On Exhibit: Gwendolyn Zeirdt's bomb threats | Calendar | Chicago Reader

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On Exhibit: Gwendolyn Zeirdt's bomb threats


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Hyde Park artist Gwendolyn Zeirdt took the opening sentences of the Unabomber's manifesto, "Industrial Society and Its Future"--the first of which reads, "The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race"--coded the words into binary bits, and programmed her computer-assisted loom to pick up cream thread for zeros and gray thread for ones. The result, titled The Unabomber Manifesto, is an innocent-looking silk and cotton tapestry that's 12 feet tall and 6 feet across.

Zeirdt devoted around 250 hours to methodically weaving the 12,160 squares of her tapestry. "This must be what Ted felt like when he was trying to write his manifesto," she says. She doesn't agree with much of what Kaczynski wrote, but she wonders, "What if he hadn't killed people? Would this message have a different angle to it?"

Zeirdt's weaving renders the Unabomber's message illegible with the kind of high-tech code he abhors. "This is so much opposite to what he's trying to say," she notes, "yet there's this other side which has a strong connection to what he's trying to say." She points to parallels between Kaczynski and William Morris, the radical aesthete and weaver who in 1894 wrote, "Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization."

Zeirdt herself is no technophobe. As a seventh-grader in Rome, New York, she aspired to become an electrical engineer, though she wound up studying archaeology at Boston University and writing her thesis on the extinct textile industry in Massachusetts. She worked for the state's Office of Public Archaeology and later became a computer analyst for a textile trade organization. After six years at Microsoft in Seattle she came to Chicago to do graduate work at the School of the Art Institute. On the side she works for a California software outfit creating genealogy programs.

Zeirdt doesn't plan to weave any more of the Unabomber's words into art, but she is looking for other patterns. "I'm exploring bar codes--one of those things everybody knows about but knows nothing about."

Zeirdt's The Unabomber Manifesto is part of Hybrid, a juried show of work by School of the Art Institute students at Gallery 2, 847 W. Jackson, that coincides with the eighth International Symposium on Electronic Art. Hours are 11 AM to 6 PM Tuesday through Saturday, through October 17; 312-563-5162.

--Bill Stamets

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Bill Stamets.

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