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Arlington Hts. native returns to roots to create film for Millennium Park
By Marie Wilson | Daily Herald Staff

Thomas Gray, an artist who grew up in Arlington Heights, created a film installation for one of the temporary pavilions at Millennium Park for the centennial of the Plan of Chicago.


Courtesy of David Schachman

Architect Zaha Hadid's temporary pavilion in Millennium Park features a film installation created by artist Thomas Gray to mark the 100th anniversary of the Plan of Chicago.


Courtesy of The Gray Circle

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Published: 8/13/2009 12:01 AM

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Artist Thomas Gray grew up in Arlington Heights, but never worked in Chicago until this spring. After living in London for 18 years, Gray began production of an artistic film for architect Zaha Hadid's Burnham Plan centennial pavilion in Millennium Park.

The 71/2-minute video is anything but an average movie, Gray said.

"I don't do traditional film," he said. "I create atmosphere more than anything else."

The film's projection space is also anything but traditional. Housed inside one of two temporary pavilions built in Millennium Park to honor the Burnham Plan's 100th anniversary, the video is shown on two semi-transparent layers of fabric spanning a 25-foot wide, 10-foot tall area with no flat surfaces.

"It's like a film you've never seen before; a film with no borders and no edges, just images floating in space," said Gray, who graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1991 with a degree in design and a minor in film. "The shape changes for every moment."

Gray's piece begins by recreating the atmosphere of Chicago in 1909, when Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett were writing the historic Plan of Chicago.

Sound artist Lou Mallozzi electronically altered sounds of elevated trains, industrial labor and car horns to create an eerie vibe and bring out the overpowering sounds of the city. As the video transmits viewers to the present, the sounds switch to recent recordings of city life.

"There's not a need to be redundant in a literal way of making sure what you hear is what you see," Mallozzi said. "We're exploiting the idea that the viewers and listeners can put the two together on their own."

Gray said his outsider's perspective allowed him to take a fresh look at the city and fill his piece with images Chicagoans typically overlook. He filmed mainly within city limits, but also on some forest preserve land in Elk Grove Village.

The end of the video features overlapping audio of about 58 Chicagoans discussing their dreams and visions for the city's future.

"There's no script; every word is taken from the mouths of the people of Chicago and the Chicago area," Gray said. "The idea is to get people listening to these voices and hearing these interesting and crazy ideas and getting them to think about their future."

Gray and Mallozzi both said the video is something people have to experience to understand.

Visitors can experience the video installation beginning an hour before sunset Aug. 4 through Oct. 31, although the end date may be extended, said Paul O'Connor, communications director of Chicago Metropolis 2020, the group that funded the project. The design allows for the pavilion and video installation to be rebuilt in other locations, but there are no plans to move it at this point.

"We'll see if it creates a phenomenon," O'Connor said. "It could capture the imagination of the country and the world, but its main goal is to capture the people of Chicago."

Gray is now considering moving back to Chicago and working here - a prospect he said his parents, Margaret and Tom Sr. of Arlington Heights, are fond of.

"Before this project came along, I could not imagine working in Chicago. As much as I love it, everyone thought my work was interesting but I could never get any work," Gray said. "But since this project, I've realized that the Chicago area has totally changed in terms of their attitude. It's a much more forward- and open-thinking place than it was. For the first time in my life, I can imagine moving back."