Today a panel led by Chicago's Queer Eye guy, Ted Allen, will try to figure out what's behind the boom in food porn at Food Revue: A Conversation About Food Writing and Criticism. Other participants include Tribune food editor Carol Haddix, Restaurants & Institutions managing editor Scott Hume, Oprah's personal chef Art Smith, and Sun-Times restaurant critic Pat Bruno. It starts at 10 AM with a tasting of treats from a bunch of upscale local restaurants and runs till 1 at the Chicago Hilton & Towers, 720 S. Michigan in Chicago. Admission is $25 and reservations are strongly recommended; call 312-344-8541.
For the last month members of the art collectives Temporary Services and Tasty Productions have been running around Chicago sticking small clear plastic bags of stuff to walls, signs, and trees. The Chicago Ravioli Project, a guerrilla art experiment, is so named because the heat-sealed bags resemble the pillowy pasta. The contents vary according to the whims of the artists--they hold everything from homemade DVDs to small wax sculptures to Power Rangers trading cards. The project's intended to inspire passersby to stop and think about what goes on in the world around them; it'll continue through May, but tonight the groups are holding a party from 7 to 9 at the Gold Star Bar, 1755 W. Division in Chicago. It's free, but you must be 21 or over. See www.chicagoravioliproject.com.
American urban photography is the subject of today's Cities in Focus, a free symposium at Northwestern University. Five half-hour lectures on the history, sociology, technology, and practice of urban photography will be followed by open discussions. On the program are UIC professor Peter Bacon Hales; Northwestern lecturer Pamela Bannos; James Sanders, director of New York's Center for Urban Experience; former Art Institute photography curator Colin Westerbeck; and Cooper Union professor Maren Stange, who'll talk about photography and sociology on Chicago's south side. It runs from 9:30 to 4:30 at the Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Dr. on the Evanston campus; call 847-491-4000 for more information.
From the 1850s to the 1920s, wealthy European families impressed their friends with collections of automata, intricate mechanical dolls and figures that performed complex repetitive actions. This weekend the touring exhibit Magic and Motion: The Art of Automatons stops at the Hotel Sofitel, 20 E. Chestnut in Chicago. It features more than 40 pieces belonging to Christian Bailly, who's auctioning off all 150 of his toys--the largest collection to ever hit the market--on May 15 in Vegas. It's today and tomorrow from 1 to 7 PM at the hotel; Bailly will lead regular tours. It's free; call 800-638-0422.
Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant and construction worker in the early 20th century, spent 33 years building the spectacular Watts Towers on his plot of land in South Central LA. Why? Nobody knows. But the towers, made of steel and mortar and embedded with thousands of pieces of broken glass, tile, and pottery, are considered a masterpiece of outsider art. Today at 1, Seymour Rosen, the founder of SPACES, an LA-based center dedicated to the conservation of large-scale outdoor folk art, will discuss Rodia's work as part of a free daylong symposium titled Fantastic Treasures: Preserving Art Environments. Also on the bill: Tom Patterson on Howard Finster's Paradise Garden, Jo Farb Hernandez on Josep Pujiula i Vila's cabins in Catalunya, and Terri Sweig on the Garden of the Luna Rossa in Normandy. At Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 756 N. Milwaukee in Chicago; call 312-243-9088.
For the last year a film crew led by Chicago-based filmmakers Nelson Soza and Marcelo Pina has shot footage of the Palestinian soccer team as it toils toward a spot in the 2006 World Cup. Futbol Palestina 2006, their documentary in progress, chronicles things like the difficulties a West Bank player faces in getting to practice due to Israel's travel restrictions, as well as high points like a March tie with the respected Iraqi team. "We want the movie to be an opportunity to learn about Palestine, to learn about the human faces of the other side of the conflict," says Soza. "It's such a widespread game, it creates--no pun intended--a level playing field." The filmmakers will show recent footage and talk about the project at tonight's welcome-home party at HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo in Chicago. It starts at 6 PM and is $6; call 773-334-7737 or see www.futbolpalestina.com.
Dancers and choreographers Bob Eisen, Carol Bobrow, and Charlie Vernon founded Link's Hall performance space in 1978 as a cooperative home for experimental dance, performance art, and movement-based theater. None of them are affiliated with the place anymore--Eisen's practicing his craft in New York, Bobrow teaches dance at New Trier, and Vernon's selling real estate and teaching at Columbia--but they're back in Lakeview this weekend for the Link's Hall 25th Anniversary Celebration. It kicks off today at 11:30 AM with a free contact-improv jam. From 2:30 to 5 there's a free showing of archival video from the past 25 years; the founders perform at 6:30. Tickets to that are $20 and include a postshow reception. Link's Hall is at 3435 N. Sheffield in Chicago; call 773-281-0824.
The success of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy put the natural treasures of New Zealand in the limelight, but the bounty of this lush country has been known to wine lovers for a while. A long list of wineries will offer their wares for tasting from 6:30 to 8:30 tonight at the Fourth Annual New Zealand Wine Fair. It's at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago in Chicago, 312-280-2660. Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 at the door; see www.chicagouncorked.com. For more on New Zealand wines see Restaurants this week.
In "Blood," a short story by Chicago author Sharon Solwitz, a blood-center worker falls for a man who comes in to donate a pint: "The guy had lovely veins that swelled at the first twist of the tourniquet. He didn't wince at the prick, in fact complimented my gentle hands." Her attraction to his circulatory system is an example of just one of the odder manifestations of love, which is the theme of Twisted Hearts, tonight's installment in the series "Stories on Stage." Directed by Judy O'Malley, it'll also include a reading of "Songbirds" by Heidi Jon Schmidt. It starts at 7:30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago in Chicago. Tickets are $17, $15 for students and seniors; call 312-397-4010.
The grand architecture of the Gold Coast evokes a vanished era of long white gloves and carriage rides. At today's slide lecture, Mrs. Palmer's Gold Coast, Sally Sexton Kalmbach will tell tales about the elegant lives of Bertha Palmer and other late-19th-century society matrons and talk about how the neighborhood developed and the influence of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition on its buildings. It starts at 5:30 PM at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton in Chicago. Admission is $12 and includes refreshments; call 312-255-3510.
The availability of WiFi bandwidth downtown varies widely--several private companies and even public agencies charge for access, but hot spots in some plazas and parks are free. Some believe WiFi should be considered a public good--like streetlights--and thus always be available gratis. Today Jimm Dispensa of Friends of Downtown, Stelios Valavanis, of the IT company onShore, and Spiro Papadopoulos of ePrairie.com will have a conversation about how other cities have offered WiFi access for free, give some estimates of the costs involved, and discuss other ways Chicago could integrate the technology into city services. WiFi in Downtown Chicago runs from 12:15 to 1:15 PM in the Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington in Chicago. It's free; call 773-744-6630.
For nine seasons now the sketch comedy show MADtv has held its own against Saturday Night Live; it may have a bit of an edge because the pieces aren't performed live. That won't be the case tonight, when the cast and writers perform as part of the Chicago Improv Festival, which runs through May 9. At 8 writers from the show will perform sketches, including some that didn't make it onto the show. They'll be followed by a two-man show starring cast members Ike Barinholtz and Josh Meyers and a round of improv from the entire cast. It's at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport in Chicago. Tickets are $25; call 773-935-9810 or go to www.cif.com. For more on the festival see the sidebar in Theater.