Michael Chambers and Millicent Kennedy: For Those Who Toil
@ Purple Window Gallery
2233 S Throop St. #845, Chicago, IL 60608
Opening Friday, February 3rd, from 5PM - 9PM
On view through Sunday, February 26th
Michael Chambers and Millicent Kennedy’s show For Those Who Toil explores themes of post Industrialization and its lasting impact on the environment and working class.
Opening Reception 5 – 9 pm
Friday, February 3, 2023
Purple Window Gallery is located inside MANA Contemporary Chicago, at 2233 S. Throop St. Room 845, Chicago, IL 60608. The entrance is on the East side of the building. It is accessible by the #21 #60 and #9 buses, or by walking from the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line stop.
The Calumet region on the south side of Chicago saw a boom of industrial growth over a century ago, becoming one of the largest steel-producing centers of the world. Relatively well-paying jobs brought support to an immigrant working class. All that production came with serious side effects on the local ecology. Polluting the region with industrial waste at a mass scale. The latter half of the twentieth century saw those jobs disappear as the US steel industry began to collapse.
An Environmental justice movement began in response to the widespread use of Southeast side land for landfills. With Ms. Hazel Johnson and Ms. Marion Byrnes leading the way with their work through the organizations “People for Community Recovery” and “Southeast Environmental Task Force” result in the end of landfill use within Chicago city limits in 1986. Now sites such as Big Marsh park (projects source of slag), and Steelworkers Park amongst others have been great examples of eco-recreation. Landscape Architecture aimed to cap the waste and revitalize the native ecosystem to support wildlife recovery.
This rapid era of industrialization has undoubtedly produced a unique geologic layer that will define this time period. The permanent materiality of this work hopefully functions as a lasting monument to the labors of a bygone working class and simultaneously, an anti-monument to an industry focused on endless consumption and exploitation of natural resources expanding to every corner of the planet.
Tools of labor like workers are frequently disregarded, until they break down, or can’t be used anymore. Material interest in abandoned tools and a donated broken sewing machine led me to reflect on the textile industry. Fabric was our first technology, allowing us to transport materials, shroud our bodies, and live in inhospitable environments. The sewing machine, which facilitated a swift turn in the industrial revolution was in its time highly contentious. The first fully sewing machine-operated factory was burned down by tailors fearing the loss of their hand-stitched industry. The history of textile work has historically been undervalued, experienced craftspeople were outpriced in lace making because labor was taken without the payment of orphans and nuns. Though technology has changed, the cycle of exploitation has not. The hands present in the edition of prints are sourced from documentary videos and photographs of workers in sweatshops, sewing garments, and mixing dye vats. The title of the installation piece is also pulled from a worker’s statement “We have hands, and so we work”
The action of dismantling and hand-stitching a sewing machine into hand-printed and dyed textiles ritualizes the embedding of technological advancements in their historic roots. The dichotomy of industry and slow stitch come together in these works using second source materials and seizing the means of production simultaneously. The individual parts of this installation are available for sale on their own, emphasizing the individual workers being part of the whole of the social fabric. The people who eventually own them are connected to their neighbors and strangers alike.
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