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Underground Performance




Recently you ran a review of a Men of the World performance involving the CTA [Performance, May 22] and I thought your editors might find the following events noteworthy.

During April and early May, I worked with a group of teenage artists from the MCA and students from Robert Morris College on a project at the Blue Line station at Clark and Lake. As part of the project, we did short actions on and around the upper-level platform: mirroring each other, passing out cups of water to passengers, measuring the distance they stood from the edge of the platform, and, finally, tying ourselves together and moving around the station. The general theme of the project was community and connection between strangers (as in people who stand around on el platforms). These activities and others were documented in photographs and videos that were displayed at the MCA and on a Web site, and were to be displayed at the station. However, when some functionary of the CTA saw the documentation, (s)he apparently was not pleased and wanted the display taken down and the CTA's name removed from the project. I was informed of this by a third party and so am not sure exactly what the functionary found objectionable. Perhaps there were real aesthetic reasons for the reaction (although I doubt it), or perhaps there was concern that other artists and others might be encouraged to misbehave on CTA platforms (even though our activities never endangered anyone and were nothing if not innocuous). The MCA refused to censor the exhibit, but apparently they and RMC agreed not to publicize the project.

When, about a week ago, I was first informed of all this flak, I was amused. After all, this project was not really an "art" project for me. My own performance work is nothing like this and usually involves much more hot-button issues like race and sex. I was involved because I liked the students and it was fun working with them, working "for" the MCA can't hurt a resume, and I was paid. For me, this was a learning experience for a group of young artists who may not have had much experience with site-specific work. And thinking about it as a learning experience got me more and more upset about the CTA's reaction. What are the students supposed to learn from this? What do they carry away from an experience in which the Chicago Transit Authority tells them that something they did, which, as I say, was in no way harmful to anyone and was about community and connection between people, should not be shown or publicized? What if we had defaced CTA property, harassed passengers, or otherwise obstructed business? If we had done something worthy of being arrested for, would we, at least, have garnered respect?

Reginald Metcalf


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