Chloë Brown’s ‘Soft Rebellions’: ‘From Alfred Street to Temple Street, Detroit’ and ‘Dancing in the Street’

Welcome to the second in a series of researcher blogs detailing Chloë Brown’s Soft Rebellions. See the first here

About the author

Chloë Brown is an artist and Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. She has an MA in Sculpture from Chelsea College of Art, London (1994), and a BA in Fine Art from the University of Reading (1987). She has exhibited internationally over the last 30 years including three international biennials (Istanbul Biennial, Mardin Biennial and the British Ceramics Biennial) with work recently included in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).


Using a range of media including film, sculpture, book works and drawing, Brown’s research examining the relationship to sociopolitical questions that focus on the post-industrial city from an auto-ethnographic feminist perspective. She has become interested in how acts such as dancing, eating and applauding can be seen as a playful subversion, a form of liberation. This was explored in her exhibition ‘Dancing in the Boardroom’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) from January 15th to April 24th 2016 and has gone on to inform her ongoing research and practice.

From Alfred Street to Temple Street, Detroit

Detail: From Alfred Street to Temple Street, Detroit, Chloë Brown (2015) Ink Drawing, 81.4cm x 24.1cm. In the collection of The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Detroit.

Initially unable to visit the city, I began ‘walking’ down the streets of Detroit via Google Maps Street View from my studio in Sheffield as a visual way of trying to understand the city from afar. This resulted in an ink drawing entitled ‘From Alfred Street to Temple Street, Detroit, which charts a route through Brush Park, starting at the scrub land where the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects used to stand before being demolished in 2013; a place that was the childhood home to many Motown stars including Diana Ross, and Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard of the Supremes. The resulting drawing is almost 9 metres or 30 feet in length and takes the form of a scroll that re-imagines the route as a topographical observation, making connections between the once grand houses at one end of the route, the empty plots and often derelict warehouses and factories in between and ending at the world’s largest Masonic Temple, which for me symbolizes a secretive and exclusively male authority.

Installation view: From Alfred Street to Temple Street, Detroit, Chloë Brown
Exhibition: Dancing in the Boardroom, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), Jan-Apr 2016

Dancing in the Street

In August 2015, I visited Detroit for the first time to make a short film collaborating with people from the city, filming them dancing along the route of my drawing From Alfred Street to Temple Street, Detroit, whilst listening to the song ‘Dancing in the Street’ on headphones. The title of the film refers to this song by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, released by Motown Records, the famous record company founded in Detroit by Berry Gordy. Suzanne E. Smith, in her book also entitled ‘Dancing in the Street’, relates that this song is connected to the 1967 riots (or rebellion) in Detroit leading to it becoming, for some, the soundtrack to the unrest, with the lyrics even being misinterpreted as a call to riot. The act of dancing in the street in my film questions this idea, acting as a playful subversion – a ‘Soft Rebellion’ – where the dancing appears to be a form of liberation from conventional ways of being, a subtle nod towards the misreading of this most joyful song.
The film can be accessed here: (HD Video, 02:40)

Film still: Dancing in the Street, Chloë Brown (2016)