See Chicago with Sarah Morris and “City Self”

As architecture geeks here at Chicago Detours, we are always trying to find ways to connect people with the city and its cityscape. So naturally, I was excited to see that internationally renowned artist Sarah Morris would be premiering her “Chicago” film in the “City Self” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibit explores the city of Chicago through artists as Chicago “insiders,” such as Jonas Dovydenas and Bob Thall, and Chicago “outsiders,” such as Enoc Perez and Catherine Opie.  Sarah Morris’ film is the heart of the show.

marina city chicago museum of contemporary art enoc perez
“Marina Towers” by Enoc Perez at “City Self” – Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

I first learned of Sarah Morris from a previous film titled “Points on a Line” that, described by the Philip Johnson Glass House, “documents a shared desire to build structures that might change the way we think about a house, a form and a context.” Shot at both the Philip Johnson Glass House and at my beloved Farnsworth House, the film elegantly captured the feeling and emotion of the architecture and its surrounding landscape.

Morris’s art interweaves architecture and our built environment beautifully into paintings and films, but surprisingly she says she’s not into architecture. As Morris said in an interview with W Magazine, “I see architecture almost like an excuse–as a platform for a whole set of behaviors to happen. What does this architecture viscerally command?” This quote especially struck me as it so closely relates to the philosophy behind how we at Chicago Detours talk about architecture on our tours and how I often feel about architecture – that it provides the form for our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. But unlike Morris, I’m really into architecture.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is the ideal exhibit space for Morris’ debut of “Chicago,” which essentially shares the spectacle of the city. The Museum itself is a bit of a spectacle with a giant sculpture of a head, “The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things” by Amanda Ross-Ho, right at the entrance. The exhibit, located on the main level, followed this theme with a modest gallery space contrasted with a giant room hidden behind it with the film projected directly onto the entire wall.

mca museum of contemporary art chicago amanda ross-ho
Photo Credit: Jenn Harrman

Through use of contrasts, the hour-long film elegantly portrays a reflection of a day in the life of Chicago and its people. We see Chicago’s historic Manny’s deli with a man slicing beef behind the counter and people devouring their sandwiches and then contrast to a fine dining restaurant with an extensive food prep crew making tiny portioned plates. We see people in fancy cars and then people taking public transportation. We see the clever imagery of Playboy’s historic magazines and the current witless covers of today.

Morris puts in our view a city full of places and industries we encounter every day but perhaps do not think about in practice. From morning to night, we see Chicago change. The camera rotates its focus from the greater cityscape, to the buildings and the streets, to the people and transportation, and to the details of the work going on inside the buildings. It made me think of how we read the newspaper every day, but maybe we don’t think about the process at the Chicago Tribune to print and deliver us that newspaper. You might eat a Vienna hot dog at the game, but you might not know of the process of making that Chicago dog. The digital low frequency sounds of the background music paired beautifully with the camera angles to create a sense of a more ethereal, larger-than-life reality of Chicago.

The rest of the exhibit includes paintings, photographs, comics and the artists views of the city as a dynamic place of movement, life and change. You can explore the “City Self” exhibit at the MCA through April 13th, 2014.

–Jenn Harrman, Tour Guide


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

Related Posts

be a



Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

Book a chicago event

Let’s Connect!