The event, composed of Chicago-centric movie clips, songs, and place-based memories, tackled the myriad lived experiences of Chicagoans. The goal was to go beyond the reductive descriptions of the city as statistics and provide a platform to invite Chicago residents to share their memories in the city. The list of songs and film clips were collected during the weeks ahead of the event through an online open call, while the onsite participation added new memories about the city from those attending the event. All of the memories gathered were placed on a large-scale map using color-coded flags.
The flags marking the location of the film clips overwhelmingly concentrated in the Loop and along the Chicago River, with some exceptions located on the South Side and along Lake Shore Drive. It was telling how narrow of an image of Chicago the films project. The rest of the memories recorded expanded the physical footprint of the city, taking mostly positive and sometimes painful experiences to many of the city neighborhoods and infrastructures, such as riding the L and driving towards the city from the suburbs.
Above all, the event brought together a diverse group of people that thought about important moments in their lives and how those where connected to specific physical places of the city. Let’s continue to create opportunities for people to come together, share, and celebrate their experience in our city by the lake.
Thanks to Gibran Villalobos from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for the invitation, and Paola Aguirre of Borderless Studio and Ann Lui of Future Firm for being fantastic partners for this event. Finally, thanks to Wesley Kloss Studio for the illustration.
Below we are featuring 15 of the many memories that were submitted associated with songs:
The song combines all the elements of both the city as personal narrative and the city as concrete, historical narrative that made Chicago meaningful to me at one point: the gauzy nostalgia of meeting someone and falling in love, the city as backdrop and playground to an emergent love story. But the song also captures *why* Chicago served as that backdrop: my affair with its historical might, the way its cultural history expressed itself through its physical form. And with it being Sun Ra, albeit an early incarnation, the song not only captures a city asserting itself in the present but relays a sense of a city and of a future to come. Those slightly discordant, off-kilter sounding chords in the piano vamp during the vocal breakdown of announced “L” stops – it portends dark, beautiful, wonderful things about this place, and its future histories.
“Homecoming” by Kanye West feat. Chris Martin
I moved back to Chicago after a long year in Boston. My first afternoon back was a beautiful late summer Saturday. I drove down Lake Shore Drive with my windows down and sunroof open blasting Kanye West’s “Homecoming” with lots of bass. So cheesy but so great. People were biking, running, grilling out, playing soccer in the park. White boats out on the bright blue lake. The rush of traffic around me. I knew I was home.
In 2002, I visited Chicago for the first time. I was an exchange student studying architecture and upon seeing Marina City I became very interested in the building, its history, and its architect Bertrand Goldberg. Right about that time, Wilco commercially released their album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” that featured the towers on the cover. Both the buildings and the band have been part of my life in Chicago.
It’s wintertime—my first winter in Chicago. It’s February 2012. I took the train to Garfield Park Conservatory in search of a warm place to feel outdoors. I walked the whole place being amazed by the all the plants. Finally, I sat in the “fern house” and fell asleep in one of the benches. The sun in my face, the warmth and humidity in my body felt so relaxing. When I woke up (probably after 10-15 minutes), “The Way We Get By” song was playing in my phone. I stood up and ventured back to the cold and snow.
I was in high school when this album came out. I grew up in the west suburbs and all I ever wanted to do was come downtown. We’d put this album on and drive into the city to hang out. Coming around the curve on the Eisenhower at Central is where the city skyline comes into full view, glittering and full of promise.
“Baby Wants To Ride” by Frankie Knuckles
Every time I go to pick up prints from American Color Labs, I walk by the honorary “The Godfather of House Music” Frankie Knuckles Way. It is located on Jefferson Street, between Monroe and Van Buren, near the Warehouse (206 South Jefferson Street), the club where Knuckles was a DJ between 1977 and 1982. Seeing the building now, you would never know about the importance of this location but his influence lives on.
One the last reminders of Cabrini Green is the honorary street for Curtis Mayfield and what is left of the row houses, where Mayfield moved in when he was 12. An important part of Chicago’s history, with positive and negative aspects and home to many that has been erased.
“Slow RnB for Zellers Locations Canada Wide” mixtape by CFCF
This mixtape fueled an insomnia-driven bike ride around the city, starting around 4am mid October 2013. I was pretty much the only person on the paths and roads I took that morning, while I rode around from empty public place to empty public place as the sun slowly rose. It was probably the first time I experienced the city as an empty object w/o any of the typical activity of a space.
“I Am Still Alive” by Christopher Elmore
This is the first recording I made to commemorate one year of continued life after nearly committing suicide on December 30, 2014. I had intended on crossing under Lake Shore Drive and jumping into the icy lake that night, surrendering myself to the freezing cold waters of Lake Michigan. I am still alive and making more aural and visual works inspired by this meaningful event that almost ended me.
“LSD” by Jamila Woods feat. Chance The Rapper
This song LSD by Chi-town native, Jamilla Woods feat Chance the Rapper gets me everytime. It talks about growing up off of Lake Michigan and true love for Chicago. It speaks directly to my soul. “You gotta love me like I love the lake…” I love that our lakefront is free and clear of any private buildings forever and it is here in perpetuity for everyone. Thanks Burnham!
I was in high-school and I met a lot of new friends who lived on Chicago’s West Side and some of them had cars and I remember us packed into a car driving to the West Side and acting crazy, being so happy reciting this song in unison.
“If I Ruled The World” by Nas feat. Ms. Lauryn Hill
Junior Year in high-school and I went to a hip-hop party and when this song came on, EVERYONE started dancing and singing aloud. It was so beautiful – we were so happy and the party was so racially diverse…it made me truly feel the power of hip-hop to unify youth from different backgrounds and races.
“Tin Cans & Twine” by Tortoise
It reminds me of summers in college when I would come up from Houston to escape the heat and hang out with my cousins and their friends. During those summers, I learned that I liked density, walkability and being in a place so tied to history.
“Loca” by Shakira feat. El Cata
I had a serious illness during my freshman year of college that resulted in a hospital stay, brain surgery, and a lot of medicines to keep me on the path to healing. I had a very tough few years following this, largely because I had an invisible disability, and especially as a teenager it is not easy to brush off people saying “why can’t you” “why don’t you” etc. Those feelings of inadequacy also competed with these feelings I had of being so fucking proud that I pulled through such a tough sickness that many don’t survive and feeling like this is SUCH an accomplishment that I’m still here and standing. I remember walking along those flowers on Michigan Ave listening to this song and feeling so open and free and light, and it’s the first time I remember letting those feelings of pride overcome the feelings of “people don’t know I have a disability and they make me feel not good enough.” I felt absolutely invincible. If I could recover from this, I could do absolutely anything and I was so LUCKY and happy to have that chance.
Get to the beginning of Lower Wacker Drive. Ideally in the middle of the night when no one is around. Open all your windows and the moon roof. Turn on Yeasayer’s I Remember. DRIVE AS FAST YOU CAN. If you want—scream.