The Pedway of Today explores an imaginary city | Bleader

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Pedway of Today explores an imaginary city

Posted By on 12.22.13 at 10:00 AM

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You'd think you'd have to go a little farther afield than the Loop to find one of the weirdest spots in Chicago, but don't underestimate the Pedway. It winds for two miles, mostly through the north Loop, above ground, below ground, through hotel lobbies, subway tunnels, and department store basements.

The artist Hui-min Tsen doesn't remember when she first discovered the Pedway, but she remembers her first walk through, from the beginning (State and Wabash) to the end (beneath the Swissotel). It was on her birthday, and the approximately two-hour walk took her six or seven hours. "I stopped in hotels, got snacks," she says, "but I also got lost a lot." After that, whenever she had some spare time, she would take a quick stroll. Eventually, although she still sometimes gets lost in the Pedway, she started giving tours that were also performance art. And now she has published a guidebook, The Pedway of Today.

Tsen's guidebook is not a typical listing of points of interest and recommendations for entertainment and refreshment. Instead, it's a meditation on the idea of cities, and Chicago in particular. Before she encountered the Pedway, she'd had some inchoate thoughts about what she calls "the mythic city." "It's like the mythic west, the frontier," she explains. "There's a real west with a whole historical context, but there's also the west you see on TV. The city is the same way. But you find traces of the mythic city in the real city." The Pedway turned out to be the perfect vehicle for thinking about these ideas in a concrete way.

The Pedway is perfect for meandering walks and thoughts because, despite appearances, it doesn't actually lead anywhere. "It looks like it should have been planned," says Tsen, "but it spontaneously evolved. I was attracted to the lack of focus and impracticality."

The Pedway of Today contains small meditations on the revolving door, the history of the department store (and department-store shop girls), the city grid, the Medicis, public transportation, the experience of arriving in a big city, and many other things. "It changes people's idea of how history is presented," she says. "The stories are cherry-picked. The space is not just there with stories. There's an intentional creation of a story."

Tsen doesn't really recommend the book as a practical field guide (though if anyone does attempt to use it that way, she'd like to know how it goes). She also doesn't give tours anymore, though she's considered starting again in connection with the book. She does have a favorite spot on the tour, though.

"There's an elevator at Michigan and Lake," she says. "It takes you upstairs. When you're feeling tired, it's good to be able to see the outside again."

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