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(dis)continuities(2): a stateside interlude

My sister is working on an art project in the vicinity of Chicago so we decide to make the most of a rare moment in which we are both in the same hemisphere. We tussle via internet over who will travel the final miles to make the meeting possible and eventually I lose out and find myself, fairly reluctantly, sitting on a plane heading to Chicago, Illinois, by air.

In the air somewhere over the US.

I don’t think it is the place so much as the plane that induces culture shock in me. I find that when I travel by air the transition from one environment to another is somehow too sudden to not seem utterly inexplicable.

God Bless America, etc.

Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper and has an impressive skyline.

It's a shiny modern city...

...with shiny modern art. "The Chicago Bean" - formally "Cloud Gate" - is an extremely popular and, I must admit, very appealing public sculpture gracing Chicago's Millennium Park. It is wiped down twice a day with Windex and gets a thorough scrub twice a year with over 40 gallons of liquid detergent. The cleaning bill amounts to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The project Zanny, my sister, is working on is actually in Gary, Indiana, close enough to be almost a satellite suburb of Chicago, despite lying across a state line. However, its proximity to Chicago doesn’t alter the fact that Gary is a different world.

Gary was once a the centre of the US steel industry, in its glory days, but it has since fallen on hard times. The city is notable for being the place where one of America’s first black mayor was elected during the late 60s and, also, for being Michael Jackson’s childhood home.

Jackson Sreet where the Jackson family lived is actually named after the far less famous President Jackson.

The Jackson family home is an unremarkable suburban house - unremarkable, except for its size, perhaps, when you consider that 11 people lived there.

A constant throng of fans make the pilgrimage to the house, dancing with abandon in the street...

... while a thriving black market economy revolves around the sale of Michael memorabilia. My personal favourite was this almost life size 3D image of the famous moon walk.

However, glamour doesn’t run very deep in Gary and area has the dubious reputation of being the murder capital of America now and is full of empty, derelict houses.

A crumbling house in the once properous city of Gary, Indiana.

A crumbling house in the once prosperous town of Gary, Indiana.

Transforming one of these empty buildings and an adjacent vacant block of land, while interviewing and filming members of the community about Gary, forms the basis of Zanny and Keg‘s project. They set about galvanising the local community to create a mural and an edible garden.

The Remake Estate project revolves around an overgrown house that has long had everything of value stripped from it.

Zanny and Keg are "You Are Here", a two person art collective. Clearly the time they have spent working together has mutually influenced their style in many ways.

Hayseed girls relaxing on bales of hay which will used to create the garden beds.

The make-over begins in earnest when a local airbrush artist is enlisted to paint a mural - based around images from The Wiz, a 70s remake of The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast starring Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow - on the house.

We spend a happy morning shopping for plants.

... before setting to work planting out the garden while the mural develops slowly on the house behind.

A stream of locals stop and watch what is going on:... fly by on bikes...

... and dudes on horseback unaccountably appear from nowhere on the streets of Gary.

The local press materialise to investigate.

I am pretty taken with Ted's cap. I wish I had one like it because I'm sure it would help me to take better photos.

Gary's young, and totally uncritical, Michael Jackson fans are always keen to strut their stuff.

Once the plants go into the ground they immediately draw bees to them.

Leeroy, one of the mural painter's sixteen children, waters the newly planted vegetables and herbs...

...while Zanny and Keg discuss the interview questions...

... before asking Ariana, a young interviewee, her opinion on some of the darker issues facing the community of Gary. The mysterious white pyramids represent Emerald City - a place, ultimately, of broken dreams, where power is maintained by illusion and slight of hand - another reference to The Wizard of Oz which was originally written in the late 19th century and can be read as a straightforward political and economic critique of the times.

With the garden planted, the mural painted and a rough draft of the video ready, what is now needed is a party.

A spread of vegetable soups and fresh fruit...



...and performances...

... in the hot afternoon sun...

...followed by a retro affair in the very house where the post election celebrations where held following Mayor Richard G. Hatcher's historic victory in 1968. The interior decor appears virtually untouched apart from the addition of the current resident's own artwork.

Once the project is more or less wrapped up Zanny and I take the opportunity to check out a bit more of what Chicago might have to offer. Thrift shops are the star attraction and I renew my entire wardrobe without spending more than $5 on a single item.

The hot weather makes Lake Michigan seem appealing...

... but overzealous lifeguards forbid us to enter the water above knee level and so we spend our time on the rather grubby beach.

We find ourselves in a bar with an extensive, and creepy, collection of ventriloquist's dummies.

Both Zanny and I fly out of NYC to opposite sides of the planet and so we spend a couple of days exploring the city together. We were most intrigued by the Museum of Natural History with its fantastic, surreal and beautiful dioramas which gave me a chance to review some of the landscapes and wildlife I have seen on my travels and dream of future vistas.

The arctic tundra in Alaska revisted...

...and the Mexican desert with its ubiquitous Red Cardinals.

The biodiversity hall has a crazy collection of enthralling objects displayed against a back lit wall that holds my attention for a long time.

At La Guardia Airport there are a few anxious and downright maddening moments as I discover I am in danger of being bumped off my flight by the atrocious American Airlines but, eventually, I find myself back in Cancun where I am welcomed by torrential rain, of course.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. zanny | July 30, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Hey THANKS for coming and for your entertaining blog post – you rather modestly left out that you played a pretty big role in choosing plants for the garden and planting them… Good news is that the garden is already producing some fruit and veggies and Kristie is taking good care that it remains watered. Miss you already, have a great time in Cuba (its always been my dream to go and I am sad too that practicalities meant you came to me in Chicago and I didnt get to come have a Cuban adventure with you) xx

  2. Rebecca | August 2, 2010 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this informative side view of what looks like an amazing adventure! I didn’t know that Zanny had a sister in the US?!! Really nice!

  3. Kristie | August 3, 2010 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    Anna I really enjoyed your blog post. Arianna, Jaelin and I have gone through and read a few of your blogs about your travels…..amazing job!! It was great meeting you and working with you on this project. Keep up the good work, and the kids and I will continue to follow your blogs..good luck to you and enjoy your travels….Love Always.

  4. roadlesswandering | August 3, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Great read! Former Gary Resident! I love the look of the house and the garden. Thank you!

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