When Jorge Aguirre padlocked a portrait of Saddam Hussein to a tree on the UIC campus last April, it was only 20 minutes before someone took offense. From his eighth-floor studio in the Chicago Circle Center Building, Aguirre surreptitiously videotaped the scene below as a woman slashed at the portrait with a kitchen knife. By contrast, the painting of George W. Bush he installed at the same spot was relatively unmolested after four days, defaced only with a whited-out eye, a Hitler mustache, and a scribbled "Don't mess with Texas."
The fates of both paintings are documented in The Saddam Show, a video Aguirre made with Columbia College student Amy Shuster. Since last April, he's gone on to prop up a replacement image of Saddam in various locations--by a streetlight in Wicker Park, a bike rack in Hyde Park, a tree outside an Evanston cafe, a fence in Logan Square--and secretly videotaped passersby as they stopped to look. The video shows one man giving Saddam the finger; another ran off with the portrait and tossed it in an alley.
The project was inspired by last spring's news footage of Saddam's likeness getting slashed, torched, and smashed in the streets of Baghdad. "I was watching the news and I saw all these things getting destroyed and I thought, 'Damn, those were made by another artist.' So I wanted to see if I could incite a similar response here." Last year he tried to interest local news media in his project, dropping off tapes at Fox and WGN, but no one bit. But when he displayed the Saddam painting at an antiwar rally last month it elicited some strong reactions. "A guy from Iraq kept saying, 'You don't know what you're doing. I've seen it all. This guy's killed millions of people.' I was expecting him to punch me. I couldn't explain to him what I was doing, and I was thinking, 'This is perfect for the movie.'"
Aguirre will screen The Saddam Show and Restate of the Union, a video loop of applause shots edited from broadcasts of Bush addressing Congress, Tuesday through Saturday, April 13 through 17, as part of a group show at UIC's Gallery 400, 1240 W. Harrison. There's a free opening reception with the artists April 14 from 4 to 7; call 312-996-6114. At 9:30 that same night he'll screen The Saddam Show as part of Mondo at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western; see www.chicagomondo.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.