$40 and a sense of adventure

  • By Faith Bowman
  • faithbowmanphoto@hotmail.com
  • January 12, 2006 @ 3:47 PM
Just before New Year's, I realized that I had let my single status keep me from going out and enjoying the amazing range of cultural activities offered here in Chicago. I've also been broke and in school most of the time that I've been here. After paying January's rent, and phone bill, buying food, and clearing the decks of other little expenses- I decided to give myself a present of $40.00 to spend as I wished. At first I thought about calling people to hang out with, but then I thought...why? Why wait for someone else to check a calendar or get ready or possibly even cancel last- minute, making me feel like a cast-off fool? Do I really need someone else to witness the fact that I am culturally aware, or have good taste? After asking myself that, I realized that I had gone out alone in New York and New Orleans tons of times and never felt lonely or scared. So I planned a great week for myself.

The first Monday of the year I bought myself a ticket to go see 'Walk the Line'. My mom used to listen to country music when I was little, so to me there is no stigma attached to appreciating it. So even though I am black I like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, etc. I can't say I listen to it a lot? But I have nothing against it. My mom also listened to Queen,KISS, Bob Marley, and Luther Vandross- a one woman college station. I loved hearing Cash's cover of NIN's "Hurt"- it was like a marriage between my mother's time and mine. Anyway? I was telling you about going to this movie.

The theater was deserted except for two couples and me, and I headed for the seat that's always by itself in the last row of the first section. The previews were forgettable, except for 'Tristan and Isolde', and that one was like, huh? Whose been reading medieval literature? When the movie started with the prison scene and then went shamelessly into a hack flashback type deal- I was disappointed. I felt that this was sloppy filmmaking, and in an age where everyone has imovie or something, I expected better than that for 9.50. The story was somewhat compelling and adequately told, but I didn't come away with much more than I would have from a TV movie on the same subject.In fact? It might have been better as a cable movie, so we could get all the nasty details instead of a glossed over bid for sainthood. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are engaging, but Johnny and June came off a little like two losers who held each other up. Ginnifer Flowers as Cash's spoiled controlling wife falls flat, because she's too bad. It's acardboard, two dimensional characterization that falls flat upon closer inspection. Even the 'emotional' scene where she and Cash have their last fight isn't all that it could be. It just feels long overdue, and once again casts him as a wimpy loser. I felt like- knock her out, or at least say what you really feel!' I wanted to see Johnny Cash, the outlaw, the 'Man in Black'- and I get this? There is only one scene where he's not hang-dog and it comes toward the end and by then it just looks strange, like it's not right for the character. I would still say see this movie, as the songs and stage performances are fun and the period costuming comes off well, but don't expect too much.

Wednesday night I followed up on a tip from someone and visited the Oriental Museum at UIC. This little known gem at 1155 W. 58th street is housed in a real castle and at twilight, which is when I visited, it's charmingly romantic. There's a teeny, tiny gift shop to your left as you walk in, and there is a $5.00 suggested donation to enter the museum. The museum is small, but comprehensive. If you ever wondered what the Ancient Egyptions wore or ate- it's here. There's a six ton statue of King Tut that almost reaches the ceiling. Near it are two mummies in glass cases- one with the sarcophagus opened so that you can see the wrappings. They are so small! A grouping of Egyptian toys contains an ivory board game carved in the shape of a coiled snake; it looked like a pre-cursor to today's 'Chutes and Laddes'. They are going to open a Nubian exhibit in February that will feature photographs of the region printed from the original glass plates. The photographs document what the area looked like before the Aswan Dam was built.

The last day of my cultural vacation was a visit to the MCA, and then a trip to the Art Institute. The 'Tropicalia' exhibit was about to close, and I didn't even know what else was on display. 'Tropicalia' turned out to be a blast! Colorful, innovative, resourceful, provocative, etc. The highlight was walking through a mythical Brazilian environment complete with sand, cabanas, and scary live parrots in a cage. Their tongues are black! They made these weird clicking noises when they opened their beaks and I kept watching them, trying to figure it out. They also had these long claws and fleshy feet? At the risk of sounding teen-aged? Eeeeeeeeuuuuw! Nightmares. The grosset thing was when the parrot used it's beak to bite the cage, and then swung it's body around to sit on it's perch, using it's head and the cage as support. I will never look at parrots the same way. I was like- 'wow! that thing could bite me and take out a chunk!'. Shivers.

I wandered over to the North gallery, noting that I had sand stuck to my newly polished boots. That pleased me! I had a little 'Tropicalia' to take home with me. I liked best the acrylic and cloth paintings that almost looked like leather soft sculptures. I wrote the artist's name down too sloppily to read it, so now I don't remember who did it and I'm annoyed with myself. There were also lovely Brazilian fashions made out of cloth designed and woven by native artists that contained all the color and vitality of the country. I didn't (or couldn't) understand all the political implications, but I enjoyed the spirit of resistance to the status quo, as well as the artwork displayed.

Upstairs in the same museum, the 'Fluidity of Time' exhibit is an exploration of the broad range of conceptual and contemporary art in the MCA's permanent collection. It's so stocked with treasures, like jewels spread out for our inspection.Sara Sze's obsessive/compulsive installation cannot be described , and MUST be seen to be believed. There's a Dan Flavin piece that's as funny as it is beautiful. There is a Warhol, to get you in the mood for his upcoming show, and several Cindy Sherman photograph's that reminded me of when I first became aware of art. I had taken a magazine quiz and couldn't recognize a Sherman 'Film Still' and my friends laughed at me. I'd felt so dumb! Like I would never know anything compared to them. They all still live in New York and haven't done much with their snotty lives. People sometimes are too intimidated to admit that they don't understand or don't recognize what aret means, but it is something that can be learned, as I've discovered. I can appreciate these things on their own, and as symbols of how far I've come in my education, so I have double appreciation.

There is a Bruce Nauman flourescent light piece that's cute, but I would have preferred one of his videos. I saw a Christo, and was surprised as I had thought that all of his pieces were outside and on a grand scale. This was a cabinet with draped windows. The cloth is inside the cabinet and where it hangs against the glass, you can see blue sky- it's so much the reverse of what he's known for! My absolute favorite piece is by Lee Bontescue. Go see it. No, I am not going to describe it- except to say that it's haunting, delicate, and strange. I looked, and then looked more, and even though I had to be somwhere else- I walked back to it and took a really long look before having to leave in a hurry. I am going to make time to go back and see this piece a few more times before the exhibit closes on February 25th. Maybe I will see you there?

And now, the last event of my art and culture holiday: a performance by the Damine Kabuki Troupe at the Art Institute's Rubloff Theater. The legend is that in 1644 the villagers ofthis remote village, Damine, promised a goddess that as long as three families remain alive in this village they would teach their children to perform kabuki theater in her honor. The troupe is made up of 8 to 12 year old boys performing in traditional dress and makeup performing scenes that were dreamed up before even their grandparents lived. This was their third visit to the Art Institute.

The dance program was a challenge to watch, as it is so far beyond the norm of most western entertainment. It requires concentration and imagination; it is demanding. Narrator Shozo Santo, himself a master dancer, explained that Japanese art is always maximal or minimal. he said that the Japanes feel that "realism is a dead end". To get away from from realism they use stylization to to achieve the maximum effetc ( pop and anime) or the most minimal (noh and kabuki). Santo-san pointed out that "we live in reality, so why re-create the suffering in our art?". The audience laughed at this, but that's not funny. It's TRUE, but it's not funny. It made me wonder about the mindset of the audience, that they couldn't handle a statement like that without laughing. I also wondered what Mr. Santo must think of Americans, to get such a response from a statement that deserved a moment of contemplative silence. I have always admired Japanese culture, but have only experienced it through western eyes- like in the novel 'Sho-gun', or sushi at the Jewel. I was glad to have been able to see this event for only $10.00. I can't wait til next year when the Damine Troupe return to Chicago.

This week it was back to worrying about school and finding work and all the other commonplace worries of modern existence. As I look at a semester of gen-eds at Harold Washington College, not to mention trying to keep up with what's going on in the fashion world, I am reminded of Mr. Santo and his words about reality. It makes me smile a little, knowing that the carefree week served to lift me up out the doldrums and boredom and let sunshine into all the corners of my brain. Everything that I chose to see also had a corresponding link to my childhood: music with my mom, high school, trips to the Met, the Museum of Natural History, and the Moma. Even 'Tropicalia' resonated because my family is from Guyana, which is near Brazil. I felt replenished, nourished, and more ready to be creative and resourceful in my own life. Chicago is full of treasures to be discovered. Better go out and enjoy them, before they disappear.