The Nomadic Productions of Detroit Mini Assembly Line

Craft & Design
The Nomadic Productions of Detroit Mini Assembly Line

Photo by Corine Vermeulen

Detroit Mini Assembly Line is “a nomadic production team” based in Detroit, Michigan, led by Nina Bianchi and Corine Vermeulen. We like what these folks are up to and asked them to tell us something about their work. Here’s what Nina had to say. -Gareth

The team collaborates with local communities and utilizes site-specific printing and manufacturing tools to produce limited edition books and other publications. The assembly line concept is influenced by Henry Ford’s manufacturing processes (Fordism) and integrated with contemporary “print-on-demand” (POD) practices, which are inspired by Toyota’s “just-in-time” production model. Detroit Mini Assembly Line (DMAL) is a flexible, collaborative, and improvisational printing and production team whose goal is to travel the globe collaboratively producing idiosyncratic publications. Each iteration of the project operates within the circumstances and constraints of each location’s unique cultural conditions.

Detroit Mini Assembly Line’s inaugural installation took place in the summer of 2008 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, notably the former home of an automotive showroom. While on site at MOCAD, working with the tools within the immediate environment, the team utilized equipment such as a high-powered saddle stitcher, an industrial paper cutter, and a common office color laser printer to produce three sequential catalogs for the Considering Detroit exhibition. Each version of the catalog is built upon the last, culminating in a comprehensive overview of both the exhibition, design, and production process.

For our 2010 installation in Medellin, Colombia, considering the city’s role as one of the largest textile centers in Latin America, we worked with a local tailor to be the binding (stitching) component in the process and worked with a local print shop to bring an industrial paper cutter on site. The catalog was collaboratively printed with the city’s local web press (which also prints the local newspaper). Each page was sorted, modified, and assembled on site with a collective team of Colombian artists at the Museo de Antioqua in Medellin. In the end, the Detroit Mini Assembly Line produced 3,000 catalogs in four days at the museum in time to distribute at the opening.

In 2011, we returned to Colombia to install the Detroit Mini Assembly Line in Cartagena. In the city, we worked with yet another local printer to bring an industrial paper cutter on site to a vacant bank, where we produced 750 catalogs per day for the course of three days. Our team in Cartagena consisted of a group of five business students from the local college and two local tailors.

Detroit Mini Assembly Line


Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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