The new Chicago Police Department District 23 station opened to the public last Saturday with a bit of fanfare. The artist Todd Palmer, my friend, had been commissioned by the city to produce two artworks for the new building. One of these, codeswitch, is prominently installed in the lobby (see photos at bottom of Mr. Palmer below the installation).
codeswitch consists of images of Braille and of hands, in a variety of colors, signing. Both Braille and signs are of the letters used to (de)code DNA, the material said to define us. Using lenticular technology, the images on each panel change as one passes by them (this is the same type of printing used for the images of Jesus opening and closing his eyes).
I believe this work is a comment, on many levels, on human difference and similarity. A code, denoted by a few repeated letters, defines all of us. The code is manifested in us physically in ways that can affect how we are treated (skin color, hair color, texture, and presence, height, sex, etc.). DNA is also commonly used in forensics, helping determine the guilty and the innocent.
There is an ambiguous aspect of codeswitch that I particularly like. It is a commanding piece in the lobby. This is a place where the police and the public, there either to seek help with a crime or to fish out someone who has been arrested, will conduct business. Some of the hands seem to be pointing accusingly (see top photo of the installation, with Mayor Richard M. Daley in the foreground). Who is being accused? The police? The mayor? Residents of Chicago? All of us!