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Stateside Podcast: Detroit artist Scott Hocking's "Floating Citadel"

This week, a new sculpture by Detroit artist Scott Hocking was unveiled outside the Huntington Place convention center in Detroit. The giant bronze sphere, named Floating Citadel, was created like most of Hocking’s other sculptures: with Detroit in mind.

Hocking has been creating public art pieces for years, with a focus on site-specific installations and use of reclaimed materials. He is also known for using some of Detroit's abandoned spaces as a studio to create his art. To learn more about his art and creative process, Stateside host April Baer caught up with the artist at a few of the places he has honed his craft. One of those places is the old abandoned Fisher Body Plant 21 in Detroit, where he created and installed his Ziggurat sculpture.

“For me, for many years, this was my way to escape and be alone and in nature and in kind of a meditative place,” Hocking said. “I think a lot of people don't think of places like this as that. They think of them as dangerous or scary or negative.”

His Ziggurat sculpture was a pyramid made up of 6,201 wooden blocks from the Fisher Plant floor. Hocking spent much of his time inside the plant working by himself. Not only was this a method Hocking used to fuel the creative process, it allowed him to get a feel for the setting of the installation and the materials available in the large, deserted space.

“Working on a pyramid alone in an abandoned building, I think some friends at the time wondered, what are you doing? And I didn't even know what I was doing, to be honest,” Hocking said. “I think a lot of times, artists, you get ideas and you don't have it fully figured out why you're doing it. You're just going with your intuition and your gut.”

Scott Hocking's Ziggurat sculpture, installed at the Fisher Body Plant 21.
Scott Hocking
Michigan Radio
Scott Hocking's Ziggurat sculpture, installed at the Fisher Body Plant 21.

Using decrepit spaces like the Fisher Plant to inspire creativity and produce new art makes sense to Hocking, but he said not everyone sees his methods in the same positive light. Urban ruins, like those the artist works out of, often have a negative connotation to them, whereas ancient ruins — like those in Egypt or Rome — inspire reverence and awe. Through art projects and installations like Ziggurat, Hocking aims to change this narrative.

My hope was that it would be like a Zen cone. It would make them suddenly see the space different, see things they hadn't seen before. You might just not think that it's beautiful until something makes you look at it different," he explained. "Reframing the idea of what this place is.”

Scott Hocking stands near a graffiti-covered wall at the Fisher Body Plant 21, a space he used to create and install his Ziggurat sculpture.
April Baer
Michigan Radio
Scott Hocking stands near a graffiti-covered wall at the Fisher Body Plant 21, a space he used to create and install his Ziggurat sculpture.

The affordability and space available in Detroit has made it possible to survive as an artist in this city, Hocking said. The city also has deep historical roots that he said offer him endless inspiration. Floating Citadel draws on the history of how Detroit’s landscape has changed over time. Where it sits in front of Huntington Place, there was once a creek. As the city grew, settlers enclosed the creek, creating one of Detroit’s first sewers. Hocking had already been playing with the form of a sewer grate for more than two decades.

“This is a form that I've played with over many years, but it's essentially made from a mold of a cast iron sewer grate that I borrowed from the front lawn of the Henry Ford estate in 1999. Can't believe they let me do that,” Hocking said.

Placed outside of Huntington Place for all to see, the cage-like structure of Floating Citadel challenges viewers to interpret the art in their own way. Is it a celestial object pointing toward the future? A ribcage reflecting the fragility of humans?

“To take an object and transform how it's perceived, take a building and transform how it's perceived, has always been an interest of mine,” Hocking said. “Someone can go to former Cobo Hall [in the convention center] and look and be like, ‘Oh, it's a globe.’ It can be that simple, but it's also this abstract symbol to me that can mean so many other things.”

While its form is a nod to Detroit’s past, the sculpture also now stands as a symbol of the constant evolution of the city — now, and into the future.

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Mercedes Mejia is a producer and director of <i>Stateside</i>.
Anna joined Stateside as an assistant producer in August 2021. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University's School of Journalism and previously worked for The State News as an intern and student government reporter.