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Art Wed Aug 20 2014
When artist Katherine Alexandria took a tour of one of the new condo developments that have risen on the land once occupied by the Cabrini-Green housing projects, it wasn't because she was interested in buying. It was to get a better sense of what she was protesting.
"The idea of displacing 15,000 people so you could use the property for something more profitable is inexcusable," Alexandria said. "There is a massive number of people in Chicago living below the poverty level. We have anti-discrimination housing laws, but we don't enforce them. It's such a slap in the face in how we treat our poorest citizens."
View of Cabrini rowhouses from 873 N. Larrabee St. Photo by Katherine Alexandria
Alexandria grew up in Mexico City and later moved to Bronzeville. Shopping and visiting nearby Hyde Park, she saw firsthand the gentrification efforts in that neighborhood and the income disparities that developed. When she learned about the wave of gentrification now transforming the site of the Cabrini-Green housing projects, she was moved to make a work of protest art, a way to represent the people who were displaced from their longtime homes.
After considering several options, she decided to make seed bombs and distribute them in Englewood and Austin, neighborhoods where many of the former Cabrini residents settled.
The condo building at 873 N. Larrabee St. contains a total of 100,000 square feet of livable space, with apartment prices averaging $308 per square foot. Alexandria toured the building under the pretense of homeshopping, gathering details for her project. The luxury condos feature granite countertops, walk-in closets and balconies that on one side of the building overlook the remaining Cabrini rowhouses.
Based on the condo building's square footage, she figured she'd need to make thousands of seed bombs to produce the equivalent wildflower coverage. She ended up making more than 5,600.
She chose a Midwestern wildflower mix with lots of perennials that are indigenous to the area to help ensure they survive Chicago's weather and live on beyond this summer. In between showers on a rainy mid-June weekend, she and a friend drove to nine sites on the South and West sides and threw the seedbombs into empty lots, road medians and other unoccupied land, where the wildflowers would be able to sprout mostly undisturbed. And with all the rain we've gotten this summer, the seeds have definitely had opportunity to sprout.
"It's all Midwestern wildflowers, so it's what's supposed to be there. Crabgrass isn't supposed to be there," Alexandria said. "I like that this act of 'vandalism' can't just be buffed over. Once they're there, there's no getting them out."
Artist Katherine Alexandria distributing seed bombs. Photo courtesy of the artist.
You can see Alexandria's preparations and follow progress on her project blog, Seed-Bomb. Alexandria will be mounting an exhibition of artifacts and collateral related to the project at the Precedence Gallery at Harold Washington College, 30 E. Lake St., in the fall.
Seed Bomb Locations
• 358 N. Cicero Ave.
• 5714 W. Armitage Ave.
• 1828 N. Laramie Ave.
• 1119-1129 N. Kostner Ave.
• 5044 S. Saint Lawrence Ave..
• 473-525 E. 51st St.
• 5521 S. Wabash Ave.
• 7521 S. Normal Ave.
• 1200 W. 76th St.