Thursday, April 7, 2011

An October Kind of City

An October City in Anish Kapoor's Cloudgate (JWB, 2007)

“Chicago is an October kind of city even in the spring,” wrote Nelson Algren.

I’ve written his one before, a favorite quote from the author who looked at Chicago with a loving eye, wise to the pleasures of the city’s passionate embrace and the sting of its nasty temper.

This week finally brings the weather we associate with a Midwestern spring – showers, wildly variable temperatures, daffodils soldiering on in green rows in front of condominium buildings and in street planters.

So I dredge up this old photo, taken several Octobers ago to illustrate Algren’s thesis.

Mr. Algren had his own meaning for what he wrote, but the picture of Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate serves as a visual metaphor for what I think he meant.

There is the shimmering BUOYANCY of the thing.  There are one hundred ten tons of steel framework and highly polished stainless steel sitting there, but it seems to float in its space almost as if it were hovering.

And that’s not far from our collective mind this time of year.  We’re experiencing the buoyant feeling that comes from just having made it through another ponderous winter, emerging into a world that e. e. cummings called “mud-luscious” and “puddle-wonderful.”

The buoyancy, though, comes at a cost – the very human awareness that nothing is permanent and that spring will pass, as will summer, and it will be once again time to face the challenge of heavy-handed winter.

There is also the orientation of Kapoor’s sculpture.  I read somewhere that seventy-five percent of the piece’s surface reflects the sky.  Chicago is a town that has always reached for the sky, never more so than in the springtime when the heavens begin to brighten and spill over with a warmth that coaxes the trees back into leaf and the landscapers into action.

The mood is tempered by the solemn city, also reflected in Cloudgate’s shining surface.  It’s the open joy of about to happen pitted against the stolid acceptance of it can’t last forever.  

April and October, forever after.

As one season passes into the next, so hundreds of thousands of people pass Cloudgate every year seek out their reflections in its surface

But the city always intrudes, its skewed towers dwarfing the individual’s effort to find a form in the steel.  Over, under, around and through . . . it’s inescapable – this great stone beast of a city that crawled out of the great lake, sunk down in the ooze and mutated in a flash to become a giant of industry and commerce.

So we try to find a form, a reflection in this great season of rebirth, when all things are bright, unrealized, and ultimately possible.  Even as the distant October forms of what Emily Spinsterson called “the hour of lead” stand tall in a distant and distorted way.

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