Demolition began on March 30, 2011 on the last high-rise building left in the Cabrini-Green housing development.
A public art installation addressing the demolition was created by students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, led by artist and faculty member Jan Tichy, in collaboration with organizations providing after-school programs in the Cabrini-Green area.
On March 28, 134 LED modules were placed inside 134 of the high-rise’s vacated apartments. The lights will blink every day from 7:00 pm to 1:00 am during the demolition, which is expected to last four weeks.
Each blinking light represents a visual translation of poems written and recorded by the local Chicago youth.
The public art project was created over the course of the last six months.
We spoke to Jan Tichy about Project Cabrini Green.
Idea For The Project
“As an artist, I usually deal with political and social issues, and many times the urban environment helps me as a platform to work with,” said Tichy.
Tichy says he passed by Cabrini-Green for the last four years and watched as the buildings were demolished.
“Looking at the last high-rise of Cabrini with all the other buildings gone felt like an important moment for the city, and for the entire housing project movement,” said Tichy.
“Thinking of how to approach such a charged issue, I felt that the best way to do it was to get together with the community, with the next generation that will be affected by any decisions of urban planning and public housing. It was about giving a voice to them,” he added.
How Does The Project Work?
Workshops were held with Chicago youth to brainstorm and discuss issues like housing, community and demolition. The teens then wrote poems, and at the end of the workshop they recorded the poems through sound software that students from the School of the Art Institute developed.
“The teens spoke through a computer attached to an LED device, recording their poems, so they could control the blinking of the light through the rhythm of their speech,” said Tichy.
In essence, they were creating light patterns while they recorded their poems. The audio was recorded into computer boards and placed into 134 apartments. In each apartment, there is one box with an LED light that is blinking the pattern of each of the poems.
Message Behind The Project
“Cabrini-Green was always getting a lot of negative attention, but what we wanted is to get the attention for a different reason and be able to speak back,” said Tichy.
Tichy says he hopes that the visual art of the work of the blinking lights will convey a message about the community.
“I hope that the visual effect will alert people to pause and think a little bit about issues they are forgetting,” he said. “A home is not something that is granted for everyone. We don’t think about that.”
While you can see all of these technical features on the website, Jan Tichy highly recommends seeing the art installation in person.
“It gives it a whole different feeling when you’re standing in front of the building,” he said.
For live video footage of the Cabrini-Green demolition, click here.
Live video footage from the site will also be projected at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. For more information on the MCA Exhibition, click here.