South Side Exploration

My knuckles were already cracked and wind burned - Chicago’s winter patina a leathery skintone. When the frozen windowsill smashed down on them, it was just adding insult to injury. But no matter, I was through the window in a flash and handing my light to my companion, who pushed ahead and said, “Here’s the staircase. Watch out for this gaping hole in the floor.”

We pushed into the darkness through cascading clouds of snow dust raining in through holes in the roof, like miners navigating coal shafts. We pressed on into the open rooms where beams that held ceilings had relaxed their loads and allowed the ceiling to sigh and droop, wrinkling wallpaper and releasing the mold and must of a hundred years. But this is what we came for: broken buildings left to mother nature, coughing up their plaster entrails, decaying in what was becoming an urban architectural graveyard.

We opened our bags and began collecting our “stuff”: pieces of wood, small fixtures, used and broken lamps and chair legs. Like grave-robbers, we hunched under our loads and left in the moonlight, faces masked from the cold and hands numb in the icy breath of a January night on Chicago’s South Side. Our bounty was a bag full of house scraps that would soon be transformed into that proverbial treasure that we call art.

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