Vincent Troia, a 28-year-old Detroit native, is a perfect example of someone who looks beyond the decay, embracing both the light and dark of his city. Just over a year ago Vincent moved to Incheon, South Korea, bringing with him a unique approach to art and design.By Dann Gaymer on 15/8/11
Aweh: Could you tell us a little about Detroit and its history?
Vince: The "Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit" was settled in 1701 by the French officer Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac, along with other French-Canadians. Since then a lot of shit has happened. It is the birthplace of the modern assembly line, and from that it became the automotive capital of America for many years. It has had a rich history of labor movements and people's uprisings, such as the Flint Sit Down Strike. It has been through a few massive riots, one in 1943 and one in 1967 for various reasons. It also has an incredibly rich musical history; Barry Gordy is a Detroiter and he founded Motown records there, Iggy Pop was banging in Detroit, along with the MC5 and others. Later others came, like Minor Threat, The White Stripes, and of course Eminem. Also, techno music originated from Detroit in the 1980's. Now, unfortunately, Detroit is looking pretty rough; it's got a lot of crime, murder, arson, and the infrastructure has all but crumbled. People there are starving and this is largely due to the strong hold that the automotive industry has had on Detroit, and the mass exodus of automotive jobs overseas, and "white flight" of white people who moved out to the suburbs. However, the ground is fertile, in more ways than one; there have been some revolutionary movements happening there, such as the urban gardening movement, as well as the countless other creative people, artists and architects that see Detroit as kind of a blank canvas for experimentation. It is an ideal place for some because property is so cheap. You can literally buy a foreclosed house off the bank for about $500 - $2000. In short, it's a wild ass place — no joke. The decay is appalling but breathtaking; blocks and blocks of rubble and burnt out dwellings, overgrown fields, I get goose bumps just thinking about it.
Aweh: What’s it like living in Detroit?
Vince: Well, I, like most crackers, grew up in the suburbs of Detroit (Metro-Detroit is one of the most racially segregated regions in America). I moved to the city about 7 years ago now to attend art school. When I first moved there I was very curious to explore the ruins and see what Detroit's rich alternative culture had to offer, but I was also scared shitless. I remember when I went apartment hunting with my buddy one day and we turned down a side street and saw two old dudes battling it out with a fucking pick axe and piece of scrap metal out on the street, just cursing and swinging away at each other. My buddy and I were flabbergasted, and intimidated, but after I became acclimated and learned very quickly where to go and where not to go in the city I felt comfortable and enjoyed Detroit very much. It is really a bad ass place once you unearth the underground, but it takes investigation. I have had some success there with the formation of Cave gallery, which has become one of the notable "vanguard" (as someone once described it to me) art spaces in Detroit. For the future, who knows, but I don't think my business with Detroit with really ever be finished.
Aweh: When did you begin to think of yourself as an artist?
Vince: I guess I began to think of myself as an artist at a young age. I could always draw exceptionally well and people would always tell me I was an artist (mainly my parents, haha). Really though I often don't feel like an artist, like I'm not creative enough, you know? I see so many people doing some really amazing things and I am humbled, even jealous sometimes if I am going to be honest. Anyone who makes art probably feels this way, at least some of the time. With art you have to hang yourself out there, expose yourself, be an "individual", but the more you do this the more you want and need acceptance from others, and that is a dangerous game. It's a tug of war.
Aweh: Would it be fair to say that some of the themes in your work are drawn from Detroit?
Vincent: My aesthetic is most definitely influenced from my time in Detroit, and others there who have adopted a somewhat similar aesthetic, but more than that I think it has been developed from and influenced by a bigger situation; namely the current situation of the individual living in a global culture, where it is becoming increasing difficult to maintain a clear sense of self. Inundated daily with stimuli from so many different sources the individual is left awash and tattered. The whole world broadcast to my living room ultimately just feels unreal; absurd really. I feel weightless submerged in it. I think this is the source for the pseudo-political imagery, and sarcastic mysticism present in my artwork. It's like a defense; like, yeah I see it all out there on TV and in the papers, and here is what I do with it — I make a joke of it, I mock it, because what else can you do? It's all too much. The "grime" in my artwork is a reaction to the weightless feeling; it is an attempt to tie to the ground; the dirt, to give it history and presence.
Aweh: Are there any key Detroit artists you feel were a key influence on your development?
Vince: Well first of all I just want to thank God for influencing me. Without him, none of this would be possible. Ha. Sure, plenty. My studio mates at Cave, Andrew Davis, Ed Brown, Mike Smith, my old professor and friend Chido Johnson, and many others influence me. There are really too many to name.
Aweh: What is Cave?
Vince: Cave is a studio collective based in Detroit, MI of which I am a member. It is comprised of seven artists who occupy and utilize studio space. In addition to seven individual studio spaces, there is also a workroom and a gallery/event space. Within the 4 years that we have been in operation we have curated dozens of events from art exhibitions to music performances, poetry readings, movie nights, fundraisers for external organizations, and other events. Though there are seven members who physically occupy Cave there are many ancillary members who are involved in its operation. In this respect Cave is a conglomerate of individuals, creative in their own right, but who have united to provide a platform for diverse modes of expression.
Aweh: Has Korea influenced any noticeable changes in your work or how you approach it?
Vince: I'm sure Korea has influenced my work, or will, although while I'm in the thick of it, it is a bit hard to tell. It has immediately affected my work in a practical sense, however I have less space to work here so my artwork has generally become smaller in size.
Aweh: While Detroit and other large American cities are characterized as being in a state of decline, many Asian cities appear to be flourishing. Do thinks things feel more optimistic in the East?
Vince: Few people around the world make lots of money. In this respect I don’t think things are optimistic. China, amongst many other nations, America included, has a lot of serious problems. The world is ablaze with war, pollution, and poverty. If this is success we need to change the definition of success. I don’t think success should be measured economically or financially, but in the quality of life of all people, and in the morality of humanity. We all need to grow up. Incidentally, I am not a cynic.
Aweh: Would you encourage other Western artists to make the move to Asia?
Vince: I don't really know if I would recommend it to other westerners. It really depends on what that individual wants, so I couldn't say if it would be right for them. I have met some cool people here and I think there is definitely opportunity in Korea, but then again there is opportunity all over the planet. Besides, more and more nowadays it doesn't really matter where you reside in a sense because were all connected more than ever via technological media.