September 13, 2010

The Real Cloud Gate

By now, most Chicagoans have taken to calling Anish Kapoor's Millennium Park sculpture "Cloud Gate" simply "da bean." However, a component of the recently unveiled Adams-Sangamon Park in Chicago's West Loop District can claim to be an actual cloud gate. This installation of five staggered stainless steel rectangular arches actually exude a cloud-like mist when users push one of the red buttons on small posts at either end of the plaza. The park, designed by Site Design Group, has been in the works for years, but only just opened at the end of August, to the delight of West Loop loft-o-minium parents and dog-lovers. The park boasts numerous amenities, including the misting fountain, dog park, toddler playground, seating, contoured lawns and trees, in addition to innovative "green" features such as recycled rubber ground cover, pollution absorbing cement, and repurposed stone lintels from a demolished building previously on this site, which now serve as seating. The park, while undeniably a great amenity for neighborhood residents, was also quite expensive, reportedly costing the city almost $20 million, twice the per acre cost it normally spends to develop a park. It is unclear if Millennium Park was a direct inspiration to the design firm and neighborhood association that developed the park, but it appears to have influenced the outcome, from the reflective, interactive fountain component to the broad, straight stone and cement paths that cut through and connect the park's different use sectors. On a recent warm evening, the park was alive with jubilant neighborhood denizens, walking and playing with dogs, overseeing children's activities, and relaxing in the waning hours of sun, basking in the drifting cloud of cool water vapor emanating from the stainless steel gates.
These staggered metal sections also remind me of walking legs, of course on a much smaller scale of numbers than Magdalena Abakanovicz's "Agora" installation in Grant Park south of Millenium Park's "Cloud Gate." Adams-Sangamon Park, then, is a real, functional agora for the West Loop, and provides a real, functional cloud gate through which the public can walk, run, and frolic.

July 31, 2010

The Fighting Yank

I spotted this aggresive sculpture while strolling on Devon Avenue recently. "The Spirit of the Fighting Yank" by Harry A. Cooper is a life-sized bronze figure on a high pedestal protected by an iron picket enclosure. The figure, a fully geared army soldier, is striding forward, about to lob a live grenade with his taut right arm, staring out intently at his target. The figure is located at the corner of Devon Avenue and Fairfield in Chicago's "Little India" neighborhood, outside of Republic Bank, this branch of which is housed in a brick colonial-style building inspired by Independence Hall in Philadelphia, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the original home of the Liberty Bell. It is especially significant, then that the plaque on the Yank's black granite base reads "Lest We Forget They Died...That We Can Live in Independence." The dedication date is May 30, 1958, the same day that unidentified veterans from WWII and The Korean War were interred at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. Unlike most other memorials to war veterans, though, this figure is frozen in a perpetual pose of impending violence, suggesting that there is no restful peace for the dead of wars. This violent posture is particularly disturbing given that the figure's apparent target, identified by his line of sight, is the street sign for Devon Avenue at the corner, above which is the city placard identifying this section of the street as memorial "Gandhi Marg [Way]." The threat of violence as a remembrance of independence is, of course, the antithesis of Gandhi's way. So, every August when thousands of people process down Devon Avenue celebrating Indian Independence Day, the disconnect between militaristic patriotic fervor and the true spirit of independence is most acute. There must be a reason there is a protective iron fence around this sculpture, but this year, hardly any of the apparently peace-loving paraders of Indian origin and descent even glanced at the fighting Yank. His grip on the grenade, though, never loosened.

February 17, 2010

Green Misleadership

This globe sculpture by Jonathan Franklin is titled "Garden Variety." It is located in front of the Exelon (formerly Commonwealth Edison) Chicago North Regional Headquarters on N. California Ave. at Addison St. and is one of very few remnants of the "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet" project in 2007. The original series of fiberglass globes were decorated by various artists and displayed for much of 2007 in the area between the Field Museum and Balbo Drive along the lakefront, with another group installed on the lawn west of Navy Pier. Several "teasers" like this one, were installed around the city, though not with the same city-wide pervasiveness of the "Cows on Parade" of 1999, which reportedly inspired this project. This globe depicts a lush urban garden on the slick surface of the 5-foot diameter orb, and is mounted on a concrete platform next to the main company sign in front of the building, serving in a way as a dimensional corporate logo. It should be noted that Exelon, based in Chicago, is a company that heavily markets itself as providing a "greener" or more sustainable future in energy, as the presence of this globe and the accompanying plaque, lauding the city of Chicago's "Green Leadership" suggest. However, even a cursory look at Exelon's practices reveals fundamental contradictions. For example, their television, print and web campaign to promote the diversity of sources of energy generation they promote, including renewables (The Exelon website front page is filled with windmills) is betrayed by their own pie chart showing the distribution of their sources as being 92% Nuclear, and only 2% renewable sources. Not much diversity, let alone sustainability there...The public debate on the "cleanliness" of nuclear energy rages on, but among real environmental activists (not energy providers) it is widely believed that nuclear energy is extremely harmful to the environment despite its lower carbon emissions relative to fossil fuel sources... Most of us remember Chernobyl, or even Three-Mile Island, which is now owned by Exelon, not to mention all the slightly less catastrophic examples of nuclear waste causing environmental hazards. Exelon had another recent scandal in Pennsylvania, in which it waited four years to reveal that tritium (radioactive hydrogen) had leaked into groundwater. And what happens to all the spent fuel rods and radioactive waste from nuclear energy generation? Can we keep burying it in concrete and metal, putting it in mountains or under the ocean? Maybe we can embed it into the fiberglass used to make these "Cool Globes." Then we wouldn't have to use the electricity required to light them at night. They would glow from within---Hey, even greener!