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Nancy Rodwan transforms Detroit luminaries’ junk into art

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For her latest exhibition, Purged, artist Nancy Rodwan says she was inspired when she stumbled on a friend posting about the "30-Day Declutter Challenge" on social media. Followers of the challenge are supposed to get rid of one item on the first day, two items on the second day, three on the third day, and so on until they eventually get rid of 465 things.

So Rodwan asked her friend for one of the items she planned on discarding so she could make art out of it. But that's when Rodwan says her husband advised her to take it even further and solicit her followers to get rid of their junk by donating it to her.

"The response was incredibly overwhelming," Rodwan says. "I eventually had to stop because my studio looked like a junkyard."

Rodwan says she received everything from a fuel injection rod from a car, to a flour sifter, lamps, pencil stubs, books, and a garlic press, among others. In all, Purged features 40 works, each one primarily made from one discarded object, although Rodwan says she used whatever else she had handy to complete the works. It was a process she says was opposite of how she normally works. "My normal process, it starts with an idea or a concept and then I acquire the materials to make that, whether it's making a short film, or doing a painting, or making a sculpture, or doing puppetry," she says. "It's the concept that comes first. But with Purged it was the material that came first, and then I had to figure out which direction to take."

For example, Steve Hughes, publisher of the zine Stupor, gave Rodwan his old iMac computer. "I was confounded, like, 'What on earth am I going to do with this thing?'" she says. But once she took it completely apart and had all the pieces on her workbench, Rodwan says she then saw the makings of what she calls "Stupor Steve" — "A robotic head that has speakers for eyes and a working fan for the mouth... blowing hot air," she says. (The speakers, she says, play audio from Stupor readings.)

Many of the items were donated by Detroit area artists and writers, and take on an additional dimension of meaning when you consider who the object's previous owner was. A wooden molding recovered from an old building donated by Olayami Dabls of the Detroit African Bead Gallery and MBAD Museum became "Gizo's Great Horse," a horse head inspired by an African trickster tale. Former Free Press editor Stephen Henderson donated an old typewriter salvaged from the newspaper's old building. Rodwan fashioned it into a robotic hand with letters spelling "RISE" on the fingers, which became her piece "Uprising," which she says is symbolic of the current political and media landscape. A doll, named "The Deity of Funk Stitched Together from Jive Ass Slippers," is made from the leather baby shoes donated by musician Nadir Omowale.

A companion book showing photos of the original items and the final works of art is due by exhibition's closing reception in April.

Purged has an opening reception from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 24 at the Annex Gallery at 333 Midland, 333 Midland St., Highland Park; 313-649-3243; 333midland.com; closing reception and book launch party to be held 5 p.m.-8 p.m. on Saturday, April 14.