Guyton’s new reality: ‘Heidelberg rises from the ashes’

Derek Draplin
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – — Tyree Guyton, the artist who created Detroit’s Heidelberg Project, said Friday he won’t give up despite the arson that has damaged or destroyed a dozen homes at the east side site.

“You have to create your reality … since the fires, I’ve been creating a new reality, Heidelberg rises from the ashes,” Guyton said at “Inextinguishable: A conversation with Tyree Guyton” at the Rackham Building auditorium at the University of Michigan.

He said he brought a message of love for those responsible for the fires.

“I want to do something a little bit different, by sending out love” to the person setting the fires, Guyton told the audience.

The Heidelberg Project, which was founded in 1986, experienced multiple fires in the area since 2013, and in November an arsonist was caught on video setting fire to the project’s Taxi House.

Guyton started the project with his wife, Karen, and grandfather Sam Mackey, a local artist, as a way to shed light on Detroit’s blight and abandonment problem.

“Each time the Heidelberg Project is partially restored, it came back stronger,” Jenenne Whitfield, his current wife and executive director of the nonprofit overseeing the project said, noting the installation had been demolished twice in its 29-year history prior to the recent fires. “In my mind what Tyree has done is created a new canvas or a new platform each time.”

Guyton recalled how he had a vision of the fires during a trip to Switzerland in 2012.

“I had this dream that the Heidelberg Project was on fire,” Guyton said. He saw it as a sign of new things to come.

“I started a whole series of clocks, and I question: ‘What time is it?’ ” he said, adding that he plans to put clocks throughout the project area.

For Guyton, clocks symbolize that things change, for better or worse.

“What time is it? All things in time,” Guyton said, responding to a question on why city administrators did not support the project in its early years. He pointed to a painting of a clock he brought to Friday’s event, adding that he believes city officials eventually will see the good he’s doing.

“We didn’t plan for fires ... low and behold it keeps boosting us higher and higher,” Whitfield said. “We accepted the fires — it was an unauthorized transformation.”

Guyton said his advice for young people is simple: “Go do it.”

“There is a secret to the madness that I create. I don’t have a problem going back and apologizing later.”