First ideas

Rozalinda Borcila & Brian Holmes – in collaboration with the Compass group and many others – will be presenting “Foreign Trade Zone: A People’s Consultancy” in the project room at Three Walls in Chicago, from April 25 to May 1. These were the initial ideas:

Why did the lake shore go “offshore”? When did Chicago become a foreign space, a trade landscape, a no-go zone? And how can we re-imagine the place we actually live in? This project will create a visual and acoustic environment in which to reflect upon the historical development and present-day reality of Chicago’s ports, warehouse districts and transit corridors. It will also serve as a meeting point for the sharing of knowledge about the so-called “foreign trade zones” (FTZs), artificial tax-shelter islands that play a central role in today’s global supply chains. Visitors will be introduced to the barbed-wire fences, legal paradoxes and locational conundrums of the FTZ-world and interested parties will pool their insights and observations to help plan out a number of site visits oup and many many others -and events. The “unidentified fleeting object” or “holy grail” of the project is the canal-rail-highway corridor stretching from Iriquois Landing (the Port of Illinois) to the city of Joliet and its environs, where intermodal transportation yards sort cargo containers for distributors like Walmart. The origins of the corridor are those of Chicago itself, which grew up around the muddy portage route between Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines River (the fur-traders’ gateway to St Louis and the Mississippi). We will map out its contours, extending outward toward continental rail and global maritime routes.

The space will feature small-format photos of “devices” that articulate transport corridors (canal locks, cranes, control screens, containers, trailers, biometric portals for truck drivers, etc), recorded voices of elusive perspectives on the corridor (historical, technical, bureaucratic, speculative, militant, incredulous, dystopian, etc). A twenty-pound twist-lock sits in the gallery, used to secure cargo containers on ships, trucks or trains, it is the smallest, most common physical device linking together a global supply chain. On a central table the actual consultancy happens. People can sign up, either to learn about foreign trade in their own backyard, or to share their knowledge (specialist, speculative or practical). Invited guests will present over the course of the exhibition. During these sessions, wall maps will be printed out to take notes upon by participants in the room, and will be kept in the space for reference by future visitors, therefore generating new knowledge and expanded research references as the project goes on.

This is a hybrid project, between investigation and aesthetics. The images, the maps, the recordings, the consultancies, the website and the trips we will organize along the corridor flow between art and research. The existence of Foreign Trade Zones is made public and political, producing shared perceptual and imaginative capacities through continuous activity – something like an office or a study where you also hear voices when there’s no one else around. It’s an experiment, a sounding board, a rendezvous, a way-station. Modest, not too heavy, but with room to grow. Maybe the perfect thing for a project room.