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How artist Scott Hocking is transforming Detroit’s industrial wasteland

Detroit is a city in transformation, its former industrial spaces being rapidly developed into offices for tech startups and high-end residential lofts. For artist Scott Hocking, though, it’s the unpolished vestiges of the city’s former existence that provide creative inspiration. Special correspondent Mary Ellen Geist reports.

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  • William Brangham:

    Now: A Detroit artist is making beauty out of abandoned spaces.

    Special correspondent Mary Ellen Geist reports.

    It's part of our Canvas series.

  • Mary Ellen Geist:

    Scott Hocking wants to transform Detroit's empty spaces into something extraordinary.

  • Scott Hocking:

    A lot of the artworks I do are playing with that idea of taking something you have a stereotype about or maybe a stigma, transforming that into something else so that it becomes loftier.

  • Mary Ellen Geist:

    Hocking has spent the last two decades creating sculptures and site-specific works by salvaging industrial materials from Detroit's neighborhoods and using abandoned buildings as his canvas.

  • Scott Hocking:

    Early on, wasted material was free, I was broke, but then later it just became clear that I wanted to use this material because I really would like to try and change people's thinking about things, and maybe change their perspectives on what they think of as wasted material, and decay, and abandonment.

  • Mary Ellen Geist:

    Hocking's installations look like ancient monuments or temples, and are closely tied to the creation, decline and rediscovery of the city he has lived in his entire life.

    For his latest work, Hocking has transformed an empty riverfront warehouse into an installation entitled Bone Black.

  • Scott Hocking:

    This place was built on the river and the use of boats. There's a phenomenon in Detroit which I have been photographing for 20 years now, which is people take their boats that they can't afford anymore, they don't want to deal with anymore, and they dump them. I call them shipwrecks.

  • Mary Ellen Geist:

    Hocking moved 33 shipwrecks into the warehouse, and the exhibition takes its name from a pigment made by charring animal bones.

  • Scott Hocking:

    It's probably one of Detroit's oldest industries that no one ever has heard of.

  • Mary Ellen Geist:

    The warehouse, the boats and the pigment combine to create an installation that gives a viewer the impression of standing on the bottom of a body of water looking up at boats floating overhead.

    The materials from Bone Black will be transformed one more time when the exhibition ends.

  • Scott Hocking:

    The thing that started these kinds of projects is that they were dumped illegally and they're trash. So, a huge part of these kinds of projects for me is that, when everything is done, these boats will all be properly disposed of.

  • Mary Ellen Geist:

    Hocking says he knows he will lose his ability to create large-scale installations as Detroit's empty spaces are developed. And that may be the next transformation in Scott Hocking's work.

  • Scott Hocking:

    This time is about to go. I'm not out of spaces yet. But there's just not that many left like this now.

  • Mary Ellen Geist:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Mary Ellen Geist in Detroit, Michigan.

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