Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dreaming of Chicago's Inside: HI typ/O "Rebuilding the Salon" by Miranda Steffens

Image: Ji Yang gives a walking tour of Chicago during HI typ/O's "Re-building the Salong Presentation.

On November 7, an intimate group of writers, performers, artists and supporters gathered at Side Project Theatre in Rogers Park for HI typ/O “Re-building the Salon Presentation.” The theme of the event was from the larger Chicago art event was part of the Chicago Artists Month event, 'City as Studio.'

Upon entering the lobby, members of HI typ/O, Rebekah Hall, Jill Stone, Kevin Sparrow and others greeted us with offerings of potato chips, sparkling water and single-serving bottles of red wine. Ji Yang sat behind the table of food and drinks while he opened packages of wooden chopsticks and taped them together, end to end.
"What are you doing?" I asked Ji.
"Taping chopsticks," he simply replied.
"For a performance?" I pressed.
He did not respond, but nodded briefly.

The set began with some opening remarks by Rebakah Hall, who gave a brief background of HI typ/O. She references the artist and professor, Matthew Goulish, whose class, Abandoned Practices, inspired the group's beginnings. "You need the freedom that the possibility of lack of results brings. Without that freedom there is no discovery. . . You have to be okay moving into the unknown," she quotes Goulish. The salon is designed for artists to explore, try new things and respond to each other's work in the form of new creative pieces.

Alex Shapiro then read a poetry piece, "A City's Insides," referencing the cracks of the city. Rachel Blomstrom followed up with a make-believe history of the Shed Aquarium, involving the founder's somewhat unusual relationship with a coy fish. Then we left the theatre space and returned to the lobby where Ji was finishing taping chopsticks together to make what was now clearly a cross.

Ji's performance began with the question, directed towards an audience member, "Do you have a dream?"
"Yes, I have a dream," she replied.
"Would you like to tell me what it is?"
"To spend a year traveling the world," she told him.
"Very good," he said, and he took a potato chip from the bag of Lays. He placed it into her mouth and poured wine from one of the small bottles into the cap, handing it to her to drink like communion.

Ji's performance ended with a walk to the lake, the cross of chopsticks tied to him with the use of a long, red cape. We followed him as if he was a religious leader, only he did not preach religion. We followed him down the chilly street towards Lake Michigan for the sake of his art, for the poetry he expressed about Chicago being a beautiful city. From an outsider's perspective, of course it looked like we believed he might be the next Jesus Christ. As we walked, some pedestrians stopped and stared. One woman standing outside a Pace bus asked, "Who is he? Who is he?" and we smiled at her or pretended not to hear, unsure of how to explain.
"Chicago was beautiful city,
but it is not anymore."
Illustration of Ji Yang by David Scheier

As we walked, he reminded us that Chicago was six inches higher than it currently is, now that it has been built up atop a marshland. He proceeded to suggest we continue the change we have begun on this city, and make it warmer. He proposed we turn the suburbs into a landfill, raising them into small mountains, thus turning Chicago into a valley. It would raise the temperature by an average of 10 degrees, he argued loudly and passionately.

Many of us stood in a semi-circle shivering slightly in the setting sun of the crisp fall day; the idea did not seem half-bad.

We returned to the theatre, stopped to admire Alex Shapiro's sidewalk poetry of words made of earth. Inside, Andrew Rutherdale impressed us with a demonstration of how a Kombucha Scoby can conduct electricity. Kevin Sparrow read his concrete poetry, each poem referencing and honoring a famous Chicago building. Chelsea Fiddyment read, "How to Sleep with Men," which explored age and its affect on  relationships. The event concluded on an energetic note with Vaudezilla Studios' dance, “The Fanaticz."

The varied performances stretched our minds into new ways of thinking about our home, the city of Chicago.

Miranda Steffens is a poet and essayist living in Chicago. She is the author of lyric essay book, Peripheral Vision, published by Meekling Press. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Entropy, South Dakota Review, Hoot Magazine, Apple Valley Review and Upstairs at Duroc. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Knox College and her MFA in Writing from The School of the Art institute of Chicago. She currently teaches college English and ESL. Visit her blog at:

HI typ/o is a space for community-based, collaborative art-making in dialogue with fellow interdisciplinary artists. Visit them here: or here:

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