artwork was acquired by MoMA for it permament collection.