We are pleased to announce our newest Chicago Project artist, Angie McMonigal!
Angie is a commercial and fine art photographer based in Chicago. The following are a selection of images from her ongoing series titled Urban Quilt, along with her artist statement. Visit The Chicago Project website to see more of her work.
Quilting The City
Two pieces of advice longtime Chicagoans love giving newcomers: first, never ask for ketchup on your hot dog; second, learn ‘the grid.’ The first piece of advice will keep you from getting publicly shamed at a hot dog joint. The second is supposed to make it possible to find any address in the city, calculate the distance between any two points, and save you from ever getting lost.
People who believe in the handiness of ‘the grid’ talk about it with reverence. They’ll expect you to express some awe when they tell you about it, so resist the urge to respond with, “Yes, but Google Maps….” The grid is not just a tool for getting around; it’s the secret code that makes order out of chaos. And yet it’s also, so they’ll tell you, very easy to understand.
I’ll try to explain. According to the grid system, Chicago’s primary north-south and east-west streets are laid out in one-mile increments from the “zero” point downtown, where State Street crosses Madison in the Loop. Addresses run up and down from that zero point, 100 addresses per block, 8 blocks per mile. This means that each of the primary streets gets assigned a number, and those numbers go up in increments of 800. Chicago Avenue is 800 North. North Avenue is 1600 North. Fullerton is 2400 North. And so on. Going west, you have Halsted Street at 800 West, Ashland Avenue is 1600 West, and so on.
If counting by 800 is easy for you, you’re all set. And, oh, don’t forget that the first few miles south of Madison each contain an irregular number of blocks, so Roosevelt Road is actually 1200 South, Cermak is 2200, and things don’t even out until 31st Street (3100 South).
After seventeen years of living in Chicago, I’ve successfully avoided humiliating myself at a hot dog stand, but I still don’t think I’ve completely figured out this grid. It certainly has not kept me from getting lost. But I do like the idea that there are these clean lines running through the messy city, underlying rules that make it all make sense. And I like that the rules get broken in sneaky little ways, and that just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, there’s a new complication to keep you on your toes.
Of course the lines that structure the urban landscape don’t just run north and south, east and west. In the city that built the first skyscraper, the most striking lines are the ones that run from street to sky. The facades of Chicago’s imposing towers make up this whole other grid, the one staring straight at you, composed of windows, beams, balconies, pillars, rooflines.
We are surrounded by horizontal and vertical lines repeating rhythmically in steel, brick, stone, and glass. The grid is impossible to miss when you see the bold black lines of Mies van der Rohe, or the red lines of the CNA Center. Sullivan embellishes his patch of the grid with bits of gorgeous ornamentation. The Wabash Building — Roosevelt University’s new “vertical campus” — sneaks in a sleek diagonal. The Burberry shop on Michigan Avenue playfully inserts the brand’s signature tartan into the quilt.
And that’s how I’ve started to see it — as a quilt. Because I don’t just see individual buildings standing there as imposing towers of steel. I see a patchwork. Different colors, different textures, different materials, different architectural styles, all pieced together. Some patches are pristine and new, others a little more worn. There are iconic patterns, immediately recognizable, and also bits that are hard to identify, fragments that feel familiar but are hard to place. I see spindly fire escapes tacked on, looking like bits of stray stitching. Some blocks make clear that they were destined to be joined together, others look like accidents, or even challenging points of tension.
We often think of photographs as capturing a single moment in time. A shutter clicks, an instant is preserved. Quilts, as I learned from my grandmother, are slow. They take hours and hours to make. They are passed down from generation to generation. A single quilt can take scraps of fabric from different eras and bring them together into a unified whole — a whole that celebrates, rather than hides, the uniqueness of each of the pieces, and the time and effort it takes to bring them together.
When I started photographing the city as an urban quilt, I became more aware of the way these buildings preserve different moments from our history. Those moments aren’t arranged in a nice orderly timeline like you’d find in a history book or a museum display. They’re standing next to each other, layered on top of one another. My photographs flatten out the miles between the streets and erase the years that separate one construction project from the next. The modern lines of the Art Institute’s newest wing frame the classical details of Daniel Burnham’s Peoples Gas Building, completed across the street almost 100 years prior. It’s all stitched together now on a single plane.
The oldest surviving Chicago skyscraper was completed in 1891, and the urban quilt contains traces of every decade since. Like every square of a quilt, each of these pieces is still in use, performing a real function in the present moment. That Peoples Gas Building from 1911 is home to a shiny new Walgreens, and you can still have lunch or take a dance lesson a few blocks away in the Fine Arts Building, which dates back to 1885.
When I look at the beautiful quilts my grandmother made, I’m transported back to rural Wisconsin where I grew up, far from the grid of the big city and the steel of Chicago’s massive skyscrapers. I’ve always loved her quilts, but they’re a product of a different place and time, and I would never have imagined making anything like that myself. But with these photographs, which have taught me to see time and space a little differently, I think I’ve found a bit of the quilter in me after all.
Angie McMonigal moved to Chicago more than 15 years ago and has been exploring the city with her camera ever since. Raised in a small town in Wisconsin, she approaches the urban environment with the spirit of someone who grew up surrounded by nature, finding moments of meditative calm in terrain that is always transforming. Focusing more frequently on bold architectural details rather than sweeping cityscapes, her photographs celebrate those unexpectedly iconic elements hiding in plain sight. From landmark buildings she distills the essential lines and textures that frame the city. McMonigal sees these structures as actively shaping, and shaped by, human activity; they are never mere backdrop. Steel and brick towers are presented as quilts rich with history, solid structures soar with soul, and concrete edifices echo the lofty ambition of planners and dreamers.
An award-winning fine art photographer, Angie’s work has been internationally exhibited and published. Her photos have been showcased by galleries in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and other destinations. Publication credits include National Geographic, Departures, and SHOTS Magazine. She has received awards from the International Photography Awards (IPA) and Prix de la Photographie Paris (Px3), among others.
The Chicago Project is an online gallery initiative by Catherine Edelman Gallery, devoted to new and established photographers in the Chicago area, who we feel deserve recognition. It is our hope to expose local talent to a wider audience and we plan on adding photographers as we find them. If you are interested in learning more about the Chicago Project or would like information on how to submit, click HERE.