Walking into Happy Dog Gallery (1542 N. Milwaukee Ave.) on Saturday, visitors were hit with the smell of cigarette smoke and sweat. What was already a hot night was intensified by the lack of air conditioning and the dozens of people milling about the work/live gallery space, waiting for a half-hour performance-art show, “This Things I Believe,” to start. About 30 artists had been invited to participate in Division|Collective’s “performance/art/cake-eating event” and asked to comment on issues of censorship.
“We created a list of artists whose work we found particularly evocative and asked, ‘Have you ever been censored, felt you were being censored or censored yourself?’ If the answer was affirmative, we invited them to participate,” said Anndell Quintero, the artist collective’s founder.
For 30 minutes, the 30 artists were set to perform their pieces in rooms throughout the space, from the main gallery space to some of the bedrooms and even the bathrooms. “It was an enormous effort, meticulously planned to exhaustion,” said Division|Collective artist Abra Adduci, who has lived at Happy Dog for six years “in a tiny, windowless bedroom.”
But before “This Things I Believe” began, problems arose.
“I didn’t expect 8 billion ‘technical difficulties’ immediately before the show, like a jammed printer, locked bedroom and seven no-shows,” said Adduci, also one of the show’s curators. (She placed a panda figurine wherever a participant was missing.)
Originally supposed to start at 8 p.m., the show was pushed back half an hour. Some of the artists decided to start on time anyway, including Sara Weis, who put a sheer curtain in front of a small nook in the main gallery, and set up a laptop with a small video camera pointing toward the nook.
“Sarah coyly invited visitors to enter her project, later revealed as a ‘love den,’ coaxing them into performing more and more explicit sex acts,” Quintero said, adding that “Sarah’s persuasion was effective enough to convince them to let her stream footage on the Internet.”
To be clear, there would be no public record of the video, Weis told RedEye — it was streaming directly into a Google+ Hangout, and anyone who was there at the time could see it, but it wouldn’t be stored anywhere afterward.
At 8:30 p.m., the other pieces started, after a booming introduction by artist Snorre Sjønøst Henriksen. In his piece, Border Clinic, Henriksen lay on a couch and recited questions from a psychiatric assessment, highlighting society’s construction of mental illness.
“Imagine answering 300-plus questions after being hospitalized, with many questions sounding like quack psychiatry you’d find in a Seventeen magazine quiz!’ Quintero said.
Henriksen made up a mock questionnaire of his own, with statements including “I’m afraid people on the street will yell, ‘FATTO!’ at me,” and “I have frequent diarrhea.”
Adduci’s piece, “I am tired and hate all of you,” was projected onto a wall of the main gallery space through a hole in the wall. It focused on “the unshakable stigma of drug use,” she explained.
“I specifically wanted to express my belief that societal labels of ‘drug addict’ versus ‘former drug addict’ are virtually interchangeable,” she said.
She typed her thoughts on a laptop during the show, and people in the gallery could read on the projection as she typed.
“I have a ‘colorful’ drug history and my willingness to speak about it directly resulted in my work being indicative of a current drug problem,” she said.
After the show ended, and despite the few delays in the beginning, Quintero and Adduci were happy with how the show turned out. And they imagine that the guests, about 100 people wandering through the space, were left with a lot to think about.
“There’s a mystical element to what happened on Saturday,” Quintero said. “Only those present could ever understand the experience. I can imagine them leaving and attempting to convey it to others, trying to communicate the energy and being unable.”
All photos by Ruthie Kott for RedEye.