I got off the Dan Ryan at an exit where 20 pairs of tube socks sell for five bucks and you don’t even have to leave your car, passed two jumping Polish stands, and parked in a dark, near-empty lot surrounded by rusty barbed wire, facing a decrepit old church with faint bluish light flickering through its glass block windows. There was a hand-scrawled sign asking me to PLEASE KNOCK on the warped wooden door. Inside the tiny, fluorescent-lit, squeaky-floored foyer were two imposing doors decorated with cracked cross-shaped windows. Peeking through one of them at what used to be the church’s sanctuary, I caught sight of a ten-foot-tall blue neon Jesus hanging inside a huge neon cross suspended by chains from the ceiling. A red neon tube spanned his arms like a ribbon of blood. Above the cross was written, in neon, JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. If anything were ever to convert me, this would be it.
Alas, I would’ve been the only convert. I had shown up a little after 9 PM–a good hour after the time on the invite–for an open house at South Union Arts, a new space in the old Maxwell Street area. Once it’s up and running, SUA will host weekly openings, occasionally with live performances; the building, a converted Baptist church, will also house private art studios and offices. The only other people there were the organizers, a couple of their friends, and Reader photographer Andrea Bauer and her boyfriend.
The room looked like a set from a 1970s Italian horror film. Behind Jesus a strobing movie was projected onto the wall–so grainy I couldn’t make anything out, but the tape in the VCR was labeled “Butthole Surfers, D.O.A., Future Primitive, Flipside Video, Punks & Poseurs.” Turntables set up in front played The World of Duke Ellington Vol. 3 on 45 and a Kid 606 single on 331/3.
The sanctuary had been turned into a screen-printed poster gallery including some old hand-drawn black-and-white Skin Graft art, a few Screwball pieces, and a shit-load of awesome Seripop posters, like one with shapely pink and orange red hips sprouting five legs where an upper body should’ve been–from the crotch thin streams of red menstrual blood spelled out band names.
Through one of the building’s many sagging wooden doors there was another roomful of posters, and it smelled like corn–they’d been selling ears the night before for 50 cents apiece. Mixed in with all the goods was a cheesy, faded inspirational poster with distant gulls in a moody lavender sky above a mauve shore.
I’d read a little about the poster show online and came expecting to see lots of work by musician, beekeeper, and former Chicagoan Kurt Kiesel. But there was just one gigantor Kiesel painting, of a prosthetic-legged skeleton wearing a codpiece decorated with eyes and a for-real glory hole, teetering on splintering crutches, puking out its own viscera. Beside the skeleton a red bunny with bloodshot eyes cried in anguish while his clone sodomized him, yanking his ears. More red bunnies frolicked around them, the satanic version of those Grateful Dead dancing bears.
It was one of the more random events I’ve been to–no explanations, no clear agenda, a mishmash of good and bad, serious and ironic art, almost no people, a far-flung location, and an enormous fucking neon messiah. A space this weird deserves to be seen.
On our way to the protest in honor of President Bush, who addressed the Economic Club of Chicago at the Hilton and Towers Hotel at lunchtime last Friday, my friend Marci and I were scaring ourselves with bogeyman scenarios. “Do you think the Robocops in riot gear will be there?” I asked. Marci looked at me like, duh, of course they would.
Except they weren’t. The designated protest area, across the street from the hotel, held a crowd of about 250 people, 300 max, just kind of hanging out, holding signs (WAR ISN’T WORKING, IMPEACHMENT: IT’S NOT JUST FOR BLOW-JOBS ANYMORE, and the pithy GRRRR!). All the regulars were there: the anarchist drum circle kids in black, who chalked on the sidewalk [Anarchy] + [Peace] = [Smiley Face]; the annoying socialists hawking papers they wish they could charge a buck for but can’t give away for free; the gay rights brigade; the World Can’t Wait people taking donations for whistles that would supposedly “drown out Bush’s lies.” The local chapter of Code Pink–“a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement” according to the group’s site–showed up as well. But where was everyone else?
Bush hasn’t been doing too well since his reelection, but that’s hardly an excuse to sit back and relax. I’m more scared of the damage Bush will have left behind after he’s finally out of office. Doesn’t the idea of Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito–and what his beliefs might be on abortion, civil rights, affirmative action, and presidential power–scare more than 250 people in this city?
Sure it was cold. And we couldn’t get near the hotel–the cops wouldn’t even let us cross the street–but that’s no reason not to try. Everyone I know, excluding a few of my more well-off relatives, hates the president, and hardly any of these people have real jobs that would keep them occupied in the middle of the day. They pride themselves on rejecting the status quo–they live transient lifestyles, trade with one another, open alternative spaces, and make art. So where were they? Is protesting out of style?
For something to be obsolete, something has to replace it. Chanting embarrasses the hell out of me. So what’s next?
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer.