This six week intervention—comprised of 30 tons of deicing salt—was staged within the University of Michigan’s Green Road Fine Arts facility. The community within this institutional commons was invited to engage with the material in whatever way they wished. All human-salt interactions were documented via timelapse video, as well as a text-based log which was posted and updated over the duration of the intervention.
What we Asked:
How do the meanings of common urban materials change when amplified and de-contextualized? What social and spatial relationships might it disturb or potentiate?
What we Discovered:
Deicing salt was engaged as a locally available, ubiquitous, vernacular material capable of multiple states of refinement, expression, coherence and fragmentation. A versatile, all-too-familiar mineral formed in geologic time, mined, processed, transported, spread, and consumed for a range of applications. Depositing this quantity of salt necessitated engagement with the complex material and social metabolisms of the larger urban ecosystem, and the hidden infrastructure of its maintenance regimes. Decontextualizing and redirecting the flow of this material to an unfamiliar interior setting, allowed for deeper reflection on its agency, meanings, and contradictions. Salt preserves and sustains, but also corrodes and destroys. It can exist as a grain, crystallize to a mass, or dissolve to be deposited elsewhere.
The de-icing salt which is regularly spread by the truckload across the roads and parking lots in southeast Michigan is a combination of locally harvested “Detroit” salt (an icy blue), and an earthy brown which is mined and moved from Morocco.
What we Did:
Although its scattered presence in the wintery landscapes of our cities is rarely registered in our daily perception, the large-scale accretion of these materials within an institutional commons as an unavoidable mass evoked numerous readings and reactions. These ranged from confused indifference, to curious reflection, to playful interaction, to administrative concern. A detailed log registered these various forces that acted upon it.
Special thanks to Margolis Nursery, where the material was rented and returned. Photo credits: David Chung and Robert Fitzgerald.