As architecture geeks here at Chicago Detours, we are always trying to find ways to connect people with the city and its cityscape. So naturally, I was excited to see that internationally renowned artist Sarah Morris would be premiering her “Chicago” film in the “City Self” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibit explores the city of Chicago through artists as Chicago “insiders,” such as Jonas Dovydenas and Bob Thall, and Chicago “outsiders,” such as Enoc Perez and Catherine Opie. Sarah Morris’ film is the heart of the show.
I first learned of Sarah Morris from a previous film titled “Points on a Line” that, described by the Philip Johnson Glass House, “documents a shared desire to build structures that might change the way we think about a house, a form and a context.” Shot at both the Philip Johnson Glass House and at my beloved Farnsworth House, the film elegantly captured the feeling and emotion of the architecture and its surrounding landscape.
Morris’s art interweaves architecture and our built environment beautifully into paintings and films, but surprisingly she says she’s not into architecture. As Morris said in an interview with W Magazine, “I see architecture almost like an excuse–as a platform for a whole set of behaviors to happen. What does this architecture viscerally command?” This quote especially struck me as it so closely relates to the philosophy behind how we at Chicago Detours talk about architecture on our tours and how I often feel about architecture – that it provides the form for our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. But unlike Morris, I’m really into architecture.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is the ideal exhibit space for Morris’ debut of “Chicago,” which essentially shares the spectacle of the city. The Museum itself is a bit of a spectacle with a giant sculpture of a head, “The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things” by Amanda Ross-Ho, right at the entrance. The exhibit, located on the main level, followed this theme with a modest gallery space contrasted with a giant room hidden behind it with the film projected directly onto the entire wall.
Through use of contrasts, the hour-long film elegantly portrays a reflection of a day in the life of Chicago and its people. We see Chicago’s historic Manny’s deli with a man slicing beef behind the counter and people devouring their sandwiches and then contrast to a fine dining restaurant with an extensive food prep crew making tiny portioned plates. We see people in fancy cars and then people taking public transportation. We see the clever imagery of Playboy’s historic magazines and the current witless covers of today.
Morris puts in our view a city full of places and industries we encounter every day but perhaps do not think about in practice. From morning to night, we see Chicago change. The camera rotates its focus from the greater cityscape, to the buildings and the streets, to the people and transportation, and to the details of the work going on inside the buildings. It made me think of how we read the newspaper every day, but maybe we don’t think about the process at the Chicago Tribune to print and deliver us that newspaper. You might eat a Vienna hot dog at the game, but you might not know of the process of making that Chicago dog. The digital low frequency sounds of the background music paired beautifully with the camera angles to create a sense of a more ethereal, larger-than-life reality of Chicago.
The rest of the exhibit includes paintings, photographs, comics and the artists views of the city as a dynamic place of movement, life and change. You can explore the “City Self” exhibit at the MCA through April 13th, 2014.
–Jenn Harrman, Tour Guide