As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block has ceased publication. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. 


Wednesday, October 23

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Hubbard Street Dance Chicago premieres Kyle Abraham's "Counterpoint" The Pump and Dump Show, a Night Out for Beleaguered Moms »

Art Wed Aug 20 2014

Artist Sows Seed Bombs to Represent Cabrini Resident Diaspora

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."

873 N. Larrabee St. view
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.

seed bombsThe 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.
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

West Side
• 358 N. Cicero Ave.
• 5714 W. Armitage Ave.
• 1828 N. Laramie Ave.
• 1119-1129 N. Kostner Ave.

South Side
• 5044 S. Saint Lawrence Ave..
• 473-525 E. 51st St.
• 5521 S. Wabash Ave.
• 7521 S. Normal Ave.
• 1200 W. 76th St.

GB store

Jerm / August 20, 2014 12:39 PM

But it wasn't really about displacing them so that something more profitable could be put there it was b/c the idea of concentrating poverty into tiny areas only inflates crime and deteriorates the communities around it. Which is why the approach now is to use section 8 housing to integrate poor families into middle class areas to have a more homogenous community.

Betts / August 20, 2014 12:47 PM

While in her head she's doing this as a 'protest' I'm guessing anyone that encounters these flowering fields where there were previously vacant lots will miss the point and possibly see this as an artistic movement into the area that tends to actually lead to gentrification.

Kev / August 20, 2014 12:48 PM

LOL. Good try though

jenny / August 20, 2014 1:22 PM

I love this idea, but slight correction: most of those west side locations aren't Austin. I see a lot of glosses of west side neighborhoods--after Humbolt Park thar be dragons, right? :)

JBro / August 20, 2014 1:49 PM

The areas 'bombed' are definitely aren't soon to be gentrified. West of humboldt park and garfield park are certainly in no threat of that. BUT I think its a great idea and the more that can be done to beautify the area the better.

Andrew Huff / August 20, 2014 4:03 PM

Jenny, good point, the South Side locations aren't all in Englewood either. I've edited the article to reflect that.

MrBrownThumb / August 20, 2014 7:33 PM

I don't think there are many that love gardening, and guerrilla gardening specifically, more than me in Chicago. But I think this project and the idea behind it aren't really thought out.

If you wanted to use flowers to make a statement about the displaced why make it in an area where nobody will ever see it? Why not force the city, developers and the rich that displaced these residents to be reminded of them? Why not seed bomb the condos/neighborhood. If you're going to co-opt guerrilla gardening, at least be as radical as guerrilla gardeners. Otherwise find another medium.

Oh, and if someone has time/money/resources to spend on something similar: please don't. Use that money/time/creativity and help the many gardens and urban farms in these neighborhoods that are trying to save lives and resuscitate communities. Go help them.

Smegma Santorum / August 21, 2014 10:56 AM

Idiots like this artist make me wonder what the hell is wrong with our school system. Good grief. Yeah, we should have kept Cabrini like it was, concentrated poverty was working out SO WELL.

Katherine Alexandria / August 22, 2014 7:31 PM

It would be my pleasure to take this opportunity to thank, the very thoughtful and kind hearted Andrew Huff, for writing this article about my project. I would also like to clear up any misunderstandings about the project.
My intentions in doing this project were not to protest the closing of the Cabrini Green Complex but to mark the diaspora of its residents and bring this city's consciousness to the time in history in which so many of the city's members lived there, and what happened when their community and lives were disrupted by gentrification.
I believe that we can all agree that the way Cabrini-Green was cared for, was a shame to our city. There is no simple answer to our city's housing problem. This project was simply a meditation on the meaning of home, vandalism, what is a natural ecology, our city's history and an attempt to communicate and beautify.
If I may offer you my most humble thanks for reading and welcome you to view my website and come to my show at the Harold Washington Precedence Gallery, I will be displaying more information about the history and politics of Cabrini-Green, my interviews with former residents, a timeline and instructional on how to make Seed-Bombs and a small cache of seed bombs for all of my guerrilla gardener friends, representing the residents who ended up living outside of Austin, Englewood, and in mixed income housing.

ecological map of oppressed exodus
love letter to the tyrannized
monument to surviving diaspora

Katherine Alexandria

curt(is) / September 2, 2014 10:48 AM

Yes, Smegma, you SHOULD worry about our school system(s) -- note that you completely missed the fact that the artist grew up in Mexico City (not a reflection on "our" schools.) You, SMEGMA, are snarky and intellectually lazy -- a perfect product of OUR schools.

GB store

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store



A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15