Settlement Artist Statement

Settlement: Artists Statement

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“Architecture is fixed not only by present needs but also by ancestors.”

“And there are years of roads, and centuries of need, of walking along the shadow of a wall of visiting houses, hearing the birds trapped in the wall, the framework trembling with the struggles of birds.”

Muriel Rukeyser, "Fifth Elegy," A Turning Wind
 

It’s  early summer at the northern tip of Lincoln Park—that wedge of land between Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan. People flock to the beach speaking Amharic, Bulgarian, English, Mandarin, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The news of last night’s police raid filters through ranchera and birdsong. The thoroughfare rings with traffic’s rise and fall. Over the day, the lake shifts from turquoise to inky grey, its tides lapping over the sea wall. The mutability of Lake Michigan, the park, and the drive mirrors the constantly shifting city and its life cycles.

When we stand here, we are standing on Chicago’s west side.

During the mid-20th century, Chicago was split east to west by a quarter-mile-wide trench along Congress Street to make way for the Eisenhower Expressway. Homes and businesses were seized by eminent domain and razed. Rubble from homes, businesses, and places of worship—as well as the soil beneath them—was trucked north to fill the gaping maw of the lake. This material migration was widely considered part of the city’s “progress.” Postwar housing shortages meant that during this clearance, some condemned buildings remained occupied. The city became a landlord of last resort. Construction took years. After demolishing the buildings, the city sold off what it could as scrap.

Often, when someone departs suddenly, they leave clues, markers. As parts of the West Side were forcibly erased, its remains were brought here to create the land beneath our feet. Some stretches of the Congress corridor were gutted unequally, one side of a block leveled the a phantom limb. Seventy years later, rifts are still visible along the Eisenhower. But on the North Side, layers of landscape design obscure that history.

In a meditation on access, territory, and migration, Settlement uncovers the material and human connections between these North and West side communities and the acts that bind them.

When we stand in the northern tip of Lincoln Park, we are standing on Austin, Garfield Park, Homan Square, Lawndale: the synagogue at 3901 W. Congress and the Hebrew school next door; Pollick’s Home Appliances in the three-story flatiron at 3860 W. Harrison, advertising radio and lamp repair; the tenement block at the corner of Fifth Avenue and South Springfield that 18 tenants called home. A. Goodman. J. Reznick. L. Sopenar.

While this tip of the park is an indicator of the city’s expansionist appetite, its adjacent neighborhood has long served as a port of entry for migrants and immigrants. Waves of Swedes and Cubans have been joined by Japanese Americans leaving the internment camps, Vietnamese immigrants, Appalachians fleeing the collapsing coal industry, and East Africans escaping war and uncertainty.

Settlement conjures the city’s history through a floating neighborhood of pole-mounted architectural sculptures that reference buildings demolished in the Congress clearance. The sculptures also reference tenement-like purple martin bird houses erected along the lakeshore in areas known as migrant traps.

Through Settlement, we ask visitors to speculate on the ongoing effects of the city’s remaking, boring down into the strata below our feet and raising the symbols of these buildings above the surface. In the process, it invites meditation on coexistence and cohabitation, freedom of movement, our city’s ceaseless appetite for expansion and renewal, and its shifting boundaries between water and land. Consider how we are positioned in the city and how infrastructure reinforces power structures, making the city an agent of both displacement and safe harbor.