Let's Get Lost | Chicago Antisocial | Chicago Reader

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Let's Get Lost

Take a joyride, follow the pied piper in the panama hat, or immerse yourself in an "art, activism, and media convergence."

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I honestly don't know exactly where I ended up last Saturday night. All's I know is my friend Hilary and I felt like staying out late, so while getting gas at the newly remodeled Dunkin' Donuts/Citgo at Ashland and Grand, we texted a bright young art-student friend and asked him where the party was. In the meantime we hung out in the parking lot, listening to disco hissing out of speakers on the space-age gas pumps, doing some primo people watching.

We fixated on a thin, high-ponytailed woman in a white camisole with the first three buttons undone. She'd just exited an electric-blue SUV and was meandering around the pumps, laughing into her cell phone. Every so often she'd suddenly crumple from the waist down, like one of those plastic giraffes with the legs that buckle when you press the base. She walked inside, where we could see her weaving gaily through the aisles, still on the phone.

I stepped out of the car for some fresh air. The silver-haired man driving the blue SUV called out to me, so I went over to his window for a chat.

His name was Jeff and he was on a joyride from Philadelphia with his girlfriend, Gwen. Having wound up in Chicago, they made sure to visit Transit, "the best nightclub in the world."

"Your girlfriend sure is taking a long time in there," I said.

"Oh, she'll probably be gone another half hour," he said. "You and I could have a good time while she's in there."

Then Gwen showed up with a single long-stemmed rose, its bud encased in a plastic tube for safekeeping, and a plastic bag of Kit-Kats.

It was perfect timing: right then our text message was returned with a phone call, so we went to pick up four other twentysomethings and headed somewhere in the vicinity of Lake and Ashland--like I said, I'm not exactly sure where--for a loft party.

You know it's gonna be a good party when you have to walk up a flight of squishy carpeted stairs, creaky from overuse, so filthy you can picture the barf seeping up into the soles of your shoes--even if it's too dark to see it--to get there. We parked ourselves near the door, heaping our coats and bags and booze in a pile on the floor. Another sign of a successful party is if you don't feel the need to do rounds right when you enter: you're not curious about the space or who else might be there because you're already having so much fun it doesn't matter. And if the music has you immediately ready to dance, you've hit the jackpot.

The fingerpainty tribal floor-to-ceiling murals looked pretty labor-intensive, albeit hideously ugly. But that's my only complaint. A bearded guy with longish hair in a panama hat, a string of jade beads doubled up around his neck, and a kimonoesque shirt strutted around with a bottle of Veuve like the pied piper until he'd attracted a bevy of thirsty rats. I was one of them. After politely waiting my turn for a swig, I asked him to tell me a little bit about himself. "My resume is long and hard," he said.

At 5 AM the DJ busted out a techno remix of Bruce Hornsby or Steve Winwood or some other lite nonsense. We had two options: (a) dance, because we were so drunk and tired that for a magical moment "The Way It Is" or "Higher Love" or whatever it was became, like, our favorite song; or (b) respect that the DJ was employing a universal subtle hint to force people to go the fuck home.

We chose (b).

Earlier that night I'd gone to a fashion show called Artist vs. Artisan, for which coordinator Melinda Snyder commissioned American designers and artists to de- and reconstruct garments made by women from Marketplace India, a fair-trade cooperative of women artisans in and around Mumbai.

"What do progressive, fringe artists within an urban context . . . have in common with folk artisans living in developing countries?" the flier for the event asked. And it answered: both groups "challenge norms" and "defy corporate globalization."

To her credit, Snyder drove the concept to the hilt, constructing a sort of dilapidated-chic runway out of cinder blocks and twine, booking noise musician Andy Ortmann on synthesizers and Muhammad Fathi on the setar (which is different from a sitar) and the tabla for an improvised collaboration. Images projected at the head of the runway were of hipsters partying and Indian women toiling with needle and thread or painting pots.

The models were dressed with a kind of Aunt Jemima Goes to Burning Man eclecticism. When it worked it sort of looked like Marni, but more often than not it came off as boring urban-tribal bullshit.

"As women in society we all have our own wars to fight," says Snyder. "Those wars have a relationship." She compares being a female artist in the U.S. to being a widow in India struggling to put her children through school. "Both of those women have the need to actualize themselves," she says. "They're getting to know themselves and interacting through the fellowship of women."

Though the idea may have been conceptually coherent, the packaging was off-putting--there was something a little squirrelly about Western hipsters taking apart and refashioning the hard work of South Asian craftswomen. Snyder let cultural and economic distance filter out the unsavory connotations of her project and added a good dose of romanticism. The Indian women "watch Bollywood movies," she said. "They're used to high fashion. To see their work in that light would be like, Wow, that's so cool."

The show was part of the Version festival, an 18-day-long art, activism, and media convergence that's organized in large part by my friend Ed Marszewski. Version is much more than an event. It's a hook-up, freak-out, no-holds-barred, get-it-out-of-your-system-so-you-can-relax-for-the-summer free-for-all that everyone's invited to. I wait all year for it to come around, and every time it does I take a deep breath, like I'm about to get on a rollercoaster or jump into a cold lake. Then I take the plunge and let the collective experience overtake the mundane concerns of my everyday life. I never know what's going to happen or even if I'm going to be OK afterward. And there's still more than a week left to go.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mireya Acierto, Liz Armstrong.

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