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Infra-Ordinary Chicago

I love to explore new neighborhoods; my method is meandering.

As part of my renewed commitment to drawing and Chicago, this winter I developed a small illustrated tour of the Windy City’s streets… tracing out familiar details and forgotten histories in terra-cotta decor and gaps in the grid. While the original drawings will tour with the Sketchbook Project, I’ve also published, for easy distribution, on Amazon. Enjoy the web previews at Blurb and original excerpts below… and gift to your favorite everyday urbanist.

Inventory & Invention

I move a lot – from Boston to Brooklyn to Harlem, from New York to Chicago to Virginia and back. As a trained urbanist (landscape architect and jill-of-all-trades designer), I love to explore new neighborhoods. My method is meandering: wandering alleyways, jogging thru cemeteries, noting sidewalk widths and electric pole placements. For me, everyday observation ferments questions about each new city’s structure and history.

My process is inspired by George Perec, the french novelist, and his notion of the ‘infra-ordinary’ as an everyday anthropology; a way of observing that seeks to ‘question the habitual’ as manifest in ‘bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spent our time, our rhythms.’ These drawings sketch the infra-ordinary details of Chicago’s streets. And this notebook provides the space- in black and white, in fragments – to tease out urban patterns, politics, and cultural values.

Uncovering Mundane Agents

I hope that these pages help you to turn to your neighborhood and, in the words of Perec, look around to, ‘question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us…Describe your street. Describe another. Compare. Make an inventory of your pockets, of your bag. Ask yourself about the provenance, the use, what will become of each of the objects you take out. Question your tea spoons. What is under your wallpaper? How many movements does it take to dial a phone number? Why?… It matters a lot to me that they (these questions) should seem trivial and futile; that’s exactly what makes these essential.’ Look thru this notebook, but, more importantly, look around and question the forces, factors, decision, accidents, intersections, and potentials nested in your everyday environment.

Team

Meg Studer conducted the research and developed the illustration, urban commentary, and bibliography. Prompts are taken from George Perec.

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Decipher a bit of the town. Deduce the obvious facts.