• Exhibition

All That Is Solid

Ang Li
28 Aug–30 Oct 2019

All That Is Solid is a site-specific installation in the Chicago Pedway that explores the material afterlives of modern consumption. Using expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam diverted from the landfill, the exhibition presents a series of roving building blocks whose monolithic forms recall the material systems of the waste-processing industry. The installation draws from the inventory practices of salvage yards and recycling centers—the stockpiling of trash into provisional units of bales, skids and ingots—to illustrate the vast economies of scale associated with the redistribution of waste.

EPS foam is a man-made polymer that is composed of 98 percent air. Developed during World War II for use on of military aircrafts, it was heralded as a wonder material that defied conventional production constraints like weight, cost and shelf life. Once a symbol for twentieth century convenience, foam products are increasingly banned from municipal recycling programs due to the high economic cost involved in transporting and processing it. According to some estimates, over 80% of EPS foam consumed in the United States is discarded every year, taking up nearly 30% of the volume of active landfills. Despite this growing environmental footprint, EPS remains a durable presence in the shipping and construction industries where it continues to be deployed as an effective void-filler in product packaging and large-scale infrastructure projects.

By bringing a sample of this uniquely modern building material—roughly 1,000 cubic feet of foam collected from recycling centers in the greater Chicago area—into the space of the gallery, the installation invites the public to reflect on our shifting cultural and economic definitions of waste and worth, resource and refuse.

Project Team:
Nina Shabalina, Korynn Newville, Biyun Feng, Vince Tong, Emily Weiser, Lanye Luo and Raven Xu

Material Sponsorship: Chicago Logistic Service

All That Is Solid is a partner program of the Chicago Architecture Biennial

Photos by Nathan Keay

Ang Li is an architect and Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at Northeastern University. Her research and creative practice investigate the maintenance practices and material afterlives of the contemporary building industry. Li has participated in exhibitions at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Milwaukee, the Echo Art Fair in Buffalo, and the Lisbon Architecture Triennale. Her writing and work have been published in Log, Clog, Thresholds, Manifest, Abitare, Wired, and Blueprint. Before joining the faculty at Northeastern she was a Visiting Artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the 2015–16 Peter Reyner Banham Fellow at the University at Buffalo. She holds a BA in architecture from the University of Cambridge and an M.Arch. from Princeton University.