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Sinclair-Wilson-Farmstead Meatpacking Plant
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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Project Site:
Sinclair-Wilson-Farmstead Meatpacking Plant - Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Funded by:
The National Endowment for the Arts/ Creation Program
The Illinois Arts Council
Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
The Iowa Arts Council
The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs

Public artists Jane Gilmor and BJ Krivanek joined together to present Work-Shift, a large-scale sequential site activation at the former Sinclair-Wilson-Farmstead meatpacking plant--in operation from 1871 to 1990--in the devastated industrial neighborhood of Oak Hill in Cedar Rapids.

Site and Objectives:
This community-based art program underscored the changing face of work in the post-industrial Midwest. It articulated the public voices of two groups in the community that are diametrically related, past and future. The content and thematic basis of the sitework evolved from outreach sessions with displaced factory workers-women--(gathering testimonies of their past work experiences) and students at nearby Metro High School--girls--(developing evidence of their future work aspirations and abilities).

We instigated various outreach activities among the women and girls who participated, honoring past work experiences while impacting future visions of work. The reclaimed histories, as articulated by the women who used to work at Sinclair-Wilson-Farmstead, provided a context for the explorations of the younger generation, students at the local alternative high school. They investigated the role of industry/ technology in work, envisioning their own future roles in the workplace, communicated via digital technology.

There were two primary outcomes of this program--a website and a public performance work. Both outcomes propelled these collected narratives and insights into the public realm, albeit in different ways. The website enables global digital access, while the public work--in the form of a site activation that incorporates public inscriptions--allowed for local experiential/ temporal access.

Public Art Program:
Work-Shift culminated in an experiential site activation--seven performances--during Cedar Rapids' annual Freedom Festival, featuring displaced workers' testimonies (women's past work experiences, mechanically projected) and students' computer-generated work (future work aspirations and abilities, digitally projected) presented upon building facades within the Sinclair-Wilson-Farmstead complex.

This industrial site presented unique challenges and opportunities for the development of sitework. The audience was herded, like doomed animals, onto a stock trailer, driven onto and through thee, subjected to a sequence of ten visual scenarios, enacted against a soundscape which layered human narration over the tyranny of machines.

Spotlights and text/ video projections reanimated the meatpacking plant, with dance performers incorporating collected kinetic memories, remembering the engrained movements of women working on the relentless production line. At the conclusion, 1960Ős era muscle cars roared onto the site while a former worker reclaimed the meatpacking plant with her gigantic shadow, projected by headlights.

This public art and design program explored the vulnerabilities of industry and labor--past, present, future--in Iowa and the Midwest. It reclaims and updates the practice of public inscription on behalf of invisible communities. Work-Shift was an assertive act of urban infiltration, to appropriate, reconfigure, and inscribe buildings and structures--reclaiming site history--to inform and impact the future development of this industrial site.

This program facilitated cross-generational discovery and understanding between two groups--girls and women--who have faced/ will face very different working lives. While recovering the oral histories of women who worked in factories, this program explored the impact of labor and its relationship to gender.