The broad front lawn at Carl Schurz High School in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood is bisected by two laundry lines strung between trees and festooned with bright yellow ribbons that flap and rustle in the breeze. Scrawled in black marker on the hundreds of ribbons are personal messages about racism.
The ropes and ribbons, in place since Thursday, are one portion of the three-part community-based art project “#AMENDS,” which seeks to end racism by beginning with the self. It’s the work of life and art partners Nick Cave and Bob Faust at their multidisciplinary creative space and gallery Facility, right across the street from the school.
“My work has always been based around issues of race,” said Cave. “So when the George Floyd incident took place and the outcry was so enormous, we just thought, we have to go into action.”
The two had already taken action weeks earlier in response to another crisis sweeping the nation: the COVID-19 pandemic. Hoping to bring “excitement and joy” to the neighborhood, Cave installed three sequined, bright yellow smiley faces in Facility’s storefront windows and later added brightly patterned masks to those faces.
But as protests spread across the nation in the wake of Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police, Cave said he felt compelled to reflect the moment in what became a visual backdrop to #AMENDS.
“We did this video performance of me turning the frowns upside down. When it was reversed was such a sad moment,” said Cave. “You could really feel the emotion of that act.”
Faust, who is White, recalled his conversations with Cave, who is Black, at the time. “Being a mixed couple, I don’t have the same reactions that he’s having, so one of the things that he said was, ‘I really need to hear from my friends. They’re not connecting, they’re not calling to see how I’m doing,’” Faust said.
That desire for connection led to Cave and Faust asking their friends to participate in the second prong of the #AMENDS project, “Letters to the World Toward the Eradication of Racism,” in which they would write their reflections on race and racism on the windows of Facility, messages that float over the frowning yellow faces behind the windows.
“We didn’t hear back from people for about a week. Which was scary because these are people you know and care about. And that just told us what a giant ask that was, that they needed to be quiet and reflect for that long to say, ‘Absolutely I’ll do that.’” said Faust. “But when they came back, they came back with these prewritten letters that in many ways are so heavy, and so cathartic. And the physical act of writing them on the window was breaking people down, which was lovely and real.”
The third portion was a call to the community to add their messages the “Dirty Laundry” of confessions and catharsis on yellow ribbons, which began Thursday.
Cave said many participants have been coming with the intention of contributing to the project, but passersby have also been stopping at the project’s four tables on Milwaukee Avenue to join in. He said when he and Faust explain what they’re asking people to do – a deeply personal act of acknowledging and taking responsibility for their roles in perpetuating racism and making oaths to do better – they have responded with honesty and solemnity.
“We give them the ribbon – they can choose a large one or a small one – and explain what this is, and then we just sort of walk away so they can do the writing, because some of them are not so easy,” said Cave. “And it becomes a sort of ritual, a performance, to write, and then do that long walk across the lawn, and then tie it to the line.”
Cave and Faust say they hope the installation will last the remainder of the summer. They invite anyone who wants to add their own messages to the lines to stop by Sunday until 6 p.m., and those who can’t make it in person are invited to send in messages for Faust and Cave to transcribe onto a ribbon.