Performance art series "Out of Site" invades Wicker Park

Labor Keeps the Heart performed at Polish Triangle, July 27, 2012.

Labor Keeps the Heart performed at Polish Triangle, July 27, 2012. Photograph: Courtesy of Cesario Moza

At the Polish Triangle on a recent Friday afternoon, there's the usual stream of people exiting the Division Blue Line stop, the usual flock of pigeons and pigeon droppings, and a man in a white T-shirt sitting on the rim of the Nelson Algren Fountain talking to himself. FOR THE MASSES WHO DO THE CITY’S LABOR ALSO KEEP THE CITY’S HEART reads the inscription circling the fountain—words from Algren's Chicago: City on the Make. Shortly after 5pm, a cluster of 10 to 15 pedestrians gathers. They look like average commuters, toting iPods, purses, backpacks. Wordlessly, each one raises a hand, their palms painted a fire-engine red. Standing motionless with red hands raised, as if conducting some sort of otherworldly greeting, they eventually break into a collective "ooooooh" before dispersing.

"What the fuuuck?" says a skater dude smoking a cigarette who has just witnessed the spectacle. The man in the white T is unnerved by the performance and seems to be voicing his concern (while I momentarily wonder if he's part of it). Meanwhile, the performers are crossing the streets around the Triangle, holding up their red hands till the red hand in the crosswalk sign turns to the white walking man. Stop, look, listen, their gestures seem to say. They cross back to the Triangle, as additional performers join in, and begin the hand gesture and vocalization all over again. A teen girl, poised to take iPhone pics, is bummed. "I thought this was gonna be a flash mob," she says.

Titled Labor Keeps the Heart, the piece was directed by ROOMS Gallery, a.k.a. Marrakesh Glasspool-Frugia and Todd Frugia. The title is a nod to the Algren quote, and the visual and auditory elements are intended to evoke flocking birds. But conjuring pigeons isn’t really the point. By blending into the crowd as everyday pedestrians, then reemerging as performers, the 24 participants capture the attention of passersby and snap them out of their own everyday routines.

To facilitate unexpected encounters and moments of wonder is the mission of the Out of Site series, which features 12 performance artworks throughout Wicker Park and Bucktown every Friday from 5–7 pm, through October 12. Labor Keeps the Heart was the first in the series; upcoming “encounters” include a variety of quirky scenarios and notable artists. A performer hunched inside a box near the Damen and Division Blue Line stops (Mothergirl, August 10), an adhesive-covered performer walking from the Western El stop to Division (Marcus Vinícius, September 7), and The Squanderers, a sculptural wandering performance on Milwaukee Avenue from Division to North (3 Card Molly, October 5), all promise to rile Chicagoans from their end-of-the-workweek stupor.

Created by Whitney Tassie, former director of moniquemeloche, and artist/writer/educator Carron Little, the series both exposes the Chicago performance art community to a larger audience—including those who don’t normally flock to performance art—and supports the community by providing stipends for the participating artists. If Labor Keeps the Heart is any indication, this year’s series should continue to provide plenty of unexpected and perhaps delightfully “WTF?” moments in which public and performance collide.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)