September 15, 2010
The Art Institute of Chicago (Michigan Ave. and Adams, in front of the stairs)
“Give them a hug!”
Today I am late in meeting Sara. I know that in the grand scheme of things, fifteen minutes doesn’t matter, but I am affected for the duration of our hug. Being late makes me feel wobbly, off-balanced.
I try my hardest to breathe, to ease into the hug, to be present.
This hug feels purposeful. Perhaps we are validated as artmakers when we stand in front of an important art institution. But people interact with us in a completely different way then they interact with art in the Art Institute. Thank God.
Sara describes to me how a woman approaches one of the brass lions on the steps, cups the lion’s tail in her hands and walks away–as if this is something she does every day. I picture this as Sara describes it to me.
Today many people acknowledge us with smiles but a few stop to talk. Then we are joined by Timothy, a street performer who drums on paint buckets. First he comes up and gives us a big hug. Then he asks us to move. We are in his spot–the spot where he always performs. There is a moment of territorialism. Why should we move? We are performing, too. We take a step south so that Timothy is positioned between us and our sign. He says we can work together. At first we are not sure what that means. Timothy begins drumming and creates a song encouraging people to hug us: “…give them a hug…give them a hug…”
Timothy calls out to people as they pass, asking for donations.
As much as I like the idea of working with Timothy, I feel a shift when he starts playing our song. We have been co-opted into a performance for which he is asking for money. Passersby become guarded. No one stops to talk to us after this point. Suddenly we are trying to sell something people may not necessarily want. He performs to entertain. We perform with different motivations, but it is edifying to perform in proximity to him.