Chicago Architecture Biennial 2015: The State of the Art of Architecture
The Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Avenue is the epicenter of the first Chicago Architecture Biennial—a wildly ambitious, far ranging set of exhibitions, installations, discussions, performances and films taking place across the city through January 2016.
The Biennial is oriented around the idea of reimagining the social life of the built environment. Beginning at the Cultural Center, we explored projects that use space conventionally—displays of photographs, plans, and maquettes, as well as more dynamic site-specific installations. Of particular note are Chicago’s visionary architect Jeanne Gang’s plans for an integrative approach to mediating the widening gap between police and communities through a proposed redevelopment for a troubled Chicago neighborhood; the NY firm SO-IL’s “Passage,” a ramp that does more than transport people from one level to another, seeking to reinvest the ramp with a sense of liminality; and Germany’s Kéré Architecture’s “Place of Gathering,” a configuration of stacked logs in the Center’s foyer designed to encourage conversation and human interaction.
Ten miles away, the Stony Island Arts Bank, a community arts center and archive located in a long shuttered bank building on Chicago’s South Side, serves as the venue for projects by Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga and the Mexican architect Frida Escobedo.
Bunga’s painted cardboard girders constitute an ephemeral work that hovers between sculpture, painting and architecture. It pierces the central space of the two-story high first floor of the bank in two rows of columns, evoking a cathedral-like nave. The work is simultaneously smooth and pointed, inviting meditation as well as political analysis, reminding us of the similitudes linking property, church and power.
Escobedo sited Material Reservoir in an empty lot next to the bank out of bricks collected from the sites of abandoned and dilapidated buildings in the devastated neighborhood. The piles of bricks serve as reminders of the consequences of economic policies on peoples lives and communities, but the work reconfigures and recontextualizes them into a series of courtyards, seeking thus to reactivate them as dynamic and symbolic spaces.
The Arts Bank is a work-in-progress of Chicago artist, activist and global ambassador Theaster Gates. Gates’s formidable body of work is informed by the desire to bring together the diverse constituencies in which he circulates—the neighborhood, the art world, the academic world, and now the world of international architecture. These two projects demonstrate his will to communicate and connect.
Contributor: Alison Fraunhar, Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Design at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, teaches Art History and Film Studies. In her scholarship and published writing, she focuses on Latin American art, architecture and cinema, with an emphasis on Cuba.