Twenty-nine youth artists started their workday at Bryn Mawr Avenue under Lake Shore Drive smashing ceramic tiles and mirrors. From this controlled destruction, they collected thousands of pieces of ceramic tile, mirror and concrete, dabbed them with cement and carefully placed them on a wall. For weeks, they arranged broken tiles to form a train, a bicycle, a rising sun, birds taking flight, a woman practicing Tai Chi, and dozens of scenes from daily life in the Edgewater community.
Community is at the heart of Living 2007, a gorgeous bricolage produced by Chicago Public Art Group; Alderman Mary Ann Smith; and youth from Alternatives, Inc. hired by After School Matters. Like anthropologists unearthing a hidden world, Chicago Public Art Group artists Tracy Van Duinen and Todd Osborne spent 18 months working with Edgewater residents and community groups to uncover the neighborhood’s rich history. They found that Edgewater has been the site of architectural experimentation in modest three-flats and soaring high-rises, of Chicago’s first electrically lit neighborhood, and a popular gateway to the city’s network of bicycle lanes.
Creating this bricolage recreated the palpable sense of community in Edgewater, where diversity and variety, contemporary creativity and historic landmarks form a complex urban environment. Neighborhood residents, artists and non-artists alike, placed their own work on to the wall. From large ceramic animals to small glazed tiles, these elements reinforce the mural’s collaborative scope. The core of the team was a strong team of apprentice artists who worked under the direction of the Lead Artist Van Duinen to complete a 185’ x 15’ work of art in eight weeks. The tasks before them required discipline and focused energy through heat, humidity and occasional rain. The youth met the challenge head-on, steered by 18 year-old Apprentice Foreman Kory Jackson. As Jackson recalled at the Living 2007 dedication ceremony: “The main reason why I woke up in the morning was just to come here to work. This gave me my energy, this gave me my enthusiasm, to be able to work around the people I was working around.”
They finished the piece on time, producing a multi-layered work that dazzles at first glance but whose delights are revealed through careful, up-close observation. Rainbows of color and sun-kissed tile invite passersby to reflect how urban bustle, signified by the train rolling past high rise buildings, meets a tranquil lakefront scene where kites in a perfectly blue sky float above clay birds and fish.
Living 2007 enchants residents heading to the lakefront, commuters exiting Lake Shore Drive, and hundreds of community members who contributed their ideas and energy to a project slated to continue next summer on the opposing underpass wall.