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Topping Out | Herman Kiefer Hospital


Working in a defunct tuberculosis ward in the Herman Kiefer Medical Complex in Detroit, and in anticipation of large scale renovations a maple tree was cut down and brought in from the neighboring city of Hamtramck. The tree was then sectioned off and brought up into the attic and suspended from the support beams of the rooftop addition. The topping out ceremony is now done by iron workers as their building large steel frames for buildings but has its roots in 7th century Scandinavia. The original intention being a soft transition for the spirits of their ancestors who inhabited the forest wanted a soft transition from the natural to built environment so trees would be placed on top of built structures as they reached maximum height. The reason for doing this, was in anticipation of a renovation is in the growing redevelopment of the city of Detroit in which abandonment had allowed wooded areas to grow (such as the micro forest on top of the packard plant), and now deforestation in the urban environment is underway. Being that this was a children's ward a bridge and stairs was built on top of the tree to climb up onto, both for the literal audience and figurative one. A speaker at the end of the bridge was connected to a contact microphone amplifying the sounds of strain that the wooden construction produced as people climbed up onto the space, forcing participants to recognize their weight onto the structure and contrast it with the weight of the 30 foot maple tree underneath them. In recognition of the site as a remote studio space the desk I used during the realization of this project was also left.

I need to also recognize Simon Albaugh, Seamus Gallagher, and Graem Whyte for the help cutting down the tree and moving it to the site, Popps Packing Gallery in Hamtramck for donating the Tree, Toomas Toomepuu for helping bring the tree up to the attic, and finally Manal Shoukair, Austin Brantley, and Alexander Knepl for the help installing the tree. All of whom are artists in the city and without their help this project would not have been possible.

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