March in the Midwest #1 – Public Art, Millennium Park

Alongside funding for the upcoming coLAB event I was awarded Arts Council England funding to attend the Design Principles and Practices conference in Chicago, where I delivered a workshop based on my MA research. I also extended my trip with a short ‘road trip’ through Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska, to make the most of my first visit to the Midwest.

I thought it might be good to share some of the places I visited and things I learned in a series of blogposts, so read on for more!

I was really struck by the playfulness of public art in Chicago’s Millennium Park, and the way in which static sculptures became participatory pieces through their public placement.

Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain features 50-foot high animated portraits of Chicago citizens, giving a very personal face to city and documenting the diversity of the area. Although the fountains weren’t actually turned on while I was there the glass brick structures themselves invited interaction as viewers got up close to the fountains, investigating how the images were produced.

Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate is a bona fide Chicago landmark (I mainly remember it from the ending of Source Code), and I actually found it quite magical, in a critically-engaged, academic sort of way you understand… Magical atmosphere was encouraged by a choir singing inside Cloud Gate, and a marriage proposal taking place straight after. Were these events related? I don’t know.

Cloud Gate is a really interesting piece as it literally reflects the city, drawing your eye upward to the surrounding architecture, often missed in journeys around the city. Its rounded shape also works to soften the hard edges of surrounding skyscrapers, and pulling them down to a more human scale.

So yeah, I feel positively about public art. I like to see people interacting with it without the sense of distance brought on by the gallery environment.