The Milky Way in Chicago
Andrew Yang describes the intersection of nature and culture unique to Chicago and discusses his Chicago Works exhibition, which created a version of the Milky Way inside the museum, with organizing curator Joey Orr.
Andrew Yang: In one sense, Chicago, I think, is sort of a quintessential nature-culture city. It's this site on the Great Lakes that connects the prairie, and its whole reason for being was to sort of help harness and harvest the resources of nature and turn it into culture—in the form of bacon or meat or timber as into anything else. And so in that way I think Chicago as a city actually has a pretty important significance for this question of the relation of nature and culture. And it's something I've also written about and something I participate in, I guess, in this question of a new urbanism.
Maybe that's not the right way to say it. But I do a lot of insect collecting in the city, for example. And so the question becomes how—what is the nature of natural versus cultural experiences in this kind of place? And so I see this project, I guess, as an extension of that.
As a Chicago Works project, it's significant because of this connection of the Milky Way and the starscape that's inaccessible to people who live in cities like Chicago. This is one of the first motivations of the project as the way within, was the fact that the Way without is completely inaccessible to me and to anyone else who lives here. And so to create another version that's accessible of the galaxy in this other mode in the museum as a Chicago Works project seemed pretty significant to me. But then there's also, again, this connection of nature to culture and how they converge and might diverge but also take a multiplicity of forms.
Joey Orr: So I just also want to ask if we think about your practice as the practice of a natural historian, what's the—why—Does it make a difference that your exhibition is at the MCA Chicago? Could your exhibition be happening just the same at the Field Museum or the Adler Planetarium?
Andrew Yang: I would love it if it could equally be in those places, but I doubt it ever would be for this concern, again, I guess around the question of authenticity. But again, that's where I'm interested—I am also research assistant at the, or—associate at the Field Museum of Natural History. And a lot of those exhibitions have a lot of inauthentic items that represent as authentic. And so again, this question becomes, well, what's really important that way? And what's the difference between making something and finding something?
So these—that connects to these objects. Some of these are real meteorites. But this is a meteorite that I've made out of ceramic, again, by my own hand. And the idea is sort of what's the difference between finding a precious object that lands on the Earth versus making it yourself? And the natural history museum, I think, would be a wonderful place to also have such an exhibit because they participate in the very same kind of playfulness around the authentic and the inauthentic. Your desire to look at a specimen and really scrutinize something, not just in a way that is all about trying to figure out what's false or what's true but to figure out—but to understand things in a playful way. As for Chicago more generally, that might get back to your allusion to, in connection to the Milky Way. So this whole project is sort of subtitled The Way Within. And that's in connection to the Milky Way Galaxy. So one thing that I've experienced moving here to Chicago about 11 years ago is that because of the density of people and of light, I can't actually see the stars the way I did growing up in rural Massachusetts.