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January 2008 Archives

January 2, 2008

New year, new deal


After almost a year of negotiations, University administrators and U of C campus and facilities workers agreed on a new three-year contract on December 21. Since January 2007 the workers' union, Teamsters Local 743, and student supporters have argued for higher wages and bonuses.

According to Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL), under the new contract clerical workers will get a three-percent raise, and service and maintenance workers will receive a 45-cent hourly increase, both retroactive to March 2007. Wages will continue to rise—two percent for clerical workers in March and September 2008 and 3.5 percent in March 2009, and 40 cents per hour in March 2008 and March 2009 for the other workers.


Photo: For most of 2007 campus workers and U of C students campaigned for higher wages.

Photo courtesy Students Organizing United with Labor

January 4, 2008

Darger's debris


By the time Henry Darger's prodigious artistic output was uncovered, his life was over. After 40 reclusive years in a one-room apartment on Chicago's North Side, the 80-year-old Darger was taken to Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home in 1972. Six months later he died. Afterward his landlord, Nathan Lerner, found in Darger's apartment hundreds of drawings and watercolors and a 15,145-page manuscript for a fantasy epic titled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. A self-taught artist, Darger, who worked as a hospital janitor and dishwasher, also collected old newspapers, comic books, religious kitsch, and trash from the streets: Lerner discovered hundreds of Pepto Bismol bottles and nearly 1,000 balls of string in Darger's room. Darger drew inspiration from this debris and often incorporated it into his work. Most of the human figures in his drawings and paintings, for instance, were traced directly from images he'd found in books and magazines.

Now the Smart Museum's newest exhibit, Drawn from the Home of Henry Darger, brings together several pieces of Darger's work, donated to the museum by Lerner, and some of Darger's aesthetic stimuli, juxtaposing the watercolor drawings and a double-sided collage with a sampling of his art supplies and source materials. The display includes not only Pepto Bismol bottles and balls of string, but also coloring books, children's books, and magazines—which Darger had carefully cataloged—and archival photographs of Darger's apartment.

Running through March 16, the exhibit coincides with the installation of the Henry Darger Room—a display that uses artwork, furnishings, papers, and objects from the artist's apartment to recreate his living environment—at Chicago's Intuit, The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.


Images: Henry Darger's watercolor drawing, Second day Northwest at Jennie Richee are captured by general Federals glan-delinian near Aronburg Run River, and his double-sided collage, [Th]ey Awake to Find Themselves Really in Peril From Exploding Shells Hitting Their Prison at Norma Catherine / But Again Escape / Capture Enemys Plans.

Images courtesy the Smart Museum.

January 7, 2008

Back to Iraq


Unlike most American museums, archaeologist Donny George said as he opened Sunday afternoon's guided Oriental Institute tour, the OI owns "legitimate material from Mesopotamia." Its artifacts come from registered excavations, making it one of only three institutions in the United States whose artifacts were all acquired legally. The Field Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology are the other two.

George was director of the Iraq Museum's department of research and studies when the museum was looted in April 2003 following the fall of Baghdad. An estimated 15,000 artifacts—some documented and registered, others from Iraq Museum-run archaeological sites—were stolen and sold, and George has been a key player in recovering almost 50 percent of the missing pieces. Forced to leave Iraq in 2006 for safety reasons, George, now a visiting professor at SUNY–Stony Brook, led the OI tour as part of an event run by Saving Antiquities for Everyone, a nonprofit dedicated to raising public awareness about damage to archaeological sites.

The archaeology professor led 36 tour-goers in a 2:30 p.m. group through four of the OI's galleries: the Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Syro-Anatolian, and Megiddo galleries. Along the way, he compared the OI's holdings to those in other museums: the black stela communicating Hammurabi's laws that sits in the Edgar and Deborah Jannotta Mesopotamian Gallery, for example, is a plaster cast of the original. As George explained: "The big one," a basalt obelisk acquired on a French expedition, "stays in Paris."

When asked about Iraq's looted artifacts, George was hopeful that additional pieces will be recovered. Material from the Iraq Museum has been found in locations including Jordan, Syria, Italy, Spain, Holland, and New York. However, the objects have not yet been sent back. Says George: "It is not the right time now."


Photo: Donny George leads Sunday's OI tour through the reliefs of King Sargon III.

January 9, 2008

My grandmother could do that


Rather than using oil paint or watercolors or clay, conceptual artist Kateřina Šedá’s media of choice are the residents of her native Czech city of Brno-Líšeň. For instance, in her 2001 performance piece Exhibition Behind the Windows she tasked 150 Brno-Líšeň residents to create window displays of a chosen knick-knack to passersby. In the 2005 exhibit It Doesn’t Matter, now at the Renaissance Society, Šedá collected more than 600 sketches by her late grandmother, Jana Šedá. The drawings depict items such as drill bits, hack saws, and putty knives that were sold at the Home Supplies shop, whose inventory her grandmother managed from 1950 to 1983.

Šedá encouraged her grandmother to make the drawings as a form of art therapy; previously her grandmother, who moved into Šedá's house after her husband's death, would spend countless hours in bed watching television instead of talking to her family or reminiscing about her past. But Šedá’s task put her to work recalling the store’s supplies. By presenting the drawings, Šedá suggests, the exhibit examines how people reflect themselves through their work.

The exhibit runs through February 10.


Photo: Conceptional artist Kateřina Šedá's grandmother, Jana Šedá, draws items sold at the Home Supplies store in her native Brno-Líšeň.

Photo courtesy the Renaissance Society.

January 11, 2008

Sellars directs hope in Chicago


"I wish it were a joke," director Peter Sellars whispered to his Mandel Hall audience glumly. "It's sickening to be alive at this time of history." In his lecture, "Art and History," Sellars reflected on art's responsibility to create lasting positive social change. Sellars, whose work began 30 years ago while an undergraduate at Harvard University, with a puppet production of Wagner's Ring Cycle, has since won numerous awards and wide acclaim for innovative and politically challenging productions, such as Nixon in China and Dr. Atomic.

Donning Buddhist prayer beads and intermittently lauding deep breathing and vegetarianism, Sellars delivered a message that appeared to resonate with his 200 listeners. He reflected on the responsibility of the arts "to create an atmosphere where it is OK to torture people or it isn't OK." The arts, he argued, both "measure our own voices" against those of history "and move us forward." Concerned that "future generations will look at this as one of the most evil ages," he said he hoped that artists will "help turn the page of history."

Sellars's talk was the first of this year's University of Chicago Artspeaks presentations. Musician Daniel Bernard Roumain plays Mandel Hall February 1, and conceptual artist Hans Haacke performs his "Dog and Pony Show" April 7.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photo: Director Peter Sellars hopes art will provide the "momentum to move forward" during a difficult moment in history.

January 14, 2008

Evensong among the scaffolds


With scaffolding for Rockefeller Chapel's ongoing renovation climbing the sanctuary walls and construction debris slung across the pews, attendees at Sunday's choral evensong joined the choir up in the chancel. Stripped of its usual fanfare, the 5 p.m. service was intimate—worshippers' folding chairs sat only inches from organist Tom Weisflog, SM'69, and the chapel's red-robed singers—and featured soaring hymns, a reading from the Gospel of John, and a recitation of a W. B. Yeats poem, "The Magi": "And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more / ...The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor." Weisflog closed out the 45-minute "rest for the soul" with a forceful performance of Georges Bizet's "March of the Three Kings" on the chancel organ.

A combination of vepsers and compline, two evening services of prayer and thanks, evensong is a mainstay in many European chapels, and it draws on customs that reach as far back as ancient Rome. At Rockefeller, choral evensong began in October 2006 and is held on the second Sunday of every month. The aim, says Chapel Music Director James Kallembach, is to attract more Hyde Park residents, students, and tourists, and to "give the Rockefeller Chapel Choir, a first-rate choral group, a larger musical venue in the tradition of the great academic chapels of Europe, particularly Britain. I think the idea is fitting for a chapel with great architecture and a capable choir."

This past Sunday's audience was small—perhaps four or five dozen people—but most other Rockefeller evensongs draw crowds of between 100 and 250 listeners. The December installment, Advent vespers, lures some 600 into the sanctuary. Kallembach looks forward to this June, when the E. M. Skinner organ, now undergoing a $2.1 million restoration, returns to its Rockefeller perch with more than 8,700 pipes.


Photos: Only inches from the audience, organist Tom Weisflog (top) leads the congregation through the hymn "What Child is This"; the choir sings amid a latticework of scaffolding.

January 16, 2008

Home is where the art is


"Don't say Immanuel can't," sings music PhD student David Bashwiner, "'cause he can." The crowd giggles as Bashwiner strums his guitar and continues the Kantian wordplay: "Don't say Immanuel won't..."

Bashwiner had already played two less silly songs, one on piano and one on guitar, for the 30-plus U of C community members gathered in the living room of married physics professors Sidney Nagel and Young-Kee Kim. For the past year and a half the two have hosted monthly art salons—featuring musical performances, lectures, readings, art installations, and anything else participants are willing to do—in their Hyde Park home.

The salons arose from piano lessons Nagel and Kim took from Majel Connery, AM'04, a musicology PhD student. In her studies Connery, who sings opera, "was always reading about rich women who sat around drinking absinthe and reading poetry," she says. When Nagel and Kim agreed to open their home and supply wine and pizza, Connery set about finding artistic-minded friends and acquaintances to create a modern take on those long-ago sessions. She hasn't been disappointed: "It's been interesting to see there are a lot of really nerdy people in, say, the math department who are also really good guitar players."

This past Saturday's salon is Connery's last for a while. Headed to Berlin to apprentice with opera director Christopher Alden, she hopes to return to Chicago eventually and finish her doctorate. In the meantime, Nagel and Kim plan to continue the events every other month, and they've enlisted some regular attendees—including Fermilab director Piermaria J. Oddone and physics professor/cello player Heinrich Jaeger—to organize them.

At this last Connery-organized salon, the group hears Bashwiner's singer-songwriter set; a reading of New Zealand poets; improv-jazz performances on piano, drums, and soprano sax; and two opera pieces, including one by Connery. At the end Kim presents Connery with a cake to thank her for starting the shows. Nagel gives her a framed photograph—photos of the drops he studies hang in the house. And Oddone hands her with a bottle of wine made at the Sonoma winery he owns. Now beyond poetry and absinthe, the salons may have one-upped Connery's Enlightenment forebears.


Photos: Bashwiner plays his Kantian comedy; Connery thanks the group for sustaining the salons.

Photos by Lloyd DeGrane

January 18, 2008

Weaving the legal labyrinth


Philosopher Robert Goodin posed a simple question at the Law School's annual Dewey Lecture Wednesday: "How can we know what the law requires of us"? With 364 volumes of U.S. legal code piled atop state and municipal laws, "ignorance of the law is inevitable," if not formally excusable.

Introduced by law professor Cass Sunstein as "the LeBron James of academic life and one of the world's most important social theorists," Goodin was welcomed in a forum that has previously hosted such luminaries as Amartya Sen, John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and Richard Rorty, AB'49, AM'52. Goodin argued that because law's primary function is to guide people in their actions, everyone must know their duties. The problem today, Goodin said, is that too few citizens know the law because it is no longer intuitive. A legal system based on commonly held and high-minded moral principles, Goodin concluded, would allow people to follow the law better.

The lecture received a mixed reception from the 40 attendees in the Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom. A row of professors that included Sunstein, Martha Nussbaum, and Richard Epstein challenged Goodin on, among other things, his assumption that "Sunday-school morality" is common. But, as Sunstein predicted, Goodin proved he could "score, defend, and rebound" like a champion, while conceding that if people do not have access to moral principles, his argument "is stuffed."

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photo: Social theorist Robert Goodin addresses the Law School in the annual Dewey Lecture.

January 23, 2008

Injustice anywhere still drives King admirers


With Martin Luther King Jr.’s maxim—“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”—in mind, four Chicago professors addressed King’s unfinished dream. “We don’t want to think about justice just in one week,” said Susan Gzesh, AB'72, director of the University’s human-rights program, at Tuesday night's Graduate School of Business talk—one event in the weeklong campus commemmoration of King. Rather, Gzesh and the other panelists—law professor Craig Futterman, historian Richard Hellie, and political scientist Cathy Cohen—crossed disciplines to explore the work that remains to achieve King’s dream.

Futterman discussed his recent research on police brutality in Chicago, noting that “injustice isn’t just anywhere." He has found that Chicago police are more likely to violate the rights of those living in underprivileged communities than elsewhere. Futterman concluded by using King's words to call on the “good people” to end their "appalling silence" and stand up to “apartheid justice in the 21st century.”

Gzesh spoke of the problems facing America’s Mexican immigrants. In the United States, she said, Mexican immigrants suffer increasing hate crimes and racism. Though Mexicans are 25 percent of Chicago’s population, many are only allowed to vote in school-board elections. Nationwide, meanwhile, "Deporting 13 million immigrants," Gzesh argued, "is not an option.” She urged that they be given access to full legal citizenship.

This week's other Martin Luther King events include a Wednesday showing of the film Something the Lord Made at the Biological Sciences Learning Center, an address by civil-rights advocate Angela Davis Thursday at Rockefeller Chapel, and the Roots and Rhymes music and dance festival Friday at Hutchinson Commons.

Ethan Frenchman, '08

Photo: Gzesh discusses America's Mexican immigrants while professors (left to right) Hellie, Cohen, Futterman, and moderator Charles Wheelan, PhD'98, listen.

January 25, 2008

A dish best eaten cold


Titus Andronicus has a reputation as Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, with a body count of atrocities that includes at least three hands, two heads, and one tongue lopped off. Throw in a live burial, a rape, two sons baked in a pie, and a final scene that ends with all the major players dead, and keeping track of the carnage is a challenge.

Adding to the challenge in the current Court Theatre version, adapted and directed by Court artistic director Charles Newell, the audience finds itself watching a play-within-a-play, with Shakespeare’s tragedy staged as an initiation rite for new members of an elite men’s club. Scripts get handed out and the “players” stumble over their first lines, dueling with silverware. The death that starts the revenge cycle rolling—the ritual slaughter of the defeated Queen of the Goths' eldest son by the Roman general Titus—plays almost as slapstick. But with the death, payback time begins, and as Queen Tamora and her Moor lover, Aaron, fight back, the mood shifts, and the consequences start piling up.

The set is gleaming and multifaceted, the acting strong, and the food for thought almost too plentiful. At the end of the two-hour, intermission-less production, the opening-night audience seemed winded. But, as Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones noted in his review, “This one will have the denizens of the University of Chicago buzzing. And inclined to stay away from pie.”

Titus Andronicus runs through February 10. Next up: Newell directs Carousel.


Photos: The rape of Titus's daughter, Lavinia (Elizabeth Ledo), is only one of many acts of revenge plotted against the Roman general by the Goths' queen Tamora (Hollis Resnick) and the Moor Aaron (Philip James Brandon). Court Theatre photos by Michael Brosilow.

January 28, 2008

Why mommy must go back to work


America has the 164th worst parental-leave policy in the world, Law School Dean Saul Levmore told the Women's Board at its annual dinner Thursday evening. In the United States new mothers and fathers get 12 weeks of unpaid time off. Norway, on the other hand, provides 42 weeks at full pay, plus child care up to age 6. In the United Kingdom, the first six weeks of a woman’s year off are paid at 90 percent of her salary. Even Rwanda "is pretty generous compared to us," Levmore said. "But I know what you're thinking," he told the 125 people at the Casino, a private club off Michigan Avenue. "It's not enforced." In fact, he said, one-third of eligible women in corruption-filled Rwanda receive parental-leave payments.

The U.S. policy may lie in America's abundance of babies, Levmore said: the higher a country's fertility rate, the less generous its parental-leave policy. The average American woman has 2.09 children—"perfect for replacement," Levmore said. With low fertility rates, most European nations worry about their social-security systems and other decreasing-population problems and so offer generous leave plans to encourage reproduction. America, with both a healthy birth rate and immigrants "trying to get in the country" for work, has no incentive to change its plan.

Yet offering parental leave to try to boost a country’s population, Levmore argued, doesn’t work as planned. "No country on record has been able to use its system to increase its fertility rate." Even in rare cases where the policies have begun to raise the population, new governments have taken over and reversed the programs before their effects could be studied.

There are other explanations for other countries’ generous programs. "Think of it as an insurance policy," Levmore said. In homogeneous countries such as Sweden, where most people earn comparable incomes and have the same number of kids, surveys show that residents often believe they'll have more than two children, think they'll benefit even more from a generous plan, and vote for it. Then they have two kids like everyone else.

In the United States, because private firms can either meet the government requirement or bolster it for recruitment, the result is a "a two-tier system" where lawyers and investment bankers, for example, get generous leave plans—sometimes four months at full pay, Levmore said—while paralegals and secretaries get the bare-bones 12 weeks with no pay. So while America may be going the logical route with its leave system, it's contributing to an income imbalance, Levmore said, that's more third world than first.


Photo: Levmore speaks to the Women's Board's annual dinner.

Photo by Dan Dry

January 29, 2008

In from the cold


"It's a cold, cold world," says Thomas, a homeless man living in Chicago, in the opening scene of More Colder for the Homeless, a 30-minute documentary by Christian Doll, AB'06, AM'07. Friday night was no exception: about 50 students and faculty braved negative wind chills and flurries to attend the film's premiere, held in Cobb's Film Studies Center.

Doll started shooting More Colder in August 2006 after doing a Summer Links internship at Southwest Chicago PADS, an ecumenical organization that provides resources and services for the homeless. Originally meant to be a promotional video for PADS, Doll's project was expanded to educate people about Chicago's homeless community—a topic that became his master's thesis. "These are not homeless people," he said at the screening. "They are people living in a homeless state" that they are forced into because of "social and internal conditions." With help from fellow students Nicole Flannigan, AB'05; Kasia Houlihan, AB'06; and Fulbright exchange student Barbara Ruhling, Doll filmed "miles of tape," said PADS executive director Sister Thérèse DelGenio, including interviews with PADS "guests"—as the organization calls its homeless visitors. Before Doll started the interviews, he feared that "people wouldn't trust me," he said in a Q & A after the screening. "But that's not the case. ... Once I showed I would just listen, it all came pouring out."

Also meant to educate prospective PADS volunteers, the film features interviews with Sister Thérèse, case managers providing guests with clothing and bus passes, and footage of PADS-organized events such as a spaghetti dinner last Valentine's Day. The organization, Sister Thérèse said, "tries to empower people, to make them realize that they have the power to change" their situation.


Photos: Christian Doll discusses his documentary and the PADS organization; Sister Thérèse greets a guest entering PADS on a cold Chicago evening.

Movie still courtesy Christian Doll.

About January 2008

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in January 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2007 is the previous archive.

February 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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