Renew (1995)

 

Renew was a piece I was asked to make for Raw, a group show in the Flatiron Building in Chicago’s Wicker Park. The neighborhood was going through a very difficult process of gentrification; the fact that we were having the show in that particular building was an object of controversy. I’m not a very confrontational person or artist, but every idea I had for this piece dealt directly with the issues of architecture, neighborhoods, and fair and restricted use of space and facilities.

I started working with these recordings of readings from books on Chicago’s architecture. I then randomly cut up these seemingly unobtrusive statements about urban planning, and words like ‘exclusive,’ ‘diversified,’ and ‘gated’ would turn up out of context. To me, it referred to how damaging bad urban planning could be; for example projects like Cabrini Green were intended to be egalitarian communities in which no one’s amenities were any better than anyone else’s. Cabrini in fact became an alienating, prisonlike repetition, a very visible evidence of lack of foresight in urban planning in Chicago.

The final recordings were randomly long stretches of quiet (between one and four minutes) followed by an outburst of a cut-up. We ended up mounting an unobtrusive speaker by the bus stop in front of the building (there is a lot of foot traffic there), and played it to the neighborhood for about a week.

I didn’t (and don’t) think that I was effecting change directly through this piece. What I wanted and hoped to do through these tapes was maybe provide an understanding of how powerful ideas are. Suppose a brave, forward-looking architect has an idea that making people live in drainage culverts is a good idea; twenty years later, a whole generation could grow up feral from living in drainage culverts. It would be wrong to stop thinking, trying, working to solve problems, but let’s be sure and learn from our mistakes. I had hoped, by pointing out how a good idea could go bad, that this piece could contribute to a very vital community’s dialogue about urban renewal.