MOTHERGIRL was presented by Out of Site in 2012 as part their ongoing free public performance art series throughout the city. Credit Cesario Moza Credit: Cesario Moza

Out of Site

On your way home from work, you get off the train and there is a giant puppet show featuring a man fighting a puppet hydra in an empty parking lot. Or you meander into Wicker Park, the actual park, and encounter a human-sized box covered in floral wallpaper with the words “Look Inside.” All are artworks curated by Out of Site, a public performance art series.

The first is the 2013 performance Hydra vs. Hercules by the Mother Daughter puppetry team. The latter is MOTHERGIRL by artists Katy Albert and Sophia Hamilton in 2012.

Formed in 2011 by curator and artist Carron Little and curator Whitney Tassie, Out of Site aims to “bring acts of joy” into the public, Little explains. The curators focus on sites that were compromised by violence and try to reclaim them through art. She wants the art to inspire people, inspire conversation, and ultimately create awe. Little wants “the public to feel empowered” by the work.

Little sees public performance art as a means to effect change and affect policy. She wants people to think about dynamics of power in public space and how to make public space safer.

Out of Site initially had its “unexpected encounters” in various parts of Wicker Park, Polish Triangle, and nearby neighborhoods. It has since branched out across the city. They’ve partnered with the park district since 2015, and will be returning to the parks this year.

Each year, artists are selected from Chicago, the U.S., and even internationally to create performances for the general public. Fans of the series as well as unsuspecting members of the public might stumble upon pieces on the sidewalk, in alleys, parks, and walkways. Out of Site volunteers in loud orange shirts linger nearby and offer up flyers to viewers.

Performances range from shows to more interactive performances. In 2015, Austin-based artists performed Ballenarca, which was a puppet show including a whale built into a large truck, and other puppets of all sizes creating an underwater wonderland.

MOTHERGIRL was one of the more interactive pieces. People were invited to stick their heads into the flowery box and greet one of the artists, who was covered in plastic flowers. The artist would take a Polaroid picture of the guest, framed by the flowers inside the face.

Out of Site has been received well by the public in past years. People have been known to watch for hours or even participate. In 2015, artist Janet Schmid’s Try had three dancers who choreographed pieces with willing participants. At one point, Little says, there were 20 people all dancing at once. One guy left the performance and said, “I felt good doing this and I feel even better afterwards,” Little recalls.

They’ve had some encounters with people who were less than thrilled with their performances, but on a whole, people have been positive about art.

In addition to these performances, Out of Site hosts digital artist talks called Artist Focus. For eight weeks every spring and fall, Little interviews performing artists about their work.

Last year, Out of Site took their work to the next level with Chicago’s first public performance symposium called Flow. This digital symposium brings artists, scholars, and connoisseurs together for lectures, workshops, and performances from Chicago as well as India, China, and Europe. The second symposium is scheduled for June.

An important part of Out of Site has been paying artists for their work as well as supporting the creation of new works. While the pandemic threw many performing and art groups into disarray, Out of Site was able to pivot to the virtual world quickly. This led to new artists experimenting with a new medium as well as allowing performers to collaborate more easily across borders. Now the network of Out of Site alumni and Little help select the next round of performers for the series.

Little draws inspiration from architect Louis Kahn’s quotation: “The city is the place of availabilities. It is the place where a small boy, as he walks through it, may see something that will tell him what he wants to do his whole life.” She hopes that passersby who encounter these moments of wonder might change their lives in big and small ways.

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