Monday, May 31, 2010
For dinner André brought General Tso's Chicken from a not-so-great Chinese restaurant in his local Hyde Park (André's review). He also brought the book "When Humor Becomes Painful" as reading research for a paper due before graduation. This book seemed perfect even for viewing this final dinner... André could have made his experience incredibly funny had he wanted, but instead it sat at the semi-painful line of reality with a twist of irony and a dash sweetness for good measure. I couldn't help but feel incredibly maternal for his presence as I watched, respecting his independence but feeling that he should soon receive a hug.
Two men came to see the piece in it's final night. They read about it in the Tribune article and wanted to see it before the close. After answering their numerous and rich questions, they began to share with me their favorite artists and art pieces through years. Realizing how deep their exposure goes, I became incredibly grateful both for the information they were sharing and also for their attendance. The piece (perhaps any artwork for that matter) becomes in part only as strong as its response. For those who stumbled across Art on Armitage during May, I have been impressed by their openness and willingness to embrace it. For those who simply love art and go to where it is, I am equally grateful that they'll carry with them the memory of 30 Days into the next art adventure they pursue. Like bees spreading pollen to plant more lovely flowers, art viewers who engage are planting seeds for future beauty and growth.
As I write this, the gallery has been totally de-installed. The table and chairs are back in our apartment where they began, out of the way and waiting for a future use. I'm sad it's over but overwhelmed by what I've seen and processed this month. Finally my body is wearing down; no voice and incredibly tired, I am experiencing the physical evidence that 30 days are enough days.
Thanks to those who've been faithful readers. I hope you find more in the photos, write-ups and conceptual skeleton of this piece than I could have imagined. Please send me your thoughts as they come. I very much look forward to what comes next.
I'm not totally sure what they brought for dinner, aside from the blue plates, candle and water bottle visible in the photos. Day 29 was the second and final night that Nate had to fill in for my absence. He missed the meal details but said, "it looked like sandwiches but they ate them with a fork, so it could have been crepes, but I don't know."
This night was much like the others, warm and viewed by a crowd on their way to the yearly church carnival down the street. As many people from the neighborhood have become accustomed to the piece, and other summer time events move into the periphery, it feels like this piece is ready for a graceful retirement. Not that it needs to be new and exciting every night, but the gesture seems to have filled up to its own brim and is now looking for its own lid for containment.
In an act to retain images of the evening, Nate relied more upon quotes he gathered from people passing by. I love quotations as they are bits of reality in a decontextualized form, like photos with no image. On one hand they both show factual vocal detail but also leave a lot to the imagination.
One man on a bike asked Nate, "When can I go in there and eat rice and beans?". For future ideas and projects I need to remember questions like these. Over and over again people with small interest all the way to people with sturdy commitment to the piece have asked how to participate. There was a time when I thought no one would set in the window, but now I see that it takes only a few brave souls to empower others to be brave as well.
Nate also wrote: "Another man with a Puerto Rican hat carrying an American flag blow-up machine gun wearing a camouflage vest and cut-off jeans shorts said 'Are we entitled to go in there?'". Nate was so fascinated by this man's appearance and likeminded verbiage that he read me this quote with a smile and tiny exclamation points hidden in his voice. I have no idea what this man would have done if Nate told him to go right on in... but the fact that he is apart of the memory of this piece makes it unique and beautiful beyond my wildest dreams.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
For dinner they brought a combination of food purchased at a nearby restaurant: sandwich and hotdog, Hispanic pastries and nesquick flavored milk. Having taken in a few strawberries from the reception spread, I believe this is the first time I inadvertently (and gladly) contributed to the objects in the space.
This day was a whirlwind from my vantage point, and anyone who has thrown a reception for their own work knows exactly what I mean. Typically the nightly dinner time is the highlight of my evening, or at least demands a great amount of attention. Because of the party, the dinner felt more like deja vu. When I was outside with them it made me miss being out there, but it also made me aware of the people I could be talking with inside. The extrovert in me ruled the day, for better or worse.
It was beautiful to see how the dinner changed because of the party. Teenagers who have been skate boarding across the street all month finally came over to see what was going on. Lauren and Ashley beckoned me through yells to come out and watch the boys perform jumps on the sidewalk. People who have been reading about the piece online were able to see it for the first time and participants returned to celebrate.
Lauren and Ashley were the perfect pair to put in the window on a day that preoccupied my responsibilities... it seemed like they had fun with the piece and really contributed a good presence to the party. Their demeanor and posture helped with the artfulness of the night, as well as the fluidity of participating with life, inside and outside the window.
All in all, the reception was a great evening filled with old and new friends. Still two more days before the end, but the air of "wrapping things up" is all around. I'll hold off on the goodbye words other than to say how pleasing it was to look back with others on all this piece has and will accomplish.
For dinner they ordered sandwiches from the pizza place across the street. There was a large time-gap between their expected food pickup and the actual time it was ready. During those twenty-or-so minutes I was able to talk with Samantha about the piece and her personal/artistic interests. Considering how late it is into the month, our conversation felt like a test run for re-entering the normal pace of dialog with a stranger (instead of watching them from the other side of a window, which I'm certain won't fly in other contexts).
Along with their food they brought an ipod and speaker dock. As soon as their quick meal was eaten, they folded up the table and chairs, put their things off to the side, and picked a tune. Then they proceeded to start a two-person window dance party. They continued picking songs and dancing until the end of their hour, quite a thing to watch.
This is the first night where the participants became overt and intentional performers. On one hand it felt as though they danced for themselves, not always facing out but instead laughing and focused on one another. On the other hand, they would fall into moments of outward focus... playing the roles of mimes in a box (though they actually were in a box this time) or doing the Rockettes line kick. I suppose this follows suit with many forms of dancing: simultaneously a personal expression and entertainment for others.
They had a good amount of sit-down-stay-a-while viewers to observe their dances... which created the feeling of watching gogo dancers locked in a box. It's incredibly awkward to sit still while watching two people jump and kick and laugh... all to music you can't hear. This disconnect of physical movement made me feel like they were very far away... people from a different place performing a strange ritual of that I couldn't enter. In this dinner time more than any other I felt my obligation as Viewer to their Entertainer, and distinctly encountered the divide that separated their world from my own.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
For dinner they brought a variety of snacking foods, surrounded by a much loved container of hummus. They drank orange juice with the food, and while it looked like a snack meal, it felt incredibly healthy. Their dinner seemed to revolve most around their game of Scrabble. Based on the board they brought and the posture they held throughout the game, it was obvious this was not an isolated event in their lives. In fact, with this dinner more than any other, I felt as if this is actually what they would be doing at home during dinner time...as though the gallery was just a large window looking into their living room.
In spite of the comfort in their actions, it seemed they were keenly conscious of themselves as being on display. I gathered this from nervous laughter and the way Jen's foot never stopped shaking, tapping and swinging. Then again, those gestures could have easily been natural to their demeanor, speculation abounds.
A man with his baby came out to see the piece for a while. The little boy was on a push cart controlled by the father, so there was never a moment where they stood still on the sidewalk. It felt like speaking with a circling shark, only this shark was being propelled by his son's need to keep moving, not his own. Toward the end of their time with me the father spouted, "It IS art" as if to convince me of the fact. Like I have so many times before, I asked him why he thought so. He said "because it makes me think of other things, like animals at the zoo... and prison."
Not to say I fully understood his logic for that answer, I was interested in where he landed. Further explaining to me, he had spent time locked up on a an assault charge as a young man and there met men who will never be released as long as they live. He recollected the contrast of living life in a way that you are always in view but never actually seen; intensely observed but totally ignored . The place where privacy is abolished and yet everyone is forced to exist in isolation. It was a sad but potent image that I hadn't seen. His experiences gave me a new and pained way of seeing the piece in response to the way many may see their lives, in a physical prison or one made of more silent but equally strong bricks.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
For dinner they brought cuisine from Sultan's Market, a bottle of red wine and a large bottle of water to share. Part of the way into their meal it appeared Charline was not so fond of her food and asked to try Josh's. If memory serves me, this is the first time an overt food sharing gesture has occurred. She found his much more pleasing and traded for the rest of dinner, another first.
They also chose to sit on the floor of the gallery, picnic style. They told me afterward that this had to do with the length of the table. Intentionally designed to create more space than normal between the participants, the table has never repelled others from using it before tonight. If anything, pairs have modified themselves to suit its demands. Chris from Day 20 called it the "magically shrinking table", as their conversation became more focused the space between them fell away... but the distance was very much there to start. Josh and Charline are the first to refuse the furniture template regardless of their ability to conform to it.
As they talked, ate and wiggled around inside the window, conversations were happening outside in much the same way. Susan, my friend who participated in Day 2, stopped by to see the piece with her two pet geckos (in a box). A set of siblings sat for quite a while, one a Junior in high school and the other a 7th grader. The four of us talked about many things that kids that age deal with: school, establishing habits and identities, the future.
Susan seemed surprised that we talked so little about the dinner in the window, actually. She recalled from her own dinner experience the subtle but persistent feeling that everyone was analyzing her from the outside. After all, she was the art. Of course there are conversations and entire nights where the diners take center stage but that isn't always the case (apologies for let out the apparently well-kept secret). Like most forms of creative expression (visual art, theater, film, music), the end result of the gesture is intended both to be lovely AND to stimulate and motivate exchange.
The kids who stopped to talk may have first been interested in pet geckos or staying longer in the warm weather, but they stayed because they were given a place to see and speak about themselves in the reflection of something else. The art talk came toward the end of the conversation... and it wasn't formed around dialog speculation or academic rhetoric. Instead it was tailored to their needs, to the idea that things aren't always what they seem, that it's okay to sit communally before an idea and be pleased with its ability to liberate.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Lucy and Candido brought Puerto Rican food and started their dinner time together at the table. At their feet a "Cooking for Two" book faced the window as a gesture toward their current Empty Nester status. After some time their adult son joined them for dinner, sitting with his dad at the table. Whoever was eating sat at the table and the other(s) rotated to the floor.
A few minutes later their adult daughter and Scrappy came in, parents now sitting together on the floor and children eating together at the table. Lastly the pizza boy came in with his gift to the family, shook hands and joined the daughter on the floor while dad and brother sat at the table and mom stood on the other side of the window. Before the night ended, all the "children" left and the parents were left together again in the window. The Cooking for Two book had been flipped upside down while the family was with them, but returned to it's upright position when man and wife were alone together again. This gesture was very important to Lucy, representing their lives through symbol to the viewer.
This dinner has been scheduled since the first week of the piece and I've been looking forward to it immensely. This version did a wonderful job expressing the multi-person family unit, dinner time that is broken into rotations for convenience and necessity, and the organic nature of certain groups and cultures inside the act of eating. In this dinner there was a continuous act of giving for your other... giving up your turn at food so someone else could eat, standing while someone else sits, becoming smaller so the other has more room to be big. It's the image of a real and loving family.
This was also the first night that I was not present for the piece. I had a job to do in the evening so Nate filled my shoes, as the good husband he is. For the first time in almost a month, I am looking at the piece the same way my facebook fans are. Not as viewers on the sidewalk nor as participants in the window, but as a second hand viewer. I saw this night through the eyes of Nate, much the same way you have seen the previous 23 days through my eyes (unless you were there in person on a given night).
This makes me want to encourage everyone to come out before the last night (May 30). While I'm trying to see the piece clearly, it's only as good as my vantage point. I have been really altered by spending time with this concept and gesture, but only insofar as I am able to be personally moved (as is the case with all art). You have a different set of eyes to see through, and I need you in order to see my own work more fully, as it ought to be seen.
Monday, May 24, 2010
For dinner Nate packed up a last minute picnic. They made their own turkey and salami sandwiches with hot peppers for kick, had pineapple chunks and mini-candybars for dessert and washed it down with Blue Moon and Mike's Hard Lemonade (Cranberry).
30 Days has so much to do with community, on a large and personal scale. This dinner embodied the overall crucial element of trusting the people in my life, those who are either invested in the gesture of the piece, the artist, or both. Without them and their dedication, this piece couldn't exist. Much in the same way that without them my world would be poor and anorexic at best. Having a front row seat to see people stand together to be apart of something outside themselves, even at cost to their comfort, is humbling and incredibly encouraging.
Gloria and Nate went for the sports theme in their dinner. Nate dressed in his Cubs attire and Gloria doted her Sox gear, including a replica of their 2005 World Series trophy which sat on the table. They each drank from their team's plastic cup (obtained at actual games). On the window was taped a GO BLACKHAWKS!!! sign as the team had just moved onto the finals (or whatever they're called in hockey) before coming to dinner.
In spite of the visual clues that baseball would reign their dinner talk, they told me after that little statistical analysis or bad-mouthing actually occurred. Yet again the window created a safe place for their hearts to sit with another. On the outside children ran, wheeled, yelled, and sat to watch the work. From inside the window it may have seemed like typical children having typical times... but on the outside I spoke with a young man about how little food he eats in a given day because his family's lack of resources, and a teenage girl who has no dreams for her future. The glass wall failed to illuminate reality for those looking through either side, image contradicted content with vigor.
For the benefit of the young boy filled with hunger, I broke one of my rules for the first time this month. Opening the gallery door I asked Gloria and Nate to make him a sandwich. For a small amount of time I was visible from the outside, though not fully inside either. For the first time, the participants knew with certainty what was being talked about on the outside. For the first time dinner came outside before the hour was up, art and life collided. Based on his reaction, it may also have been the first time the boy, and his brother with whom he shared, had eaten that day.
Through my years of training as an artist I have struggled with a crisis of function. Theory has taught me the significance art has on the world and its people, and yet so often I see careers built on nothing more than glorified selfishness. I haven't come to a conclusion yet of how to balance the two roles (and my inclination toward selfishness) other than to know I was made to do this and to grapple with the tension. Seeing art spring out of people... the thinking, feeling, hurting, committed, stimulating, challenging people in this piece, both inside and outside the window, gives me hope for a future that continues to respond to this struggle with grace, love and authentic humility.
For dinner Heather brought a Mediterranean spread, flatbread and cucumber salad. She brought cookies for dessert, sparkling water, and homemade chai. Fortunately she had enough food to begin eating dinner alone. When Emily arrived, she contributed blood orange juice, fried dumplings and a mini pie to share.
Speaking with Heather afterward, we each had potent but varied images of the evening. She expressed a sense of sterility in the white space alone while I was overwhelmed with awkwardness on her behalf. As she didn't expect to spend part of the evening on her own, she didn't have a form of entertainment besides the food. She quickly took to using the dinner elements as building blocks for an edible city on a plate foundation. She was both forced to be aware of herself in the space without retreating to another world (books, music, tv), though she still managed to find another world to reside in for a while.
I began to consider the idea of failure during this first leg of the night. What does it look like for a piece of this style to fail, to break down on itself. What are those parameters which it can avoid to remain functional and how far outside can it go before unrecognizable transformation occurs. The concept of failure begs not only to understand the outermost limits of the piece, but also a clear understanding of its identity.
When Mary Ellen decided to pass the waiting time with Heather, I found it both a relief and incredibly stressful. Not acting as a simple intermission, this kind gesture divided the evening into three acts. While watching them talk together, Mary Ellen not eating food and Heather feeling too conscious to eat alone, the expectation of Emily's arrival became physically tangible. While I was glad the piece organically solved its own issues, the tension of watching the second act, the space holder if you will, was unexpectedly tense... only because it pointed to the need for a third act and its indefinite nature.
When Emily did arrive, she was thrown into an experience that everyone else had become very comfortable in. Almost like the new kid at school. She adapted with grace and began a dinner time which represented the imperfect scenarios of life which often manipulate our outcomes. They talked together for over an hour, exceeding what some others have had on a "normal" dinner. Going yet again to very intimate topics (they told me afterward) the conversation was undesirably interrupted by three young men who became boisterously interactive from the outside. Whether out of frustration or a little fear from this interaction, they opted to end their dinner time two and a half hours after it technically began.
This night was as good as it was tense. At the end, as so many have said after their dinner time, the two women were relaxed and grateful for the intimacy of a tiny room with a glass wall. I was grateful to see my own piece shift, almost violently, before my eyes. Perhaps its full identity is still in the works, but nights like this refine it into a more articulate and strong version of itself.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
For dinner Sean brought a feast. It was the kind of meal that was easy to see love had been put into, and the time they spent dining gave the courses value as well as flavor, even for the viewer. There were many stages to their dinner, beginning with cheese/olives and crackers for conversations eating, then onto a home grown arugula salad, an entree of lamb with sides followed by chocolate truffles for dessert. They also had a very nice bottle of red wine and seltzer water to drink.
This dinner embodied all that I had imagined about the piece before it actually came to life. Other nights have dominated one element or theme with style, but this dinner looked very much like the image in my imagination when initially developing the concept.
The weather was perfect, finally absent of cold and cloudy. As a friday night, the children were running and playing and people from the neighborhood were stopping to watch and talk. A very nice filmmaker came to see the piece from Pilsen because he read about it in the Tribune earlier in the day... which made for riveting conceptual conversation on the chairs. Sean and Larissa were highly engaged with both the inside and the outside of the glass and stayed well into dark. Afterward we had a fantastic conversation about the piece and their viewpoints from inside. On my trip home I ran into a young woman who had seen the piece days before, we talked all the way home about it, about our lives. It was just a pleasant evening all around.
Basically, I am so glad that in this dinner I saw the romantic side of the piece. Those evenings where tension and difficulty have prevailed will probably be the most educational and interesting overall, but this dinner felt like a kind gift of soul food...something attractive and nourishing. I'm glad that 30 Days in its entirety will have a complex identity, including gentle days which meet outstanding expectations.
Friday, May 21, 2010
For dinner Chris brought a tortilla/guacamole combo and BettyJo brought cucumber salad. He drank cranberry juice and tonic while she had red wine. Chris also brought a stellar looking stuffed rabbit with a machine gun to sit on the table with them, as well as a large wooden wind instrument which they played for a while at the end of the night.
At the very start of the evening, a viewer mentioned something about the piece that they were drawn to: memory. He said most often he sees the piece later at night when the people are gone. Seeing the dining room empty always begged him to remember the reason for the piece and what might have happened in it just hours before. The emptiness activated his memory for life.
As I thought more about memory as an idea, so many interesting things happened. From far away the smell a man's cologne blew over me with the wind. As I didn't know Chris myself, the smell and the image mingled together creating my new memory for this man. Later in the night, while BettyJo tried her hand at the wooden flute, the music from an icecream truck played in the distance. The sensory combination tricked me into thinking she was playing that song on the instrument, just for a second.
After writing yesterday about the sensory divorce for the viewer over this month, tonight I was reminded that our perception and placement sometimes creates new memories out of varied senses. Surely Chris doesn't smell like that cologne nor does BettyJo play clown music on wooden flutes, but for just a moment they did, to me, because my world interfered and asked me to entertain the absurd idea that it might be true.
Also tonight Methaline stopped to talk, a semi-regular to the piece. This is one of a few times over the past 20 days where a person has poured their heart out on the steps of the window. We had the kind of conversation that brought tears to our eyes and bonded us indefinitely to one another... even in just a memory of that night. Again the gesture of intimacy is honored on both sides of the glass between strangers (as Chris recalled their evening was deep and unexpectedly intimate as well).
As this piece draws to an end, I want to dissect it for the elements of value and excess. But in moving to the next piece, beyond dinner, I hope to incorporate this powerful thing that keeps happening as a byproduct of 30 Days... the action and relief of unloading yourself into the arms of a caring stranger.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
For dinner they brought salad and spaghetti. Emily had water to drink while Brittany had two cans of Jumex, not sure which flavor. At one point they switched beverages for a while.
This was the second night of nice weather in a row... the kind of weather I anticipated the entire month of May. This may seem like a side note, but it makes the entire experience so much easier from the outside. Easier is not necessarily better, especially at this late phase which is already making me tired, but it is much more pleasurable. Hopefully it will improve foot traffic over the last ten days.
Tonight was much like other nights, pleasurable to watch and peppered with viewers. Two interactions stand out specifically. The first involved two men who sat down on the chairs for quite a while. With their open cans of Busch beer one viewed silently and the other engaged me in extensive conversation. The talker was a smart, inquisitve guy. He talked himself through his questions and I did my best to stay quiet while he worked. His final question was "is this art?", to which I responded by smiling and asking him the same question back. Then he smiled and restated the question "is it art" in a tone which sufficed as his satisfied answer.
The second stand-out interaction came long after the dinner had ended. I managed to catch the last fifteen mintues of our small group (for church) which meets Wednesday nights. I was able to have a quick but filling conversation with Tuwanda, a friend from group, about the progress of the piece. We were conversing in a thick layer of cocktail conversations, as ten people carried on five different conversations in one room.
I told her that in the past I had so often wished there was a way to turn off the white noise generated by group-chat in order to see a quiet version of their interactions. In saying that I realized I had actually created that through 30 Days... this ever-present wish in the back of my mind for years has finally become a possibility. But now, after so much seeing and so little hearing... the hum of their chatter felt like a warm blanket on a cold day. I still couldn't hear their stories specifically, but the sound felt alive, messy, non-sterile. To the degree that starving makes you appreciate food all the more, I found myself comforted by the tangibility of this sound which I have been fasting from for three weeks. Apparently I have missed viewing life with my ears, and I'm thankful to realize it's not a give-in, but a gift to do so.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Roland made steak and a delicious looking side dish for dinner. They drank raspberry gingerale out of wine glasses, which gave off the most surreal pink hue. He hung banners and signs for the graduate, brought in a floor lamp, two helium balloons, speakers and music, a small table upon which were wrapped presents of many chocolate variations, a stuffed animal, a vase of purple and white flowers (closed tulips, Pam's favorite) and a homemade picture book.
This dinner did a great job of representing those moments of Event which occur in our lives all the time. The celebrations or big-deal-situations which we often bring out a camera to help us remember.
Viewership changed drastically for this dinner. There was confusion for those who had seen the piece in previous nights, as though the large amount of decorations changed the inside of the window so much that it felt like a new piece altogether. For those who hadn't previously encountered the piece it became a game of talking with them through the entire month, so they could understand that each night is not actually a graduation party. It seems that most viewers have paid very little attention to the physical space on other nights... but the wall hangings and domestic additions made the space incredibly apparent. Instead of standing as a stage, it became a locatable place.
Then just as "quickly" as the event began, it ended. The space became a stage again. This is definitely the most vivacious example of objects having a direct relationship to the interaction of the participants. Pam and Roland danced, moved around, gave and received gifts and interacted with the outside viewers. It was good to see the connection between things and actions, objects and intentions, tangible and intangible become apparent.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
For dinner, Matt prepared a home cooked meal. Chicken with seafood marinara, salad, an amber colored beverage stored in a nalgene bottle, and a bottle of bubbly which they happily finished between them.
Tonight was the night of Clocks and Cars.
I have never been more aware of the time passing than I was for this dinner. Talking with them afterward, Nicole and Matt felt the awkwardness of the piece, the tension of not wanting to be theatrical but needing to be to maintain sanity on this small stage. Though she may not have realized the frequency, Nicole spent a great deal of energy responding to the awkwardness by checking the clock, her watch, anything for a gravity on her pending escape. Being aware of the time made it all the more present, even from the outside.
Cars come into play when talking about the night's viewership. Not many people walked by on foot but a great deal of vehicles pulled off to watch, honked, paused at an intesection, and momentarily parked to observe the piece. I find it interesting that the night which (potentially) the most self-aware participants were in the window was also the night that the entire neighborhood opted to observe in secrecy. Perhaps the tension of expecting observation without experiencing it outright could make a participant even more self-conscious... reminiscent of "they're always watching" conspiracy theories.
The second set of police officers for this piece joined the drive-up viewing as well. I mentioned last time how goody-two-shoes I feel when speaking with the police, as I've never been in any serious trouble in my life. This interaction was different though. When I walked to them to introduce myself, they seemed nervous of ME. As though I was going to blame them for staring with their governmental eyes, ruining my pure gesture. In the conversation of assumptions and perseptions, these two police officers must have a very interesting image of their presence in the world... they are not just people, they're symbols. Symbols watching secretly like all the others but also always on stage themselves.
Monday, May 17, 2010
For dinner they brought Mexican food from a restaurant down the street. Tiff had a water bottle and Gloria had a diet 7up with a straw. They brought Uno cards but didn't use them. Gum in shiny blue wrappers came out at the end.
Nate and I brought our dinner from the same Mexican restaurant as the participants... but our burritos revolted against us and my jarritos bruised Nate's hand in the process of opening. Being hungry at dinner time is one thing, but it's very hard to talk about the work with passers by as your hands are covered in red spicy sauce and you have meat in your teeth. This was just one example of my dispostition through the entire dinner. Whether due to preoccupations or the fact that the piece just made it past halfway, I felt "off" all night. Perhaps a contributing factor was my comfort level with both women in the window, this may have disabled some of the tension I have become accustomed to while being a viewer.
Overall, it was the night which left me feeling like I'd gotten too used to the piece. It all felt very normal, as though it had become a task to finish. That might be a mandatory part of the process when doing something for this many days consecutively, but I would much rather be amazed than comfortable. But the same goes with human relationships, intimacy always fights against boredom... the better you know someone the more likely you are to take them for granted.
My thoughts from the outside in no way take away from what happened on the inside though. This is another part of this piece that I love. Tiffany and Gloria seemed to have an engaging time together. Our viewpoints are divorced from one another and yet inextricably linked at the same time.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
For dinner they brought... everything. I sincerely believe they purchased at least one food item from every aisle in the grocery store. This includes but is not limited to rotisserie chicken, hummus, tapanade, flatbread, a veggie tray, vitamin water, iced tea.... It was a wonderful picnic on steroids.
Not only was the dining style a unique element to the night, there were many other elements that were out of the ordinary. Immediately following dinner, an Evanston artist was having a one-night-only performance inside the studio space of Art on Armitage. This meant the dinner conversation was being overheard from inside by any early arrivals to the space. Normally the inside space is isolated and quiet, acting as a vault for whatever is said. Mary Ellen (the gallery owner) mentioned the interesting scensory disconnect from inside the building to outside... from inside you can hear and smell the dinner but cannot see, from outside you can see but cannot hear or smell.
There was also a much more concentrated out-of-neighborhood viewership as people filtered in for the nighttime performance. This included other artists from Chicago and even, unexpectedly, a couple who's wedding I'm photographing this summer.
In addition to all this (yes there's more), a photographer from the Tribune was present. This was altogether a new kind of viewership for the piece, especially as the ladies in the window knew the source and purpose of our photographer friend. From 7pm til almost the very end of the evening a relentless amount of photos were taken by our friend. It's one thing to know a stranger is studying your behavior and a completely different thing to know that you are being watched intently through the eyes of a recording device which will be presenting your photo for the entire city to see.
Watching tonight, I felt not only the ladies' sense of obligation to the piece, but also their incredible image-awareness. This may have been the only way to turn the image of themselves as art back onto themselves as participants... for them to come as close as possible to phsychologically experiencing the image we see from the outside. In contrast to other nights where I have felt inside the window mentally while my body sat on the sidewalk, perhaps tonight the women in the space sat mentally outside looking in at themselves as images, as art objects.
For dinner they brought an assortment of McDonald's cuisine with warm Miller Light for dessert. This is SO funny. Grace may be one of the most food oriented people on the planet, taking weekend trips to NYC just to eat. However, their lateness left them no choice but to pick up the fastest and most available food. They embraced it like champions though, such confidence.
Day 14 ended up being ladies night. Foot traffic was very light to start. This left me time to interact with my goofy dinner mates, who laughed and giggled their way through the night. The fun they were having helped me laugh out loud many times.
Later in the evening, a woman stopped by and sat for a while, her name is Diane but a lot of people call her Barbie. We began to talk on the chairs about the piece. That conversations quickly turned into one about our lives, which then led into a time of bonding with a woman who doesn't often bond with anyone. She calls herself a lady of the night but in spite of her professional activities, she is a woman who very much wanted to connect with someone in a meaningful way.
To add to the femininity of the evening, a woman from the neighborhood brought her daughter (or grand-daughter) to watch as well. They spoke very little english, so they talked amongst themselves about the piece and watched. While Grace and Laura caught up in the window like old friends, four ladies of all different backgrounds and ages caught up on the sidewalk. I couldn't help but be amazed at the simultaneity of our activities... it had the feeling of a middle school slumber party.
It seems there is a safety in this piece that makes it possible for openness. I am blessed to be witness to even just a moment of the vulnerability people have expressed around this piece, inside and outside the glass. It's humbling to be given something so intimate by so many and it's important that I respect that gift and accept it graciously. This gift is just as much a framework for the work as the glass in the window.
Shasa is also a vegan, so their dinner was an elaborate combination beyond the viewer's guessing ability. Shasa wrote out the ingredients for us to read: butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, kale and pasta. They also had a special dessert which Ellen brought just for her man. They also played a game... Bananagrams perhaps? From the outside low vantage point, it looked as though they were pretending to play a game for our benefit... moving their fingers around the table with no apparent game pieces involved.
This was the first evening where the chairs were occupied most of the time. Often first time viewers who are interested in the piece stand off to the side, often with arms crossed. If that same viewer comes back a second time, they move a little closer to the window and the chairs, testing their freedom but not committing. Eventually, the viewer feels compelled to invest, this is demonstrated by sitting and staying.
Unexpected parts of public life were involved in this dinner as well. An old (possibly senile or drunk) man parked his bike on the "stage" of the sidewalk and declared his need to preach about God for a while. Another woman, highly intoxicated, spent time admiring Shasa in the window. Highly unpredictable and just as much apart of the life of the piece as anything planned.
A reporter from the Tribune also came to see the piece. I have been hoping for someone to find and write about it (now I'm hoping the write-up is flattering). She didn't disclose her affiliation for quite some time but her purpose was apparent. That presence made me feel as though the piece was my child on display for someone with a lot of control over their value. Maybe like watching your high school son play a game of football with a college scout sitting two seats down watching as well. It was nerve-wracking and exciting, but I was proud of the piece as it stood regardless. Yet again, a new and unexpected level of awareness has developed... the artist becoming maternally aware for the sake of the art.
They each brought their own food for the piece. This is also a first, though I expected it to happen more frequently. Maybe it's my own history, too often defining dinner as separatist activity intended for physical nourishment and little else, which leaves me surprised at the trend thus far. Or maybe most people function like I do but still operate within nostalgia or hopefulness that 'dinner time' is best experienced in the communal.
At any rate, Mary Ellen brough sushi and other tidbits while Stephanie brought braised pork. They shared red wine between them and talked like old friends by 8pm.
More so than other nights, this dinner made me more aware of the participants (versus the viewers). Foot traffic was light, which always puts more of my attention on the actual activities in the space. For a while I spoke with Mary Ellen's husband who came out to support his wife. Getting to know him while watching his wife left me with a unique sense of stereo. When two people have been together for so long, hearing one of them tell a story is almost the same as hearing the other one tell it. It was like hearing from part of Mary Ellen's life while watching another, at the same time.
Also knowing Stephanie as an artist, I was anticipating feedback from her experience on the inside, a point of view I am not allowing for myself. Her ways of seeing are not necessarily the same as mine, but we share a common professional stage, which I hoped would leave her with language to share that would engage my more subtle hopes for the piece. All in all, my mind sat with them in the gallery while my ears and eyes waited outside. This was new.
On the bus ride home, speaking about the piece with Stephanie, I was refreshed by her perspective and encouraged that my hopes for the gesture are still alive and well. After only twelve days my brain is confusing its intentions. It's not uncommon to totally doubt the piece at 6:30pm while waiting for my bus yet again. But it's healthy to doubt it I think, afterall it's only art. But around 8pm when things start to wrap up, confidence is creeping back in and the doubt turns into a challenge to make it better, because afterall, it's only art.
For dinner they brought Mexican food from a restaurant down the block. They also brought cards but never got around to using them.
Tonight's pairing was a special one from my perspective. It was comprised of inter-racial communications, homelessness, the ministry of the church and it's effect, age contrast, language barriers and the issue of illegal immigrant status. As it turns out, this piece makes most of those things secondary... aside from what can be picked up visually or what I share on the outside, all this information is lost through the glass.
For a minute I felt frustrated, like these big issues were being wasted on the wrong piece. But as I watched and talked with passers-by, it occurred to me/us that this is a great piece for these issues... specifically because they're not an issue at all. In the window this pair was viewed as another day in this breath of human observation, another rendition of life as art. Hugo wasn't labeled "homeless" or "illegal"... you couldn't hear the slowness of their cross-language conversation. They were two people, together, enjoying each other.
In the same way that Dan and Sara were given over to an honest man's profiling in Day 9, I expected the same of Day 11. Turns out this batch of viewers were less interested in the politics and more interested in the necessity of understanding their human-ness.
Restrictions can both hinder and help, but in the end they always create something new. As I stand by the environment I have created, watching it go through so many variations, I have to see the side-effects it offers and sort out how the result is something new, whether hindered or helped...ultimately letting the control reside elsewhere.
Thankfully, while I was outside for a totally unrelated purpose, I ran into Robert who I had only just met a couple weeks ago. I told him of my dilemma and he enthusiastically offered to help. With one quick phone call he confirmed his dinner partner and agreed to meet me in one hour to leave.
The culture of spontaneity left the piece vacant for approximately one hour and the culture of spontaneity filled the gap just as quickly. Another first for the piece is that this pair had almost no foreknowledge about my intentions going in. They literally agreed to eat dinner and climbed into a window to honor their promise. I can only imagine how odd that must have felt.
For dinner they stopped at a mexican restaurant on the next block. Cynthia, who had already eaten, partook in flan for dessert while Robert ate a massive meal of tacos and other similar items.
Foot traffic was VERY light tonight. Two police officers pulled off to ask about the goings on... I couldn't help but feel like that good girl who has only ever spoken to police officers for reasons like community art projects.
Because of the minimal viewer movement, I had a great deal of time to get lost in my own viewership. There is a series of steps I go through when viewing this piece, starting with awkwardness and ending in a peaceful and careful viewing participation. It's almost like meditation, like being lost in a vacuum where all that matters in the world is how heavy his hand feels or how gently her feet are floating.
I was there for just a few moments tonight. It ended when I realized that there was silence everywhere... no street noises, no children yelling... for about ten seconds the entire city turned off its volume. In that bizarre silence, the sound inside me became very different, very apparent.
Which leads me to my final thought for day 10. The space outside is just as important as the space in the gallery because neither would be what they are without the other. In a literal way, most art is made to be viewed. But this piece is more about the act of viewing... which activates these environments by the direct and oppositional presence of the other space. The inside space would have no tension without the outside looking in... the outside would have no turmoil without the inside being alive. Viewership is not passive, it activates the work and causes a reaction of reflection pointed back on gaze maker. Ownership and partnership on both sides of the see-through wall.
For dinner they brought Thai food from what sounded to be their favorite place in the city. They shared a crab rangoon with me afterward which was quite wonderful. They also each brought their own version of dinner drink. From outside using my awful lip-reading abilities, I thought Sara pinned Dan's fancy-beer as tasting like soap. She actually said it tasted like fish.
After last night's post, I found my answer to criticism. Foot traffic was lighter tonight, but one man in particular stayed through most of the dinner. His words started strong and harshly but I could tell he had been in the academic environment. He did in fact get his MFA in the early 2000's and now teaches latino studies at Northwestern (I believe).
He brought up crucial points about the piece through the lens of his perspective, specifically about gentrification of the hispanic community and the political gestures embodied by the pair in the window. We had a good dialog which seemed to end up by my realizing a need for this awareness and him realizing that he may have been motivated by his own stereotypes of Dan and Sara (specifically as being white). He was surprised later in the night to find that they are a couple, stating he is culturally conditioned to assume lesbians would look or behave differently than what he saw before him.
A word that keeps coming up in conversation and thought over the past nine days is "assumption." I hope that my action in this piece is partly to create a space where assumptions are reanalyzed from both sides of the glass, where one can evaluate perception and expectation about others and ourselves. Tonight was a unique opportunity for that. I'm very glad our critique friend was visiting tonight.
For dinner they shared the contribution responsibilities. Danny brought a pasta pesto dish with mozzarella balls, homemade bread and white wine. Kevin brought salad and mini assorted desserts. I know this in detail because they generously offered all their leftovers to me after their dinner time, which I happily consumed upon arriving at home.
Despite the continued frigid weather, the foot traffic tonight was magnificent. My suspicions of making friends in the neighborhood are being confirmed. The children on the block know me by name (and I them), hang out for long periods of time just to watch the work, and tonight I was even introduced to one of their girls' boyfriends (a right of passage I felt). Another woman from a few doors down brought me hot tea to keep warm. I am falling in love with the neighborhood.
It has also occured to me that the positive response is a bit like a drug. I have yet to have serious critique on the piece. Maybe that will come later, after... or tomorrow, who knows. But there is something to relishing in the simple joy it brings to my viewers and myself. Art should always be interogated, but it should also be enjoyed. So often I miss that second side. One thing is for sure, I can't get lost in the compliments and forget my artistic duty to study, critically engage and make this piece better. Though the compliments sure are nice :)
Many old and new viewers were involved tonight... Danny and Kevin had a visibly great time as well as expressed insights about perceptions of the community, the piece, and the surprise they felt toward viewer participation/ boldness... Also, it didn't rain (or snow) like it very well could have. Success.
For dinner they brought a homemade pasta/turkey/veggie dish which looked very nice, along with that highly caffeinated beverage: Mountain Dew. Tonight was a great example of how the objects brought into the space can be unique and informative about the people bringing them. There were so many green items floating around the room (waterbottle, mt dew, clothing,etc) that they took on the look of a landscape painting.
Tonight was the first night for non-local visitors. Two sets of friends from outside the Hermosa neighborhood came to see the work. This was a good thing because the neighbors were all inside due to the blustery temperatures. I really appreciated having companions to experience the work with, but it's interesting how a different crowd brings about different eyes for viewing.
Perception in relationship.... I see my world and myself differently because of the company near me. The influence is huge, and very much part of this piece. The dinner guests work with and against each other for naturalness in the tension of being observed... the viewers work with and against their environment and fellow viewers in the tension of observing... and at the end of the day, anyone who invested in the piece works with an against their ideas and prejudices in the tension of understanding. Or hopefully that is happening to someone besides just me.
For dinner they brought a very nice spread... pork chops and asparagus, salad, roles, white wine, and dessert straight out of yumminess. Casey and Andy were the first pair to almost totally ignore the passers by, which was a new thing for the viewers to see. It felt from the outside like I was observing something secret, almost moving back into voyeurism... but in contrast I knew it was still a safe place for viewing.
Despite the frigid temperatures, there was heavy foot traffic and a lot of repeat visitors. A young teenage girl sat next to me exclaiming her excitment about the idea and vowed to come back the next day. When I suggested that she too is art it seemed as though no one had ever told her such a thing. Her change in posture and demeanor was contagious.
Another man, originally from Columbia, told me in broken English that he thought the idea and the piece was beautiful... he had never seen anything like it, and he started to cry a little.
Something is starting to happen with this piece that I can't articulate and didn't expect. It's like it's starting to matter... it's finding its voice because there are people who are listening. It's amazing to watch your own work grow in front of you, a true gift.
They brought with them an antipasti spread, very interactive build-it-yourself food combinations. I believe they are also the first vegetarians in the window, as a side note. When fresh pineapple chunks and nutella with crackers came out for dessert I suddenly realized how unsatisfying my bottled water actually was.
Tonight was the night of children. They were everywhere in the neighborhood, and many of them spent significant amounts of time in front of the window. One little man in particular sat with me for at least twenty minutes, even as his friends called to him for a basketball game. I was impressed by his interest and dilligence to understand what was foreign to him.
My thinking friend joined me again, who I now know to call Stephanie, but this time she came to watch with me. We sat together on the viewing chairs and watched. Silently looking ahead together. It was an enormously intimate experience, though I couldn't help but realize that I have the same exact posture when watching tv with someone and rarely experience that same vulnerability.
Two slots were also signed up for by enthusiastic viewers who wanted to participate. I'm very happy the community is embracing this piece and attaching themselves to it. On Monday the 24th, come to view a unique dinner, where a local hispanic family of 4 (along with their tiny dog Scrappy) will have dinner in the window. They also plan to invite their extended family to watch, play guitars, and perhaps ask a street vendor to sell everyone on the sidewalk dinner. It could be a regular block party, mark it on your calendars :)
Josh and Annie brought a very thorough spread, including a red table cloth, red wine, plates and flatware, dessert and what I later found out to be music from Josh's phone. Josh planned it all for a date gift to Annie, very sweet.
Foot traffic was lighter tonight, but one viewer stood out in particular... I will call her my thinking friend. She has been out to see each night of the piece so far and always brings new questions with her. She told me today that she spent a considerable amount of time thinking about why two people having dinner together is art. In the face of her bold question I momentarily forgot the answers I have been rattling off for months, it was such an honest and big question.
She concluded that simply asking the question, why is this art... turning into the question, what is art... may have been a big part of it. I concured happily.
It's early still in the month, but I'm beginning to see so many possibilities for this piece, for the ways my assumptions will be ruptured and recreated. It's so quieting and exhilerating to have permission to encounter art and life in a new way, on both sides of the glass.
Their dinner came from a local restaurant down the block of the hispanic persuasion, accompanied by two delicate clear bottles of what appeared to be water.
This evening was less boisterous on the outside than last night, though I had more in-depth conversations with some passers-by about the piece. In fact, one woman from the neighborhood signed up for an open slot. I was particularly interested in how it felt to watch the piece with my husband who came along... a set of spouses watching a set of spouses. I experienced a stronger sense of self-awareness in their reflection than I do when just pondering the topic of myself.
The way each pair may enact the community is exciting me. Though I wish it weren't so, Chicago is a very divided city. I am looking forward to viewing how this piece will play out in terms of cultural, racial and habitual differences being on display and what respsonses, if any, will manifest from that.
Their dinner consisted of assorted courses brought in and assembled on the table, including but not limited to salad, sandwiches, chips and white wine.
Many more people became engaged with the piece, some of whom were repeat viewers from the previous night. A young man, no more than 16, was captivated by it which was very encouraging. A family came to talk with me at the end of the evening, they were in the car that pulled off the previous day. The father began to tell me, partly translated through his teenage daughter, what he saw in it... specficially pertaining to the immigrant issue of separated family units. He promised to call the news stations if I had a Mexican immigrant eating dinner, because he wanted the rest of the city to see what he saw.
This made me very happy to see the viewer becoming author. He saw it through his own lens and took the work to a place I would have never thought to go with it.
I also met visual artist Marcos Vidal from Spain who is showing work at NEXT this week. Good conversations and digital images of my piece heading back to Europe with him :)
Their dinner consisted of energy drinks, beer and mexican burritos. They also played 90's Trivial Pursuit and ended the game with a tie.
A car pulled off to the side to ask if the piece was art and what it is titled. I told them, they said it was good. A handful of kids played in front of the window with squirt guns and one teenager put his face on the window as a dare from his friends. Overall, the community reaction was posotive and a little confused.
May 1-30, 2010
For 30 consecutive days in May, one pairing of people will enter a narrow, human-sized picture frame on Chicago’s north side, at exactly 7:00pm. Directed only to bring their "dinner time," they will spend one hour in this conceptually tight and vulnerable space where action becomes art, art becomes self-conscious and the ever passing viewer is given tools for active authorship.
Viewers are invited to witness a new Dinner Time each of the first 30 evenings in May from 7-8pm. All are also invited to the Closing Reception on Friday May 28, 6-9pm.
For 30 consecutive days in May, one pairing of people will enter a narrow, human-sized picture frame on Chicago’s north side, at exactly 7:00pm. Directed only to bring their "dinner time," they will spend one hour in this conceptually tight and vulnerable space where action becomes art, art becomes self-conscious and the ever passing viewer is given tools for active authorship.
Viewers are invited to witness a new Dinner Time each of the first 30 evenings in May from 7-8pm. All are also invited to the Closing Reception on Friday May 28, 6-9pm.
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 30
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 29
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 28
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 27
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 26
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 25
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 24
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 23
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 22
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 21
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 20
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 19
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 18
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 17
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 16
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 15
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 14
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 13
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 12
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 11
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 10
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 9
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 8
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 7
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 6
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 5
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 4
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 3
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 2
- 30 Days of Dinner Time, Day 1
- 30 Days of Dinner Time
- ▼ May (31)