art by norman w long at glass curtain gallery at columbia college chicago
“Norman W. Long: Calumet in Dub” at Glass Curtain Gallery, Columbia College Chicago Credit: Jonathan Michael Castillo

It can be hard to wrap your head around the complex ecological makeup of the areas surrounding the Calumet and Little Calumet rivers. Formerly heavily concentrated sites of industry, parts of these southeast neighborhoods are now in the slow process of getting cleaned up, via the green development of places like the Marian R. Byrnes Natural Area and Big Marsh Park.

Making sense of this area has been an important part of the artistic practice of Norman W. Long for several years. In “Calumet in Dub,” Long’s solo exhibition at Columbia College’s Glass Curtain Gallery, the South Deering–based artist used a range of materials to make the area’s ecology tangible. The front room featured an eight-speaker installation that played Long’s signature soundscapes: field recordings layered and looped with the artist’s illbient-inspired synth-made beats. Two back galleries displayed some of Long’s research materials, including newscasts on environmental justice in Chicago, photos and field recordings of important historical sites in the Calumet region, and data on water quality and ecological life, which Long translated into sound.

Long works with sound for its ability to represent time and take up space. “Layering, echoing, looping, and reversing sounds speaks to how memory and history are synchronic,” he told Columbia. “How memories and histories are layered and can be covered or uncovered.” His ongoing work tracking these ecological sites and histories, making them readable and accessible, helps draw attention to the reality of these areas, regardless of what any government document might say.

Best Of Chicago: Arts & Culture

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