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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Expo Chicago 2018: See it now

Posted By on 09.29.18 at 09:56 AM

Detail of Kerry James Marshall's Rythm Mastr Daily Strip (2017), at David Zwirner's Expo Chicago booth - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Detail of Kerry James Marshall's Rythm Mastr Daily Strip (2017), at David Zwirner's Expo Chicago booth

One thing about Expo Chicago, it’s ephemeral: see the 2018 edition this weekend or not at all. 

If you do trek out to the far end of the newly upscale and jarringly sanitized Navy Pier, you'll be rewarded with a chance to walk, walk, and walk some more while perusing the offerings of 135 mostly high-end international art galleries. They include some eye-grabbing installations, like this visually bouncy basketball court by William LaChance, a Saint Louis artist here under the auspices of a London gallery, Beers. 

Detail of an installation by William LaChance at Beers London - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Detail of an installation by William LaChance at Beers London
You're also not likely to miss Ann Agee's elaborate, blue-and-white-tiled  Lake Michigan Bathroom (at the booth of New York's P.P.O.W. gallery).  Described as "an ornate monument to bodily function, public health, factory production, and the economy of water," it's complete with toilet, urinal, and sink. The Brooklyn-based artist created it during a two-year residency at the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. 

Detail of Ann Agee's Lake Michigan Bathroom (1992), at P.P.O.W. - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Detail of Ann Agee's Lake Michigan Bathroom (1992), at P.P.O.W.

It's no coincidence that work by members of the Hairy Who—the subject of a big, happy, historical exhibit that opened this week at the Art Institute of Chicago—crops up at multiple booths. Corbett vs. Dempsey, for one, is showing a handsome example of Art Green's color-drenched surrealism—a 1971 painting titled Authoritative Source. And ProjectArt, which brings art classes for kids to public libraries, has a novel curatorial concept: an exhibit of childhood work by artists who are now well-known; it includes Gladys Nilsson's self-portrait at the age of 14, and an unbelievably mature piece by six-year-old Karl Wirsum.   

A Karl Wirsum self-portrait done at age six  (1945), at ProjectArt - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • A Karl Wirsum self-portrait done at age six (1945), at ProjectArt

Worth the trek all by itself:  amazing quilts by Bisa Butler, on display at the booth of New York's Clair Oliver Gallery. Butler's a Harlem-based artist so adept I wondered if her work was computer assisted. It's not.  She told me that she creates patterns from photographs, and a single quilt takes hundreds of hours' of work.  The result is like painting with fabric.

Bisa Butler, Southside Sunday Morning, at Claire Oliver Gallery - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Bisa Butler, Southside Sunday Morning, at Claire Oliver Gallery

The selfie opportunities are irresistible, even for those—like Chicago artist Abraxas Karriema Thomas—who don't usually indulge. I spotted her  joining the family in Deana Lawson's photograph Barbara and Mother at Rhona Hoffman's booth. 

Abraxas Karriema Thomas and Deana Lawson's Barbara and Mother, at Rhona Hoffman Gallery - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Abraxas Karriema Thomas and Deana Lawson's Barbara and Mother, at Rhona Hoffman Gallery

It'll all vanish after Sunday—till next year. In an announcement of partnerships on Thursday, Expo director Tony Karman said the fair will return to Navy Pier on September 19-22, 2019, when it'll coincide with the opening of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. 

Expo Chicago continues Saturday 9/29, 11 AM-7 PM, and Sunday, 9/30, 11 AM-6 PM, at Navy Pier. A one-day pass is $20, $15 students and seniors. On Saturday from 1 to 6 PM in the Aon Grand Ballroom, art historian and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist will conduct Creative Chicago: An Interview Marathon.

Expo Chicago 2018, at Navy Pier - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Expo Chicago 2018, at Navy Pier

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Friday, September 28, 2018

Lala Lala and more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 09.28.18 at 06:36 PM

  • Alexa Viscius
  • Lala Lala

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Chicago Votes launches Give a Shit Weekend to get young people in Chicago excited about election season

Posted By on 09.28.18 at 04:10 PM

The voter registration table at last night's event
  • The voter registration table at last night's event
Chicago Votes is a nonprofit organization that works toward mobilizing young people to vote. This weekend it's hosting a "Give a Shit Weekend" that includes art shows and installations of various kinds. Last night at Hubbard Inn voter registration and volunteer training was available before, during, and after a fashion show put together by local streetwear brand Runako.

"Our whole premise as an organization is to get more young people involved in politics, but the culture of politics traditionally is pretty boring, pretty old, and pretty white," says Stevie Valles, the executive director of Chicago Votes. "We couldn't take ourselves seriously trying to recruit people from the communities that we're trying to recruit people from." The Give a Shit Weekend is Chicago Votes' way of meeting young people in Chicago halfway.

At last night's event, the room was filled with young creatives, who were registering to vote at the door, and signing up to volunteer before moving onto the bar or the dance floor, where there was a DJ. I saw a couple of baby boomers walk in, their expressions resembling that of Dorothy's when she woke up in Oz. To my surprise, they actually stayed for the duration of the event, which was pretty cool.

The runway, which doubled as a dance floor after the show.
  • The runway, which doubled as a dance floor after the show.
Elijah Runako Boyd, the creator and founder of Runako, draws his inspiration from Chicago. "I'm based [on] the south side of Chicago, and I would say Runako is a direct representation of me and where I come from and my background." He thought getting involved in the Give a Shit Weekend would be an amazing opportunity to get young Chicagoans excited about voting. "Any chance that we get to make a difference [or] a step towards progression is always something that Runako wants to tackle and be a part of." The fashion show reflected Runako's megalocal, community-oriented philosophy with a laid-back energy and friendly models who interacted with the supportive, cheering crowd. They smiled, waved, and sometimes even danced down the runway in bright, shiny mini skirts, crop tops, animal prints, and bold black-and-white patterns.

Elijah Runako and three of his models after the show
  • Elijah Runako and three of his models after the show
This is the first year that Chicago Votes has hosted a Give a Shit Weekend. "This year we're kind of getting a feeler for what we want it to be in the future," says Valles. The event originally started out as an eight-day fashion week but was chiseled down to four days that focus on many different things. "We're doing a fashion show tonight, then an afterparty, then we're doing an art installation tomorrow followed by an afterparty. We're having a Give a Shit happy hour Saturday night in Avondale that's focused on mental health awareness, and then we're having a big party on Sunday night too, that we're not even hosting. We're just showing up to a club and doing voter registration at it. That's what happens when you start trying to blend the worlds. Things just start to happen organically."

Something else that's happening organically is that more well-known artists are being drawn to the initiative as well. "Mick Jenkins is upstairs, I think I saw Taylor Bennett walk in," says Valles. "These things are just kind of happening on their own, we didn't even invite them directly, and that's pretty cool because they have more power than a lot of politicians, and I don't think they really know it." Taylor Bennett later closed out the fashion show, to the surprise of the crowd.

The Give a Shit initiative doesn't stop after this weekend, though. At tonight's event, Chicago Votes is launching the Give a Shit Collective. "It's essentially our creative network," Valles explains. "We're bringing [creatives] into this network that is focused on advancing politics to a younger audience, to their individual audiences, audiences that typically wouldn't engage in politics and we're giving them free-reign to figure out what that would look like. . . . We have a dude that's putting together an album that's centered around politics, we have somebody who's putting together art exhibits." The creatives that make up the Give a Shit Collective range from visual artists and designers to musicians and poets and even the creator of a line of beauty products.

Volunteer sign-up table
  • Volunteer sign-up table
Voter registration is available and encouraged at every event. "Every night we're asking people to register to vote as they sign in and fill out one of our pledge-to-vote cards." By the time I left the event last night, 35 people had registered to vote, including me.

"This is the first night. Tonight seems to be going really well, and it makes sense to hit repeat on things that are going good," Valles says. "Next year, I think there's gonna be more people interested in being a part of it because they've seen it actually happen already."

Give a Shit Weekend Through 9/30: various times and places; see Twitter, @chicagovotes, free, $25 VIP.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

An ESPN podcast documentary gets a first-of-its-kind premiere party in Chicago

Posted By on 09.26.18 at 11:00 AM


If a movie can get a premiere party—why can't a podcast?

In the latest sign that the streaming audio medium has reached critical mass, the ESPN 30 for 30 podcasts episode "Juiced," about ex-professional baseball slugger Jose Canseco, will make its debut in front of a live audience at Logan Auditorium on October 7—11 days before it shows up in podcast feeds.

It's part of the podcast-apalooza that is the Fest, a two-week-long festival starting October 1 that features live podcast tapings and other audio events in venues across Chicago. The Fest's events overlap with the 17th Third Coast Conference, the annual conference for the podcast and audio-story industry conference.

"The audio premiere is long overdue," says Emily Kennedy, Third Coast Festival programs manager. 

"A podcast episode takes just as much editing, love and attention to create as any other documentary and listening to a podcast is just as addictive, intimate, and immersive as watching a film. We think that audio documentaries should be treated with the same respect and attention as film."

It might sound strange to listen to recorded audio together in an audience—but it's far from unprecedented. Listening parties are becoming a bigger part of the music industry. Just ask Kanye West, who held a star-studded debut of his album Ye in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in June. Third Coast Fest has previously held events in which they've invited audiences to Chicago venues like the Hideout to listen to podcasts in-the-dark together.

"The model of a listening event is basically: audio is immersive. Audio is powerful. And listening all together is a unique—and transformative—experience," says Maya Goldberg-Safir, Third Coast Fest's artistic director.

Yes, Jose Canseco was once with the White Sox too. - ELAINE THOMPSON/AP
  • Elaine Thompson/AP
  • Yes, Jose Canseco was once with the White Sox too.

ESPN's series of 30 for 30 audio documentaries has been praised as "This American Life but for sports."  The podcast's producers are leading their third season with the world premiere of the episode Juiced—also the name of Canseco's controversial 2005 memoir about his 17-year baseball career and use of performance-enhancing drugs, to which he owns up in the book. Juiced also infamously named names of various teammates of Canseco who also allegedly used steroids.

The podcast is described by the producers as a behind-the-scenes look at the messy making of the book: "The fallout from the publication is well documented—it is the first book to ever spark a congressional hearing. Our story pulls back that curtain to uncover the in-over-his-head editor and the veteran ghostwriter that worked to contain Canseco every step of the way.”

The former Oakland A's star and onetime White Sox outfielder still can't manage to keep away from controversy. He got fired from a broadcasting job with NBC Sports California last year after he tweeted out careless jokes about the burgeoning #MeToo movement.

30 for 30 Live Sun 10/7, 6-7:30 PM, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie,, $15-$22.

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Something’s wrong with that greyhound on the gig poster of the week

Posted By on 09.26.18 at 06:00 AM


ARTIST: Ryan Duggan
SHOW: Leon Bridges and Khruangbin at the Aragon Ballroom on Monday, September 24

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Psychologist and defense witness at Van Dyke trial says police officers suffer from memory distortions under acute stress

Posted By on 09.25.18 at 10:30 PM

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke listens to testimony during the second day of his trial for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. - ANTONIO PEREZ/CHICAGO TRIBUNE
  • Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune
  • Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke listens to testimony during the second day of his trial for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald.

In October 2012, U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz shot and killed unarmed Mexican teenager José Antonio Elena Rodríguez through a border fence while responding to an incident in Nogales, Arizona. According to an autopsy, Rodriguez was struck ten times in the back with gunshot wounds to the head and arteries.

A grand jury indicted Swartz for second-degree murder. During the trial, Swartz testified that he fired on Rodriguez in self-defense after he heard rocks hitting the fence and "was scared to be hit by a rock, [scared] for my partner." He also stated that an officer had already been struck by a rock and that a police dog had also been injured, though testimony by other officers on the scene contradicted those statements.

Surveillance video of the shooting shows Swartz approach the fence with his gun drawn, fire through the fence three times, then move along the fence a few feet and shoot ten more times. After stepping back to reload, he fires another three times.

Swartz told the jury he couldn't remember doing any of that. He said he did recall sensing a second rock thrower in the area, though, and he also remembered throwing up after the shooting.

Prosecutors questioned why Swartz would remember details like throwing up and injuries to other officers yet fail to recall shooting at a subject. The defense called Laurence Miller, a Florida-based clinical psychologist in private practice, to help account for the discrepancy.

"What you actually see, what you actually hear, a lot of it depends on what you are paying attention to in that particular moment," Miller told the jury. In the case of a shooting situation, he explained, the brain focuses wholly on survival and can tune out everything else such that "some part of the scene is recalled especially vividly, while others are fuzzy or distorted."

As for Swartz's claim to have sensed a second rock thrower in the area, Miller testified that under intense stress, the brain may "magnify perceived threats of circumstances" to such an extent that the nonlethal can appear lethal in the moment.

In April, Swartz was acquitted of the second-degree murder charge. (Prosecutors are now trying him on charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.) A juror later elaborated on the verdict, saying that no matter how strong its evidence, the prosecution couldn't prove that Swartz didn't feel in danger of losing his life.

Now Miller has been called as an expert witness by the defense in the murder trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, whose guilt would seem to be unassailable based on the infamous dashcam video that shows him firing 16 shots at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who first appears to be moving away from the cops, then quickly falls to the ground as the shots continue.

Miller will testify that Van Dyke feared for his life when he shot Laquan McDonald, and that this mortal terror helps explain the discrepancies between his and other police reports and the videotape of the shooting. Specifically, he claims that Van Dyke's account could be the product of a brain under immense neuropsychological stress rather than a deliberate, self-serving attempt to obscure the facts of the case.

During open court in June, Cook County judge Vincent Gaughan cleared Miller's testimony after weeks of back-and-forth between prosecutors and Van Dyke's defense team about the admissability and even the relevance of his testimony. "The jury does not need Dr. Miller to tell them what thoughts were going through the defendant's mind before and during the shooting, because only the defendant can know that information," prosecutors maintained.

Miller specializes in working with law enforcement. He's written extensively about officer-involved shootings and the use of deadly force, with a focus on what happens neurologically in such incidents.

In a 2011 article published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, Miller contends that approximately a third of officer-shooting cases involve a distortion of memory "to the extent that an officer's account of what happened differs markedly from the reports of other observers on the scene." According to Miller, even significant differences between video or eyewitness testimony and police accounts of shootings shouldn't automatically be taken to show that an officer was "lying or consciously distorting his or her report," because memory distortion is a side effect of the brain's hyperfocus on immediate danger.

In critical shooting situations, Miller says, "the brain naturally tries to tone the hyperarousal." In effect, the parts of the brain that help with memory storage are shut down, so the brain can respond to perceived threats rapidly. Under these circumstances, officers' recollections of their actions during a shooting may be wildly off-base or missing entirely.

The jury's still out on Miller's claims. According to Jordan Grafman, a neurology and cognition professor at Northwestern University, there is some data that suggests persistent stress can affect a person's memory, but much more testing is needed before any further conclusions can be drawn.

Lab experiments on rats have shown that "under conditions of persistent stress, there is neuronal loss in the hippocampus," Grafman said. "It may affect it enough that it then affects what we would call episodic memory, conscious retrieval of what just happened."

But rats are rats, and employing similar experiments on human subjects is obviously problematic. "I can't go to Northwestern University and say I want to stress people out for years" in order to conduct a controlled experiment, Grafman said. "So, if you're asking me do we have very certain data about that, we do with animals," he continued, "but [nothing] comparable to humans."

Grafman also noted that many of the memory-distortion studies Miller refers to rely on subjects' self-evaluations or interviews after the fact—not exactly clean data. Moreover, he said, there are other factors that can contribute to distortion of memory that need to be acknowledged.

"There is always going to be individual responses depending on everything from genetics [to your ability] to handle stress, your psychology, your resilience," he said. "Unless you have a significant amount of detail on the individual before the incident it's going to be hard to be precise.

"This application of neuroscience and cognitive science is starting to tippy-toe into the court room," Grafman added, "but the research is not quite there yet."

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Ecstasy on film: Nathaniel Dorsky discusses The Arboretum Cycle, his latest work of devotional cinema, which he'd prefer you watch alone

Posted By on 09.24.18 at 06:00 AM

Nathaniel Dorsky shooting The Arboretum Cycle - DANIEL BOGDANIC
  • Daniel Bogdanic
  • Nathaniel Dorsky shooting The Arboretum Cycle

This Friday at 7 PM, Northwestern University’s Block Cinema will host one of the major cinematic events of the year with the local premiere of The Arboretum Cycle (2017), a collection of seven interconnected short works by veteran avant-garde filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky. One of the country's most important living film artists, Dorsky has been making meditative, generally rapturous movies since the early 1960s. He has described his practice as "devotional cinema" (he also wrote a book with that title in 2003), referring to the potential of movies to engender spiritual experiences. The Arboretum Cycle is doubtless one such experience. Shot in the San Francisco Arboretum over the course of a year, the work consists of silent shots of plant life, skies, and other natural phenomena. Dorsky's compositions are consistently inspired; eschewing wide shots, he forces viewers to lose themselves in minutiae. Last week I telephoned the filmmaker (who will attend Friday’s screening) to discuss the cycle. Our far-ranging conversation came to touch upon spirituality, the ethics of editing, and what it’s like to be a plant.

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Here's hoping that the myth of the bad teacher is finally laid to rest

Posted By on 09.24.18 at 06:00 AM

Karen Lewis, then-president of the Chicago Teachers Union, speaking at CTU rally outside the Thompson Center, April 1, 2016 - ONE ILLINOIS/TED COX
  • One Illinois/Ted Cox
  • Karen Lewis, then-president of the Chicago Teachers Union, speaking at CTU rally outside the Thompson Center, April 1, 2016

If I'm reading the cards right, 2018 will go down in history as the year the  myth of the bad teacher finally, mercifully, and hopefully was consigned to the dustbin of history.

I say hopefully, because some myths die hard, especially when the powers that be—and that would be you, Governor Rauner—have much to gain by promoting them.

But let's focus on the good news.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Reeling Film Festival, 312 Block Party, and more to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 09.21.18 at 12:30 PM

Jean-Pierre “Jupiter” Bokondji and the band Okwess, playing at the World Music Festival this weekend - MICKY CLEMENT
  • Micky Clement
  • Jean-Pierre “Jupiter” Bokondji and the band Okwess, playing at the World Music Festival this weekend

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this weekend. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Lillie West tells secrets but keeps them on Lala Lala’s lucid, cryptic new The Lamb

Posted By on 09.19.18 at 06:00 AM

Lillie West of Lala Lala - ALEXA VISCIUS
  • Alexa Viscius
  • Lillie West of Lala Lala

Lala Lala were the first band I saw after I moved to Chicago in 2015. I was 18 and nervous, camouflaged under the low ceiling of Humboldt Park basement venue Pinky Swear in what I hoped was the universal cool-kid uniform, right down to the scuffed low-top Dr. Martens and can of PBR. In the abrasive guitar and intricately coded autobiographical lyrics of Lala Lala front woman Lillie West, I found a pocket of the Chicago underground rock scene that I could see myself in—I've been a fan ever since.

The band will probably never lose their affection for basement shows, but these days they can play legitimate clubs too—in fact they're headlining the Empty Bottle on Friday, September 28, to celebrate the release of their second full-length, The Lamb, via Sub Pop offshoot Hardly Art.

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