The South Side Community Art Center is a surprise at first glance: its name is far more industrial and blocky than the Bronzeville gallery’s renovated location. Last Sunday, the impression of strangeness was only increased as the center played host to the ninth release party of AREA Chicago, the twice-yearly publication of the arts collective of the same name. Hipster and artist types lounged about the steps of an otherwise gray area; copies of the magazine lay strewn over the floors; and the mantle of the fireplace at the main gallery’s far wall was used as a repository for suitably bohemian liquors.
The art center’s gallery, with works by local artists available for purchase, remained open during the event. Snacks were available amid the pieces, and departing visitors were invited to take stacks of AREA Chicago (bundled at the back of the main room) with them for distribution as they left. Beginning at 2pm, magazine contributors offered their opinions on the subject of “Peripheral Feminism,” leading up to a presentation by performance artist Sebastian Alvarez.
The latter commenced with the appearance of a large gong at the back of the main room. As the audience continued to mingle about, an assistant began to slowly vibrate the gong with a series of large, small, and prong-shaped sticks, creating a low-level hum that grew in intensity throughout the performance. Alvarez selected an AREA Chicago staffer and had him lay down atop a red plastic sheet, then oriented a camera until it was directly aimed at his face. A machine was turned on that projected the man’s face, cast into sharp relief by the red, onto the still-steadily oscillating gong. Next, while the man lay still, Alvarez placed a box over his head, with an opening to allow his face through, and covered it in dirt, leaves, and bits of wood, so that the man’s face seemed to emerge from the ground of a forest. During this, the clamor of the gong increased until it resembled nothing so much as the screaming of a horde of bees, and many audience members–myself included–were forced to cover their ears. For what seemed like a long while, Alvarez stood still next to the gong while his audience writhed. Then, the gong died out, the camera slowly dimmed, and the artists left the room to a group as perplexed as it was enthralled.