Chicago, Day 3: Lions, alien bean, kissing

Commuted to Union Station again and this time walked the correct direction. I now understand the secret of the Loop: transfers are free out of Jackson, and the lines on the El only go in one direction. If you want the other direction, cross the tracks to go to another line.

Today was a Field Museum day. As I was trying to describe to someone recently, even though the Field Museum is designed primarily for children, there are lots of esoteric things that make it interesting for adults… but only adults who study. Nonreading adults who are numbed to learning need not apply and should go back to their little boxes.

The Field Museum was constructed to house all the crap left over from the World’s Fair. That was over 100 years ago! It is a natural history museum, so there is a whole wing devoted to different families of plants that humans consume. Some were incredibly obscure, like different kinds of nuts I hadn’t heard of. That wing was totally empty- I was the only person there. The anthropology collection is pretty impressive, including some Native American artifacts donated by a multitude of tribes, some actually at the time of the World’s Fair. There is an operating spiritual lodge thingy complete with a holy area you can’t enter or you’ll profane the whole place.

One of my favorites: the recently-retitled “Man Eaters of Tsavo”! These are the stuffed skins of two pretty famous lions from Africa. The British were building a bridge and it was very very delayed… because these two lions were eating the workers. Two rogue males, they worked in tandem to lure people out and sometimes snatched them directly from their tents. The workers started to think they were supernatural evil spirits. These lions ended up killing over 140 people before the English got fed up and hunted them down. The Brit responsible for the bridge toured with their pelts and skulls, selling them to the Field Museum around the time of the World’s Fair. The story would later be made into the Michael Douglas / Val Kilmer movie The Ghost And the Darkness – Douglas’ character is fabricated, Kilmer’s is not.

The coolest exhibit on this junket: the Evolution exhibit. It may have been there to combat Creationists or something, but whatever, it was damn cool. They had a mini diorama with ediacarans in it, the pre-Cambrian predecessors of life on Earth, and that had me sold by itself. But! Just around the corner they had this 3-screen virtual aquarium filling the room, of a early Cambrian ocean.

This thing was so awesome. There was this grotesque 5-eyed Cthulhu thing swimming around, and a thing that looked like a walking schrub. I watched various school groups run through the exhibit and not even look up. Kinda sad, but I GOT MINE BITCHES SO GET ALONG AND KEEP BEING STUPID.

I walked through Millenium Park, past the big fountain you see in the beginning of Married: With Children. At the top of Millenium Park there is the very pretty BP Millenium Bridge (there’s nothing on the other side though) and the new music venue on the field. Nearby is the Lurie field, filled with exotic grasses (really! Those aren’t weeds!) and the highlight: the BIG ALIEN BEAN. Ooh baby. I could watch people walking towards and away from this thing all day. The weird way their reflections show up on the surface…

After this I went to the Chicago Cultural Center, where I saw some random local artworks and bought some art from the Art-O-Mat. They even have little customized tokens you use for it, $5 apiece.

I bought “Best Flower” by Amada Wallace, and “Baggage Claim” by Adriane Herman. “Best Flower” is a wood block with a nice acrylic flower painted on it, packaged in a box made from old maps. “Baggage Claim” is a set of 3 temporary tattoos with pictures of luggage on them. The box is made to look like a cigarrette package, and includes a tiny facsimile of Herman’s MFA degree.

Took the Red Line up to the Water Tower area– damn the Red Line is slow. I could be wrong but I think a bus is a jillion times faster. A JILLION I say! Right there is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). They had a “Rock N Roll” art exhibit, which was mostly forgettable. There was a stack of posters you could take that said WHAT WOULD NIEL YOUNG DO? and a room whose floor was tiled in naked LPs, that you had to walk on to traverse the room. That was painful.

Speaking of painful, they had a film by the all-dead members of The Spirit Girls, who I’m pretty sure are all guys wearing mannequin masks. They are supposedly a band, all of whose members died in an accident. But they play on!!

One thing that was cool in the Rock exhibit was Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled 1996 which is a fully-functioning recording studio. Bands can book time in it and record. I think everyone in Chicago should do that.

There was this thing from Chris Burden called The Other Vietnam Memorial. It’s a giant metal structure with hinged walls anchored on a single central pole. Each wall is an enormous copper surface, precision-etched with names. Vietnamese names, three million of them. These would be the “other” casualties of the Vietnam War. The walls are hinged to evoke an endless book (and hence circular), and looks high-tech and industrial like a piece of war machinery. The museum provides some white gloves so you can touch it without tarnishing the surface.

Mechanical PigReally cool disturbing work: Paul McCarthy’s Mechanical Pig. It’s an animatronic pig, sleeping. All her inner workings are exposed; you can see all the servos whispering and moving… It’s very realistic but slightly Disneyfied; kind of like a life-sized Babe. Also creepy: she has human female genitals, including a line of breasts for teats. Her skin is more a pasty human than porcine.

So I’m wandering around the gallery and there in the middle of one of the balconies is this young couple totally making out. Whoops, I think, and keep walking- except they are moving very slowly and deliberately. The curators look jaded and aren’t even watching them. So I realize they are a performance art piece. I watched them; it was nice, they were both pretty fit (I’m thinking they are dancers) and they have a smooth movement and routine. What is funny is that even though they are obviously a “piece” it feels invasive to stand in the same room as them, so no one stays on the balcony. Everyone watches, or pretends not to watch, from the adjoining room, or from the other balcony across the hall. After a while I got bored and left.

This turns out to actually have been Kiss by Tino Sehgal. After a curator explained it to me I went back to watch it again… they really need a placard for this piece. One of the points of it is, the dancers go through this routine where they hit several (six I think?) famous kiss images from various sculptures and paintings, including the ones by Michaelangelo and Rodin. It’s a loop that lasts roughly eight minutes; at the end of it they are in a different end of the room, in one of the three points of a T. Also, after a loop, they swap gender roles in the poses. so you’d watch them through six iterations, that is most of an hour, and you’ll see them from every angle, and in both roles.

Anyway at some point I saw a nun and a fairly uptight woman who looked related to her enter the MOCA. I knew they would get to the balcony with the dancers… so I followed them, slowly. I staked out a good vantage point and waited for about ten minutes. And I wasn’t disappointed. The Nun gets there and I think freezes. Her minder flips out and demands to know from a curator type what this is?! They tell her about it, and she seems disappointed the dancers are not about to get kicked out of the building. Then she and the nun bustle away. The gaurds snicker.

Shopping! Notables in the MOCA store: Josh Jakus bags (I thought these looked familiar; it’s because they are made in Oakland!), a goofy bamboo sushi mat placemat where every rod is wrapped in glued magazine pages, and a little porcelain egg where you break open one end and water the soil inside, and a little plant sprouts. My question is why not use a real egg shell and make it yourself? Archaelogists from the future are going to find these porcelain eggshells and wonder that too.

Stopped by the Hershey store and got a hot chocolate. And went to the Luna gallery and saw some Ethiopian art. Then back on the Red Line to get to…

The Damen Station. I intended to get back to Wicker Park. But whoops- Chicago stations don’t have unique names. They are named for the street they are on. So there is more than one Damen Station. I ended up way the hell south where locals didn’t even know where Division Street was. I ended up walking a long long way, and then taking a bus…

I stopped in at a divey bar, Rainbo Club, and played some pinball. Then kept walking and bussing and got some dinner at Ear Wax. This place was so completely San Francisco, I mentioned that already but check this out: sitting next to me were these two cute little lesbians, both like 19, who were interviewing each other for roomates, and they had met using Craigslist. And instead of asking things like “who pays for utilities” or “what time do you go to bed” they were asking things like “do you watch the Bears” and “is your girlfriend nice?” See, I could be at home!

I’m not sure but I think it was on this day I stumbled around Oz Park and took a photo of the tin woodsman. Somewhere around there is a cupcake place with a pretty lame excuse for a Red Velvet cake cupcake. The ones from Bewitching Elegance are about a thousand times better.

Tomorrow: my final day of exploration

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