Staying in the Loop

Space p11 adds to Chicago's underground art and architecture scene

Space p11 is a new art and architecture exhibition space in Chicago's underground Pedway. (Courtesy Space p11)

“The pedway is an exquisite corpse,” said Space p11 director Jonathan Solomon of the assembly of underground spaces that make up Chicago’s Pedway, the subterranean home of the new design and architecture-focused gallery. “We are looking to encourage the many institutions above to take ownership and make the pedway a space for culture.” That notion of ownership, or perceived lack thereof, along with substandard signage, uneven maintenance and concentration of urban odors causes many Chicagoans to shame the pedway. Space p11 (‘p’ for Pedway, ‘space 11’ on the leasing plan) offers an emollient in the form of a formerly anonymous space filled with work dedicated to shared agency.

This commitment to shared agency brought a series of actions to the Pedway coinciding with the debut of Space p11, which Solomon directs alongside David L. Hays. The Chicago Loop Alliance partnered with artists to work in and with the Pedway through a series of pop-up experiences, dubbed Short-Cuts, activating elements like walls and abandoned phone booths with performance, drawing, and audio installations. Space p11 opened on December 3 with Phytovision by Lindsey French, an experiment in the hierarchy of perception between humans and plants. Within Space p11, French created a space full of vegetative (not creature) comforts, including a digital video slowed to plant time and shown to a plant audience. The plants watch underneath lights in their preferred colors, red and blue, which combine to flush the gallery in magenta. “People actually think it’s a weed shop,” joked Solomon.

Photo of Phytovision, an installation by Lindsey French, in Chicago's Space p11

Phytovision, an installation by Lindsey French, in Chicago’s Space p11 (Courtesy Space p11)

The Chicago Pedway is a five-mile network of formal and informal underground pedestrian routes connecting forty city blocks and almost fifty buildings in the Loop. Included are both public and private along with the occasional building lobby and basement. In addition to Space p11, the Pedway houses a mix of services and amenities, including salons, dry cleaners, and a number of idiosyncratic underground bars and restaurants. The Pedway began in 1951 as a tunnel connecting the State Street Subway to the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway, joining together what are now the Red and Blue lines of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) system. Subsequent phases occurred in 1966, connecting the Civic Center to the Brunswick Building at 69 West Washington, through the late 1980s, and in 2005, when Millennium Station was completed. An additional extension was created in 2010 to connect the portion north of Lake Street to Aqua Tower, located at 225 North Columbus Drive.

While the City of Chicago manages and cleans general areas of the Pedway, it is not responsible for privately owned sections, or those managed by the CTA. The system is not tended evenly, and signage does not remain consistent, confusing infrequent users and discouraging its use altogether for some. Those looking for consistency in the architecture of the Pedway are hard pressed to do so. While the Pedway portion of an individual building often captures what’s going on above, it doesn’t often give it sublime qualities. While there is terrazzo and marble, there are also portions of the system with as much personality as a jet bridge. Like the city above, the Pedway is not perfect.

Space p11 is a project of Acute Angles, Inc., the publishers of the design journal Forty-Five. The gallery is designed by Future Firm, which has subtly improved the space by adding materiality to existing elements, along with lifting the language of retail through window framing and customary signage. “p11” is scripted in neon tube above a felted black letterboard announcing the bill of fare. A custom steel sandwich board in white and chrome auto paint is displayed outside the gallery during open hours.

Through March 5, Space p11 presents Coalescence, a video installation by Rosemary Hall and Alberto Ortega that seeks to stretch our engagement with the biological and social world.

Space p11
55 E. Randolph Street
Pedway Level Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

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