Like any city of its size, Kansas City was designed and developed on an urban grid of streets and boulevards in order to make the city work. The Charlotte Street Foundation is currently presenting a month-long multimedia project that features nearly 40 artists who, in their own way, address how the city's layout is both influential, essential, and an ever-mysterious labyrinth.
For the past eight months, Jamilee Polson Lacy has served as the Charlotte Street Foundation's guest curator-in-residence, putting her own stamp on three exhibitions. She's about to head home to Chicago and her farewell show is an ambitious project called rises Zora, inspired by Italo Calvino's classic novel Invisible Cities.
Gridding on a Curve
Polson Lacy says she hopes the project's theme - the city as labyrinth - will give Kansas Citians a new perspective on their home town.
"Like many Midwestern cities, the urban plan was designed on a grid but the grid, partially because of the parks and boulevard system, can't be contained," she says. "The grid is an attempt to organize the labyrinth but the labyrinth can't be controlled.
"So we'll be playing with the theory, the stories, the mythology - creating this interesting conversation between history and art history and performance history and literary history so that it connects directly to the way Kansas City is built around us."
Tools of Exploration
Polson Lacy says that she drew on all the connections she made during her stint here to curate the show, one that involves dozens of artists working in all media in venues both traditional and unexpected.
"We very much want to interact with the city in every way possible - a full sensory experience," she says. "We want to show that the city is to be engaged constantly and to be navigated constantly with as many tools as you can accumulate.
"It is our job as cultural producers and your job as an audience to do your best to excavate, to understand, to learn about the city in as many different ways as you can. And to never get bored."
One of the first events took place in mid-May on the Rooftop Garden of the Kansas City Public Library's downtown branch. Called Garden Party #1, it featured Jeanette Powers and Ezhno Martin - who call themselves poets and performance artists - energetically and often comically offering their take on the urban labyrinth and their place in it.
A few days prior to the performance, Jeanette Powers described how she and Martin approached the concept of city as labyrinth.
"The most profound thought we had was that in the city, it's not a labyrinth with one way in and one way out, but it is a labyrinth in that the walls are made of people and ideas and the culture.
"But it's not so much the buildings as it is the people and the immensity of the closeness of everything. So we focused in our piece on that and also when you look closely at another person or a whole group of people, you also say, 'What is it about me?' And there's that labyrinth inside yourself."
Garden Party #2 (scheduled for Tuesday, May 28th at 6 pm) at the Prairie Logic Green Roof on the top floor of the parking garage at 12th and Main, features a collaboration between Kansas City artist Laura Isaac and San Francisco-based Maritza Ruiz Kim. Isaac says they will tour each other's cities in real time via Twitter.
"It’s meant to be quite playful. It’s really more, like, we have this tool of social media - how can I experience it? How do I want to experience it? We’re using twitter at #NotHere, so if you use Twitter, you can follow it by following either one of us or doing a search for that hashtag and it will take you to that feed."
Among the other events audiences can experience during rises Zora are installations at La Esquina, video works in various city parking lots, and a walking tour of Crown Center conducted in silence.
rises Zora: An Exploration of the Urban Labyrinth, at La Esquina and Beyond, May 10 - June 15, 2013. Organized by Charlotte Street Curator-in-Residence Jamilee Polson Lacy.