On the corner of Ashland and Division, inside that one CVS couched within a historic bank building, a few strides in and many feet above the Division street entrance, hovers a lone Spongebob Squarepants balloon, looking diminutive and out-of-place against the building’s Classical Revival-style ceiling. It’s the kind of detail only someone intimately familiar with a place might notice. For me, as well as for twelve-year-old Sarah Wilber, a Spongebob balloon lodged between two ornate wooden beams is emblematic of the kinds of contradictions that comprise Wicker Park, the subject of Dolores and Sarah Wilber’s performance for Rapid Pulse.
A self-described collaborative artist, Dolores Wilber gave the creative reins to Sarah, her niece, who came to live with her three years ago in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. Their joint venture took the form of a walking tour, led and narrated by Sarah, who treated the audience to favorite local haunts, insider knowledge, and concise histories of the neighborhood shaping her young adulthood. The piece is a part of Wilber the elder’s “Dear Chicago” series, a succession of site-specific happenings meant to activate and commemorate their respective sites, invoking equal parts “longing and memory” and “the evasive joy of the moment;” things intrinsic to beloved places and their ordinary histories. Sarah led the audience up and down Milwaukee Avenue and around certain sections of Damen and Division Avenues, stopping at a spa with cupcakeshaped soaps, her favorite gelato shop, two drugstores—the aforementioned CVS and a Walgreens—made fancier than the average corporate bodega by being situated in historic former bank buildings. The locations and details relayed to the audience by Sarah seemed banal enough, at first. They were the kinds of things you might nervously rattle off to an old friend or family come to visit you for the first time since you moved–‘and this store is a lot like that one but really I like it better because apples are half off every Tuesday’—that sort of thing. In other words, the tour featured the kinds of details that signify a palimpsest of feelings and memories accrued over time, that eventually become so complex, they defy easy communication. So that what sounds like a flood of random information to the visitor is, to the speaker-native, a rush of thoughts and feelings ballooning to the surface, activated by the invisible trip-wire of a beloved place’s presence.
Perhaps I’m reading it this way because I have also lived in the area for about three years now, and spend a portion of every week in Wicker Park. I’m fond of the area. I also love, as Sarah suggested, the “look, energy, and fashion of the neighborhood”—its eclectic residents, the hodgepodge of stores, the drunks. But, to bring it back to CVS and its stray balloon: familiarity might differentiate the tourist from the local, but an acute attention to detail and a sensitivity to the poetics of place differentiate the budding flâneur from the mere pedestrian.
Photo by Rosa Gaia Saunders
Katie Waddell is a Chicago-based independent curator and critic. She is the founder of its a_pony! projects, an independent, nomadic curatorial platform. She also directs and produces 2nd Floor Rear, an annual 24-hour festival of art in unconventional spaces. Katie is currently writing her masters thesis on sincerity and sociality in Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July’s Learning to Love You More.