“House this two story / in the open into a story / to form one city turned over.” It’s not a stanza you’d expect to find in a poem written about a jail, certainly not the third-largest in a country ruinously overrun with them. Artist Maria Gaspar, who has been producing art about Chicago’s Cook County Jail for the past decade, has in this time of total population confinement—in which prisons are some of the worst hot spots for COVID-19—devised a combination lo-fi/hi-fi way to continue her work. Over the course of a thirty-minute video, part of the Experimental Sound Studio's "Quarantine Concerts" and streamable here she reads out descriptions of Divisions I through VI, printed off the jail’s website onto pieces of plain paper that she then cuts up with a pair of scissors. Sliced first into sentences then individual phrases and words, her actions imitate how the architecture and hierarchies of the jail divide its inmates. But Gaspar, a sensitive thinker about this place outside of whose walls she grew up, in the Little Village neighborhood, knows just which words to keep and which to discard. Watching her clip, re-arrange and scotch-tape them into new configurations offers some hope, however patchy and poetic, for the future.
—Lori Waxman 2020-06-22 10:28 AM