MCA Studio: Jenny Kendler

Free (with admission)


Tuesdays are always FREE for Illinois residents.

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Prairie Landscape close to dusk at Chain O’Lakes State Park, Illinois Photo:


Interdisciplinary environmental artist Jenny Kendler presents two interactive projects at the museum, both of which underscore a desire to bring Chicagoans into a deeper connection with the prairie, our region's natural environment, and rethink current cultural structures.

Though Illinois is known as "The Prairie State," less than 1% of our prairies remain. Far from being simple fields of grass, prairies are in fact diverse and complex ecosystems, reliant on the full complement of biodiversity to truly exist. Bison are a keystone species, essential to healthy prairies. Though more than 50 million once roamed the US, only 541 survived the great slaughter of the 1800s—and today, only a handful remain in Illinois, in protected prairie fragments like Midwein and Nachusa. Kendler resurrects the specter of this ancestral herd with tiny sculptural bison made from soil and seeds—the components of the prairie itself—which biodegrade in the elements and become tiny prairies. Visitors to the museum may have a chance to adopt and grow one of these prairie bison themselves.

Kendler also engages museum visitors in an interactive project to create a "people's porphyry." Porphyry is an "extinct" stone with a rich purple hue used extensively in Imperial Rome. Associated with wealth, power, and empire, this rare stone has obsessed powerful men through the ages: Wanting to be buried in a porphyry sarcophagus, Napoleon Bonaparte sent teams to rediscover the lost vein of stone at great expense—only to be buried in imitation porphyry. The empire-building Victorians loved this symbolic purple stone, decorating their homes with faux-painted porphyry furniture.

Using native prairie-flower seeds, organic beets, and shredded copies of the Wall Street Journal, museum-goers engages in a gesture of remaking our future from the scraps left behind by our current imperialist/capitalist system—turning this symbol of wealth and empire into one of public beauty and ecological renewal. Visitors can take home their own purple "porphyry" seed bombs, to spread this vision as they please.

These projects take place on the MCA Plaza and in the MCA Café.