Katherine Aanensen, Class of 2016. (Photography by John Zich)

Psychogeographic Chicago
An interview with Study Chicago participant Katherine Aanensen, Class of 2016.
Katherine Aanensen, Class of 2016 (geography), grew up in Uniondale, New York, about an hour outside Manhattan. As well as New York, the cities she knows best are Tokyo and Hiroshima, where she has relatives; Aanensen has Japanese, Norwegian, and Barbadian heritage. She attended Philip Exeter Academy on a scholarship from the Institute for Educational Advancement. At UChicago Aanensen is the recipient of an New Leader Odyssey Scholarship. The middle school I went to was roughly 75 percent black, 23ish percent Hispanic, and then the other 2 percent Asian/white/everything else. Parts of my town were very high-crime areas, and that’s only growing. Some abandoned buildings, things like that. I went to boarding school in Exeter, New Hampshire. It’s rural around there. So I grew up in the suburbs, basically, and in Exeter. In the spring of my second year I decided to be a geography major. I took these three classes: Spectacle, Ephemera, and Urban Engagement; Between the Agora and the Shopping Mall; and History of Cartography. We went out on the Midway and mapped where the buildings were at the Columbian Exposition. We talked about place making and gentrification, and I spent a lot of time looking at Uptown. I was introduced to psychogeography. I made my first visit to Millennium Park. So it was a lot of Chicago that quarter. It felt like a lot of important things had happened, but I hadn’t been able to connect them yet. I wanted Study Chicago to help me organize all of those thoughts. No one really agrees on what psychogeography is. It’s a way of creatively reorienting yourself in the city. A lot of ideas are centered around the idea of the dérive [drift]—a solitary walker wandering the city. I described it to my friends as “creative walking.” A lot of the contemporary work that’s being done on psychogeography focuses on reinterpreting literary works as psychogeographic. A lot of crime literature can be considered psychogeographic. Also Ben Hecht’s 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, which Paul Durica [AM’06, PhD’13] brought up [in the class Representing Chicago]. Two of our assignments were to write with that idea in mind: experience part of the city or an event in the city and then report on it. For my first assignment for Paul’s class, I wrote about standing at the 47th Street Red Line stop in the middle of the Dan Ryan. I was there at ten o’clock at night. I likened it to looking at the lake. The idea of the cars and the lake, pulling you in. The second one was on a creative local event in Chicago. I went to an experimental music concert at Myopic Books. There were two performers—bass clarinet and drums—and at any given time maybe four people listening. I didn’t know what was happening, but it was pretty great. I wrote about aliens. Aliens among us. For my final project I made a bunch of maps. I used GIS [geographic information system] to map out all the places we had visited or places that were suggested we visit. Then I did an analysis: what areas of Chicago did we spend a lot of time studying? Then I found a bunch of existing maps. A heat map made after the heat waves in the late ’90s. A sociological map of Chicago community areas. The coastline of Chicago. I wanted to see what we studied in relation to what has been studied about Chicago—what people have analyzed.
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3405","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"636","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]] “Study Chicago’s Density” (Map by Aanensen)
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3404","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"636","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]] “Study Chicago’s Confusion” (Map by Aanensen)
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3406","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"618","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]]“Study Chicago and the Concentric Ring Model” (Map by Aanensen)
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3407","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"621","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]]“Study Chicago’s Space Allocation” (Map by Aanensen)
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3408","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"607","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]]“Where Did We Study Chicago?” (Map by Aanensen)
The visit to the American Theater Company’s The Project(s) really struck me, because it hit on one of the questions that I was really confused about. What went bad? How did that happen? It also touched on the idea of the individual story being very important. Not looking at, there were this many people in this space, those people moved to this space, but “I grew up here, then I moved here at this point in my life.” I’m having a lot of tensions with my actual studies. I like the idea of the individual experience, but how do I map that in a way that’s meaningful? I also really enjoyed the visit to IMAN and Englewood. I liked the rooftop garden at City Hall. Seeing birds up there was so bizarre. We saw another green roof from our roof. The idea of green space in Chicago is so central to Chicago’s history and growth as a city. Pullman was really fascinating. I wasn’t as fascinated as Chelsea [Fine, Class of 2016] was. That trip gripped her so hard.
[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"3403","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"360","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]] Aanensen during the class visit to Pullman. (Photography by John Zich)
I went to the Hideout a bit early because I’m just nervous about being late. I was wondering if I was in the wrong place. Why are all of these fire trucks and garbage trucks here? Where the heck am I? And then the Hideout just appears out of almost nowhere. You go in and it’s so small. Meeting those guys [author Dmitry Samarov and editor/professor Bill Savage] in that space felt like this weird and delightful cap to Paul’s class. The class was kind of a Chicago hipster’s history, and being able to see the modern version of that was super neat. Right after was when I went to Myopic Books to see these people make sounds like angry geese. In Kathy’s [Conzen] class, she wanted to talk about things that Chicago histories don’t spend much time on. We talked about parishes in Chicago at one point. It was supposed to correspond to a St. Sabina’s trip that ended up not happening. But Father [Michael] Pfleger [a well-known social activist and priest] spoke at the Institute of Politics, which I attended because we didn’t go to St. Sabina’s. That was awesome. Such an invigorating speaker. I wanted to go out and protest right after. But then I thought, I have so much homework. Which was exactly what he was criticizing. Before this program I didn’t quite understand how the far North Side and the far South Side worked. The idea of a city that spreads the way Chicago has is kind of weird to me. It was a cool quarter. I learned so much. I almost learned too much.