Amira Hanafi

Introduction by Stephen Lapthisophon


forge (v.) To create by hammering. To fake, invent, contrive, devise, excogitate, or formulate. To move ahead steadily. To shape, form, work, mold, or fashion. To make out of components, often in an improvising manner. Collaged from language collected using the obscure keyword “Finkl”—obituaries, case histories, old Chicago legends, gossip columns, political speeches and online posts—Forgery is a lyrical essay on industrial and personal dislocation—a strange choreography of urban conquest and collapse—centered on a 130-year-old Chicago steel forge. Founded in 1879 by German immigrant Anton Finkl, A. Finkl & Sons Co. still operates today on Chicago’s Near North Side. Last vestige of an industrial era, the company produces die forgings noisily and with a good deal of dirty emissions alongside one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, where spas and plastic surgeons, shops for handmade cosmetics and luxury chocolates extend off one of the busiest commercial corridors in Chicago. Starting from this intersection of forces, the narrator embarks on a walk to the seven forgotten homes of the forge’s founder, on the way meeting settlers, Indians, Bob Fosse and Richard Daley, gangsters, workers, a K-pop girl group, and a cast of other peculiar characters whose fused stories recount the multifarious history of an evolving city. Whether tied up at gunpoint in the garage of a basketball player or floating at the bottom of Lake Michigan, Forgery revels in disorientation. Printed in an edition of 500 with silk screen covers by Crosshair and an introduction by Stephen Lapthisophon.

Cover art by: Dan MacAdam / Crosshair

Design by:



1516 N Orchard 1531 N Clybourn

The rough shaping of the history is effected largely through the open-die forging process. A gigantic actuated blacksmith’s hammer shapes a cavity where I place the Logan Square in Philadelphia inside the Logan Square in Chicago. A team of operators, cranes, and manipulators permit us to bring productions from the Philadelphia Free Library to the stone eagle perched on an obelisk in the square. I borrowed Cixous from a shelf around the corner from where, in another year, a painting by a Native American with a name like Many Footed Rabbit hangs at the top of the escalator. Among the many methods of mass production used in modern durable goods industries, there are none more important than those of drop forging and upsetting the family history. C is born where the church bells chime again, where there is a strong smell of plants, where the Brown Line curves into Clybourn on its elevated tracks before it shoots straight north. A generator shudders on a fenced-in island in the parking lot. A badly put-up chain link fence runs across one end of the lot. In the immaculate park, neat hedges keep the paved paths from the grass. His looking at me, writing on the bench, is unusual in that nothing even closely comparable in cause, magnitude, and effect has ever occured. Throughout the entire period of changes, my memory of the picture window in the house I first came home to is replaced by an image of the picture window in the house he grew up in. Sometimes I want something so long, so much, I forge a stern task-master with a sternness tempered with kindness. A very wide and tall door opens on the side of a long brick building, offering more power this year than last. The demand outpacing the supply, I shout to him, “Slow down,” but he doesn’t hear—I let the spinning wheels slow, but other instructions are illegible from where I am sitting. His father, A Finkl, appointed him general manager and he assumed duties in the financial end. Finances in the end shape nearly every decision. Savings were multiplied dramatically last winter and Plant 1 was enlarged by 1918 to consist of a representative forge plant. This time I shout loud enough for him to stop. Savings not only reduce operating costs for manufacturers such as Finkl, but they help make power supplies more reliable. We lean our bikes against our knees and watch massive tools bludgeon black rocks and sparks fly. When I imagined how much space our stuff would take up I imagined a much smaller space. Summer is always a big power usage period. As much time as C can spare is spent at his 80-acre racing stables in Roselle. I visit my mother where it is unbearably hot and humid. She is from Aberdeen,  the one in South Dakota that is ten miles from one end to the other, around which are some towns with forty people. C’s father, A, is German but not a farmer; my grandfather was born German in the Dakotas and was a meter reader in whose wedding photo was still a farmer whose tan belied his hat. The forge incorporated, a tendency for downturns, trenches of centuries’ bare feet, and a love for prairie thunder chime 4 o’clock in the distance. In late June or July, I take a picture of myself in my Chicago office and send it to my mother, or my other grandfather who was a lawyer in a Cairo library, from whose windows I heard not boomers but the molasses man’s bells and vegetable sellers’ calls and the simultaneous songs of pigeons and chickens, or to a closet in my father’s house. Under C’s orders, shaped steel can no longer be quenched in oil to harden; from now on workers will use water. The last year has been a wake-up call. Develop-ments in the otherwise blank blue sky totally melt when he leaves. Decisions have been made by concerted energy-efficient units at $750,000 apiece. By lessening peak demands, the core of gathered buildings going west towards the bridge become confident that patent protection will continue a tendency for downturns in business prosperity. On other orders, a concern for the reliability of utility groans above in the sky, in and out of the hospital on a  snowy day, the coming in, I am told. Which makes Chicago my second city. There is not the remotest suggestion that C’s management was incompetent. To the contrary, it was generally recognized to be quite efficient to die prematurely. Such loss must be some unusual, drastic, nonrecurring event and not simply the operation of normal competitive forces. “It’s not the destination,” I tell him, laughing as he stands at the locked door.  A compressive force is formed between members having his living father’s name.


Until very recently, Amira Hanafi lived in Chicago. Now she lives in Cairo. In both cities she makes a habit of walking, sometimes with others. It’s a deliberate kind of wandering, a determined getting lost-ness, and enough work comes out of her walking, that I have started to think of the city as her studio. Months ago a friend asked me the last time I went to my studio without a plan. I didn’t have answer. I always know what I am going to work on—which, perhaps, explains why when I do get lost in a city, I tend to panic. Getting lost (especially in Chicago where I’ve lived for several years) reads to me as an inner turmoil; something symptomatic of trouble. I get lost as result of inward distraction. Amira on the other hand gets lost because she is so present to a moment. Because she celebrates that lost-ness—enjoying the accompanying curiosity, what I feel is generally accompanied with a studied awareness of one’s environment. The walk is a kind of aimless action, in which one must remain open, in order to discover what is so easily overlooked.

Caroline Picard: Will you describe your experience walking through a city? Amira Hanafi: I think of walking as reading, of the city as text. Walking sets a pace for gathering and interpreting information. The movement is like reading a book—one can linger over passages or skim quickly through them, mark a place to return to, or close the book. One of my first walking projects in Chicago was Maps of the Order of Signs, in which I walked over two one-mile segments of Armitage Avenue, reading aloud all the text I saw into a handheld recorder. I transcribed this text and treated it in different ways; I performed various analyses in order to “decode” its meaning. The project resulted in a collection of texts, drawings, and prints, which I exhibited here in Chicago. It was a very literal interpretation of walking as reading. It was a good start, leading to walking as one of my central modes of art-making. I use walking as performance as well as a method of research or collection, gathering material with which to document the city. CP: How do different cities respond to your walks? Do you change your walking strategy depending on what city you happen to inhabit? AH: So far, I’ve done walking projects in two cities—Chicago and Cairo, Egypt. Certainly these walks are very different from each other. There is a great deal more life on the street in Cairo than in Chicago, so far more personal encounters happen. Also, because it is a very polluted and overcrowded city with poor infrastructure, the number of hours one can spend walking in Cairo is more limited. Appearing to be a foreigner, I am much more conspicuous in Cairo than in Chicago. In Chicago, the walks and accompanying conversations are more focused on infrastructure, urban planning, and the impact of the law, whereas in Cairo the streets are more immediately shaped by the people who inhabit them. I would love to have more cities to compare, but I believe that the best way for me to make intelligent art is through sustained engagement—by dwelling. That’s why I live in Cairo now. CP: What is your relationship to the situationist dérive? AH: I began using Guy Debord’s Theory of the Situationist Dérive in 2008, as a strategy for reading the city. I was drawn to his idea that one can detect “flows” in the city by walking without a plan. I concertedly experimented with the strategy by conducting a series of nine dérives in Chicago in the fall of 2009, inviting others to join me. I used it again in my project Cairo On the Length, a series of 28 walks, with a different person each time, over the course of four months in Cairo. As a method, the dérive can be a bit messy, but it is an excellent way to get to know a city without following an established path. More recently, I have returned to performing planned walks, such as my Walk Under the Interstate in Chicago in fall 2010. A planned walk offers more focus on a particular aspect of a city, and I feel that is more appropriate once I have acquired a general sense of the city and can pinpoint those aspects that interest me most. CP: How did you discover the term “drift” and when did it seem appropriate? AH: “Drifting” is a literal translation of dérive, and it’s a great way to get to know a lot about a city in a short period of time. Over a sustained period of time, one can detect patterns in a city’s life, discover what is anomalous, and move beyond the immediately recognizable aspects of a particular city toward a more deeper understanding of the network of influences that is the metropolis. The drift is best as a collective activity. I am increasingly interested in the discursive conversations that accompany these walks. For me, drifting alone is difficult as I get easily distracted by my own thoughts and lose focus on my surroundings. But with a partner or two, a lot of unexpected ground gets covered. CP: Do you feel the “art” that takes place is in the walking? Or is it in the work that comes from the walking? AH: The art is in both. The walk, with or without a plan, can be a performance—a sustained deviation from typical modes of action. The walk offers a period of heightened awareness during which I make observations and collect material. Over time, I may work with the material to create a document. All of this work is art-making. Caroline Picard: How does Forgery relate to your drift? Amira Hanafi: I didn’t start conscientiously drifting as a practice until after I had written most of Forgery. I came across the A. Finkl & Sons steel forge on a bicycle ride, actually, a ride much like a drift. I had just moved to Chicago and I was getting to know the city by wandering around. I was really enamored by the big, fiery industrial operations going on inside the open doors of the forge, just west of one of the most gentrified neighborhoods in the city. I was also curious as to why these operations had survived when so much of Chicago’s industry had died off or been relegated to the outskirts of the city. So I did some research; at the Chicago Public Library, I found a curious book, published by the forge on its one hundredth anniversary in 1979 (which is also the year I was born). It was full of laudatory biographies of the presidents of the company. Included in the founder’s biography was a list of all the addresses he had lived at in Chicago. What a curious list! I mapped them out and started visiting them, a couple at a time. These walks constitute the core of the book—the Homes series. CP: What was your experience of collecting source material like? How did you edit that source material? AH: I researched and kept collecting various materials, using the keyword “Finkl,” for about a year. In some ways it was obsessive work and I had quite a stack of documents before I decided to begin composing. I organized that material by type—newspaper articles, legal documents, the writing I had done at each site, my personal journals, and materials about the Finkl forge and forging in general. I hung up photos of the sites and various characters in my workspace. I put a lot of material in a heavy black binder that I carried around with me a lot of the time. I set up a system in which each section of Forgery would include one document from each of five categories. Inside this system, I worked intuitively, collaging the texts I felt were appropriate to each section. I felt that I was performing the work of the forge, reconstituting existing materials into a new, stronger material by “differing amounts of distortion,” to use a technical forging term. CP: Can you talk a little about the first person thread that passes through the text? I feel like it’s sort of like the crest of a wave that surfaces periodically in a sea of material that comes from elsewhere…. AH: History is personal. Each of us has a different sense of which events are important to us; of which characters influence our lives; to what news items and sources we direct our attention. To continue your metaphor, each of us also has an ability and a responsibility to change the tide, whether on a very local level or a more expanded one. The direction of our impact is very personal work. The narrator of Forgery performs that work through encounters—by direct contact with place and through the mediated form of textual documents. In a sense, the first person “tries on” the different encounters throughout the text. It’s a disorienting process, without a linear narrative thread, but I feel there is a development. We continually transform our identities by refashioning narratives about ourselves and our environment—that is what the narrator of Forgery does. CP: How did Forgery influence your relationship to Chicago? AH: In a sense, Forgery is my relationship to Chicago. It’s not the only thing I’ve done in this city, but my work on the book spanned the entire time I lived in Chicago—from 2006 to 2010. Rather than think of the relationship as one of influence, I think of Forgery as my conversation with the city. What is this place? I asked. Who has been here before me? What does it mean that I am here? How will this place change me? CP: I am always surprised by the Girl X section, if only because I get accustomed to thinking specifically about the forge…I was wondering if you talk about how that section came about and how you see it in relation to the rest of the text. AH: I came across the story of Girl X when I was researching the section for the 800 Block of North Sedgwick. It’s an appalling story of a nine-year old girl who was raped, strangled, poisoned and left for dead in the stairwell of her apartment building in the Cabrini-Green housing project. She didn’t die, but is now paralyzed, blind, and mute. In the first draft of Forgery, I included a few sentences of her narrative in the 800 Block of North Sedgwick section, but, as I sat with the manuscript, I felt that the significance of that event merited more research and more writing. The name she acquired through the event—“Girl X”—pointed to crucial ideas of memory, anonymity, and marginalized populations. Forgery is, in one sense, about what gets documented, which events get distilled into language and made available to shape a sense of history. The story of Girl X is not an unusual one in that it happened, but it is exceptional in that it (eventually) gained national media attention. After I had completed the first draft of Forgery, I noted the dearth of women in the text. I made a concerted effort to find women, to search in the marginalized spaces where they are documented—gossip columns and marriage announcements, for example. “Mary Jane Finkl” was the first woman I wrote about. But “Girl X” was much more difficult. I think I sat with that material (newspaper articles and legal documents relating to her story) for over two years before I felt able to write about her. When I did write it, in the summer of 2010, the section came to be about negotiating that marginalized history, and feeling complicit with its disenfranchisement. By the time I wrote about Girl X, I was no longer just an engaged observer of Chicago. I was a citizen of its streets and a documented part of its history. So the writing came out differently. The act of writing was more emotional, and I was carrying a personal experience of Chicago that I didn’t have at the beginning.

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About the Authors

Amira Hanafi

Amira Hanafi is a writer and artist using variable methods of research and collection to produce documentary objects. She is the author of Minced English, Trinities, and Anaclasis.