Client: Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs
Location: Chicago, IL, United States
Completion date: 2005
Artwork budget: $7,000
Westside Ministers Alliance, South Austin Coalition
Public Art Agent
Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs
Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation
Illinois Arts Council
In the shadow of the closed-down Brach’s Candy factory, twenty-eight massive wooden posts stand in an orderly rectangular configuration. Painted creosote black, the east and west faces of the posts are inscribed with the job titles of members of the Austin community, sand-blasted into the posts. The north and south sides are inscribed with descriptive words these workers use to explain their job experience. The north contains negative descriptions and the south contains positive words. Dimensions: 24’-3”W x 6’-0”H x 43’-3”D (Sitework Area)
The primary goal of this community-based, publicly-funded sitework was to draw attention to the plight of displaced workers within this inner city community in Chicago, while also underscoring each person’s capabilties within the workforce. Brach’s was the area’s largest employer. After outsourcing all jobs to Mexico and closing down, Brach's Candy factory stands as a massive symbol of corporate abandonment of a labor community. In this guerilla installation, the inscribed posts were mounted in a vacant lot strewn with rubble across busy Cicero Avenue. The skeletal configuration of the blackened posts mirrors the massive, unoccupied Brach's factory structure across the street. Collectively, the posts can be seen to represent an animal pen or penitentiary, a vanishing yet habitable space, a community or a grave, marking the almost complete death of industrial Chicago.
We conducted community outreach through a number of existing community NPOs including the Westside Ministers Alliance and South Austin Coalition. Strategizing with NPO staff, we selected a site for the installation and gathered input from community residents through discussions and questionnaires, gathering a wide spectrum of individual inputs for the content of the installation. Although the production of the inscribed wooden posts was carried out by a sign company located in the nearby Humboldt Park neighborhood, we were referred to a local construction company in the Austin neighborhood who carried out the on-site installation, with some difficulty, because of the burried rubble on-site. Over a few years, the sitework weathered and was, in its turn, demolished.
On a long downward trajectory, Austin had become a hardscrabble inner city neighborhood. As a guerilla installation, this sitework reflected that meager reality, with a tenuous foothold on the buried wreckage of a demolished building. In juxtaposition to the fenced-off territory of the empty factory across the street, the rectangular territory of the sitework can be freely entered and inhabited by the displaced workers or anyone walking by.