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C_i_t_y_p_o_e_m_. A public art installation designed and executed for City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, 2010.

How does a percent for art project benefit the larger community? After Todd Palmer’s cryptic urban signage concept was selected for the artistic commission, he undertook (and supervised) implementation using American-made steel, employing steelworkers at Chicago Metal Fabricator’s factory as well as a union construction crew. He also collaborated with Gene Mojekwu-led Matrix Engineering to ensure the feasibility and safety of cantilevered shapes. The city’s building commission feared C_i_t_y_p_o_e_m_ might beckon as a lettered jungle-gym, given the proximity to drunken Wrigley Cubs fans and gay revelers in “Boystown,” both nearby.

The impact? The resulting work (on the facade of a municipal parking garage) elevates two avant-garde icons (dancer/anthropologist Katherine Dunham and her early mentor, the choreographer/painter/poet Mark Turbyfill) to connect disparate (and often at-odds) communities of passersby in the neighborhood.  Representing a (sadly) rare intersection of North and South side residents past, Dunham and Turbyfill are brought into conversation again through excerpted quotations Palmer playfully puzzles apart and pieces together. The tangle of bent bars creates an illegible theatrical billboard that respects the enigmatic spirit of their voices. His, an ode to the city’s soul, and hers, cautioning that “to define” – with too much clarity – can become “to limit.”

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