Where We Come From....Where We're Going
painted in 1992
restored in 2009
See reports below on the making and restoring of the mural.
1992 Report on the painting of
Where We Come From…Where We’re Going
Where We Come From...Where We're Going is an oral history mural by Olivia Gude sponsored by a National Endowment for the Arts New Forms Regional Artists' Project Grant, Chicago Public Art Group, and community residents. It is located at the corner of 56th and Lake Park on the wall of a viaduct at the site of a METRA commuter train station.
The mural was made by interviewing passersby at the site during March and April and asking them the questions, "Where are you coming from? Where are you going?" Responses to the questions and photos of the respondents are the materials from which the text and images are drawn. Peoples' answers to the questions range from everyday descriptions of their comings and goings, to ruminations on career and family history, to observations about the social and political times, to thoughts on meta-physical and spiritual journeys and changes.
In recent years as an artist working within the tradition of community-based
murals, I found myself more and more interested in the things that people say
during meetings held within the community to generate themes for murals. Though the images of murals are often sophisticated and complex, I felt increasinglyfrustrated that the wealth and beauty of the language which people use to describe their lives were lost from the final product. I'd also often noticed that people on the street will frequently stop and read the long lists of credits on murals. From these dual observations grew the desire to experiment with mural forms which would allow for the incorporation of text with image.
Where We Come From...Where We're Going like many murals within the community murals tradition images a multi-cultural community. Yet instead of seeking to create a homogeneous picture of a mythic, unified "people" in joy, in work, or in struggle, Where We Come From...Where We're Going deliberately sets forth various, individual, often contradictory positions. For example, a number of people in the mural comment about how they feel being in this place in Hyde Park, responses range from a joy that seems to her to confirm an older woman's call to the ministry to feelings of depression and confinement.
The site of 56th and Lake Park is a place of transition in the neighborhood. It
is the site of a commuter line station and one of the main streets used to exit
Hyde Park to travel to the south side via car or bus. Through this underpass
travels a wide spectrum of folks. Traditionally, Hyde Park has been a stable
multi-racial, multi-ethnic community. It has also been a community in which there are wide disparities of income and educational opportunity. Murals because of their site-specific nature are often associated with the notion of community as a group of people within a given geographic location. The variety of quotations within the mural suggest the possibility that people within an area do not necessarily hear each others' voices. I do believe though that the very act of pointing out these various, overlapping stories, suggests that always there is the possibility of initiating a discussion, of a conversation which once begun may create a community of discourse.
Restoration Report for
Where We Come From…Where We’re Going 2009
This mural installation is on the southwest underpass wall of 56th Street between Stony Island and Lake Park Avenue in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The concept of the mural, as originally funded by a New Forms Regional Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, also includes the inner line of columns on the entire south side of the underpass. The mural was originally designed and painted by me (Olivia Gude) in 1992.
Past and Present Meet at Mural Site
One of the great pleasures of working on this site seventeen years later was meeting so many people who I had encountered almost two decades ago. It was wonderful to be greeted with the comment, “Oh, you’re back. Nice to see you again.” Two people who I photographed and interviewed for the original mural came to the wall to say hello! I got reports on a number of other people pictured in the mural from neighborhood residents. It was gratifying to have so many people come up to me and say how much they have enjoyed this mural over the years and how happy they were to see it being restored. It is nice to know that the work we do as muralists is part of the fabric of communities.
Technology 17 Years Later Changes Social Interactions
As I began to plan for a new section of the mural on the east side of the underpass, I organized my technology for photographing and recording. I quickly determined that I would not be using my old cassette tape recorder, but instead would use a digital audio recorder. I realized that I would not be taking color slides and black and white print film, but would be using a digital camera.
One day I couldn’t paint for a few hours because of weather conditions and decided that I would spend some time on the corner interviewing people. I discovered that I had forgotten my camera and professional recorder, but quickly realized that I could record and photograph using only my i-Phone.
As I observed people coming and going on 56th Street over the course of the summer, I noticed a significant change from seventeen years ago. People were no longer as actively engaging their surroundings. People did not necessarily nod and say hello to me when I was painting at ground level. The reason for this lack of sociality was readily apparent—many passersby were talking on their cell phones!
The technology of communication and documentation used by individuals has changed radically in the seventeen years since I painted Where We Come From….Where We’re Going. Even I wasn’t at the 56th Street underpass in the same way I was in the past, immersed in the ambience of the place. I could easily and instantly be somewhere else—calling or surfing the internet for information on my phone. In 1993 my assistant and I listened to music from a boom box, negotiating our music and radio choices. We then “shared” that music with passersby. In 2009, I had to tap my assistant to get his attention as he listened to music though earbuds.
As the buses and METRA trains lumbered by, I was struck by the fact that in seventeen years privately utilized means of communication and information access had completely transformed, but the public transportation system was the same. Where are we investing? Where are we coming from? Where are we going?
2008 Condition of the
Where We Come From….Where We’re Going
Overall the image of the mural was clear and paint loss was confined to areas obscured by efflorescence, a white salty substance, leaching from cracks in the cement wall. The paint skin of the mural was largely intact. In a few places (perhaps 1%) the paint was no longer strongly adhered to the surface (probably “lifted” by efflorescence), but this paint was still firmly attached to the overall paint skin and thus unlikely to fall away.
Some colors of the mural were faded. The background and clothing colors were quite similar to the original work. Flesh tones were very flat looking, having lost vivid yellow or reddish tones. Initially, I was puzzled by this, as typically the colors that fade in murals are the blues and violets, since even the best of these pigments are not totally light fast. Having researched this issue, I learned that cadmium pigments—i.e. reds and yellows—can become less vivid when exposed to moisture. Since the moisture is reaching the paint from behind—as this is a retaining wall for earth—there isn’t anything that can be done to prevent moisture interacting with the paint in the future.
This wall has had efflorescence issues for over thirty years. Many years ago the wall was painted with a mural by Astrid Fuller. The wall had been coated with black tar and Fuller’s mural was painted on top of this surface. By 1992, the Astrid Fuller mural on the outer part of the underpass had almost completely disappeared as the tar became brittle and fell off the wall over the years. The wall was prepared for the 1993 mural with soda blasting by the City of Chicago anti-graffiti team. This removed all paint and efflorescence from the wall.
During the station renovation in the early 2000s, the configuration of the space had been changed. Unsightly metal fencing was removed and a new station was built. The wall with the colorful ground painting in which the mural merged into the staircase leading to the tracks was now enclosed. The new station cut off the edge of the eastern most figure and enclosed some of the columns. Only two columns retained their original color, text, and/or figures.
The entire surface of the mural has been repainted. I (Olivia Gude) originally thought that it would only be necessary to scrape down and re-paint sections that had been damaged by efflorescence. Upon closer examination, it was clear that the entire mural had faded and needed to be totally repainted. This was particularly difficult because the mural was originally created by first loosely painting the figures and background and then projecting the text (with an overhead projector and transparencies) onto the completed images and lettering of the finished painting. Restoring the mural entailed sometimes using tiny brushes to restore colors between each letterform. I also repainted every word in the mural.
When I finished this mural in 1993, I packed up all the original slides, photographs, drawings, and text transcriptions in a labeled box. This resource was invaluable in repainting figures and reclaiming text that had been lost due to efflorescence.
Changes in the Site Since 1993 & the Community Garden
Since the mural was painted in 1993, the site in front of the mural has been drastically changed. The sidewalks were re-configured and a raised planting bed was built. The area is planted by Margaret Johnson, a neighborhood resident who is part of a Hyde Park gardening group. After discussion about what would be entailed in doing a restoration, Ms Johnson arranged to have plants nearest the wall moved forward in the planting bed.
In discussions over the course of the summer, I have requested that the garden group not plant tall perennial plants with a woody structure (that will obscure the mural year round) and that plants be planted at least 6 feet from the wall so that foliage does not brush up against the wall and contribute to moisture damage. Ms. Johnson is considering changing the planting scheme to low-level rock garden-type plants.
Site preparation for Painting
Safely reaching the upper parts of the wall, required creating “tracks” on which to set scaffold. Nicholas Kashian worked very hard, moving any plants that had not been moved forward sufficiently and digging two grooves in front of the entire surface of the wall into which we set runner boards for the scaffold. We moved excess dirt to a nearby parkway. Over the course of the summer, Nicholas and Olivia put in lots of time, spreading dirt along the parkway and removing dirt from the site. At the end of the project, I seeded the ground with wildflowers.
2009 Changes in
Where We Come From…Where We’re Going
Because the level of ground in front of the mural had been raised, I had to make a few adjustments to the image, most significantly the original black dog in the lower right corner had to be redrawn to stand on the ground surface (or it would have looked like it was submerged in mud). In the original mural the dark dog blended in with the dark background. In the new version, the dog has become white so that it blends in with the lighter background of its new placement.
Shortly after I painted the mural in 1993, I felt that a few of the text passages, while beautifully colored, blended in too much and were difficult to read. In restoring the mural, I adjusted the hue and chroma of some of the text.
Credit Box Added to the Mural in 2009
RESTORED IN 2009
BY OLIVIA GUDE & NICHOLAS KASHIAN
WITH THE SUPPORT OF
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS,
SOUTH EAST CHICAGO COMMISSION &
ALDERMAN LESLIE HAIRSTON
CHICAGO PUBLIC ART GROUP