My work in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood combines four very different moments of perceptual shift in our understanding and experience of inhabited space:
- “Umwelt,” which means local or surrounding environment, was defined in 1912, and then again more completely in 1930 by the biologist Jakob von Uexküll as being the particular environment of an organism, determined in all of its aspects by the capabilities, aptitudes and perceptions of that individual.[i] He determined that any community of individual organisms, such as a meadow, would be a congregation of interacting but separate Umwelts, like so many intersecting soap bubbles. Uexkull maintained that targeted experimental processes, however alien to an organism’s world, combined with photographic documentation, could produce a plausible idea of an individual, and community’s, environment.
- Gottfried Semper, writing in 1860 in Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts, argued for a theory of decoration for architecture that would embrace the surface covering of a building as a more faithful expression of a community’s ‘architecture’ and identity than the building’s internal structure.[ii]
- In 1948 Claude Shannon added a 27th letter, a space, to the English alphabet in order to analyze the transmission of information from point A to point B for Bell Laboratories. At that moment, the phonetic alphabet became digital, as the space assumed its position next to the re-defined consonant and vowel as another packet of data. English, which defines the boundaries of American real estate in county deeds and tax documents, also became the official language of virtual space. During his development of Information Theory, Shannon used surrealist games, the writings of schizophrenics, and excerpts from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake to help calculate and codify the mathematical probabilities of efficient communication.[iii]
- There are 60 different languages spoken in the Edgewater/Roger’s Park area of Chicago (Urdu is #3), and there is as well a long-standing and burgeoning LGBTQ community. The buildings of Edgewater/Roger’s Park were constructed in the 1920’s for a very different society and social structure. As often happens, they have been re-interpreted and re-configured by the current community.
What does such a complex social arena look like? What kinds of dimensional forms might one use to imagine place-making?
In the series Ekstatic Edgewater, I combine these instances of changing spatial awareness to playfully and serendipitously re-imagine the community that I live in, to radically map how ‘communal space’ might be perceived differently.
I photograph front yards and the “empty” spaces between buildings, and process this information as raw data in the computer environment. I output line drawings, patterns and color relationships, and from these I manufacture a series of objects that re-interpret Edgewater/Roger’s Park as a fluid environment, open to interpretation.
[i] Jakob von Uexküll, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, in “A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans,” with “A Theory of Meaning,” trans. Joseph D. O’Neil (Minneapolis, 2010) For a similar definition of Umwelt pertaining to philosophy, see also Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. Richard Rojcewicz and Andre Schuwer, vol. 2 of Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution, vol. 3 of Collected Works, trans. F. Kersten et al. (Boston, 2000) pp. 195, 196, 199
[ii] Gottfried Semper, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts, or Practical Aesthetics: A Handbook for Technicians, Artists, and Patrons of Art, in The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings, trans. Harry Francis Malgrave and Wolfgang Herrmann, (Cambridge, 1989)
[iii] C. E. Shannon and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, (Urbana: University of Illinois press, 1969, 1949) 43