Back when people rode horses everywhere in their riding coats and lived in fear of the Black Plague, architecture styles were quite different. One of the most popular practices back in ye olde times was to decorate buildings and fountains with gargoyle statues, and often prepare the gargoyles so that water spewed from their mouths. While gargoyles are a common sight in Europe, they are rather rare over here in America. Quite simply, America kind of missed out on that whole gargoyle movement.
Gargoyles were the inspiration of artist Jaume Plensa when he designed Chicago’s Crown Fountain at Millennium Park. He designed two 50-foot glass towers that stare each other down on either side of a reflecting pool. I could talk about how the design is quite modern with its simplicity and angular dimensions, but let’s get straight to the fun stuff.
Installed by Krueck + Sexton, the two towers use LED lights to show the close-up faces of Chicago citizens. Supposedly, Plensa recorded the faces of over 1,000 Chicagoans, but I haven’t stuck around long enough to verify that number. The clips show the Chicagoans making facial expressions, and then making a gesture akin to blowing out a candle. At that moment, a stream of water pours from the person’s mouth into the reflecting pool.
Plensa’s idea is a rather unique take on classic gargoyles. I certainly hope that he’s not trying to imply that Chicago’s citizens look like gargoyles; rather, he seems to be having a bit of fun playing with that concept and adapting it to fit the city. Almost every city has a building and work of art that becomes an iconic representation of the metropolis. What better way to represent the city than to use actual citizens? New York has the Statue of Liberty. San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. Chicago has people.
And somehow, the artist managed to pull it off. If someone described to me two giant rectangles that showed unflattering close-ups of strangers’ faces, I would think that they’d look unsettling, weird, or give me a sort of Big Brotheresque, “we’re watching you” sort of vibe, but they don’t really have that effect at all. The feeling these faces give off is more of a, “Hey, look at me! I’m friendly! Come play in my fountain! Blaahhhhhh. Oh, did I get you wet?”