When you are in Chicago and you come upon a monument, don’t you wish you could know more about the person being represented other than the brief explanation, if any, on the plaque? I’ve often wished I had the inside scoop on what their lives were all about. And there are also non-monument statues sprinkled all over Chicago, too, which I’ve often wondered about: Who was the artist and what was his or her life about? Whom were they depicting when they created the statue – is there some message inherent in the statue or was it simply commissioned for decoration?
Statue Stories Chicago now provides answers on many of our monuments and statues! And this is why I had a keen interest in attending the Chicago Ideas Week lab “Bring History to Life with Statue Stories.” Fortunately, this happened last week while the weather was still very pleasant, since part of this lab involved a walk to a nearby work of art (which happened to be the Cloud Gate a/k/a “the bean” in Millennium Park) for a listen.
Julia Bachrach introduced herself as a historian, preservationist and author who has written several books for the Chicago Park District for whom she is the historian and planning supervisor. She mentioned that for anyone who is interested, there is an archive of about 70,000 statues available at the Harold Washington Chicago Public Library.
Statue Stories took about four years to put into play and has been in place for three years, with more statue recordings coming; some of them are contests one can enter, even children – not just for statues, but for some of the dinosaurs and cows on display. Bachrach gave us a history of how Statue Stories came about and how it works. It’s very easy. You need a smart phone with the swipe (a/k/a scan) app on your phone. When you find a participating monument or statue (see Who’s Talking Where for an online index), you look for the tag code. Shortly after you swipe, your phone will ring. It will be the statue calling you to tell you about him/herself! There’s no charge for this, other than what you would normally be charged by your provider for a call.
Local writers, actors and celebrities wrote and recorded the statue monologues. One original requirement for a qualifying monument is that it have a face. But after it was discovered there’s a dearth of women’s monuments, some exceptions were made so there could be more female statues in the project. Some statues, like Bob Newhart at the tip of Navy Pier, are in popular locations and tell their stories often. Others are more far-flung.
Bachrach herself wrote the monologue for the Alexander von Humboldt monument in Humboldt Park to be recited not by von Humboldt himself, but by the lizard toward the base of the statue. She did this to represent his worldwide travels, and then it was recorded by Colombian-American actress Sandra Delgado; Bachrach felt the casting was perfect and that Delgado had done her monologue justice.
After Bachrach introduced Statue Stores, we watched a “Chicago at Play” video which started out, “One day, 30 statues came alive and started speaking.” Because of my love of Chicago and the monuments and statues I’ve happened upon over the years, I found this moving: Finally we could learn about these statues! As Chicago has one of the world’s most important collections of public art, this project gives even more of a sense of pride in Chicago, its history and the fascinating personalities who have been a part of that history.
After we all took a jaunt over to Cloud Gate and back, we got to create our own Cloud Gate compositions. Lead by MT Cozzola in coming up with our own monologues, Quraysh Ali Lansana in creating poems and social media guru Jessie Jury who taught us how to share effectively online, it was another wonderful Chicago Ideas Week lab that was full of learning, first-hand experiences and creating,
As class wound down, we were asked if anyone wanted to read their piece aloud. One of the exercises was to write what the Cloud Gate might say if it recorded a voice mail message. Somehow I found my hand in the air volunteering to read mine: “Hi. This is Cloud Gate. I am always here, so come on by. I will welcome you in any season at any time of day or night. Let’s be friends.” Why did I add “Let’s be friends”? Because, Cloud Gate’s monologue sounds open and friendly — but you’ll just have to go and listen for yourself.