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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.

 

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.

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Culture Tue Nov 04 2014

7,550 Miles from Home, Chicago's Ethiopians Build a Cultural Museum

By Danielle Elliott

Some 7,550 miles separate Chicago from Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. For the 10,000 Ethiopians living in Chicago, that distance seems a lot smaller due to the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Wed Nov 26 2014

Horrible Bosses 2, The Penguins of Madagascar & Happy Valley

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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Events

Thu Nov 27 2014
The Warriors @ Logan Theatre

Thu Nov 27 2014
Second City's Holidazed & Confused Revue @ UP Comedy

Thu Nov 27 2014
Chicago Italian Film Festival

Fri Nov 28 2014
Pixar In Concert @ CSO

Fri Nov 28 2014
You, Me, Them, Everybody Live @ Hungry Brain

Fri Nov 28 2014
Sing-Along Sound of Music @ Music Box

Fri Nov 28 2014
Michael Milano Solo Exhibition for Trunk Show

Fri Nov 28 2014
23rd Annual Wreathing of the Lions @ Art Institute

Sat Nov 29 2014
Pixar In Concert @ CSO

Sun Nov 30 2014
Pixar In Concert @ CSO

Tue Dec 2 2014
David Schalliol @ International Museum of Surgical Science

Wed Dec 3 2014
Chicago Filmmakers @ The Comfort Station Film Screening


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