I had a stomach of hatred toward Chicago, but I had been planning to do an installation there with Meow Wolf for months.
After a fun and sleep deprived road trip of hailstorms, Allsups nicknames, and fields of cron, we arrived at our month’s home. Living 6 to a room, and starting a reality TV show called “7 Dudes in a Room” (this figure included Noah’s cardboard GF “Princess Miami)” The household was fun and inconvenient.
The landlord of our “Bed and Breakfast” was a friendly guy who gave us a discount based on our vibe and had glamorous fingernails. We eventually figured out he was from some other dimension. He decorated the place with (partially up-side-down) African art, a mirror, and a mass-produced painting of the Eiffel Tower. Our room was outfitted with three box springs and three beds. Half the “beds” had bottom sheets and half had top sheets. Most of the pillows were throw pillows and they all had pillowcases that matched the sheets. There were two triangular plates, no cups, one dented pan and the cupboard was stocked with a bag of MSG and some lollipops. It was as if little by little the landlord would figure out what humans liked/needed and would go out of his way to make them comfortable – “Oh, humans like art and women, I will put glossy paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn on the floor.” Whenever he did laundry we would each loose six pairs of socks.
One day as we were leaving the house we heard ghost noises “hoooooooooo ooooooo-woooooooo!” from upstairs. We deduced it was the landlord and some days later he asked if we believed in ghosts. Another time I was the only person in the house and landlord didn’t seem to think anyone was home. As he did laundry he sang: “I just wanna smoke some wee-eee-eed but right now I gotta do these chores, but later on I will be done with these chores, I cannot wait to go upstairs, and smoke some WEE-EEE-EEEEEED ——– YEA-AH-YEAH!”
When we weren’t at the house Noah and I were skateboarding to the gallery, at the gallery, or more rarely, eating food. There was some skateboarding to grocery stores and eating off of triangular plates. We also had some Bomb Ass Dank Ass vegan diner-food courtesy of Feather, and found a fancy-but-resonably-priced vegan joint near the gallery where they had a waterfall and where Noah had to instagram the elotes in root beer aioli and fauxrizo sliders in order to truly enjoy them.
Another anomaly of the trip was going to a penthouse with Feather and taking part in corporate bonding/bondage exercises. Her friend had brought some “shit wine” which by my standards is “good wine” and afterward we went to a wall of graffiti, which had a hidden door that led to the best cocktails I’ve ever tasted.
My dad and my friend Blaire made brief appearances in our trip. Dad brought a huge bag of chia which became a crucial dietary supplement toward the end of the show, some Santa Fe Brewing Company Happy Camper IPA, and a shirt/shoes for Noah and I. I helped Blaire drink rum and orange juice.
Noah had been intent on fighting Molly Soda but was not let into the dance party, Total Therapy, where she would be. Luckily we were invited to her barbecue by our new friend Toothepaste. We brought a hostess gift of a number 8, and Molly Soda ended up being nice person who gave Noah cron on the cob – so she won the fight.
Our DJ friend Teena Pizza had just moved to Chicago and was always either bringing pizza or coming up with fun things for us to do. I talked about going to the lake every day, a couple of times a day, so toward the end of our visit she and I went to the lake with Blaire. I’ve never seen a lake so big. It was basically the ocean.
One day we were skipping back from Glenna’s house when Benji splashed into a bog. From there on out we referred to Chicago as “Shit-Bog-O.”
By the end of the install 17 of us were at Thomas Robertello Gallery “bumping booties” as Golda had prophesied. Noah began the comic “Cat and Lady” based on our friends who would work until at least 3am every day, featuring two cute animals with a strong work ethic. The fuel for the show’s creation was 23.5 oz. cans of Shaq Soda “A Big Can for the Big Man.” Shaq’s face ended up part of the installation’s skeleton. If you let little tendrils tickle your face at one point on a wall, you will see Shaq smiling back at you.
There was a bottle of absinthe in the bathroom, which tempted Benji and I for weeks before we each sipped a cap-full. A paint-covered coffee machine steamed the bathroom with perfectly-balanced espresso aroma (from La Columbe down the street) every afternoon around 3-5, when most of Meow Wolf would arrive.
We created the infrastructure of the show with dumpster-dived cardboard – it seemed like all the neighbors had been getting new furniture: “Chicago, Meow Wolf presents: YOUR TRASH!” It’s doubtful many of the neighbors around came to the show however – they mostly seemed concerned with yelling at my friends to get jobs and to wash their hair, along with an excess of other violent-communication. Our other neighbors at the restaurant Wishbone, where many ate daily, gave us gift certificates because they were nice and liked us.
Meow Wolf got some nice words/publicity in Bad At Sports, Hyperallergic, Chicago Arts and Culture, Yareah, and the Chicago Tribune. My favorite review was posted in Visual Art Source, because it was more thoughtful/critical and less “Meow Wolf makes stuff that is cool and trippy – whoa!” They mentioned that we took three months to create the installation, (it was actually only one) and that “The level of mastery that it takes to improvise a work that necessitates such engineering cannot be overlooked.” They also pointed components that stood out as “blue notes,” including my piece: “…This reality check of self awareness helps drive home the fact that “Nucleotide” is not just a romp of artistic whimsy, but a large scale contemplation of viewership within an experiential artwork.”
I spent a lot of time conceptualizing my portion of the installation, but I spent more time wiring LEDs. The metaphor for Nucleotide is that of a collective consciousness manifest through blending organic structures. As we built the show we talked about parts of the process as the “skeleton, nervous system, and skin.” Two friends created a whale out of miniature whales after discussing the things things are made of. I had been thinking about similar questions after Hoku’s death: What are the components that make a life? What makes a body? I kept coming back to space.
My part of Nucleotide is a space like space, a reflective and watery space made of mylar, hundreds of LEDs, and a mirror ceiling. An ambient drone plays until someone comes in and the infrared camera recognizes their skeleton. The movement of bodies affects filters and activates virtual space-instruments. (Here is a streamlined version of the track(s): (https://soundcloud.com/stickypsyche/skeleton-dance) When you put your hands up a dance jam plays and RGB flashing lights are activated.
In my heart the piece is a shrine to Hoku.
Our glitchy skeletons dance.