So, What Is the Heidelberg Project?

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Detroit: (pronounced /dɪˈtrɔɪt/) A place subject to automatic ridicule from anyone who has never been to the Motor City. Frankly, this ridicule is becoming tiresome. The idea of a vibrant, interesting, exciting Midwestern city is somehow divorced from this 300 year old berg. The complete discounting of Detroit is a shame of culture and possibility. Certainly, Detroit has its problems, but that betrays the underlying coolness that is this place. It operates much like a back room bar, if you don't know the secret code words, you never get the good stuff.


Detroit is like an onion, with many layers to explore; those with the tenacity to peel away outer layers will be rewarded with sweeter, and tastier layers the deeper they go. One of those layers is the Heidelberg project. Begun in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton, the project is as bewildering as it is interesting.

Heidelberg is an offshoot street of Gratiot Avenue, one of the spokes in the wagon wheel grid of old Detroit. It's a short street, a part of a tiny neighborhood home to a very unique artistic community. They defy logic, they defy taste. It's a stretch of road which defines itself. The first inkling of something out of the ordinary either comes from a house covered in stuffed animals, or, a field of tires, arranged on fence posts.

The project was started as a sort of political protest. When Guyton returned from his stint in the army, his childhood neighborhood had disintegrated into crime and chaos. Seeing the devastation, he teamed up with kids and owners alike to create an outdoor art exhibit, a refuge amidst the tough streets of the area. The street is now something of an outdoor museum of the weird. Which is where our Saab 96 comes in.

Covered in copper, both in sheet and penny form, the Saab has been an installment at Heidelberg for quite a while now. With pennies glued to the outside panels, it looks like a polka dotted oddity from a distance, but up close, those panels are where the real weirdness is. They're embossed with an array of scenes and geometric pattern which defy categorization as well as logic.

If you're ever in the Detroit area, Heidelberg street is worth a stop. You won't come away with some kind of refreshed hope for humanity or anything, but it is bizarre, and thus interesting. Plus it gets you out of the safe and flabby suburbs whose sole objective is to slowly strangle individuality out of their residents.


Rob Emslie

I thought Heidelberg was what you did to someone who is choking. I was unaware that this technique originated in Detroit. Way to go Midwesterners!