Chicago loves big ideas. We love big buildings, big architects, and big plans. Why? Well, I suppose because they all have the power to stir the hearts of men. (Oh yea, and some women, too.) In the new book Design on the Edge: Chicago Architects Reimagine Neighborhoods, seven locations are tackled by the rock stars of Chicago architecture. Represented are: John Ronan, Jeanne Gang, Doug Garafalo and Xavier Vendrell, Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen, Patricia Saldana Natke, Ross Wimer, and Darryl Crosby. The project is simple, each of these architects (or team) is assigned a neighborhood designated by an L stop, and they create a visionary design for the site—a way of rethinking what is already there.
Design on the Edge is really an exhibition catalog, but this one succeeds where others fail to be anymore than a memento of a past event. The book is divided logically into chapters centered on each of the neighborhoods that are considered: Loyola Red Line, Addison Red Line, Addison Brown Line, Western Blue Line, 18th Street Pink Line, Midway Orange Line, 35th Street Green Line. With a short introduction by the architect or team, each section is full of images of the site reimagined as well as the sort of architectural renderings one would expect from a book like this. Although all of the sites have their points of interest, a few stand out as exemplary.
My favorite of these is the project by Ross Wimer of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. He was assigned the Orange Line stop at Midway. Now, if you’ve even taken the L to Midway, then you know what an uninspiring bit of city the terminus of the Orange Line is. Since the site can’t actually be expanded, Wimer envisions ringing the airport with an attractive facade that invites the community to look into the airport. This reimagining includes restaurants and shops designed to bring the neighborhood into the airport. The specific thing I like most about this plan, is that at no point is Wimer trying to hide the airport or make it something that it is not. Instead, he wants to reframe Midway to highlight the way people used to conceive of it, as a gateway to the world. A place that is exciting in its own right. A place of neighborhood pride.
The most important thing to keep in mind with this catalog and the exhibition that it accompanies, is the intention of this project is not to implement these ideas. The heart of this project is really about imagining a different future, a different way things could be. I’m not sure what the contributors thought as they crafted these projects, but to me it seems that it must be liberating to create in a purely visionary way, to unmoor from the practicality of actually having to build project. If you love the city of Chicago, this book will be fascinating. The exhibition runs through July 1, 2012 at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Design on the Edge will give you a whole new way to envision our neighborhoods.
Design on the Edge: Chicago Architects Reimagine Neighborhoods
edited by Stanley Tigerman and William Martin
Chicago Architecture Foundation
Since its explosion in the late 1990s, it’s hard to ignore the increasing visibility of craft in contemporary art. In her new anthology Extra/Ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art, Maria Elena Buszerk collects 14 essays and one interview to discuss the role of craft in today’s art world. The book is divided into four sections: Redefining Craft: New Theory; Craft Show: In The Realm of “Fine Art”; Craftivism; and New Functions, New Frontiers. To me the title doesn’t quite describe the contents. I might have subtitled this book something like Contemporary Craft as Fine Art, which is really what each discussion drills down to.
In what is probably my favorite essay, “Rebellious Doilies and Subversive Stitches, Writing a Craftivist History,” Kirsty Robertson talks about the use of craft in contemporary protest, specifically knitting. “Radical knitters and Stitch and Bitchers,” people who have a “sophisticated understanding that the making of any textile is connected to the capitalist system,” are the focus of much of her discussion. In her examples, she cites artists who employ the knitting as both an act of protest and fine art. The cover of Extra/Ordinary shows Pink M.24 by Marianne Jorgensen with the Cast Off Knitters. In this collaborative work, the knitters created a giant tea cozy fit to a tank. The image of the cold, hard, masculine tank of war wrapped in the warm, soft, feminine pink of the cozy is startling and effective.
Extra/Ordinary concludes with an interview of Margaret Wertheim, the founder of the Institute for Figuring, which (among other things) teaches about the intersections of art, science, nature, and craft. You might know her work with her sister Christine from The Crochet the Reef Project. Exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2007, The Crochet the Reef project asked artists and crafters to demonstrate hyperbolic space through crocheting of sea forms and coral. Before reading this book, I thought of Wertheim only as a scientist. Okay maybe a scientist, who likes to crochet, still I did not have an image of her as an artist or craftsperson. The interview changed my ideas about her work and the relationship between art and science.
Certainly this book will appeal to those who work seriously in craft, and perhaps fiber artists in general as this is the focus of most of the writers. But the surprise in Extra/Ordinary is the stitching together of what had seemed to be disparate ideas: contemporary art, craft, women’s work, capitalism, protest, and gender. Ultimately all of the essays discuss these ideas. I recommend this book. It’s nicely illustrated as well.
Extra/Ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art
Edited by Maria Elena Bruszek
Duke University Press 2011, 24.95 paperback
If there’s one thing readers of the Bad at Sports blog share, besides a love of art, it’s an affection for podcasts. Duncan assures me that most of our listeners come through iTunes, which isn’t surprising. I probably interact with iTunes everyday, not because I want to, but because it’s ubiquitous. One thing I don’t do much of is spend time at the iTunes store. My podcasts load automatically, I stream my television, and I still purchase music the old fashioned way–on compact disc. Yet recently I’ve found a reason to love iTunes, and that’s iTunes U.
In case you are unfamiliar, iTunes U is just like iTunes but with less Katy Perry. Clicking on the Fine Arts tab will take you to sea of offerings from well-known universities such as Harvard and Yale as well as venerable institutions that we might not immediately consider educational, like MoMA. Before I found Bad at Sports, I listened to a dozen “art” podcasts I had browsed out of iTunes, one of which was simply two stoned guys walking around the Seattle Art Museum talking about the work they saw, but never letting their listeners in on the secret of which piece they were looking at. This kind of monkey-business won’t be found on iTunes U. Their definition of “fine art” is broad, including, of course, visual art, but also media studies, music, theater, and cooking. The variety of format is broad as well. There are regular podcasts like the one you already listen to each week, video lectures, but there are also fully-produced magazine-style shows that look as good as anything you’d see on your local PBS station.
By no means exhaustive, I’ve picked a few highlights that I thought would be of interest. The School of Visual Arts (SVA) has an impressive collection of video lectures about contemporary art and culture. These are organized in the most boring way possible, by department, with the name of the chairperson as your guide. I’m currently watching a symposium called “Where the Truth Lies” that discusses propaganda in documentary film. From The Experience Music Project (EMP) you’ll find 2009′s (and 2010 and 2011) Pop Conference on the theme of Dance Music Sex Romance: Pop and the Body Politic. Particularly interesting is the lecture by David Scott, “Gay for Play: The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name Certainly Does Sell Records.” Here an audio only podcast is just fine. Lastly, while I usually try to steer clear of all things Florida, The University of Southern Florida has a great series called Lit2Go, which is fantastic. Really nothing more than a collection of classics read aloud by English professors, Lit2Go is a great time. I just finished re-”reading” Picture of Dorian Gray, a book that bears the distinction of being subject of Bad at Sports’ only book group.
When I was a little girl, my mother told me that in the future anyone could learn anything she wanted, all we would have to do is turn on the television and our greatest artists and teachers would come right into our living room. Maybe television didn’t quite live up to its promise, but it looks as if the Internet might.
I hate to break it to you, but summer’s over. The good news is that any moment it will be fall. Time to put away the madras shorts and halter tops, and bust out the corduroy and oxfords. September is also the perfect time to go on a Chicago Architecture Foundation tour. CAF is probably best known for their boat tours. Whenever I have out of town guests, I always get tickets for one of these. It’s impressive and occupies a couple of hours, which is especially great if you’re entertaining people you don’t know very well. But when I want to do something with my friends, just for fun, I sign up for a walking tour.
You might have seen a CAF walking tour while you where in the loop. They’re easy to spot—a group of people blocking the sidewalk and usually they’re all looking up. There are quite a few of these tours available: Historic Downtown, Modern Skyscrapers, Downtown Deco, Millennium Park Revealed, and many more. I have been on all of them, and each is fascinating in its own way. CAF’s docents are responsible for the content of the tours, so no two tours are alike. There’s nothing better on a beautiful fall day than to walk around downtown looking at the buildings that comprise our vibrant city. More than a dozen tours are offered everyday, seven days a week. Try a 7:30 AM Early Risers tour of Chicago Skyscrapers. Too early? What about a lunchtime building tour? And who doesn’t like a little drinky-wink at the end of a long workday. For those folks there are even 5:30 Happy Hour Tours that end at a downtown watering hole.
CAF has bus tours too. I’ve been on nearly all of those as well, but I like to save those for winter when it is too bitterly cold to go outside. These tours are fantastic. They just drive you around in a narcotically warm bus, where you can sip a latte, press your nose against the window, and try to remember a time when it was warm out. Every architecture tour I’ve been on has been a love letter to Chicago. If you are ever on a tour and see a woman in a green down vest, say “hi.” It’s probably me.
For a while now I’ve been meaning to write about Just Kids, Patti Smith’s 2010 memoir about her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. But you know how you put things off until it seems like the moment has passed? Well, that moment has just come back around again. In case you were super busy last year, let me fill you in. Just Kids won the National f*ing Book Award and spent almost two months on The New York Times bestseller list. She was also this year’s speaker at The School of the Art Institute’s commencement. That’s a lot of action for someone who started her career in the early 70s and is often referred to as the Godmother of Punk.
Two interesting things happened this week. Spotify just posted a ten-hour playlist based on music mentioned in Just Kids. I thought I was the only one who made playlists from books, but it turns out that for many biblio/audio-philes this is a legitimate pastime. The publishing blog Galley Cat has been posting links to playlists for authors like Ann Patchett and Thomas Pynchon. You should definitely check them out. The ones I’ve seen are considerably shorter than ten hours.
The second tidbit is that Patti Smith has been contracted to co-write the screenplay for the film adaptation. I love, love, love artist bio-pics. Pollack. Basquiat. Henry and June. Caravaggio. The Moon and Sixpence. (Perhaps this is worthy of its own blog post.) I can’t wait to see the completed movie. I hope they cast really sexy people and not just some kids who are popular. Hmmm, I wonder who could play Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe at 20? Well, whoever ends up playing them, they’re most likely still in junior high so it’s probably not worth my time thinking about it too much.
Do check out the book:
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Ecco, Harper Collins, 2010