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Montreal-based artist Mitch Mitchell was born in Illinois in 1978. He teaches printmaking at Concordia University, but his artistic practice encompasses an ever-expanding range of mediums and materials. The Metropolis Chronicles: Chicago 1954 Part II (2012), is from a suite of digital prints that began with finding and scanning large-format photo negatives of mid-century American urban centres.

The title, The Metropolis Chronicles: Chicago 1954 Part II, tells us of the time and place depicted in this work. The word “chronicles” implies the historicizing aspect of this project while also evoking the Science Fiction and Fantasy writing (eg. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury) from that era. The 95.5 x 121.5 cm sepia-toned print is incredibly detailed. We can see the organized chaos of a river side construction site. The central focus is a round, cast concrete structure from which a series of objects seem to be emanating and ascending. The objects are composed of spheres and rods and strongly resemble molecular models found in classrooms and labs.

These forms appear throughout The Metropolis Chronicles series of prints. Unlike the rest of mono-toned print, the floating forms are in colour. They cast shadows within the photographic spaces indicating that they are three-dimensional and are to be read as physically present within that space. We don’t know what these forms truly are, but we take this to be the artist rendering a clearly fictional event in 1954 but titling it to imply it is actual history. Mid-century Chicago was one of the world centres of modern urban architecture and scientific research. Steel was forged, concrete poured, and atoms collided. These molecular forms seem to both contain and emerge from dynamism of post-war Chicago at its apex. They might be Modernism made manifest. In mid 20th century science-fiction, floating forms over a metropolis were often malevolent in intent. They are often read as metaphors for the anxiety over communism, nuclear war and accelerating societal change. In Mitchell’s work, they still inspire anxiety almost seventy years after the time depicted. History is always changing as new perspectives redefine the past. The nuclear waste of 1954 is still our concern today. The past continues to shape the future while the future shapes the past.

The Metropolis Chronicles: Chicago 1954 Part II points to the fact that photography was once considered a trustworthy recorder of visual fact. It was subject to editing and manipulation, but digital photo editing has made photographic fakery ubiquitous. The photo negative source material Mitchell used ostensibly documents the early construction of one of the two Marina City towers designed by architect Bernard Goldberg. These iconic buildings were once the tallest cast-concrete buildings in the world. They are famously depicted in sepia on the cover of Chicago band Wilco’s 2001 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Construction of these buildings did not begin until 1961. Learning of this fictional timeline makes The Metropolis Chronicles: Chicago 1954 Part II makes this work even more complex and enigmatic.

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