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How an SAIC faculty member is modeling new pathways for artists
by Jeremy Ohmes
S cho o l o f t h e A r t In s t i t u t e of C hica g o s ai c . e d u/ hi g hl i g hts
Scheduled to open in the fall of 2014. Whitehead became politicized around climate change and environmental crises. integrated artworks. reuse it. waste. W h i t e h e a d i s w o r k i n g t o r e i m a g i n e t h e a b a n d o n e d r a i l line and how an urban trail can inspire. and learn from it?” For SAIC Professor Frances Whitehead. engage. The 606 will be a multiuse recreational trail and park system adapted from an elevated rail line. participation. Lead Artist on The 606 Design Team. As a member of the Design Te a m . and learn from it?” Whitehead is in a rare position to actualize the answers to those questions through a major public project. The 606 is not the first time Whitehead has engaged a city to address cultural. unused rail lines. reuse it. between.F r a n c e s W h i t e h e a d o n T h e 6 0 6 . disturbed. A few freight cars. and sustainability always informed her work as she exhibited plant-based sculptures and works in galleries and public sites. varied topography. or urban agriculture—and formulate transdisciplinary projects to produce new knowledge. Whitehead is bringing together art. broken bottles. landscape architects. “ We only think of cultural heritage a s t h e g o o d s t u f f. The 606 will offer walking and biking paths. She says. She studied sustainability theory and design futures. and diverse native and ornamental plantings. event plazas. with concerns of global warming circling the public ’s mind. Whitehead gestures. Named for the first three digits of Chicago’s zip code. points. and splintered railroad ties suggest otherwise. social. and conservation agents are doing their best to live up to that claim. She established SAIC’s Knowledge Lab. and sustainability. the making of The 606 holds other possibilities for the future of art practice. The public greenway is being branded as “Chicago’s next great park ” and the requisite army of designers. performance spaces. city officials. engineers. community stakeholders. investigating how artists can make meaningful contributions to the challenges ahead. This is the future site of The 606. and civic engagement for the public good. with support from local and national agencies. During her 30-year career. “ We inherit a lot that is degraded and needs work. Working with. picnic areas. Whitehead gradually morphed her fine art practice into a deeper engagement in public practice. b u t w e a l s o i n h e r i t a l o t t h a t i s d e g r a d e d . covered in graffiti and filled with gravel. Nature. She talks about soil conditions. In fact. and post-industrial landscapes through the lens of industrial and cultural heritage. Dead-end railroad tracks run the length of the path—just short of three miles. But around 2000. How do we revalue it. or environmental challenges. The uprooted trees. over the last decade. and educate its surrounding citizens. a collaborative environment where students and faculty identify important subjects—such as energy. How do we revalue it. which runs east to west through four Chicago neighborhoods. and impassions on the environmental and ecological issues rooted in the path. innovation. she has made a habit of nudging her way into nontraditional orbits—moving beyond galleries and museums into the civic arenas where artists rarely roam. and among various parties and deploying an aesthetic that includes cultural expression. 11 Explo re + Disco ver Fa l l 2 013 . science. P h o t o s : J e r z y R o s e ( B FA 2 0 0 8 ) An elevated path stretches out like a forgotten scar on the face of Chicago’s Northwest side. science. leave the impression of commerce and use. design. Pacing along the tracks. and needs work.
“From a firsthand. For most of the 20th century the trail was a commercial route for the Canadian Pacific–owned Soo Line Railroad—an artery to bring goods and materials into Chicago and to distribute local products like Schwinn bicycles. and trail runners. Chicago Area Office Director of TPL. in-depth understanding of how artists are situated within systems. walkers. RIDGEWAY AT NIGHT S cho o l o f t h e A r t In s t i t u t e of C hica g o s ai c . a n d make it artful . C o l l i n s E n g i n e e r s . Locals named the path “ The Bloomingdale Trail” or “ The Bloomingdale” due to its trajectory along Bloomingdale Avenue. botanists. City of Chic ago. Whitehead is bringing the methods. And in 2004. I’m looking for both art and design.In 2005 she found her way into the center of Cleveland. “I asked. what is my knowledge base. landscape architects. “In one of our first meetings Frances said. and where is the agency to affect change?” explains Whitehead. Subsequently. e d u/ hi g hl i g hts 12 . national land conservation group. the elevated path—out of sight but forever hovering—became a refuge for trespassers of all stripes: vagrants. design. The Chicago Park District will own and manage the park once it is completed. Ancient Solar Observatory RTUS IN URB E HO Photo: World Monument Fund S March Equinox September Equinox The Trust for Public Land is The 606 project manager. m a k e i t w o r k . i n c o l l a b o r a t i o n w i t h A d l e r P l a n e t a r i u m . M i c h a e l V a n V a l k e n b u r g h A s s o c i a t e s . and the rail line fell into disrepair.” She collaborated with Chicago’s Department of Planning and Department of Environment on a phytoremediation project to clean up abandoned gas stations also known as “brownfields” around the city. Peru. working with FBT and other community members. plans and blueprints were proposed. Now as lead artist for The 606.” O b s e r v a t o r y. What I found was that the city was very excited about new ideas and new thinking. TPL selected an interdisciplinary design team of civil and structural engineers. while the Chicago Department of Transportation is shepherding the engineering. Whitehead made a case that artists should be part of the city’s formal planning process in order to integrate art and sustainability concepts. 2 0 1 3 . and the Chicago Department of Transportation developed an open-space plan to address the lack of public parks and recreational opportunities on the city’s Northwest Side. in a unique arrangement with the City of Chicago. Chicago Park District. Working with soil scientists. Ohio’s plans to reclaim and revitalize the Steelyard Commons area in the Cuyahoga River Valley. love-struck teenagers. C o u r t e s y o f T h e Tr u s t f o r P u b l i c L a n d . is leading the project management of the greenway. An official. Over the next nine years. ‘ Yo u h a v e t o m a k e i t l i v i n g . and construction of the trail. mindsets.” This idea that artists can provide new perspectives on civic endeavors led Whitehead to develop the Embedded Artist Project—a partnership between SAIC and the City of Chicago to creatively address civic challenges by embedding practicing artists in city departments. and Chic ago Park Dis tric t ART + SCIENCE RIDGEWAY OBSERVATORY USING THE VIEWING DEVICE EARTH WORK Seasonal View of Trains + Sky Natural + Cultural Heritage SPRING FALL RIDGEWAY AT SUNSET SUMMER SUN N 32 ° angle for summer 32 ° angle for winter SPRING + AUTUMN EQUINOXES WINTER SOLSTICE SUMMER SOLSTICE WEST EAST E W View sunset through notches established at 32 degrees December Solstice N HORIZ ON observer Photo: World Monument Fund June Solstice Solstice Diagrams Chankillo. C h i c a g o . and Hammond organs to the world. City Council–approved “Bloomingdale Trail” was featured in the plan. and strategies of a contemporary artist to the process of shaping the future city. The Slow Cleanup project team has identified at least 12 new ornamental plant remediator species that will expand the aesthetic potential of clean-up sites. curious passersby. In 2003 the grassroots nonprofit F r i e n d s o f t h e B l o o m i n g d a l e Tr a i l ( F B T ) f o r m e d t o a d v o c a t e for this transformation. urban explorers. both art and science.’” “I’m looking to make art with purpose. land was bought. joggers. Fr a n c e s i s i n t e n t i o n a l l y s e e k i n g t o m o d e l n e w w a y s o f b e i n g an artist. The Trust for Public Land (TPL). Currently. and community members. funds were raised.” explains White. says that Whitehead inherited the charge to transform The 606 into “a living work of art. and rumors swirled about the former rail line being transformed into a linear park. Joined by designer and fellow SAIC faculty member Lisa Norton. the City of Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development oversees the overall planning. enhancing communities in the interim. Norton says that Whitehead saw the project as a successful example of the valuable role that artists can play in public planning and speculative city futures. my cultural literacy”. F r a n c e s W h i t e h e a d . She notes. Lincoln Logs. Beth White. Additionally. foragers. and Whitehead as the Lead Artist. community members were heard. the City of Chicago.” “She took that objective and made it operational. “So I wandered into City Hall…and offered my services. in partnership with the Chicago Park District and City of Chicago. public meetings were held. By 2001 freight on the route had come to a standstill. and agencies were assigned roles to help move the trail from concept to reality.
one at each trailhead and a linear work running the full length of the trail. however. But I’m looking to make art with purpose. re-grounding audiences in the geographic reality along an ancient timeline. The artwork will consist of a line of 453 native. Claiming a seamless and integrative aesthetic. installations. It is an example of how artists can work collaboratively across disciplines to reimagine future cities and communities—one trail at a time. Working closely and collaboratively with the Design Team and other specialty designers and scientists.” ART + DESIGN 16' 10" TYP. 2 0 1 3 .” she hollers over the din of Wheel Friendly Radically Multi-functional the nearby Kennedy Expressway. art and science. P e r u .” The park—built with the Sk a t e P a r k + Ev e n t Pl a z a . and art and recreation in new ways. “Designers see me as an artist and artists see me as a designer. blue day.Walking the length of The 606 on a crisp. Connecting the ends of The 606. both art and science. t h e c o n c e p t o f t h i s b l o o m i n g . a solar observatory. and a climate-monitoring planting align more with science and design. At the western trailhead Whitehead draws a circle in the a i r. Conscious of the high-carbon footprint of cement-based skate parks. M i c h a e l V a n V a l k e n b u r g h requisite rails. “It ’s a plaza-style skate park SKATE PARK that can host farmers’ markets in the morning + EVENT PLAZA WALSH PARK and music at night. There will be a commissioned piece that will visualize live data sets. A self-described “edge dweller. she calls these “embedded” artworks. Fo r t h e e a s t e r n t r a i l h e a d W h i t e h e a d w o r k e d w i t h d e s i g n f i r m Spohn Ranch to create a multigenerational. Whitehead proposed and developed three major works for The 606. The circular mound—constructed out of reused soil and rubble—will provide views of sunsets and stars. flowering trees (Apple Serviceberry). and what she calls a “ sm a r t b e an”— an i nt e r ac tive s culptura l object that pops open to program the sound system and SMART PIPE AUDIO KIOSK lighting displays. visitors. she is maximizing the site’s function and performativity by making it “radically multifunctional. Public L and. Modeled after Japanese cherry blossoms whose transient blooming attracts audiences a n d s i g n i f i e s w a r m e r w e a t h e r. whose five-day bloom spread will visualize Chicago’s famous Lake Effect. and participatory pieces. RACK (SR-40-32) LIGHTING CONTROLS DOOR / RAMP IN OPEN POSITION SECTION PLAN 0 5 10 20 Perforated metal cladding covers concrete pipe kiosk SKATE SOUND STAGE SEATING Sound Barrier Stage Kiosk Skate Plaza 33 ft WALSH PARK SKATE PLAZA + PERFORMANCE VENUE SOUND BARRIER WALL SMART ACORN LIGHTS 30 ft ACORN BASE SITE FURNISHINGS 27 ft 24 ft 21 ft 18 ft Large Cafe Table Small Cafe Table Small Seat Large Seat/ Table Large Stable Table Acorn Bollard Acorn Speaker 15 ft 12 ft 9 ft RTUS IN URB E HO 6 ft 3 ft 2 ft The Trust for Public Land is The 606 project manager. RACK (SR-40-32) DOOR / RAMP IN OPEN POSITION AUDIO CONTROLS EQUIP. I’m looking for both art and design. the history of the trail. social. “My vision is High Performance Public Space kids skating on one side while Mom is listening to Yo-Yo Ma on the other. This includes a series of invitational commissions. a skate park/performance space. S h e a n d t h e d e s i g n t e a m c o l l a b o r a t e d w i t h t h e A d l e r Planetarium to create a spiraling earthwork that will serve as a seasonal observatory. in partnership with the Chicago Park District and City of Chicago. 13 Explo re + Disco ver Fa l l 2 013 . and environmental issues. They extend the artistic traditions of earthworks and site-specific interventions. and local institutions to the trail.” This “both/and” animates Whitehead’s work and serves as a model for how artists can use their knowledge for civic innovation to address cultural. C o u r t e s y o f T h e Tr u s t f o r a s a p e r f ormanc e v e nue com plete with s ta ges . open calls for temporary and revolving works. and the possibilities for its future.” she says. for most audiences. interactive skate park and event plaza. C h i c a g o . and manual pads—doubles A s s o c i a t e s . Inspired by ancient astronomy-based s t r u c t u r e s s u c h a s T h i r t e e n To w e r s i n C h a n k i l l o . performances. These “embedded artworks” along The 606 seem far removed from the world of art galleries. phenologic spectacle will allow scientists and citizens to study climate change and observe nature’s relationship to the Lake Effect. schools. as well as rotating galleries of interpretive and sitespecific works—all reflecting the diversity of the community. C o l l i n s E n g i n e e r s . creating creative sites that hybridize art and design. There will also be programming and partnerships that will connect citizens. i n c o l l a b o r a t i o n w i t h S p o h n R a n c h . But poking holes through these disciplinary models and challenging limited ideas of art is what defines Whitehead’s practice. The temperature-sensitive plants (what Whitehead calls “environmental sentinels”) will reveal how large bodies of water like Lake Michigan affect local temperature patterns in spring and fall. sound barriers. She worked with Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to create and integrate opportunities for other artists and the arts into the trail. verts. Whitehead is collaborating with Chicago Wilderness Alliance and the USA National Phenologic Network to develop a climate-monitoring installation. City of Chic ago. F r a n c e s W h i t e h e a d . t h e Ridgeway Observatory will be driven by solar alignments and the longitude of Chicago. Whitehead offers some visual guidance on how she has tackled that challenge. and Chic ago Park Dis tric t acoustics. 9' DIA 7'-10" 6'-10" 5'-9" EQUIP.
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