Friday, October 4, 2013

Ghost Zoo--Belle Isle, Detroit Michigan

 Photo by Alex Jacque, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Creatures of Fierce and Ordinary Reality: a Zoo for Belle Isle by Emily Kutil
“In every case, the figures are at the same time creatures of imagined possibility and creatures of fierce and ordinary reality; the dimensions tangle and require response.”
—Donna Harroway

Concealed behind fences and isolated from their surroundings by freeways, golf courses, and parks, zoos make spaces in cities for humans to explore their fascinations with other animals in peculiar and fantastical ways. Zoos use architecture to help them act as spatial mediators, dealing simultaneously in the space of collective fantasy and in the particularities of contact between human and nonhuman life. Architecture shapes the images of the natural world that zoos are able to create, both as a frame for organizing relationships and as a container for the production of microcosms.
For nearly twenty years, the Belle Isle Zoo passed through a difficult period in which its spaces of contact seemed fixed, inevitable, and tremendously boring. Humans and animals were made to stare at each other across long distances, never allowed to stray from their respective enclosures. Attendance to the Zoo dwindled. Then, in a stroke of brilliance, the idea of captivity was abandoned altogether. The captive animals were sent away, and the Zoo experienced a renaissance. Visitors poured through the open gates and holes in the fences, eager to see the Zoo’s enclosures—which had become all the more enticing for their emptiness. The Zoo was suddenly able to foster a thrilling, uneasy relationship between humans and the life forms they encountered there.
Renovations to the Zoo since its reinvention have taken this unease into account, building into each exhibit degrees of ambiguity that had been previously unimaginable. A new architecture of oscillating representations has taken the place of the old, static panoramas: as soon as one illusion is staged, another undermines it or takes its place. Real and imagined spaces are allowed to coexist, to blur and conflict. The unresolved fantasies help visitors to wonder about the things they do and don’t understand about humans and other living things.

Forgotten In Time: Detroit's Abandoned Belle Isle Zoo (PHOTOS)

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