Axis Lab’s public art installation honors Argyle’s legacy, addresses gentrification


John Lee

Previous events hosted by Axis Lab, including “Base Line,” have brought people together to celebrate Argyle’s legacy. The upcoming art installation “In Search of Old Dreams” aims to honor the neighborhood’s history and addresses gentrification.

Vy Duong, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Growing up in Argyle, Uptown Chicago, artist and Weinberg prof. Patricia Nguyen has worked to preserve and promote the neighborhood’s culture through multiple artistic platforms. With her new public art installation “In Search of Old Dreams: Stories of Argyle Street,” Nguyen hopes to shine a spotlight on Argyle’s legacy amidst the rise of gentrification.

“In Search of Old Dreams” is presented by Axis Lab, an interdisciplinary organization Nguyen co-founded that celebrates the marginalized voices of the Southeast Asian community in Chicago. Describing Argyle as a “port of entry for immigrants and refugees,” Nguyen said the installation’s name was inspired by an old article about people settling in Uptown after the Vietnam American war. “In Search of Old Dreams” opens on Oct. 19 and will feature video projections, archival articles and photographs as well as live performances from local artists.

Nguyen said while the event aims to honor the area’s history, it also addresses urban planning’s impact on the current residents and the struggles they’ve faced. Nguyen said by using different artistic mediums, she hopes to portray a more vivid picture of the livelihoods in Argyle.

“How can we, as cultural producers, actively build the world that we want and imagine it, grapple with the messiness of the world, and create pieces of artwork that people can experience and feel, so that these issues aren’t just statistics and numbers?” Nguyen said. “Art is a vehicle that gets up the human spirit and a shared condition, but also their nuances.”

Axis Lab’s co-founder John Lee shares this sentiment and said it’s important to view the historical culture of Argyle Street as a “dynamic, fluid timeline.” Through “In Search of Old Dreams”, Lee added, he wants to showcase how the people of Argyle have constantly fought to sustain their community.

“I’ve always been drawn to the resilience of the folks,” Lee said. “Despite all the stuff that’s happening with gentrification, there’s a certain sense of resilience from all the community members to keep on living. We want to point the needle back toward what keeps the community beautiful and thriving.”

According to Lee, “In Search of Old Dreams” is being produced in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Biennial, a nonprofit organization that hosts exhibitions and public programs, with a focus on tackling relevant social issues. After Axis Lab’s proposal was accepted, the installation became one of many satellite events the Biennial hosts throughout the fall and winter.

Weinberg senior Jane Yun said many people only associate Argyle with pho and bubble tea. While the food scene is important to the neighborhood’s culture, its complex history is often overlooked.

Yun said she’s excited to visit the public art scene and see how the pieces explore issues of immigration and violence in Uptown. Unlike reading a text, Yun said she hopes “In Search of Old Dreams” will offer her an engaging approach to learn about the area’s heritage.

Although SESP senior Ellen Zhou grew up in a different part of Chicago, she said she loves going to Argyle and cares about the area. Zhou said she wants to equip herself with the knowledge needed to fight for neighborhoods that are being endangered like Argyle. Pointing to the different forms of art, Zhou said she’s excited to see the diversity of the voices featured at the installation.

As a singer, Zhou said she believes her creative side has allowed her to develop a better understanding and approach to activism. The senior said she hopes to be part of this cultural production that helps preserve the legacy of Argyle.

“Art is so important to raise awareness because oftentimes, art transcends language, especially in stories of immigration where language is often a barrier,” Zhou said. “When we think of protests and resistance, it can be very intellectual, but art grounds it in people’s bodies and experiences.”

Twitter: @vyhduong