Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Whimsical tiled artworks juxtapose something everyone hates with things that everyone loves.
Artist Jim Bachor has taken a thousand-year-old art form from the ancient ruins of Italy to Chicago’s streets. He creates mosaics of ice cream sandwiches, tulips, and logo designs from high-end brands like Gucci and Burberry. And he puts them in potholes.
Chicagoans may have come across Bachor before, perhaps bent over a pothole in an orange vest and surrounded by orange traffic cones. That’s because since 2013, Bachor has been going from neighborhood to neighborhood filling potholes with marble and glass mosaics that reflect a dry wit. “This is not a pothole,” reads one of the his works, located in downtown Chicago. In some places, he’s created mosaics of serial numbers to poke fun at the sheer number of potholes throughout the city. His most recent series, from 2015, featured variations on the theme of “Treats in the Streets,” in which he installed pothole mosaics of classic frozen treats.
Those works juxtaposed the universally reviled holes with images of things people generally love. Not only was the pothole fixed with an ancient yet resilient method, but the finished product offered city-dwellers some whimsy in a harsh, urban setting.
This time around, the artist created a Kickstarter page to help fund his latest project. With a few weeks left, he has already surpassed his $1,000 goal and raised more than $10,000—the largest amount of money he’s ever had to work with.
“I think part of the reason [the pothole] project has really taken hold is because everyone can relate to it,” he tells CityLab. “Doesn’t matter who you are or where you live: Everyone hates potholes.”
Bachor expects to start his new works at the end of the month, though he won’t say what his next theme is. The first people to know will be his Kickstarter supporters—one of the many perks he’s offering donors. The money he raises, he says, will support not only more mosaics in Chicago, but also some in Italy, San Antonio, and Los Angeles.
Bachor is choosy about his potholes. Chicago had at least 19,600 reported in 2015, but Bachor creates just about 20 pieces each year. For each piece, he spends hours driving around the city looking for the ideal potholes to fill. They have to be just the right size and depth, and the surrounding streets can’t be so dilapidated that the city plans to fill all the potholes itself. His work is mostly an independent project, but he also has more than 7,000 Instagram followers who let him know about prime potholes around the city.
Bachor works without permission from the city government, and that means work that takes him days to complete can be paved over in just minutes. Some works have lasted for years while others have disappeared in just months.
At first, Bachor found this situation disappointing. But the project has evolved for him. “It's kind of an ephemeral thing, and it’s more about documenting the installations and [capturing them] with nice photography. Whatever happens after that happens,” he says. “Yeah, it's a little bit of bummer when they go away. But, you know, that's what I get for playing in the streets.”