Chicago, USAMay 18, 2017
In your city, how can we tell that we are in the year 2017?
The electric cars. If you keep your eyes open you’ll occasionally see a Tesla automobile pass by, silent and emitting no air pollutants at all. It really fills you with optimism to see technological marvels such as these.
What in your city reminds you of the past?
Chicago speaks through its architecture. The apartment where I live in Logan Square has existed for over a hundred years, like many others in the vicinity and surrounding areas. It’s a typical brownstone, named for the stones of which it’s built. Along with the greystones, they make up one of the most characteristic styles of housing in the city. It’s an exotic past for me, one I travel through day to day and which transports me to the histories of the people who traveled through here before me.
Which building or intersection in the city would make us think that we are in the future?
Of the spaces that make up Millennium Park what stands out is the Jay Priztker Pavilion, the acoustic shell designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. A grassy open area spreads out before the silver scrolls of this impressive construction, which appear to fold over themselves. The building definitely looks futuristic and integrates well with the downtown landscape that surrounds it. At the same time, its peaceful rhythm contrasts with the speed of the urban organism in which it’s immersed.
Where in your city would be the best place to lose track of time, freeze time, or gain time?
Ice skating at McCormick Tribune Ice Rink was for me a kind of transcendental meditation. The first time that I did it, I lasted two hours on auto-pilot. The mind enters a state in which it becomes hypersensitive to what you do with every fiber of your being, and it doesn’t notice all the physical effort you’re exerting. To the extent that you learn to propel yourself and you gain speed, you can feel your adrenaline run, which makes you see everything in slow motion; your senses become acute. It’s like learning to walk all over again.
This skating rink closes in the spring, but if you want to skate in another season of the year there are several places to do so, such as Daley Bicentennial Park or the McFetridge Sports Center. You rent skates right there and glide around as long as your group can take it.
What song or local band would you recommend for an everyday playlist?
The daily playlist of Chicago is live. The cultural scene in Chicago is swarming with alternative venues, whether they’re non-profit organizations or places associated with DIY culture, where you can find a wide offering of pop, rock, alternative and experimental music. Among them we find Elastic Arts, a prestigious spot with acts programmed two out of every three days. I’d also mention RutCorp and Archer Beach Haus, housed in the same building on Archer Avenue. There I've had the opportunity to see dozens of artists from underground scenes around the entire country; they make this stop in the city before continuing their tours of the United States. One of them is wrtch, from Seattle but now living in Chicago, who stands out for the coloration of his sonic pieces.
Which museum or cultural space is generally omitted from a typical cultural excursion, but is definitely worth visiting?
The Roger Brown Study Collection is a gallery that used to be the home of Roger Brown, one of the Imagists. Chicago Imagists is the umbrella name for several groups of artists whose creative climax developed in the 60s-70s and whose fantastic work distinguished itself from the dominant trends of that era coming from the New York market. It’s distinctive art from Chicago. To visit, you have to call or write to make an appointment. It’s also worthwhile to go to Dfbrl8r Gallery, the city’s most important performance art gallery, which has a new program almost every week.
What dish most embodies your city, and where would you find it?
Deep dish style pizza is a Chicago classic. It’s so good that as soon as I started talking about it I had to order one. As its name implies, it’s a deep pizza, about an inch and a half thick. That doesn’t mean that the crust is thick. Not at all—it’s thin, like a pie. Most of the thickness comes from the ingredients like the sauce, the cheese, and what you want to put on it: salami, ham, olives, meat or whatever else sounds good. What’s more, its dimensions guarantee you’ll be satisfied to the nth degree. The Art of Pizza is considered by many to be the best place to try the traditional deep dish.
Where can you find the best coffee (or tea)?
At Exchequer they serve you tea in such an attractive presentation that you can’t help contemplating it for a while before you try it. And the flavor is as good as it looks. Exchequer is a strange mix of pub, diner and restaurant in the Loop, on State Avenue. It’s a cozy place where you can talk in peace, which is hard to find in Chicago since the bars are noisy. Plus, it’s different from the industrial cafés that are chains but disguised as alternative. Not only can you drink tea there, but they have all kinds of food and drinks or refreshing beers to enjoy after a productive day of work. And yes, they serve deep dish pizza.
What is a monument that reveals a hidden past?
The Wall of Respect, though it no longer exists, is itself a secret past for many. When it did exist, it was a mural that represented several of the greatest black artists of the city, painted by William Walker. The piece was converted in a symbol of resistance and struggle for the recognition of the civil rights of the African-American population of Chicago and the United States in general. Unfortunately it disappeared in a fire; nevertheless its legacy is present today, and many art initiatives, research projects and articles make reference to it. Today, especially, with the strengthening of the movement for equality thanks to initiatives like Black Lives Matter, the spirit of The Wall of Respect travels the city and the conscience of the communities in resistance, and Chicagoans in general.
Outdoor or public artwork worth visiting:
The experience of seeing, touching and exploring the famous Cloud Gate up close exceeds any expectation of what you can imagine from seeing photos on the web or in magazines. Plus, the colossal Picasso in Daley Plaza is a masterpiece that you rediscover every time you see it from a different angle.
Where would be the best place to view the sunset in your city?
Definitely next to Lake Michigan. Preferably towards the south, in the area of Hyde Park. Bring your picnic and a good sweater.
What aspect of your city most inspires you?
The skyscrapers are really impressive. As symbols, they have a sublime strength that speaks to us on one hand of the heights that human ingenuity can reach, and on the other of power and those who put it on display. To see them and walk among them immediately brings up thoughts that connect the great constructions of civilizations of the past, like the pyramids, the coliseum or the ziggurats. These mental travels lead me to questions about the nature of human society, the relationship between the powerful and the common people, social order and its mechanisms of control and the ways that every day we seek to sort through them. For these reasons, I have a love-hate relationship with them.
If you were to be commissioned today to create an artwork “about” this city, briefly describe your proposal.
If I had to make a piece about Chicago I’d imagine a mode of fostering a televised conversation between the people of the working class and the owners of real estate companies, where they could have a dialogue about ways of creating culturally and economically vibrant neighborhoods without generating displacement and gentrification. The proposals would be recorded and transcribed and would be distributed on pamphlets all over the city. In addition, the transcripts, recordings and pamphlets would be gathered into limited edition kits to be auctioned. Any profits generated would be donated to non-profits dedicated to organizing communities in the fight against gentrification.