So, lets see, Pedro Velez got a copy of my Giant lego spaceship and wanted to incorporate it into a video project he was working on called "The program", so he sent me an e-mail asking for permission. I was like, sure, just give me credit and all. Pedro was part of the FGA and the program was a video about 6 hours long that people could let play, forward or rewind it at whim. A lot of weird stuff on it, lol. He invited me to his opening at his apartment and I had my first exposure to an art show party. I remember people asking me which artist I came with... heh, I guess I didn't look the part yet. I learned how not to be diplomatic when I made some comments about artwork in his place, so stoned I didn't realize they where his, heh. Still, he invited me to be a part of a shindig called the Stray show, in it's second year, 2002.
The Stray show brought together many smaller galleries in one big warehouse to show artwork that might have been missed in the scattered places where the galleries are located out in the city. I embarrassed myself right away, lol, as I had a new cell phone and frankly never got any calls. I was about to be introduced to the people running the show and got a call from my sister Leslie. Family is important, and being that I never got calls, knee jerked the phone into my ear, lol, kind of rude to people that could have been a connection. I had a lot of fun looking at all the other artworks, I was too new to be jaded, yet too new to know the intricacies. I was showing at the Joymore booth and Nick Black had these balloons with eyeballs he was handing out. pretty cool to see them walking all over the place, looking at stuff. I had nothing better to do, so I started helping him, learning along the way that he was going in for surgery the next day and had no one to do the balloons for the rest of the weekend. I happily volunteered. I had fun handing them out on Saturday morning, but I'm never one to leave well enough alone, lol. I was soon daisy chaining them together (He had left me with a huge tanks and boxes of balloons) into long and longer strings. Soon they where getting 30 foot high in the big warehouse, you could see them from across the room like a land mark. it became it's own bit of performance art, this looming tower of bulging eye ball balloons.
By the end of that long weekend I managed to sell one print that I called 'Toy shelf' and was exhausted. Artists, well, I tend to spend a lot of time by myself, doing the artwork, so to be out in the face of crowds and talking, is taxing, but necessary. I am gathering all my stuff up, carrying it across Kingbury street to my PT Cruiser and getting ready to head back to the Burbs when I get invited to a party. I don't know the city at all, but they say it is informal and fun, writes the address on a scrap of paper and heads off. I get all of my stuff squared away, sit on the tail gate of my car and think about it. I look down the street facing south east at the Chicago skyline, reach into a compartment where I keep a small flask of Dewars and think, why not?
I drive on down to Pilsen on the south side of Chicago, find a place to park and try to find a door into what they call the whale. It's on the corner of Canalport and Halsted, a big white house with dark windows. I spot another person that seems to know whats going on and join them in going around through and alley to the back door. The houses I grew up and knew in the burbs are all neat and square on the inside, in the city they are much more random. The Whale is full of odd shaped openings, artwork and slightly warped floors, with complete strangers that barely notice another stranger has entered their house. To my right is a bench built along one wall facing a table, and at the end of that table against another wall is what seems like a shrine of random strangeness. Maybe it's because it was the end of a long weekend of drinking and what not for most of them, but they all seemed kind of flat. Then again, to me this was all new and exciting, and to them, old hat.
They have this kind of ritual where they all read out loud a series of sayings, based on some object in the shrine. At some point they named me "Adjutant" (which I find they do to any new person), which involves getting a huge sombrero and a thick steel chain as a necklace. I'm told that I am to preside over the festivities and that they have to do what ever I say. I test this by tell everyone to leave the room. They do, with no complaints... which is weird, lol. I tell them right away to come back and we continue on like nothing happened. Part of the tradition here is to do artwork based on a word provided by the last weeks Adjutant. Each person takes a turn to show and describe their piece and some are really good. One girl has a video on her laptop of photos of the group and the song
"Push th' Little Daisies" playing in the background. Other people show small paintings and drawings while one guy each week has really well made statues of found objects that showers hate on the Catholic church. I was there to meet artists, not to talk politics, so it surprised me at the undercurrent of bitterness. In a way, I felt like Jane Goodall, accepted, but not really exactly the same, I watched and learned.
I went to many gatherings there over the next few months, met a lot of people that didn't like to shower and some that where strung out. As I said, these get togethers where late on Sundays, so many like arriving at a bar at 2 in the morning, I was seeing a side that had run it course those nights.
Standing on the roof deck one night at one of the pig roasts they would have, I could see the top of the Sears tower glowing impressively. Little did I know that within 8 years I would be living less than a half mile away, a completely different life. Living at the mission is hard, but I really feel much more at home, much more accepted, we all know we messed up, so we are all at the same level.