By Julia Haw
As Governor Rauner attempted to partly “remedy” the $6 billion gap in the projected 2016 state budget, it was as if he took out a machete in the rainforest and began with many confusing and irrational “slashes.” One of his ideas to shave off a bit of annual cost, (6.29 million) was to strike at the hearts of many citizens, and threaten to close all five Illinois State Museum locations. At the start of the fiscal year on July 1st, 2015, none of the works housed in any of the locations had insurance, forcing the directors and staff to return all pieces to the artists. This is with the exception of the location in Springfield which houses some 13.5 million artifacts, which necessitate HVAC. My traveling series “The Western Veil,” previously shown in 2014 at the Thompson location (and then at the Lockport location), comprised of 36 works, was returned to me June 22nd. I promptly disseminated all the purchased works. I met with Lockport museum director John Lustig shortly thereafter, as he had just met with Lockport mayor Steven Streit. The mayor said “I really think you should still have an opening July 31, as I’m a fan of Julia’s work. Let’s figure out something.” We began planning the installation of “Chicago Relic.”
When I ruminated on a response painting to this whole political mess, my mind kept returning to the Chicago pay boxes for parking. I found the whole idea ridiculous, ugly and somewhat upsetting. Why was my intuition turning to this object, of all the objects in Illinois? Who would want to look at this it, let alone find it at all precious or beautiful? And how was this internally hounding idea connected to the current conversation? I have always been one to run into the heart of discomfort. I had to do it. I realized “Chicago Relic” is not just a response to governor Bruce Rauner’s threats to close all five ISM institutions, it is a response to the state’s ongoing and historical responses of permanent, often horrible, solutions for temporary issues. Furthermore, the piece acts as an imagined depiction of a recreated alter, as seen from a future vantage, an installation 500 years from now, in a museum. Similar to the way we greet a Lingam (a spiritual token, image of God, or emblem connected to the penis) the Chicago Pay Box glitters, replete in it’s 23K regalia, a symbol of our contemporary visual alphabet. We must offer foreign coins, power objects and flowers to the relic of the past. We must light “money” incense and Copal as offering. We must remember the pay box. It is what I imagine we would revere and study if most of our cultural institutions continued to disappear, the artifacts washed away in political leverage and budget balancing. We have to accept, this IS our current language here in Chicago particularly, and we all know what it means.
Chicago and the state of Illinois is infamously known for corrupt mayors, governors and political figures. This is classic Chicago: “a reliance on long-term debt to cover short-term expenditures.” (Heather Gillers, Chicago Tribune) To further explain the pay box mess, Mayor Daley privatized and sold all 36,000 meters to Morgan Stanley in 2008 for a sum of $1.157 billion dollars for a 75 year lease. He shirked the alderman, who weren’t given the information until a few short days before the deal was cut. Even then, most of them didn’t understand what this would mean. Alderman Scott Waguespack, pointed out the seemingly obvious, that the company would make far more than 1.2 billion dollars over the next 75 years. Upon the closure of the deal, Morgan Stanley promptly went to two third parties, one in Abu Dhabi (The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority) and another, Redoma SARL, in Luxembourg, (thewire.com). Each year these foreign companies make incrementally more money. Even Rahm has said "A city normally known for its differences has come together in universal anger over the deal.” (DNAinfo.com, 2013)
We must also acknowledge Mayor Daley sold the Chicago Skyway in 2005, for $1.83 billion to the Cintra-Macquarie Consortium, based in Spain and Australia, for 99 years. Then in 2006, “Daley leased four parking garages under Millennium Park and Grant Park for 99 years, to a division of Morgan Stanley for $563 million.” (Ben Joravsky, chicagoreader.com, 2009)
Looping back in, the conversation of Chicago’s longstanding financial woes and short term solutions merely continues with Governor Rauner’s proposal to close all five Illinois State Museum buildings. Sadly, no shock here. But where do all these decisions lead us as a unique culture? The more we deny our cultural platforms - essentially our historical language, the more we are left with a very flat and lackluster discourse, devoid of the richness that has brought us to where we exist as a society. We drift through the streets each day. We see trees, and brick stones. We see the beautiful lakefront, and AL’s Beef. We see the river and the Hancock. We see the Chicago skyline. We see parking boxes. This is our daily visual language. These are our totems.
Thank you for reading and LONG LIVE CULTURE!!!!!
“Chicago Relic,” will be on display through November 2015 in the Illinois State Museum, Lockport, IL. With sincere gratitude to the real sponsors: The City of Lockport, Illinois and Mayor Steven Streit with Mrs. Wendy Streit, and sincerest thanks to Claire Molek and John Lustig. Feel to bring foreign currency, incense or a power object to leave for the “Chicago Relic” totem. Long live culture!