Monday, December 31, 2007

Wrapping ice

We've fallen into a routine.

Mornings at Intelligentsia for great coffee and the most current music known to humans. Today, it's "Band of Horses".

Artwork in the latte, and young, hip cafe crew.

To work by 9 AM. Create new artwork from yesterday’s frozen pour.

A break in between to warm up.

Another pour. And lately: wrapping the inventory. Here's Katie.

Yesterday Gord began cataloguing the work.

Everyone is tired, most take naps everyday. I’ve heard “the cold gets in your bones” and “heavy lifting” more than once. Our search for “Ice Trivia” landed some interesting facts about how our bodies work in extreme cold.

A University of New Hampshire study “Cold Weather Increases Risk of Dehydration” discusses the body’s efforts to keep core temperature warm, lack of thirst and reduction of bodily fluids in the cold.

“We lose a great deal of water from our bodies in the winter due to respiratory fluid loss through breathing. Our bodies also are working harder under the weight of extra clothing, and sweat evaporates quickly in cold, dry air.

Fluid deficits of 3 to 8 percent of body mass have been reported in individuals working in cold environments, and dehydration is a major problem with exercise in the cold.” For more info: Google: dehydration in cold.

Anywhere we go is an excuse to talk about anything related to the project. We need new skil saws; who is the best crew person to operate? Which interns will we work with next week? Katie, for sure. How about that new technique of freezing the pours?

Installation plans for Millennium Park; ice slab deliveries. Reply to all interns who have answered our request for resumes. Gord always wants his half hour before the crew arrives to plan for the day. His drawing books are filled with pencil sketches -- now it’s how the artwork will fit on the plates.

We walk a lot.

One of the wonderful discoveries of Chicago: the river. Not just because it’s a river, not just the grace of water rippling with the wind, but also because it leaves space. There’s an opening where you can look up and feel an expanse of sky and light. At night,it’s windy, cold and if you're warm enough, glamorous.

City life, especially downtown, is so different from what we’re used to. At night, I can always tell what time it is by the number of taxis down on the street at the crosswalk. (2 taxis: 3 AM).

If there’s water on the street, it’s above freezing. And even if there’s no snow, it’s always going to be below zero if the roads are dry. We pass DANGER FALLING ICE signs next to the buildings daily.

Museum of Modern Ice posters have begun to appear on the bus shelters. People we talk to have heard of the project. Los Angeles Times and Waterloo Courier (IowA) will have articles about Chicago & Paintings Below Zero in their travel sections January 6th.

Countdown to New Year’s. Countdown to opening. Everyone arrives in January.

Dot Coyle, our sponsor from the City of Chicago Office of Tourism visits today with Karen Ryan from Communications.

Tomorrow we get to sleep in.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Color and ice after Bhutto

Friday, December 28

Snow this morning, huge, wet flakes which melt on contact. There’s so much to ponder, little to say in the aftermath of the assassination of Pakistan’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto.

The violence we’re so capable of, silences all our best efforts: what could our lives possibly mean in the relief of that? I had been grateful, as a woman, to see the white veil on her, to hear her words: inspirational, sensible, compassionate. Spoken like a leader. A moderate, a Muslim, vocal and visible to the world. She was hope alright, in the polarized reality of Pakistan. Spoiled, in the name of God. So much shame, so many lives cut short and bloody in the name of.

Noreen Ahmed-Ullah from The Chicago Tribune visited The Fulton today, delayed by her story of the Pakistani community in the aftermath of Bhutto’s death. She had interviewed Bhutto twice before, and now stands in before us, writing for the fifth largest newspaper in the country, wanting more details about the work we’re doing.

And besides, it’s Ari’s birthday today. So we step back into this life, this artwork, this exciting project which grows more beautiful everyday.

Katie is our first intern, and here she is. Tough and capable and a catalyst, too: lively conversation thanks to her. Jokes and laughter in the cold.

And look at what they did! My camera failed me so Patrick Pyszka, Photographer for the City filled in. All these photos are his.

We heard from Erik Olson.

Hi Gordon, I just checked out the blog... it looks like things are coming along nicely. I loved seeing those huge pieces of colour leaning against the wall.

I think this is going to be your masterpiece. I can't wait to get there...

good luck,


He sent us a photo from Fenestrelle. This shows the interior of the church where the paintings were created, installed and displayed. Here they've just laid the color onto the plates in preparation for the installation of other paintings they've been creating. Paintings Below Zero was Canada's representative at the Cultural Olympiad for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin.

We had a birthday lunch, our first with Katie. There she is smiling on the left.

Then back to work for three more hours.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Chicago at Christmas

December 23rd

Fulton Market cold today and Patrick Firpo flies home. One more morning up early; everyone is exhausted. It’s the cold, drawing out the water in all of us. My hair is straight, my skin is dry, we’re all thirsty. It’s the extreme freezing, and the effort of holding ourselves upright and warm in it. We will miss Patrick: his ingenuity, creativity, resourcefulness and his alter ego: his sharp, jaded wit. Here we are at the Hard Rock bar, having a send-off beer.

We walk to MOCA, and it’s so cold, my cheeks tingle. You can see wisps of snow blowing across the sidewalks ahead of us. Jaz forgot his gloves, hands dug into his pockets.

Ironically the exhibit is called “Sympathy for the Devil: Art & Rock and Roll since 1967.” On the second floor a couple are making love on the landing. So to speak. Fully clothed and in slow motion. Kissing and tumbling while others watch. So disciplined, they continue in their choreographed two step for more than 2 hours. I am full of professional pride, as I am a performer too, but would not engage in this difficult kind of work. Still, we watch.

“The Other Vietnam Memorial” shows three million names of Vietnamese people killed in that war, each name etched onto a metal surface. Three million people. Each one living a life full of detail, each one human and loved and born a baby. Without my glasses, it’s difficult to read a single name, there are so many.

But, the museum shop is perfect for gifts. Jaz gets a full color book called "50 artists" for Tim - his cultural baptism into visual art. For Ari, who is already well versed in music, a thin tome on mathmetics & music. I snatch a book for Jaz and buy Gord's artist-designed gift while they have their backs to me.

December 24th.

The crew works a full morning and afternoon, but we get tomorrow off. I meet Sarah, Penny and Lauren at City of Chicago -- say hello to Jason and Laura. After the morning @ Fulton Market, we meet at La Salle Bank to cash per diem checks, with a fingerprint & two pieces of id. Our usual pre-Christmas melt-down, thankfully, doesn’t last long. Then, arrangements for Christmas day dinner at China Grill. And, naptime, the cozy, do-nothing bliss of it.

To Valentine’s for a Christmas Eve party. We can't find Jaz, who is supposed to accompany us to the party. Finally, he appears in the lobby, not ready. We say goodbye. Our cab driver is from East Somalia. The U.S. is bombing his country; it’s like Iraq there everyday, he says, fighting and killing. America paid Ethiopia $100 million to control Somalia, he says, but “You cannot control another country by force for long. It doesn’t make big sense. Soon, there will be no where to bomb.”

We go indoors and meet Valentine’s family and friends around two Christmas trees and a fire, a delicious ham. Four young, beautiful children; Chloe holds the mini-dogs down the steps.

Studs Terkel, a hero of mine, by now past 95, sits in front of the fire. (!!!) He says he can’t hear well, so I write him a note.

“Hello, Mr. Studs Terkel. My name is Caitlin Hicks. I am a fan of yours. “Working” - I used some of the stories for acting monologues.”

“Yes,” he replies, “Others have told me so.” I scribble again.

“After reading your books, I concluded that really, people are good. I felt your benevolent intelligence listening.”

“Thank you, “ he says, “that’s quite a compliment.” He agrees to have his photo snapped with me “Here’s to us, Merry Christmas, Happy World,” he toasts.

Valentine plays the piano and we sing Christmas Carols. We pose in front of the tree.

Valentine passes out gifts, with one for me.

We are just getting going when we are ushered into a ride back to downtown Chicago with Tony and the chief of the Chicago fire department. As the door closes behind us, we think, too late, to invite them in for a drink. But there we are, back home at 9:30 PM, in the lobby of the Hard Rock, employees outnumbering guests, while everyone in my Pollyanna vision of the world is wrapping presents.

Christmas morning we have a very wonderful breakfast at the Hard Rock Hotel.

And Jaz tells his amazing Christmas story, too long to repeat here, but magnificent, life altering: his serendipitous encounters with a stressed out woman, a hustler, and a well dressed preacher man with amazing visions and a powerful personality. A remarkable story, "The adventures of Jaz and Tim in Chicago streets on Christmas Eve", a true story, which as it unfolds, has us sitting on the edge of our seats. Jaz and Ari have heard it already, Tim was part of it, but as Jaz re-tells it I can feel them listening again. My heart turns as well and I somehow find meaning in our lives at this moment; the story helps me piece together a version of what we might be capable of as human beings. A tale which puts into perspective all the goodwill and parallel selfishness of the season of silver bells; a glimpse of survival for the poor, of spirituality/ insanity/ truth and illusion. On Christmas morning, we are all transformed by Jaz's willingness to look at the people in the streets, to talk to them, to give them something they need -- to challenge them, and ask them for their two cents, which in this case, seems like wisdom.

He tells us the story in three parts around breakfast. Funny and poignant, and full of character. We all get into it, our reindeer antlers atop our heads throughout breakfast.

We open gifts in our suite overlooking the street. At Millennium Park, we can see the Christmas skaters. We want to participate, but outside looks cold.

I call my PX - a family tradition, and speak with Marc Hicks, my brother Timothy's eldest son, who is on the swim team at Redlands University in California. I think of all them, though, all fourteen of them, my eight brothers and five sisters, their children and families, try to imagine them in their worlds. I talk to Tim, Mary and Bernadette. Jaz phones his sister in California and tells her the story. Here they are, earlier in December where we celebrated an early Christmas - the big gift was the rocking horse for Hayley.

We'd shopped for hors d'oeuvres and spread them out at the table in our suite with wine & beer. Then supper at The China Grill, hosted by Andrea Jackson, (on the left, looking like Oprah Winfrey) and our server Yasmine. They set a white table cloth for us and serve our pre-arranged menu -- delectable signature "Asian Fusion" -- which, after all, we can't finish!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Visitor's Day

Friday, Dec 21, 2007

It’s been early to rise all week and the day still seems to end so quickly. When you blink and it’s supper time, you understand just how short life is, how it’s going right by in this furious, rushing flash. Your shoulder is leaning towards the wind, you’re on top of things, but even as the thought occurs to you, your time awake has already evaporated.

Somehow I ended up in the car with Patrick Pyszka, Official Photographer for the City of Chicago for Museum of Modern Ice. (If there ever were such a title). I thought I was calling Nathan for a ride to The Fulton, and a relaxed, slightly startled voice answered in true Improv form: sure he could pick me up, where am I ? There’s a warm fuzzy around Patrick and inside his little blue car, (a light rain on the windshield), it seemed that we could become fast friends. He’s just a youngster, but he has a way of making you feel comfortable, like there is an adventure just around the corner and you and he are in on its secret.

Here he is, casual with the fork lifts roaring around behind him, as we try to get an escort across the firing line of The Fulton.

The crew had taken a break to the warm room as Patrick Pyszka and I trudged up the famous red barn stairs around the raggedy corners and into our workshop space.

I was still seeing little art pieces on the walls; the textures and colors and historic nature of every inch of the place; I can’t keep my hands off my camera as my brain goes into overdrive trying to describe what I see. But he controlled himself; he was here on a mission to capture today’s work in still photography which will be uploaded onto the City of Chicago website.

Of course the guys had worked ferociously into the evening the day before, had pulled off a few pours just this morning, and the magnificent red paintings had already been stacked against the walls. As Ari would say, “It’s pretty in there.”

Gord loves an audience; he can’t resist peeling himself away from the task at hand when he has a new person to show and tell. He’s fascinated with the ice crystals, excited about the constantly changing process which is full of discovery and innovation.

Then Patrick Pyszka drove me on a concise tour of the River North galleries and told me he’s going to Kansas for the holidays. Next week, then, he'll be back, at a manageable pace we can all live with.

In the afternoon, Nathan brought Karen Ryan, Christine Carrino and Kimberley Costello from the City with an armload of posters and brochures for Museum of Modern Ice. Of course they had heard about the growing legend of The Fulton Market, and they had to see what needed to be considered for camera crews and reporters.

We went to the office for badges, then had to dodge and duck across the loading dock to the red stairs, waving at the fork lift drivers as we passed.

Gord had just spent a long conversation on the phone with Jeff from North Shore Magazine, but he took himself away from the work again. Here they are around today’s surprise: turquoise.