After former Chicago police commander Jon Burge was jailed last year for lying about torturing suspects, the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project put out a call inviting proposals for a “speculative memorial” to honor his victims. Members of perpetually under-the-radar performance collective Lucky Pierre answered that call. They spent the summer writing scenarios, or “actions,” most of which are unlikely ever to get acted on. “Action 25,” for example, requires that you “be a black man” and “commit aggravated assault, official misconduct, perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, compelling a confession by force, and intimidation.” Then you must “not be charged or prosecuted for your crimes.”
Too tall an order? Try “Action 53”: “Learn how to say the following in another language: Stop. Please, no. Why. Oh God. I don’t know. I didn’t do it. I’m telling you the truth. This is crazy. You’ve got me confused with somebody else. Please believe me. I’m innocent. My family has money.”
Or maybe “Action 79” is more your speed. All you have to do is handcuff yourself to radiators at 19 locations around the city, including City Hall, Macy’s, Buddy Guy’s Legends, Hydrate, WBEZ, accounting mega-corp Ernst & Young, and the Apple store.
You’ll get a chance to pick your favorite action on October 5, when the CTJM Project exhibition, “Opening the Black Box: The Charge Is Torture,” starts at the School of the Art Institute’s Sullivan Galleries. Lucky Pierre has compiled all 100 actions into a book that will debut at the show; they’ll attempt to perform a few of them and also provide instructions on how you can create your own impossible scenarios. They’ll even supply blank books for recording your ideas.
Actions for Chicago Torture Justice is the latest in Lucky Pierre’s deadly humorous acts of unconventional civic engagement. Last fall they mounted What We Don’t Talk About: A 12 Hour Conversation About the War, in which 24 people delivered 30-minute lectures on anything associated with the war in Afghanistan. Also in 2011 Lucky Pierre cofounder Michael Thomas traversed the length of Chicago on foot for Emerson Takes a Walk, pausing halfway to deliver a lecture about Ralph Waldo Emerson, the rise of the Tea Party, and his own waning interesting in making performances (ironically, considering that last point, he replicated the piece in London and Budapest). And since 2003 the group has been working on the Final Meals Project, preparing the last meals requested by Texas death-row inmates and filming volunteers eating them. They’ve completed 130 so far. They’ve got 210 to go.
In the face of war, radical Republicans, the death penalty, and police torture, does any of this help? “I can’t form a truth commission or prosecute anyone,” Thomas says. “But artists can generate images, ideas, gestures which hopefully help keep things complicated.”
“Opening the Black Box: The Charge Is Torture”
Opens Fri 10/5, 4:30 PM. Through 12/21: Tue-Sat 11 AM-6 PM, 33 S. State, 312-629-6635, saic.edu/exhibitions, free.