Two years ago, William A. Koehnline Gallery curator Nathan Harpaz invited Chicago artist Dennis Kowalski to do an installation. Kowalski initially thought he would come up with a local theme, but by the time he submitted his proposal, he'd changed his mind: he wanted to take on the philosophical and moral aspects of war. Harpaz says no one anticipated how relevant the show would be in the spring of 2003. Kowalski named his installation Mars, for the Roman god of war, studied Plato and other thinkers, and came to the conclusion that, at best, we're "maintaining equilibrium between construction and destruction." What does that look like to a minimalist? A brick-and-mulch path across a wooden floor, a hand clutching a fighter jet, a tiny model of the cathedral of Cologne, and a few other symbolically resonant objects and images. It's up through June 26 at the gallery at Oakton Community College, 1600 E. Golf in Des Plaines. Hours are 10 to 5 today, and 10 to 7 Monday through Thursday for the month of June. It's free; call 847-635-2633.
Last year about 40 people tried their hands at rowing, canoeing, and kayaking at the local edition of National Learn to Row Day. The free annual event is hosted by the Chicago River Rowing and Paddling Center, which is hidden away in the old coast guard boathouse at the mouth of the Chicago River, just south of Navy Pier. Because they share the space with the marine and conservation police, "we haven't really been able to put a sign up," explains CRRC president Susan Urbas; the group plans to move to a new, more visible boathouse at soon-to-be-developed DuSable Park. The 55-member group expects about 100 others for this year's free celebration, which runs from 9 to 3 at the boathouse and along the river. For more information see www.chicagorowing.org.
"One of the top wishes of most people is to go back in history and talk with someone who changed the world. What if, instead, that person were able to come forward to our time? What if all we had to do was close our eyes to make it so?" So muses the protagonist of The Day I Met Walt Whitman, a first novel by Crystal Lake writer Gregory Leifel, who then doffs his shirt, dons a blindfold, and embarks on a sensuous trek through Barrington's Crabtree Nature Preserve that culminates in an encounter with the poet. "I feel a sense of excitement and freedom being led by Walt, as if I, too, am spirit. I am not only aware of the warmth of Walt's hand, but of individual pine needles beneath my feet. The warm air moving over my skin passes deliberately from cell-to-cell as if it is liquid." Leifel, a professional storyteller and chairman of the Barrington Writers Workshop, published the book himself. He'll sign copies from 11 to 3 today at Victoria's Books, 13 W. Campbell in Arlington Heights. Call 847-788-1313.
The WBEZ-based radio show This American Life last went onstage three years ago, when it toured with a group of writers and the band OK Go. This time around the five-city tour includes a band the Mekons' Jon Langford assembled from musicians he found through the Reader classifieds, a stunt he first pulled in October for an episode of the show. The storytelling lineup consists of producer-host Ira Glass and local cartoonist Chris Ware, who are "coreporting a story in cartoons and audio," according to a spokesperson, as well as regular contributors Sarah Vowell, Davy Rothbart, and Jonathan Goldstein. All of them will somehow address the theme "Lost in America." The Chicago performance starts tonight at 8 at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State; a radio version will air at 7 PM June 13 on 'BEZ. Tickets are $20 and $30; call 312-902-1500.
Since April a loose-knit group of Chicagoans has been meeting on the first Sunday of the month in front of a local superstore to embark upon a "consumption awareness ritual" called Whirl-Mart, in which they get carts, go inside, and wheel them through the aisles for an hour, buying nothing. The experiment started on April 1, 2001, in Troy, New York, in response to a call by Adbusters magazine to engage in foolish agitprop, and it's now staged worldwide. Today's free happening is one of a dozen diverse activities sponsored by Lumpen Media Group to celebrate its 12th anniversary (for the full slate of events, including an arts-and-crafts evening at Quimby's on May 31, see www.lumpen.com). Would-be whirlers should meet at 2 PM outside Target, 2656 N. Elston, Chicago. For more information call 773-342-7332 or go to www.breathingplanet.net/whirl/.
For his 1983 documentary, The Store, filmmaker Frederick Wiseman set up his cameras inside the Neiman Marcus flagship in Dallas in the middle of the Christmas season. Wiseman's best known for his in-depth explorations of life in environments like a hospital for the criminally insane (Titicut Follies, 1967) and Chicago's Ida B. Wells housing projects (Public Housing, 1997). "I'm interested in class in American life, and movies like [The Store] give an opportunity to look at people from a different walk of life," explained Wiseman in an interview with film reviewer Gerald Peary. "I don't just take the more obvious subject of people who haven't made it, but I show the people who have made it. What their values are seem just as important." The Store will be shown tonight at 7:45 as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center's Wiseman retrospective, which runs through Thursday, June 5 (when The Store plays again, at 6). This week's schedule also features multiple screenings of his latest film, The Last Letter, which is making its Chicago premiere. All screenings are at 164 N. State in Chicago, and tickets are $8; call 312-846-2800.
When Ela Weissberger was 11 she and her family were taken to the Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Most of Prague's Jewish artists were also brought to Terezin--a stopping point on the way to the Nazi death camps--and one of them, composer Hans Krasa, smuggled in a copy of his short children's opera, Brundibar. The piece tells the story of two kids who sing to raise money to buy milk for their sick mother, with the help of various animals. To keep the children in the camp entertained, the adult artists helped them put on a show, and Weissberger was cast in the role of the cat, which she played for all 55 performances. "When we sang, we forgot where we were," she told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2000. "We forgot hunger, we forgot all the troubles that we had to go through. When we sang Brundibar, we didn't have to wear the Jewish star on our clothing." Weissberger was one of 100 or so children--out of 15,000--to pass through the camp and survive. Today at 12:15 she'll discuss the legacy of Brundibar at a free brown-bag lunch lecture at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington in Chicago (312-744-6630). Chicago Opera Theater's double production of Brundibar and Comedy on the Bridge, directed by Thor Steingraber with translations by Tony Kushner and production design by Maurice Sendak, opens tomorrow, May 4, at 7:30 PM and runs through June 14 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago. Weissberger will discuss her experience an hour before curtain on June 4, 6, and 8. Tickets range from $35 to $75; call 312-704-8414 or see www.chicagooperatheater.org. For more on Chicago Opera Theater see Culture Club.
"I once branded the whole business as snake oil, being of the mind that the spiritual powwows were no better than smoking weed or drinking cheap wine. But this was before my teen marriage and a time on welfare and three children to feed by the age of twenty-two led me to seek the intoxication of the Spirit." So writes John Fountain about the Pentecostal True Vine Church of God in Christ on Roosevelt Road, where his grandfather was pastor. Fountain grew up on the west side in K-Town and credits his faith as the key to his survival in an environment that destroyed many of his childhood friends. Now a Chicago-based reporter for the New York Times, Fountain recently published a memoir, True Vine: A Young Black Man's Journey of Faith, Hope and Clarity. He starts his book tour tonight at 7 at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington in Evanston. It's free; call 847-866-0300.
The planned $800 million expansion of McCormick Place will add 610,000 square feet of new exhibition space, 140,000 square feet of meeting rooms, and a 60,000-square-foot ballroom to the complex when it's completed in 2007. That'll ensure the behemoth retains its standing as the nation's largest exposition facility--for a little while anyway. Jack Johnson, director of government and community relations at McCormick Place, will discuss the project today at 12:15 at a free Friends of Downtown-sponsored brown-bag lecture at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington in Chicago (312-744-6630).