Matthew Kaplan Photography

"In the Fields of Rotting Giants" at the Ford Calumet Environmental Center - 8/26/23

Encompassing oil paintings and photographs of industrial ruins, "In the Fields of Rotting Giants", an exhibit of artwork by Mark Banks of Chicago's southeast side, opened officially on Saturday evening, at the Ford Calumet Environmental Center in Big Marsh Park.

The eponymous giants of the title are the rusting remains of Chicago's once massive steel industry, who's collapse late in the last century threw thousands of people out of work, and left brown fields and chain link fences along great stretches of the Calumet River and the Lake Michigan shoreline.

In his artist talk, Mark discussed the history of the southeast side, where his family has lived for generations, and the explained the economic forces which, in a few short decades, turned these awesome furnaces of basic production into rusting memories, and forbidding open spaces. A central irony in his story is that Nike missile bases once protected these national treasures from attack by the communist Soviet Union, but it was the effects of our own capitalist system which actually destroyed the steel industry here, and left an environmentally degraded community in its wake.

Anchoring the exhibit are two large canvasses showing caved in structures at the former Republic Steel mill on the river near 118th Street, and toppled zigurrats of the Carmeuse lime kilns near 106th Street. Other works observe natural subjects mixing almost imperceptivity with the slags and industrial remnants of the steel making era.

There is much to read in the exhibit as well as to see, and I was particularly taken by Mark's essay on trespassing, which resonates deeply as I consider my own endeavors to explore the scenes that we can only catch glimpses of, behind those chain link fences.

The Ford Calumet Environmental Center is located at:

Big Marsh Park

11555 S. Stony Island Ave

Chicago, Il 60617 312-590-5993

Hours are 10 am to 4 pm - Monday through Saturday.

Go check out Mark's artwork, on display through November 23rd, and consider his ideas as well.


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