“It’s always fun to get away from camp, even for an hour.” — J.J. Wet Hot American Summer
When people ask me what I like about the cities I've lived in I always start with the most obvious answer. Los Angeles... weather. New York City... 24/hr everything. Boston... the easier answer here is more personal but it's home, it's where most of my close friends and family live. And while most of you are probably thinking beer and cheese for Milwaukee that's a close second, the real answer is rent! I type this from my studio which is located in my apartment where I also have a complete separate bedroom! And while I have two roommates it's still 2 to 3 times cheaper than anything I've ever paid in rent before. The last stress in my mind is how I'm going to make money for rent each month. And honestly, it's a big part of why I stayed.
Of course, Milwaukee has charmed me way beyond it's rent prices! For one, like I wrote in my last love note, I have an incredible community! And it really feels like the the majority of people here, no matter what industry they are a part of, are pretty community minded. And that's something I think is extremely lacking in other cities, particularly bigger cities. I really feel like I'm a part of something here and while progress sometimes feels really slow it's not for the lack of organizing. I don't know if anyone has said this exactly but the sentiment that people say and what I really feel is that Milwaukee is a mid-sized city that acts with a small-town heart. For better and for worse! Luckily, I've mostly seen the benefits so far.
I'm sure I've written about many other amazing aspects of Milwaukee over the past year or so, but I better get to my point of this love note and one thing that I think is pretty cool about Milwaukee is it's proximity to other cities, specifically CHICAGO! When I decided that I was going to stay in Milwaukee, I told myself I would go to Chicago ALL THE TIME. In reality, I became a true Milwaukeean and anything more than a 10-15 minute drive seems impossible. So "all the time" has translated as three planned trips and one accidental layover. But hey, it's comforting to know it's there!
This past weekend, I made my most recent trip to Chicago and yet again, I thought to myself, 'What an easy drive, it's so close, I should do this all the time!' And I seriously should, because like the great quote I started this whole love note with - it is so great to get away from camp, even if it is only for an hour!! Okay, so you need to replace "camp" with "Milwaukee" and "an hour" with a day... but you get what I mean!
My reason for going down this time around was my good friend, who also happens to be one of my favorite artists, Jennifer Ling Datchuk. She was in town from San Antonio performing a new work at this great art space called Threewalls. And pretty much if this amazing rock star of a human is presenting any kind of work close enough for me to drive, I am there! If that wasn't motivation enough, everyone back in July told me how great the Murikami exhibit was at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I saw that it was open until September so I thought I had plenty of time. And then time did that sneaky thing where it just happens without notifying you and you're all like, OMG WHERE DID TIME GO?! And when I looked at the MCA's website again, I realized that this was my last chance to see the exhibit. So it was decided, I would have an art day in Chicago!
I woke up early which is a rare thing for me these days and I was out of my house just after 8am. I stopped at Colectivo to fuel up on caffeine and a delicious muffin and I was cruising along sometime around 8:30am. As always, I hit a little traffic just as I was entering Chicago. I'm positive hitting traffic as you enter and leave that city is impossible but I got to my parking spot destination just after 10am! This is where all my east/west coast folks shout, 'IMPOSSIBLE! MILWAUKEE IS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!" I assure you, it is not, just look at a map! Anyway, thanks to this real nifty app, SpotHero, I found a parking spot for $8 for the ENTIRE day AND it was near a Whole Foods, making for a great pit-stop before heading to the museum!
And then I managed to get myself to the MCA with only slight confusion. I don't know if it is the lack of public transit systems in Milwaukee or if google maps is equally confused about the CTA but it is not intuitive. I had an easier time in Berlin when everything was in German and basically every stop had 10-16 letters in it! I've decided maybe google maps just needs to step up their game... I mean, right? I digress but while waiting for the train, I took a lovely photo and posted it on Instagram. Within moments, I get a notification that my friend from Milwaukee, another amazing artist, Gabi, was also in Chicago and was headed to the MCA at that very moment! See? Milwaukee is such a small town you even run into your friends in the next town over!
It was great to run into Gabi (and her boyfriend, Tyler) especially since the line for the museum was out the door and onto the sidewalk! Apparently, everyone had the idea to go to see Murikami's exhibit and had also been giant procrastinators like me. On top of that, it was a million degrees on this late September "fall day." If I hadn't run into friends, I just may have given up on all my plans. When we finally got into the museum, the next ticketed time for the exhibit was 1:30p. I was in a bit of a bind because Jenn's performance was at 2pm. So, I got a 4pm ticket and figured I'd do my best. Sorry, Murikami, but there was no contest on this one. In the meantime, Gabi, Tyler and I went around to the rest of the museum. I was really into the Michael Rakowitz exhibit and just might have to go back to take a deeper look and try to get some food at Enemy Kitchen. FULL DISCLOSURE: I probably won't do this, but hey, if you're in Chicago you totally should! After seeing everything but Murikami, I bid my friends adieu and took the train back to the neighborhood in which I thought Jenn's performance was going to take place. And since I thought I had plenty of time and I was in front of a Shake Shack, it seemed like a perfect time to stop for lunch. While I was waiting for my portobello burger, I thought I'd double check the address of the gallery and realized I was near the OLD address and the new address was a 15 minute car ride away! ¡Dios mío! Thank god for another great app - Lyft! I jumped in a Lyft with my Shake Shack and had a wonderful ride with man named Corin. I taught him being vegetarian doesn't mean you can't eat delicious things and he taught me a little about the neighborhoods in Chicago. I hopped out at Threewalls and arrived just in time.
There was only a few people in attendance for Jenn's performance Whitewash which made it feel like a private performance in a way. In this performance, she kneeled over a basin and washes unfired porcelain teacups and saucers until they break back down to clay. Her statement on this act is brilliantly written so I will share this excerpt: "We live in a world where identity can be manufactured and appearances appropriated without concern or even awareness. We question and desire authenticity of the other. I explore this conflict through my chosen media – porcelain, which nods to my Chinese heritage but also represents “pure” white – the white desire I find in both cultures. I aim to take back that fluidity and use it to explore my own identity as a woman of color—the sense of being in-between, an imposter, neither fully Chinese nor Caucasian."
I didn't realize dishes were going to break until it happened. And the continuous breaking down of this material that looked so solid -- it was stunning and emotional. One of the reasons Jenn is one of my favorite artists is because she tackles her complex identity with such vulnerability and courageousness. In much of her work she uses her own body. In Whitewash, not only is she kneeling and washing with her hands for twenty minutes but at the end, she puts the broken down clay on her face. I'm also just so impressed how she has found a way to use a traditional medium and transition it's use into a very modern art practice. Anyway, as a spectator I was blown away and as a friend, I was so so proud of this new work. It's pretty cool when you can be a fan-girl but also get to call the person your such an fan of a friend!
After Jenn's performance, I somehow made it back in time to see the Murikami exhibit before the museum closed. And maybe it was unfair to see his exhibit after Jenn's performance but I just wasn't that into it. I mean his work is cool to look at and I love the scale of it but I just like my art to have a little more meaning behind it. And maybe it does and I just don't get it. What I did learn, however, is that he has a PhD in traditional Japanese painting and he kind of ignored that during what I'm calling his "Kanye years." And then in 2011 when Japan was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, he tried to merge his traditional background with his modern aesthetic. This is a really hard thing to do and unless you're Jennifer Ling Datchuck, it can be hard. :) I also think that once you become a pop-star visual artist, I think it's pretty hard to go backwards. At the end of the day, the coolest thing about this exhibit was the insane amount of people lining up to see it. You can't say art is dead.
After roaming around Chicago in the heat, meeting back up with Jenn for dinner that I wish could have lasted a few more hours, it was time to head home. I arrived back at my apartment just before midnight and man... it really was great to get away for an hour, er, I mean day.