By AARON GETTINGER
Over the past two summers, youth from the South Side did a deep dive into their physical surroundings and their history and imagined what could rise from it in the future.
“The idea was really, ‘What happens when we engage with young people about the history of their neighborhood? How can it help them imagine healthier and freer futures for their neighborhoods?’” said Jennifer Brier, a gender, women’s studies and history professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and one of the two primary investigators (PI) behind “South Side Speculations,” which opened on Jan. 18 at the Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd.
Twenty-three participants did interviews, archival research and talked about “historical thinking” and “creative making.” They stitched new media into new collages, creating historical fictions about the horrific 1995 heat wave that killed over 700 people, the 1980s drug wars and segregation in the early postwar period.
“This past summer, they thought about the future,” Brier said. “They have imaginations that can take them places where, as an adult, I sometimes talk myself out of it, and they’re not going to get talked out of it.” The themes they encountered — health and wellness, policing and infrastructure — oriented the speculations.
Patrick Jagoda, a U. of C. English and cinema professor focusing on new media studies and the other PI, explained the youths’ short documentaries as a means to discuss concerns like sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancies. “The idea is, by telling their own stories, youth can have a different way of understanding their sexual and reproductive health,” he said. In a sense, it is therapeutic but more broadly about self-expression and “empowerment through storytelling.”
He said the students expressed a desire for a range of things, largely bounded by a desire to mitigate or eliminate harms stemming from structural racism and creating a more community-driven approach to policy on the South Side.
“For us, speculative design has never been about product. It’s entirely about process. Even entering into a space where you can imagine the future is difficult,” Jagoda said, calling to mind Hollywood movies’ “very narrow conventions.”
“To break out of those conventions, to think about what else might be possible, that’s a big part of the work we’re doing here,” he said. Much of the work resulted from lectures, discussions and samples of other artists’ work and was itself collaborative and interdisciplinary, requiring the use of a 3D printer as well as acting and historical work and literary criticism.
The exhibition includes 3D objects, film, sound collage and excerpts from gathered oral histories and runs through March 1.