to everything there is a season.
Based on Scott Hocking’s website biography, he might just be the most interesting man in the world…
“He is a Pisces, born on the day of creative isolation, in the week of the loner, and the year of the cat… At 19, he lived in a Toyota Corolla for four months... At 27, he lived in a French chateau for two months... He’s been stalked by a New Mexican mountain lion… He’s eaten reindeer in Akureyri, deep-fried honeybees in Shanghai, kangaroo in Cambewarra, and grasshoppers in Oaxaca… His spirit animals are the dog, which walks on his left, and the crow, which flies on his right... In elementary school, a visiting barnyard turkey took a shit on his head…”
“It’s supposed to be good luck when a bird shits on you,” Hocking says. “I've never verified that, but I've held onto it because a bird the size of an eagle took a shit on me, so I'm assuming that means I’m very lucky.”
When you reach the end of that bio though, one thing is clear: Hocking is a brilliant and prolific artist. His work has been exhibited everywhere from the Detroit Institute of Arts to the Cranbrook Art Museum, to the University of Michigan and countless other premier venues. Outside state lines, that list extends even further, from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to Germany’s renown Kunst-Werke Institute, and beyond.
Though both he and his work have traveled the world several times over, he is originally from Redford Township, Michigan, bordering Detroit’s northwest edge, and he’s lived and worked in Detroit proper for over two decades.
“The only difference between the two cities was an imaginary line telling you that you're now in a different town. Back then, Redford was mostly comprised of working-class, white people who had left Detroit during the flight — people who did not want to live with African-Americans but could not afford to move further away.”
Considering his depiction of the presiding attitude of many Redford residents, it’s somewhat remarkable that art found a way into his life at all.
“Growing up in Redford, the idea of making a living as an artist didn’t exist. Art was just something people mocked. But early on I was a very good drawer, and my father trained me to help him with various carpentry jobs, which is part of what led me to sculpture later on… My teachers always pushed me to pursue art as well — I just never listened.”
In fact, for years he assumed he was destined for the working-class path until a twist of fate changed his trajectory.
“From age 18 until almost 22 I was pretty aimless and transient. I traveled around the country crashing on people’s couches… I was technically homeless — twice... Then, in October of 1996, I was planning a move to find work in the fishing industry in Alaska, but three days before leaving I got into a car accident that put me in the hospital. I was broke, had no health or car insurance and was driving on a suspended license. I hit rock-bottom, and it completely upended my plan to leave Detroit.”
But in a moment of divine intervention — or perhaps a turkey-sized splat of good fortune — he found clarity in that chaos.
“I just said, ‘fuck it’ and decided to pursue art. I knew I was good at it, but I was also afraid of trying because of where I came from… Then someone told me about CCS, College for Creative Studies in Detroit, the school had to explain to me what a portfolio was, but I applied and got in. I started there in January of ’97 and never looked back.”
In those days, Detroit was hallowed ground for his creative sensibilities.
“The 90s were a ‘golden moment’ for artists who wanted to work with found objects and junk because so many of the old factories and huge buildings had recently become vacant. I had been sneaking into and exploring buildings like that since I was a kid, but it transformed into an art practice when I moved to Detroit because I would go to those places to find solace and source materials that were otherwise going to waste.”
Today, those sources of solace and inspiration are becoming fewer and farther between in Detroit.
“Areas that are now flourishing with restaurants and shops were like ghost towns back then. There weren’t many people exploring and taking photos like they do today because nobody had camera phones and there was no social media… There was just a lot of quiet, stillness and emptiness in Detroit, as well as an absolute abundance of cavernous old factories, skyscrapers which were accessible and usually populated with homeless people and scrap metal scavengers.”
Those changes haven’t slowed his production though. In fact, whether it’s recent developments or reflections on Detroit’s long and tumultuous history, change is a cornerstone of his artistic vision, which is rooted in themes of transformation, ephemerality, chance, and discovering beauty through the cycles of nature.
“I'm very influenced by Detroit and its history — both from personal experiences and things I've studied or learned from people who've been here much longer than me. But I also feel like the works I've made here are not just about the history Detroit; they’re also a microcosm of the macrocosm of what humans do on Earth. That universal theme of transformation is what interests me. Cycles of mortality are all around us — people, animals, plants, seasons — or the way cities have cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth; it’s all related. In Detroit, you can drive from neighborhood to neighborhood or even street to street and see very stark examples of the city in different phases of transition. You can really witness and be fascinated by the cycles of nature here.”
Those themes present themselves quite clearly in his work, which often juxtaposes creation and destruction across the spectrum of those cycles.
“I do many installations in abandoned spaces, so a lot of my work doesn't exist anymore. Most of what I've done has been destroyed — often pretty quickly. There's one piece — a 1890s barn in Port Austin, Michigan, that I turned into a sculpture — that will probably keep standing until nature takes it down, but other than that, the only way my work lives on is through photographs, or at some galleries.”
Though he experienced Detroit in that golden era, he’s not one for being stuck in the past.
“I try to resist being nostalgic. I really like every stage of transitional phases and often talk about the beauty in decay, in death. But I think the way our culture is conditioned today, we can miss that. For example, Detroit is getting a lot of attention for its rebirth. I understand that’s a good thing, but one of the core tenants in my work and my life is believing that the ‘death-decay-transition’ part of the story is just as valid. History can't just be erased and paved over.”
Still, as a student of history, he has seen cities like Detroit lose some of their wonders in the wake of development.
“There was something unique about Detroit that drew people here and continues to draw people here, and one of the potential risks of development is that the same uniqueness that brings people here could be eliminated by all the people who arrive. It’s a natural cycle like anything else, but I could see how the city might change to a point where for me, it might not be as inspiring anymore.”
For now, though, he thinks there’s still plenty of room to find inspiration in Detroit.
“The beauty of Detroit is that it's enormous. So, there might be areas I used to hang out in that are changing, but there are plenty more that still embody the Detroit I love. I think as long as there's a balance between the two, it's still going to be pretty cool... Ultimately, you can’t stop change, so I accept it. Right now, Detroit is still a fascinating place for the art world. New artists keep coming because they can afford to own space they never could in New York City or L.A., so the art scene has just exploded in the last ten years. But we all know the clichés about what can happen when artists come and change a community — it can lead to that community being a place they can no longer afford… So we'll just have to wait and see what happens next.”