TERMINAL 5 ART
We Walk Together, 2023
Credit: Selina Trepp
O’Hare and Midway International Airports are home to dozens of sculptures, paintings, murals, and exhibits curated to enhance the air travel experience of visitors and locals alike as they traverse one of the nation’s busiest travel hubs.
Fittingly, a $3.5 million public art plan was announced at the heart of the $1 billion transformation of O’Hare’s Terminal 5. The installation, which represents the largest single acquisition of works by Chicago artists by the city in the last 30 years, highlights the breadth and diversity of Chicago artists and creative professionals while simultaneously providing international visitors with a visually arresting and welcoming first impression of what the city of Chicago has to offer.
The program will feature new, large-scale commissions by artists including: Nelly Agassi, Jonathan Michael Castillo, Assaf Evron, Krista Franklin, Wills Glasspiegel with P-Top De La Cruz, Winfield Wounded Eye and the ERA Footwork Crew, Jenny Kendler, Mayumi Lake, Yvette Mayorga, Cecil McDonald Jr., Faheem Majeed, Huong Ngo and Hong-An Truong, Chris Pappan, Cheryl Pope, Edra Soto, Leonard Suryajaya, Maryam Taghavi, Selina Trepp, Jina Valentine, and Bernard Williams
Artist Maryam Taghavi’s work studies forms of language beyond their typical meanings. She uses drawing, performance, video, publication, installation, and photography to illustrate how language is a multi-sensory experience. Her work invites viewers to consider the different viewpoints and roles language plays in art and life. Often, she uses the symbols and words of her native Iran to reflect the power of language in the formation of perception. For example, through a series of paintings she reincarnates a sigil, a letterform derived from 17th-century Persian occult practices, believed to conjure up metaphysical powers. Another example is the number 999,999 — spelled out in Farci — on a window on a Chicago street. Underlining the 1,000,000 lives lost during the Iran-Iraq War, this work attempts to draw connection to how inequality and violence on the local and global levels affect the livelihood of generations.
Taghavi’s contribution to Terminal 5 is an installation called Cosmic Traps. A talisman for protection expands on a long line across the wall. She uses sigils that derive from Islamic mysticism to engage in questions about being and becoming. The mystical powers of the symbols represent wish fulfillment and the ability to manifest desire.
Internationally noted visual artist, performer and poet Krista Franklin creates intricate collages that reflect race, gender and class issues. Her work rests at the intersection of poetry, popular culture and the powerful history of the African Diaspora. In her work for T5 at O’Hare she thought about the children who will be traveling through the corridor. She manipulates images and texts to make creative spaces for radical change for women and people of color. Her creation of collages, involving cutting, pasting and positioning, opens a gateway for conversation with the materials of other writers and artists.
Wherever You Go There You Are is a large-scale mixed media painting that adopts its primary form from Rorschach test inkblots, the visual psychological tests designed to reveal particular personality and emotional characteristics of the viewer. While the framework of the collage mimics the inkblot, the work is composed of elements of archival Chicago photographs, as well as composites of amorphous forms woven throughout the work to create a dreamlike, surreal ecology that mimics itself from left to right.
This work is created by hand with digital elements included post-production. A high resolution scan of the original work on paper will be printed on dibond and installed in the T5 Corridor. The materials used in the production are: ink, adhesive, prints of archival photographs, vintage magazine clippings, paper, and digital enhancements.
Focusing on economy and improvisation, Selina Trepp’s work strives for a balance between the intuitive and the conceptual. She works across media, mixing installation, painting, sculpture and performance to build varied installations that include photos, drawings and animations. The hallmark of Trepp’s practice is “I work with what I have.” She has not carried any new materials into her studio for over a decade. Using and reusing materials plays a significant part in her process, joining her politics and ethics with her art. Trepp also believes in accessibility, sharing her videos freely online and including a behind-the-scenes look at her process so viewers can learn about how she creates her work.
A stop motion video called Together We Walk is Trepp’s contribution to the airport installation. An assortment of colorful sculptures inch across the screen in a fanciful parade. Walking with the travelers, they appear to be composed of found materials that unfolds, rolls, and twirls down a pathway of geometric patterns, transporting the chaos and excitement of airports to the screen.
The film shows a wide expanse of sky in an ode to Chicago’s famous skyline. The sky displays both sunrise and sunset to symbolize the transition that travelers experience going through customs. They are not quite officially in the country, but they have landed.
Living in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood has directly influenced Trepp’s aesthetic with her art. The neighborhood is filled with unusual creative expressions like windmills and Eiffel towers as front yard decorations, or steps painted in faux domino tiles with an array of creatures posed in the yard. These examples of using materials in inventive ways have guided her art practice of recycling and reusing.
It’s unsurprising to see Jina Valentine’s name on the list of artists contributing to the project. A mother, visual artist, and Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Valentine’s practice utilizes traditional craft techniques and involves language translation, mining content from material and digital archives, as well as experimental strategies for humanizing data-visualization. All these elements can be found in a murmuration, her thought-provoking and visually arresting installation at Terminal 5.
Utilizing demographic data sourced from contemporary and historical Census reports; INS/DHS immigration yearbooks; various projects seeking to account for Indigenous and Black populations undercounted in historical Censuses; and projects projecting population growth and demographic shifts, a murmuration maps the demographic composition of the state of Illinois from around the time of ratification (~1820) to nearly two decades into the future (~2040). It consists of approximately 600 wall-mounted convex aluminum discs of varying sizes which correspond to data visualizations of the state’s population growth, 80 of which are etched with texts contributed by immigrant communities in Illinois and presented in the native languages of their countries of origin.
The intention behind the artwork is to illustrate 200 years of international immigration to the state of Illinois, while simultaneously centering the histories of Chicagoans and inspiring engagement with physical and digital archives, the Census, and our collective histories.
“This work illustrates that demographic change is a constant within a democracy,” Valentine wrote in the project’s description. “And it affords travelers an opportunity to imagine the future of this place and their contributions to shaping it. The work is about immigration and Illinois’ constantly evolving social landscape. Globally, we are on the precipice of a great migration of people as a result of resource inequities, political unrest, and a changing climate. Visualizing the past and present ethnic and cultural composition of our state acknowledges that our body politic has always been diverse, and its cultural dynamism is a result of its complex composition.”
Jonathan Michael Castillo
A photographer and visual artist, Jonathan Michael Castillo’s work centers on cultural behavior, social issues, people, and place. Castillo’s photos showcase the lifestyles and traditions of people through cinematic lighting, supplying a dramatic effect to everyday situations. Documenting the ubiquitous car culture of Los Angeles, his work is both portraits of individual drivers in their cars, and a collective portrait of the Los Angeles landscape. Castillo gives focus to issues like unaccompanied minors crossing U.S. borders with sensitive photographs of interior spaces and objects that represent their transitions to their new lives.
For the installation in Terminal 5, Castillo broadened his social photography project, Immigrant Owned, by adding backlit boxes to display his vivid images of immigrant-owned businesses across Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. Spread across the terminal’s baggage claim, the photos illustrate the details and faces of these businesses that are so integral to many of the city’s communities. Images of sparkling quinceañera dresses in a Little Village boutique, a shop owner staring out from clusters of Polish flags in a Belmont Cragin gift shop, and the chef-owner of a Senegalese restaurant perched on a stool near a talking drum and a hand-painted sign that reads “Yum,” in a Rogers Park storefront, form a dynamic exhibit of the variety and significance of these immigrant businesses.
Castillo explores the often-overlooked part of the American economy and how these immigrant-owned businesses create jobs and take entrepreneurial risks to participate in the American dream. He credits Chicago’s accessibility and welcoming arts and small business community with helping his work become more socially engaged. Traversing the city’s multicultural neighborhoods has influenced both the subjects and themes of his work.