There is architecture in the simplest of tools. Gunter’s chains and corner mounds are devices that measured and marked vast territories during the colonization of North America. The sixty-six-foot chain, tagged and divided into 100 links, combined decimal and English systems so that 18th-Century surveyors could lay out fields, farms, towns, and, eventually, the Jeffersonian grid. The mounds were dug out from four pits to show where the grid intersected and where plots could be bought. Together, these tools enabled the conversion of earth into land, inextricably linking liberty to property. Any alternative way of being with the world—by indigenous communities who considered themselves as belonging to the lands, not the other way around or by enslaved peoples who invented new modes of life despite being declared property—were odious obstacles to this brutal dynamic.
“100 links” is an installation by the Buell Center and AD-WO that aims to unsettles this dynamics by redefining land not as object, but as relationship. It invites visitors to move beneath sagging chains, amidst wall-mounted tags, and around pits filled with books for the taking. These books unpack the lineage of a paradox that still feeds development today: as soon as any territory is enclosed, new architectures have to be invented to declare land an endless resource again.
To unsettle land today is to reflect on the techniques that sustain this legacy; to find solidarities across history and geography; to heed the work of contemporary abolitionists and indigenists; and to generate robust forms of unlanded freedom.
The Buell Center is hosting the related event Land Outside Capital at the University of Chicago on November 16, 2023.
See the Buell Center website for additional information about the “100 Links” Installation and Book.
More information on GSAPP participants at the Chicago Architecture Biennial can be found on this news page.
More information on the exhibition and other participants at the Chicago Cultural Center can be found on the Chicago Architecture Biennial website.