Lin May Saeed & Max Brand
3525 W Vernor Hwy
Detroit, MI 48216
Review by Christopher Michael
As climate protests heat up worldwide, it has become increasingly hard not to have apocalypse on the mind. With food shortages, rising tides, and mass migration projected for the near future, we will soon have to live in a way unlike generations previous, and that we might be living in an end time of sorts. Yet, apocalypse doesn’t have to be understood necessarily as the end of all things. It can be viewed alternatively as the start of a new era in humanity.
Walking into the Lin May Saeed and Max Brand exhibition at What Pipeline feels like entering into a world where the climate crisis has already taken place, and humans have been forced to confront their relationships to animals and mother nature post-apocalypse. Max Brand’s colorful, psychedelic Untitled (2019) frames the doorway, acting as a portal into the world he and Saeed have created together. It’s a world in which humans finally show reverence toward their animal counterparts (as in pieces like Saeed’s Bilal (2019) where a human prays among cows) but its also a world where violence between species lurks around every corner (like in Saeed’s Fli (2019) where a human traveler has been mauled by a creature outside a city). In this way, Brand and Saeed’s work can be seen as celebrating simultaneously the joy, danger, and complication of living in a new communion with the natural world.
Saeed’s charcoal drawings take up the majority of the gallery space, with Brand’s few chaotic collages serving to accentuate aspects of the environment they have created. The charcoal drawings Saeed presents in the show largely set the background and the tone of the complicated human-animal relationship, while Brand’s tumultuous canvases give a kind of in depth look into this dream-like post-apocalyptic realm. Both artists’ wall works are complemented by sculptural pieces of a similar nature, allowing the worlds of this landscape to become increasingly immersive, with Saaed’s bronze Anteater (2019) and Spotted Hyena (2018) grazing underneath a colorful dress, and Brand’s plant-like clay sculpture Untitled (2019) sneaking its way into a corner.
In a move rare for What Pipeline, the exhibition contains about thirty unique pieces in their small garage-like space, following a string of minimalistic shows, which included a recent Michael E. Smith exhibition of only two works. The teeming space works well with the so-called “poor materials” Saeed and Brand utilize, allowing for a thorough examination of the themes both artists touch upon. Saeed’s drawing have a particular range in terms of motif, examining topics like everyday violence against animals, as in Biene (2018) where a pair of hands is about to kill a bee, to the beginnings of human-animal relationships, as in Chromagnon (2019), where a prehistoric human and a deer are engaged in a moment of prayer with one another.
With the apocalypse now perpetually on my mind, I was particularly drawn to Saeed’s Untitled (2019), an inkjet print of graffiti on a pouch of tobacco. On the pouch, two men talk to one another, the first asking (in German) “What does neoliberalism actually mean?” with the other responding, “War, brother”. While this work was toward the back of the gallery and stood in contrast to much of the others presented, it felt like the impetus for the whole exhibition. After neoliberalism crashes, whether that be through climate crisis or war, we will have to reconsider our relationships to the natural world, perhaps returning to a stage of humanity more resembling prehistoric times than what we’ve come to know as modernity. Walking out of the gallery and past the old Michigan Central Train Depot I couldn’t help but think there might not be a better time than now to be contemplating our relationship to the anthropocene. Soon, we will all have to reconsider how we interact with the natural world, and Saeed and Brand have mapped out a unique vision towards that future.
Images courtesy the artists and Jacky Strenz, Frankfurt/Main, and What Pipeline. Photos by Alivia Zivich.