I was in Chicago twice over the past couple of weeks, once on a visit for a few days and then passing through O’Hare Airport with an hour to kill between flights. Both times I saw the face of the New Garden, fascinating and not always beautiful, but intensely uplifting.
|Aquaponic Arugula bed, watered from tilapia tanks, at The Plant
Two weeks ago my son & I had enough time together to spend a Saturday afternoon touring The Plant, a vertical urban farm on the south side at 47th and Ashland. It is in the middle of the old Stockyards of fame, housed in a 93,000 square foot concrete former meat packing plant. The interior of this building had been kept at below freezing for over 100 years — imagine that! — and on that chilly April day it seemed to have retained much of its coldness.
A completely visionary and masterful project, The Plant is midway in its plan to become totally functional by 2015. I will quote their “About” page here as they can explain things better than I:
What is The Plant? A Farm for the Future.
From its beginnings as a 93,500 s.f. meatpacking facility, The Plant is being repurposed into a net-zero energy vertical farm and food business operation. A complex and highly interrelated system, one-third of The Plant will hold aquaponic growing systems and the other two-thirds will incubate sustainable food businesses by offering low rent, low energy costs, and (eventually) a licensed shared kitchen. The Plant will create 125 jobs in Chicago’s economically distressed Back of the Yards neighborhood – but, remarkably, these jobs will require no fossil fuel use. Instead, The Plant will install a renewable energy system that will eventually divert over 10,000 tons of food waste from landfills each year to meet all of its heat and power needs.
Aeroponic Garden in Terminal 2 at O’Hare Airport
I had been told by a friend that another urban miracle — or at least, curiosity — had opened at O’Hare Airport last fall, so when I was changing planes there last week I had time to go find it in terminal 2 at the rotunda, where several wings converge. This garden has been dubbed “Aeroponic”, no doubt in reference to its location, and it was a bright (really bright) and uplifting place to spend an hour — comfortable armchairs around a glowing, cordoned off growing area of 26 tubular columns with plants inserted regularly along their length and water flowing throughout a piped in, closed system. Not sure about the nutrient source, but the plants grown were to be used at some of the more elite restaurants at the airport (sadly, none of which were close to my gate) such as Rick Bayless’ Frontera outpost there.
Having just visited the grubby, hardworking, and not for profit vision of The Plant 10 days before, this seemed definitely upscale and glam. Without the tilapia nutrient feed loop, I couldn’t figure out what is feeding those plants: one of the criticisms of hydroponic farming is the expensive nutrients which must be pumped into the water, hence making it less sustainable than the newly coined “aquaponic” culture used at The Plant.
But I can say that the visit was uplifting for me, and provided the sweet frisson of seeing airplanes out the big windows while sitting and watching lettuce grow.
Tomorrow I am going up to Chicago to attend the re-opening of the Department of Textiles at the Art Institute. The department has been closed for five years to repair structural problems. There are two exhibitions featured in the re-opening: June Wayne’s Narrative Tapestries, and Contemporary Fiber Art: A selection from the Permanent Collection. The latter exhibition includes my Grey Stones weaving, which AIC acquired two years ago. I am so honored to be included in this happy show, and was delighted to learn that Grey Stones is pictured in the current AIC magazine article about the exhibition.
|Art Institute of Chicago publication, 2010
I’ve been writing a lot about rural bliss, but this past weekend in Chicago was one of those times when urban culture was at its most vibrant. The day was gloriously sunny & cool and all of Chicago seemed to be celebrating the opening of the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute. We were there to celebrate the graduation of our son Will from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and this event was timed to engage the opening fesitivites at the Museum. Set in the Frank Gehry-designed titanium pavilion at Millennium Park, we were across a bustling, pulsing street (how Monroe has changed!) from Piano’s stunning building, and the face-to-face between the park and the museum were perfect and thrilling.
Will and his fellow BFA and MFA recipients marched across the stage as music echoed against the glimmering surface. Renzo Piano, who gave the commencement address, spoke of the values of stubbornness, “soft” intelligence, and listening without necessarily obeying. I sat in the sun feeling so lucky lucky lucky to be a part of this magnificence.
Then we were all invited to join the throngs at the opening of the new wing. I thought it too was thrilling. The ceilings are scrim, above that fabric is lovely gridwork of hanging devices I should by now know the names of, above all of that, glass. The effect of the light was softened but pure and white. And I loved it as a large, 3-D textile.
The art looked scrumptious. It reminded me in many ways of why I live to be an artist. The work that is staying with me after that day in the galleries are Cy Twombly’s large paintings of peonies. Made me want to work LARGE. And after reveling in their lushness, I was brought home at the end of the weekend to the still-blooming, deeply perfumed peony fields of Fragrant Farms, just east of my home.