Ordinary Relic

3+

Client: Chicago Transit Authority Public Art Program

Location: Chicago, IL, United States

Completion date: 2020

Artwork budget: $105,000

Project Team

Artist

Mathew Wilson

Industry of the Ordinary

Project Coordinator for CTA

Elizabeth Kelley

Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago, Illinois

Fabricator of ticket booth replica

Javier Valdivieso

ADM Works, Santa Ana, California

Lighting designer

Avraham Mor

Lightswitch, Chicago, Illinois

Installation manager

Roger Machin

Methods and Materials, Chicago, Illinois

Overview

In this work, several elements combine to celebrate and amplify one forgotten fragment of the city’s memory. Standing for years, unseen, in the historic station house is an original artifact from the much earlier days of this Chicago neighborhood. Now, this ticket agent’s booth has been cleaned, lit and replicated to bring attention to a sliver of the past that has survived and been brought into our contemporary cultural landscape.

‘Ordinary Relic’ is comprised of five elements: The painted track structure and girders over Diversey Parkway; a sculptural replica of the vintage ticket agent’s booth which is preserved inside the historic station house, as well as the original booth itself, which has been cleaned and lit with architectural-grade lighting; a painted concrete plinth embossed with ten dates of local historic significance; and six message panels exhibited on the platforms and in the north-side stairways.

These multiple elements displayed or integrated in the Diversey station environment engage a dialogue between the past and present, challenging the viewer to consider or reconsider public art, monuments, and cultural preservation.

Goals

It is the case that cities around the world are full of oversized men staring down from massive plinths at a public who rarely know who these men were. This is troubling - not so much in the sense that the monuments are important works of art - but that the history they represent has been forgotten. This is problematic, whether we want to understand the past or avoid repeating it.

This work addresses the (in)visibility of public art and the disappearance of culture and history. The work, particularly the painstakingly produced contemporary replica of the historic ticket booth, invites the public into a conversation about the critical importance of an open dialogue with histories of all kinds.

Process

The project took over two years of discussion that involved the Chicago Transit Authority and the Aldermen and other interested parties of two northside Chicago wards (the station straddles two wards in the City of Chicago, only adding to the complexity of negotiations).

There were many considerations to weigh in the conceptual development of the multi-element work (the layouts and placement of specific elements, particularly the signage, changed multiple times in response to concerns and feedback), as well as an exhaustive search for a fabricator capable of realizing the ticket booth replica (which had to be painstakingly faithful to the original) which finally led to ADM Works in Santa Ana, California.

The work was finally installed during the Covid epidemic, which generated its own challenges, but all parties were ultimately very satisfied with the outcome.

Additional Information

“We cherish our personal memories and keepsake connections to our past as a matter of course. But we are sometimes less immediately troubled by the corrosive power of indifference for the collective memory. And so, in time, history can be lost. In this work, several elements combine to celebrate and amplify one forgotten fragment of the city’s memory. Standing for years, unseen, in the historic station house is an original artifact from the much earlier days of this Chicago neighborhood. Now, this ticket agent’s booth has been cleaned, lit and replicated to bring attention to a sliver of the past that has survived and been brought into our contemporary cultural landscape. Around the station the words ‘MEMORY’ and ‘HISTORY’ encourage public acknowledgement of this durable artifact. The girders that span Diversey Parkway are painted a warm, bright yellow, arching from one side of the street to the other, bridging the span between the historic and modern station houses. Around the pedestal that displays the ticket booth replica, years are enumerated during which formative events in local history occurred." – Mathew Wilson, Industry of the Ordinary