Fieldtrip: under the Chicago Skyway

A friend of mine recently texted images from the newly opened section of South Lake Shore Drive in South Chicago and offered to field trip there sometime. Yesterday's field trip took us literally under the Chicago Skyway. This is an industrial area I've been fascinated by for years, catching glimpses, and snapshots, of it as we drive past on the adjacent Chicago Skyway. Located at the mouth of the Calumet River, South Chicago has a 100 year+ history of heavy industry, declining now since the 1970s to a fraction of peak production in the mid-20th century. The US Steel South Works site to the north closed its operations in 1991 leaving 700 acres of land, now a lakefront park and prairie. The harbor continues to be active with steel production and recycling, scrap yards and cement distribution companies in the area.
My work often focuses on new ways of finding beauty and staying connected with nature in urban settings. The repetition and rhythm of these steel and concrete structures is a familiar visual input for urban dwellers.

bridge/lift by Chicago Skyway

railroad by Chicago skyway


under the skyway


Scan 5.1 was a 2013 commission based on the industrial view from the skyway. Structural and functional elements were re-envisioned as organic shapes and forms.

Scan 5.1 | 14" x 14" | glass, stringer and grout on cradled art board | c Heather Hancock 2013

A recent re-reading of EO Wilson's Biophilia, reminded me that he argues that our interest in mechanical forms is another form of biophilia, defined as our innate "focus on life and lifelike processes." In the absence of sufficient novel and diverse natural inputs, it may be that we rely on built world elements to augment our visual experience, reading mechanical forms as potentially changing, evolving elements. Natural world inputs feature the novelty and unpredictability that engage our information-seeking minds. The repetition and precision in the built world, necessary from the point of view of structure and function, make this insufficient as a sole visual input. But connecting with both natural and built world elements might be an important part of visual experience in the urban landscape, and ultimately a factor in quality of life.

More about Scan 5.1

More about South Chicago's industrial history at this great blog