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CCA goes to Chicago


After great critical and public acclaim while it was on view in Montreal from 26 November 2008 to 19 April 2009, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) is pleased to announce that its exhibition Actions: What You Can Do With the City is now presented by the prestigious Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in Chicago until 13 March, 2010.

Featuring 99 actions that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world, the exhibition documents seemingly common activities — such as walking, playing, recycling, and gardening — that are pushed beyond their usual definition by the international architects, artists and collectives featured in the exhibition. Their experimental interactions with the urban environment show the potential influence personal involvement can have in shaping the city, and challenge fellow residents to participate.

Conceived and curated by CCA curator for contemporary crchitecture Giovanna Borasi and CCA director and chief curator Mirko Zardini, the exhibition and its accompanying publication present specific projects by a diverse group of activists whose personal involvement has initiated vital transformation in today’s cities. These human motors of change include architects, engineers, university professors, students, children, pastors, artists, skateboarders, cyclists, pedestrians, municipal employees, and many others who address the question of how to improve the urban experience.

At the exhibition opening in Chicago, Mirko Zardini said, “I am delighted to see the exhibition travel to Chicago and especially to the Graham Foundation. The Graham Foundation is deeply committed and passionately involved in sustaining a range of relevant studies in the contemporary debate on the city. Right now Chicago is an interesting place to discuss urbanism in a climate of openness and experimentation. I’m looking forward to seeing how the exhibition will continue to enhance new ways of thinking about how we interact with our cities. “

It is important to note that Actions: What You Can Do With the City is presented in Chicago during a year when the city celebrates the centennial of architect Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. “Actions provokes us to consider the exact opposite of the often quoted Burnham charge to ‘Make no little plans,'” says Sarah Herda, Graham Foundation executive director and curator. “In many ways the work brought together in the exhibition could be considered a collection of little plans — all demonstrating that creative thinking and participation at every scale has the potential to shape the urban environment.”

Furthermore, the 99 distinct actions presented in the exhibition are drawn from a larger number identified by the curators. They include projects related to the production of food and urban agriculture; the planning and creation of public spaces to strengthen community interactions; the recycling of abandoned buildings for new purposes; the appropriation of urban sites into terrain for play, such as soccer, climbing, skateboarding, or parkour; the alternate use of roads for walking or rail lines as park space; the design of clothing to circumvent urban barriers against loitering or resting on benches; and many others.

The exhibition places particular emphasis on the activists’ tools, which comprise unusual materials ranging from large-scale inflatables and fruit-collecting dresses to seed-bomb rocket launchers and wheelbarrow-bicycle hybrids. Included are masks disguising children as horses, or sneakers customised for sliding along railings. In their individual critiques of urban modes of production and consumption, these actors share a conviction that the traditional processes of top-down civic planning are insufficient, and new approaches and tools must be developed from the ground level upwards.