So Many Men, So Little Time

What’s a School of the Art Institute student show without controversy? The king of this year’s crop of envelope pushers is Isaac Leung, whose multimedia project The Impossibility of Having Sex With 500 Men in a Month–I’m an Oriental Whore was too risky for the school’s annual thesis exhibition this spring but is now on view at the Wicker Park gallery Heaven. Leung, casting around for his senior project, came up with the idea of documenting a marathon month of cybersex in order to test philosophical and social questions like is Internet sex real? And is Internet space private? Using videoconferencing software and a Webcam, he entered the worldwide on-line gay bathhouse, lured partners by assuming the identity of an 18-year-old Japanese boy (he’s 23 and Chinese), and subjected them to a questionnaire before getting down to a sex act that combined the thrill of bad video with the immediacy of communication by telegraph.

Leung quizzed his Internet partners on their age, location, weight, height, ethnicity, and preferred sexual position and carefully entered the data in a chart. He also kept a journal, recording his rapid progression from “Is there anything in the world better than having sex while doing a project?” to “SO SICK OF MY PROJECT. SO SICK PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY.” He saved every bit of written communication and did something else he’s sure his cyberfriends didn’t expect: he printed out the images they sent him in two-by-three-inch pixelated color. He never did hit his 500-man goal, though he worked diligently, late into the night, sometimes for seven or eight hours at a stretch. At the end of the month, which began last October 28, he had recorded 176 partners.

Then he crunched his numbers, drew demographic pie charts, blew up parts of his journal for wall text, mounted photos of himself and his partners, and created an introductory video and a CD. He was all set for the thesis show at Gallery 2, but a week before the March 30 opening he learned that SAIC administrators had some concerns about his project. “Not about the artistic merit of the piece nor about the acts depicted,” as they would later put it, but about the lack of signed releases from the photo subjects and the possibility that the school would be sued for invasion of privacy. They wanted him to obscure the faces of his cyberplaymates. This would take the teeth out of his research, but after several days of negotiation Leung says he agreed to do it if the school would provide a dated, signed letter listing the administrative decision makers that he could post as part of the exhibit. According to Leung, the school failed to provide such a letter by opening day, and he decided to pull his piece from the show. (An SAIC spokesman says the school complied with his request, but as a result of his problem student government demanded “a clearly stated procedure for assessing exhibition concerns.”) There are no qualms about liability at Heaven, where Leung will host an “interactive sex education party” this Saturday, June 29, from 8 PM to 2 AM. (“If someone sends a photo of themselves over the Internet, they’d be a fool to think it’s private,” says gallery owner Dave Dobie. “And I don’t have anything for them to take, anyway.”) The contested photos will be on display there through July 14, a ribbon of them running behind a sheet of bubble wrap Leung’s used to construct an ersatz bedroom. They’re mounted at eye level, like a row of tiny sausages in a deli window.

Was It His Golf Game?

Everyone at Northlight Theatre loves managing director Richard Friedman, but somehow or other he’s been asked to leave. Friedman’s resignation, requested by the executive committee of the Northlight board, will take effect July 15. The announcement was made after the board met last week, and board chair Joan Barr says the search for his replacement is just getting started. Artistic director B.J. Jones denies reports that friction between himself and Friedman was a factor. Friedman denies it too, claiming if that were the case “I’d be hoisting myself with my own petard,” since he was largely responsible for bringing Jones on board five years ago. Friedman’s been at Northlight for nine years and negotiated the lease that moved the company into Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. (Before that he was executive director of Organic Theater and a grant giver for the Chicago Council on Fine Arts.) He says he’s leaving Northlight at a time of strength, with 8,000 subscribers, early renewals coming in at more than 80 percent for next season, and a proposed budget of close to $3 million.

What no one denies is a need to bring more deep pockets onto the board and to increase the theater’s donated income. Between 70 and 75 percent of Northlight’s revenue is earned, mostly from ticket sales. That’s out of whack with the national average, and Barr says she’ll be “looking for someone with a strong background in fund-raising.” As Friedman sees it, “They may need a better golfer than me….We have only one major corporation represented on our board and a hard time getting corporate contributions.” The move from Evanston (where they started 28 years ago as the Evanston Theatre Company) to Skokie made fund-raising more difficult. Many corporations and foundations “don’t want to give to you if you’re not in Chicago [or certain suburbs],” Friedman says. “The MacArthur Foundation told us, ‘Forget it. You’re outside our demographic.'” He’s looking for another job in the Chicago area.

From No Profit to Nonprofit

Alan Salzenstein stepped down last week as executive director of the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. His successor is former general manager Tim Rater. The commercial theater, running at a deficit since it opened two years ago, has cut costs and will go nonprofit in the next few months; Rater’s first hire will be a development director. He’s also hustling to set up the theater’s first-ever subscription series of four plays for the 2002-’03 season, likely to include productions from Apple Tree and Porchlight and, in another first, one show originating at Metropolis. It hasn’t helped that the anchor restaurant space in the venue has been empty since J Girard’s Bistro closed a year ago. Rater’s looking forward to the opening of Tuller’s Tavern & Chophouse in the space this weekend. Salzenstein, an arts attorney, is immediate past vice president of the League of Chicago Theatres. He says he’d like to “get my hands back into producing.”

LCT Getting With the Program?

The League of Chicago Theatres is thinking of stepping into a void that’s been looming since Playbill announced it would purchase Stagebill effective September 1 and cancel Stagebill’s contracts to provide no-cost or low-cost playbills for Chicago theaters. “We’ve been getting a lot of frantic phone calls,” says league business manager Barb Netter. “The middle-size and small theaters are pretty much left in the lurch right now.” The league would need grants and advertising to produce the programs for member theaters. “We’re talking to a couple of foundations,” Netter says. “We hope to have a decision by mid-July, which would give us enough production time to get everybody’s seasons up.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostani.