Park Grill

Park Grill, Chicago

The structure of the web favors simplicity. Looking at things on a screen is a lot different than dealing with a paper artifact. I can understand the criticisms regarding attention span and resolution. I try to print things and look at them when I can. Sometimes the details give you a lot to think about.

I’ve been thinking about types of “looking” lately. The setup of Millennium Park in Chicago (in the zone between Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate and the Park Grill) shares a certain sort of affinity with Robert Fulton’s 1799 plans for the panorama. Spectators would look at a circular painting from a mildly elevated platform. They were also able to walk around it completely to survey the view from all sides. In the case of the platform holding Cloud Gate, the view is available on two sides (as I recall). The view from around thirty feet in the air is much different from the sort of view you’d get from an elevated observation tower.

The view of a person walking below the platform is different; the pathways offer different “views” and require a more active participation; a person can stride through “acceptable” pathways, or cut across the baracades. You can walk around the grass or on it. You can touch the rails, or rest upon them. On the ground, the rails are not a safety precaution but rather a method of steering.

I suppose this matches pretty well with de Certeau’s distinction between strategy and tactics. A spectator assuming the elevated perspective can only leap the rail at their own peril; they are locked into a strategic perspective that is at its best when looking rather than doing. Below, a spectator can make tactical choices—they can follow the strategy of the park’s designers, or they can subvert it. Tactics need not follow a predetermined pattern; we are free to turn down a blind alley if we care to.