Gallery Tripping: the "The Party" party 

A Prairie-style place on a big corner lot, Kim Mitseff's house could easily melt into its Oak Park neighborhood. But on May 5, it was pretty hard to miss. There was a rockabilly band playing in the backyard right next to a big wooden half-pipe. A trailer full of white marble pebbles was parked at the curb, and these big palm-frondy sort of lamppost things led up the path to the front door. People were hanging off the porches and milling around the grounds, holding beverages.

Inside, cone-shaped party hats hung from elastic bands attached to the ceiling (People put them on by securing a strap under their chins and felt light-footed, like they were walking on the moon). Also on display:

a small cadre of young women with what appeared to be third eyes in their foreheads;

several French maids with silver trays, serving desserts half-eaten by other guests;

a bed set as if it were a dinner table, with a huge, elephant-shaped cake for a centerpiece;

one bathroom full of toilet paper;

another bathroom turned into a bamboo forest (I'm told there was a woman in the tub but I couldn't see her through the artificial vegetation);

a DJ playing Astrud Gilberto's version of "Light My Fire";

a man in a very convincing cockroach suit featuring an even more convincing--and prodigious--phallus that he very politely invited me to hold; and

a frantic film director in red pants standing in the kitchen, yelling, "Everyone that's not in the scene get out of here right now! I'm trying to make a movie!"

And that's just a sampling. That evening 25 artists were invited to throw small, simultaneous parties in and around the property, which Mitseff calls Track House and where she lives and works with her three children. An almost supernaturally laid-back MFA candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Mitseff had given each artist a bit of space, permission to invite 25 guests apiece (the possible grand total, including the hosts, was 650, though Mitseff estimates actual attendance was more like 400), and a DVD of the 1968 Blake Edwards comedy The Party for inspiration. She and a squad of ten video documenters taped the event, footage from which she plans to use in a long-term project tentatively titled "Unpaid Actors."

In The Party, Peter Sellers plays a visitor who inadvertently, sweetly, but very near completely demolishes his hosts' home. Mitseff didn't flinch at the potential destruction, courting domicilicide even to the point of intentionally neglecting to inform her neighbors about the party. "I wanted it to happen naturally," she says, "so that if it was bothering people then they'd call the police and the police would come." The police came--just like in the movie. After videotaping them for a bit, Mitseff promised the cops she'd stop the music at 10 PM, and all was well.

This event was Mitseff's fourth at Track House--the first, in December, was an exhibition called "Sulcata Solves All Life's Problems/Guaranteed to Return Your Lover" and featured a rooftop sculpture of a yeti and Mitseff's sons skateboarding in the backyard to shamanic music. The idea of exhibiting artwork where she lives appeals to Mitseff partly because it has allowed her to avoid the compromises and financial pressures involved in showing work in commercial spaces, and to "get ideas out there that take a lot of time." It also seems to satisfy her unusual sense of domesticity. "Opening my home up to having shows and integrating my art and my life with other artists is my way of bridging my life and the community," she says. She throws potlucks after some of her shows so that viewers and artists can share a meal. A former chef, she likes to work with foodstuffs like chocolate and sugar. In July she'll be heading down to Belize, where she plans to live among Mayans while working on a piece called "Searching for the Floodgates to the Chocolate Gods" that will ultimately incorporate a chocolate installation with video.

Mitseff will reopen Track House on Saturday, May 15, from 6 to 9 PM, to let the public see the art the May 5 party left behind. The show, called "Leftovers," will feature such artifacts as Rebecca Ringquist's dangling party hats, Darrell Roberts's formal dining bed (including what's left of the elephant cake, created by Mitseff's 14-year-old daughter, Cora), and Loul Samater's TP'd bathroom. Mitseff will play a raw feed of her video documentation over four TVs and three computer screens.

It's hard to tell if people will be interested in the detritus of a party they didn't get to attend. "I hope they're not disappointed," she says. "I'm not even serving alcohol this time!"

Track House is at 543 S. Ridgeland in Oak Park. Call 708-386-5521 for information.

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