The final day of the City As Site program had finally come after 6 weeks of dedicated and amazing art making and performance work. The Youth Artists had planned solo and collaborative performances that would last the entire day and spanning all across the neighborhood. The day began at Little Village Lawndale High School as students arrived early to prepare their supplies and organize themselves for the performances.
The first performance that started the day was a collaborative performance done by Eli, Kevin, Steven, and Telly. The four Artists were tied up to posts in the front of the school and blindfolded so they could not see their surroundings. They were wearing white shirts and dark pants in order to create a feeling of unity and purpose. Each of them had a sign on their chest with a fragment of the statement “STAND UP FOR WHAT’S RIGHT”, which resurrected images of the history of the neighborhood and specifically the school. The powerful image of the four boys tied up in front of the school reflected the struggle and hardship members of the community endured in order to make a statement about the right to education and the power of the people during the 19-day hunger strike in 2001. Their performance also conjured up thoughts about bullying in school, the inability to speak out, and the need to stand up for what is right – no matter the situation. The four eventually began to untie themselves and remove their blindfolds; their struggles unified and yet separate as they each attempted to free themselves, uncertain if the others were free as well.
The next performance consisted of the collaborative efforts of Abimael, Jesus O. and Jesus D. Similarly to the first performance by Eli, Kevin, Steven, and Telly, these Artists also dressed alike in order to convey a sense of unity and collaboration. They all wore black shirts, dark pants, and dark coverings over their faces. The masks were worn to hide the specific identities of each of the Artists. We gathered by a grassy area not far from the school. Abimael, Jesus O. and Jesus D. each had a shovel and began to dig in the grassy spot once everyone was gathered around. The three kept in silence as they dug with purpose and focus through the intense summer heat. They were digging a hole big enough to bury a box that was filled with items that represented their differences. Alongside them while the dug was a poem that was written about the ways in which humans believe they are all different – when in fact we are all very similar.
Once the hole was big enough, the three worked together to place the box into the hole and bury it under the dirt. The poem was then placed on top of the pile and kept in sight so that it would call to any passersby that would happen across the site after everyone had left. With the box, the Artists buried the idea that our differences are worth fighting for. The violence and opposing sides that divide the school at times derive from the idea that we are all so very different and that common ground cannot be reached between two groups of different people. Whether biases are created because of age, race, gender, cultures, or beliefs, the three Artists in this performance brought up the powerful idea that differences make us unique, but they should not separate us from each other.
The third performance took place at the park by the school. Rebecca, Alfredo, and Jazmin wanted to create a performance that would bring the community and the Artists together for a shared experience. They handed out a couple dozen balloons to the Youth Artists as well as some children that were in a youth program at the park. At the ends of the balloons were pieces of paper. Those with balloons were prompted to write a hope, dream, or aspiration that they had on the piece of paper, and on the actual balloon they were prompted to write how they were going to reach that hope, dream, or aspiration. Once everyone was done writing on the balloons, the performers led everyone into the center of the park and had them close their eyes. Everyone was to think about their hopes and dreams, and then on the count of three they were to let them go and watch them float up into the sky.
There was a beauty in the way the balloons floated up into the abyss with people’s hopes and dreams trailing behind them. Our natural instinct to hold onto and grasp balloons tightly seemed to represent the ways in which we tightly guard our hopes and dreams – keeping them private and off-limits. By letting go of the balloons, it was as if everyone recognized their hopes and dreams, and wanted to embrace the beauty and mystery of them.
Alejandra, Paola and Jeanette were the performers in the next piece. These three each dressed in a different solid color from head to toe, and they each had a different color of non-permanent paint in a bottle. The Artists lead the group throughout the neighborhood, walking ahead of everyone else towards a predetermined location. As they walked, they trailed the non-permanent paint behind them – leaving lines of color wherever they passed. The three Artists also made paint trails before the program started in the early hours of the morning so that we would come across them as the day went on.
Walking in this parade allowed us to look at the sidewalks and streets of the neighborhood differently. The paint that was spattered on the ground accentuated details that would have normally gone unnoticed on a regular walk. When the group was done with the program and everyone went their separate ways, the paint trails would still be there for days to come and the path we took throughout the space would still reside in the neighborhood. People who came across the paint in the future may realize that they are walking the path of someone else – a history that is visually represented on the ground. The paint on the ground allows people of all sorts become connected through a pathway and a route, and allows one to walk in someone elses shoes even if it is just for a block or two.
The next performance was a duo made up of Abimael and Erick. This took place in the plaza on 26th Street in Little Village. The group gathered around Abimael and Erick as Abi began to play the guitar while Erick began to smash his skateboard with a hammer. The skateboard, which was Erick’s very first skateboard, was to represent a dream that he had but never became true or realized. After Erick broke the first pieces off of the skateboard, he invited the rest of the group to try smashing it as well. All the while Abimael kept playing his guitar and keeping a rhythm that charged the energy of the smashers and the group. The skateboard became smaller and smaller and made up of more and more pieces. Finally when there were no more pieces to break apart, Erick invited the group to write on the shards of skateboard dreams that we had that had never come true. As we wrote and the music played, we all reflected on times in which we have had hopes and dreams that never fully grew. Even though some thoughts were somber and sad, we were unified as a group of people who dream and have a will to keep dreaming. When everyone was done writing on their shards the pieces of the skateboard were placed in the soil, sticking up like little gravestones.
After Erick and Abi’s piece, we took a break for lunch in the plaza. During this time, an epic game of checkers was played by Carla Duarte and Steven.
After lunch, we discussed a performance that had been going on the whole day so far. This performance was done by Jesus O. Jesus attached chalk to yard sticks and then attached the yard sticks to the front and back wheels of his bike. When he rode the bike marks were made when he swerved and turned on the sidewalk, or when he popped his front tire up. Throughout the day he carried and pushed his bike wherever the group went, leaving behind markings of his journey. The marks represented freedom from the challenges he has faced through in his life, and the bike was figuratively and literally a weight he still carried.
The next performance was a collaboration of six Artists: Abimael, Erick, Alfredo, Jesus D. Steven, and Jesus O. The six put on pink and blue face paint and lead the group towards the bus stop. Once the bus arrived, the whole group entered the bus and sat down. All of the face-painted Artists sat across from one another and stared into each others eyes with great intensity. Although this performance happened quickly on just a few-stop bus ride, the people who were on the bus were caught off guard and intrigued by the performance. Watching the Artists stare at each other makes one think about the lack of trust and intimacy that humans have towards each other. Especially in the public transportation environment, humans seem to separate themselves from each other and put up walls that keep out the rest of the world. The Artists on the bus called attention to and challenged the idea of personal space and created an intense and intimate environment on the bus.
After the bus ride, the group headed back to the plaza off of 26th Street to watch the final performance of the day. This performance was done by Steven. Steven had some of the other Artists tie him to a tree in the plaza and blindfolded him. He was tied in a way that he could not escape on his own accord, and he had a pair of cheap plastic scissors attached to the rope he was tied with. On his chest, he had a sign that said “Recall a time when you felt trapped, and no one could help you.” Viewers were encouraged to step forward and try to release him from the rope, and the scissors would be too dull to cut him out easily. Steven wanted to represent how it feels to be trapped and alone without anyone else around to support you. Whether it was bullying, one’s sexuality, one’s opinions, hopes, dreams, or culture that was being addressed, Steven’s performance allowed us to reflect on times that we have faced hardship and how power and help can come from others.
After much sawing and slicing Steven was still bound by the ropes, despite the great efforts of the passersby and his fellow Artists. The performance came to a sudden end when one of the men that was observing the performance left and came back with a sharper cutting device. With a few swift slashes, the man had finally set Steven free. The ending of the performance was exciting and surprising, and it demonstrated the unpredictable nature of performance art.
The last day of program was an outstanding one. The Youth Artists had grown so very much since the first day of the program six weeks prior. They began by performing simple exercises and grew into confident and unique performance artists. Throughout the weeks spent in the neighborhood and in the city, the Youth Artists of City As Site called attention to important issues that people of the city are addressed with every day. The Artists challenged the histories, rivalries, and stereotypes that are embedded within the community, as well as embraced and accentuated the beauty of it.
A special thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts, Chicago Public Art Group, ENLACE Chicago, and Little Village Lawndale High School for making our program possible. Another special thanks to the ENLACE Chicago Staff: Paulina Camacho, Elias “Tat” Corral, and Katya Nuques, and to the Visiting Artists: Olivia Gude, Alexander Eisenschmidt, Sebastian Alvarez, Carla Duarte, and Benjamin Thorp. Thank you for your ideas, support and love!
We want to thank you for following us on our journey – make sure to keep an eye out for our future endeavors!
From Left to Right – Top Row: Jesus O., Jesus D., Erick, Telly, Kevin, Carla, Eli. Bottom Row: Paola, Alejandra, Alfredo, Jeanette, Abimael, Jazmin, Emily, Maria, Steven, Rebecca, Sebastian
With only three days left in the last week of the program, the Youth Artists began planning what they were going to do for their final performances. The Artists were given planning sheets that prompted them to brainstorm ideas about what they wanted to address in their final performances, and if they wanted to do solo or collaborative pieces. This time was also spent discussing what occurred throughout the past few weeks. The Youth Artists highlighted their favorite images, moments, and discussions thus far, and helped each other think of ways that would allow them to bring those feelings to the last day of the program.
After spending time discussing their final performances, the Youth Artists were finally ready to install their sound pieces that Benjamin helped them make. The Artists were to return to the site that they originally got their objects and sounds, and they were to document their objects making sound in the space. They were also to return to the spots where their seed paper writings were buried to observe and document the progress their little seedlings made.
The ways in which their pieces complimented and contrasted the spaces that they originated from was a compelling and unique experience. The Youth Artists started with a simple set of hopes and wishes for the space and the community that grew into objects that represented, complimented, and contrasted these ideas.
Thanks to faculty of Illinois State University, we were able to use an office of the University’s that is located in Little Village when the Little Village Lawndale High School was closed for the summer. This was the room that we would be using for the rest of the program.
On the first day of the final week, visiting artist Benjamin Thorp was directing the final stages of preparing the Youth Artists’ sound objects. Most of the day was spent soldering, constructing, and arranging the circuit boards and solar panels with the objects. This process was intensive and required a lot of focus, and the Youth Artists worked hard to make sure that everything was in it’s place. Once the pieces were completed, each partnership had an object that would play the sound compositions that they created from their field recordings and that was charged by four small solar panels. The software was written so that the sounds would play with the absence of light, and so when dusk would fall, the pieces would come to life and render the abstracted sounds of the site.
Days three and four of the week were spent working on the field recordings the Youth Artists made on the second day of Benjamin’s visit. Using Garage Band, a sound editing program, the Youth Artists uploaded their audio files and started to slice and dice them to create new sound compositions. The Artists’ seed paper recordings were also being used to add to their sound compositions. The end results were sound pieces that carried the listener through the specific and special details of the spaces that were recorded, and an abstracted journey through the site was portrayed with the new rhythms and themes created.
Once the Youth Artists each created a sound composition, they each switched computers with their partner and began editing each other’s pieces. This allowed the Artists to get a feel for what the other Artists were doing with their sound recordings, as well as make the sound pieces completely collaborative and reflective of their partnerships.
These sound compositions would eventually be installed in their chosen objects from the previous day using Arduino micro-controllers and solar panels to power the devices. The Youth Artists began to build the Arduinos after they completed the editing process.
The second day began with the Youth Artists working on their Constellations again, recalling the previous evening and morning until program and adding in more details as needed.
Afterwards, Benjamin gave the Youth Artists an overview of the basics of microphone and field recording techniques, and he had them record each Youth Artist reading off of their seed paper in a passionate and thoughtful way. This recording would be edited an used with other recordings in an installation that they would create later in the week.
The Youth Artists then sectioned off into small groups that were determined by the locations that they chose the previous day. This way, the Artists can pair up and help each other record sounds and create an installation further down the road.
Benjamin then had the Artists head to their chosen sites and bury their seed paper writings in a sunny spot. They then made various audio recordings of the site – including the sounds of trucks driving by, airplanes over head, children playing, construction being done, and the grass blowing in the wind. Then, each Artist was to find an object at their site that was intriguing and that reflected the emotional atmosphere of the site, and one that they were interested in using in an installation.
The group then headed to Little Village Lawndale High School’s auditorium to present their objects and listen to their sound recordings. Discussions revolved around the ways in which the objects chosen reflected the sounds that were recorded. The Youth Artists also discussed how different the recordings sounded once they were coming out of the PA system instead of the original source of the noise. Benjamin also made sure that the Artists payed particular attention to special and unique sounds that stood out to the Artists’ ears in order to start formulating some ideas regarding how they were going to remix the sounds into one composition.