We tend to see Detroit, Michigan’s Motor City, as the flipside of the American dream. With the economic and political collapse of heavy industry, life and labor in the city came to a halt too. Detroit, in short, is a textbook example of a divided nation in which a large majority is leaning towards capitalism, populism and racism under the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan.

It is one of the US’s deprived areas with one of the biggest Afro-American communities in the country, 80% of the total population. The atmosphere is dense with the side-effects of social change and impoverishment. Peter Senoner (1970) digs into this can of worms in his exhibition ‘Detroitanic’, translating his impressions into a spatial installation in which sculptures and drawings balance on the architecture.

During his residency, Senoner scouted the city, mainly by bicycle. Between 5 am and noon every day, he developed ‘Open Field Drawings’, documenting the ruins of the city’s once flourishing industry in drawings and in photographs. The bicycle he used as his means of transport returns as a sculpture in the exhibition, which exhibition is given an extra layer by a headset with a background soundtrack that recalls Detroit’s role as an epicenter of music, its second industry, especially thanks to the Motown label (Motown being an abbreviation of Motor Town).

Senoner's architecture of formwork walls cuts across the exhibition space to define the visitor’s path through it. This non-space or, if you prefer, empty space echoes the empty factory buildings of Detroit. The vacant architecture acts as a starting point and support for the exhibition, providing a bridge for the drawings and sculptures, displayed like this for the first time. The haptic nude drawings are reworked with up to 200 layers of colour through repeated application and removal, and figures face the viewer in all their possible fragility, appearing as severed bodies, painstakingly carved out from their white backgrounds to remind us of our own precarious existence.

Fascinatingly, Peter Senoner captures the lost future of the American dream by draining sculpture of its volume and making the architecture collapse into itself.

Peter Senoner was born in 1970 in Bolzano (Italy), where he lives and works. He studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich until 2001. He has been artist in residence in New York (1997–2000), Tokyo (2002 and 2004), Vienna (2006), Berlin (2012) and Detroit (2016). Since 2006, he has been a freelance lecturer at the Innsbruck University Institute for Experimental Architecture/Studio 3.

Since 2006, he has exhibited at a number of international institutions: the Kunsthalle in Bremerhaven (2016), the Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck (2014), the Lentos in Linz (2013), the project space of the Nationalmuseum in Berlin (2012) and the Museion in Bolzano (2011). He took part in the exhibition for VAF Foundation’s Agenore Fabbri Prize at the Stadtgalerie in Kiel and Palazzo Ziino in Palermo (2010), and has also exhibited at the Landesgalerie in Linz (2008), the Ursula-Blickle-Foundation in Kraichtal, the ar/ge kunst in Bolzano (2006), the Kunsthalle in Vienna (2005), the project space of the Kunsthalle in Vienna (2003), the Falckenberg Collection in Hamburg (2002), the Haus der Kunst in Munich and the ECA in Edinburgh (2000).

Peter Senoner has received a number of awards and grants, including a working grant from Stiftung Kunstfonds in Bonn, the Hilde-Goldschmidt award, the Bayrischer Staatsförderpreis and AMI of Linz’s ‘Lines on Paper’ award’.

He has produced works for numerous public spaces, including the roundabout at the autostrada entrance at Klausen (2009), the Isar clinic in Munich (2010) and the pharmacy museum in Bressanone (2006). He is currently shortlisted for work on the restyling of the city library of Innsbruck. Many of his works are owned by important private and public collections.

Text by Karin Pernegge