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October 3, 2011

Red October

Soviet propaganda comes to Chicago.

By Elizabeth Station


As a kid, I wept through Dr. Zhivago and Reds. During the Sandinista years, I rode buses around Nicaragua to glimpse the revolution. Later, on a trip to Moscow, I had to visit Lenin’s body in Red Square. It was rumored he was wearing a new Armani suit—and since the Soviet Union had just fallen, we had the mausoleum to ourselves.

Socialism is so 20th century, but I’m still a pushover for big red posters. Lucky for fans, Soviet art is on display in museums all over the city, as part of the Soviet Arts Experience festival. An intimate show called Process and Artistry in the Soviet Vanguard, now at the Smart Museum of Art, features works by Gustav Klucis and Valentina Kulagina, a husband and wife team who created public art for the Soviet government during the 1920s and '30s.

RedOctoberDrawing.jpgWhat is most interesting about the show—conceived as a companion to the Smart’s concurrent Vision and Communism exhibition—is its attention to artistic process. Klucis and Kulagina combined photo montage techniques with abstract graphic design; many posters are displayed with the photographs, newspaper clippings, and early sketches that the artists used to create the works. “This is where cutting and pasting started,” says Kimberly Mims, an art-history PhD student who curated the exhibition. “The artists were very experimental, and they freed themselves to work with photography in whatever way they wanted.”

Politically, of course, Soviet artists weren't free. Under Stalin, semi-autonomous artists’ collectives were disbanded and artists came under central party control. Without awareness of their process, it would be easy to write off the work as agitprop or kitsch. One poster exhorts Communist Party youth to pitch in and help peasants on collective farms; another celebrates happy rural workers and their tractors. The once-stirring slogans ring hollow: “The USSR is the Shock Brigade of the World Proletariat!” “Higher the Banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin!” “Male and Female Workers all to the Election of the Soviets!”

That doesn’t mean that art from this period lacks value. “The hook for me, and maybe for a younger audience that’s computer literate, is that this show offers a chance to see what came before,” says Mims. Today with the click of a mouse anyone can send photos, alter an image, or cut and paste copy—but in the 1920s, photo montage was entirely new. “Of course for the Soviets, the dream was for everything to be automated,” adds Mims, “but they were in a handmade world.”

October 26, 2011

Wanted: Undead or alive


When a zombie infection spread across campus, a student task force armed the resistance.

By Mitchell Kohles, ’12

Now that it’s all over, it’s safe to talk about it. Humans vs. Zombies (HvZ), the one-week event in which a zombie infection spread across campus, ended with nearly everyone dead… er, undead.

It all started on Tuesday of second week, October 4. At 9 p.m. 190-something students gathered in the middle of the main quad to receive bright orange bandanas and foam-dart guns—the standard issue Nerf Maverick is rented out from the Zombie Readiness Task Force (ZRTF) for $5, but several “humans” opt for more heavy arms and purchase them independently.

Every player (except one, the original zombie) receives a weapon to defend themselves from the zombies who, if shot, have to run out of sight of the humans before attacking again. If you’re touched—infected—by a zombie, you lay down your weapon and join the walking dead.

It takes the ZRTF more than a month to prepare each game—just four students serve on the officer board—and the RSO usually reserves the main quad and a campus building for one or more nights during the week-long attack. These games are the only visible evidence of the ZRTF, but the group meets throughout the year to tweak the rules of each upcoming game. This year’s rule changes: Pierce is a safe zone, except for the front lobby; socks can be used as projectiles but not as melee weapons; no shields allowed, whatsoever.

At the dining hall on Friday morning, I asked one of my residents, Robin, how he’d managed to survive this long. “I don’t go outside. It’s kind of nice though because I get escorted wherever I go.” As it turns out, there is a hotline for humans to call and request an escort to anywhere on campus. “Walking alone is suicide. If you go out there alone, they [start chasing you], and you only have six bullets." Robin gestured to his two guns, connected by a piece string so that with one motion he can simultaneously load the next round in each gun. “Well, 12.” After breakfast, Robin made plans with a few fellow humans to get him safely to a 10:30 math class in Ryerson. It sounds like there will be running involved. “Hopefully I’ll see you guys tonight. As a human.”

“After the first day, about 50 percent were zombies. After the second day, 80 percent,” says Kevin Wang, Colonel of the ZRTF and a main organizer of this fall’s game. Running a campus-wide event of this scale attracts attention, and not all of it was welcome. Several non-player students donned orange bandanas of their own and patrolled the quads in search of the remaining humans, causing confusion among players and havoc among ZRTF members. Eventually, a directive was sent out to all the players to take the bandanas from the phony zombies.

The following Tuesday, the few remaining humans gathered for a final mission on the main quad. The objective: escort two scientists to three checkpoints and then get them safely to the Gordon Center for Integrative Sciences. Unfortunately, the humans were outnumbered, and those who didn't abandon the mission early on were soon cornered and converted into cold-blooded [I like "over-educated", but maybe that doesn't fly] brain-eaters [again, I like cerebrophages, but maybe too much?].

Chris Dewing was chosen to be the original zombie, both an honor and a responsibility. "It is a burden in the sense you don't want to be a failure," said Dewing over email. "One needs to by sure to get kills quickly, efficiently, and frequently." Plus, there's all that guilt.

Scorned and bitter zombies don’t have to wait long to try their hand at being human again. The next game is planned for eighth week of winter quarter. How will the snow affect the infection? “I’m excited," says Wang. "I think it just adds another element to the gameplay."

So, is there any cure? “There would have been one if they had completed the mission,” says Wang, “but no one did.”

Photo courtesy Arlene Wang.

October 28, 2011

Music of the night


The University Symphony Orchestra’s annual Halloween concert is a treat for the ears—and the eyes.

By Benjamin Recchie, AB’03

Many a Hyde Park Halloween reveler has started his or her evening with the annual concert given by the University Symphony Orchestra. I caught up with Barbara Schubert, X’79, senior lecturer in music and conductor of the USO, about this annual tradition.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow long has the USO offered a Halloween concert?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI think the first Halloween concert we gave was in 1980, when Mandel Hall was being renovated. That one took place in the Ida Noyes gym, which is now the Max Palevsky Cinema. It featured pretty typical Halloween fare: Night on Bald Mountain, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and Danse Macabre. I’ve gotten a lot more creative since then.
There were a couple of years that I didn’t program a Halloween concert, but by now I think I’m up to number 28.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat music is the symphony performing this time around?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThis year the theme is “Arabian Nights,” a theme that provides a wonderful opportunity for costumes, dancing, and storytelling, along with great music. The central piece is Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which of course is a famous orchestral masterpiece. In addition we’re doing some lesser-known works that fit the theme: Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan and several movements from Carl Nielsen’s Aladdin Suite.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow do you choose what pieces to perform?
QandA_ADrop.jpgThere are so many factors that enter into my programming decisions for this concert, or for any concert: challenge and appeal for the musicians, enticement and entertainment for the audience, variety over the course of a season and from year to year, and appeal, challenge, and variety for me as conductor. In addition, I always try to program some repertoire that is not standard fare—great music that you don’t hear every day and that other orchestras may never play. I’m trying to do my part to counteract the “nothing-but-the-warhorses” approach of many professional, community, and university orchestras. The Griffes piece is one such treasure: it’s a luxuriant score, displaying the influence of the French Impressionist school as well as Griffes’s distinctive voice. It is, of course, inspired by the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that tells the story of Xanadu and its “stately pleasure dome” within a beautiful garden.
QandA_QDrop.jpgOne tradition of the concert is that you and the musicians come in costume, correct?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI’m always delighted to see the creativity of our musicians expressed through their colorful and imaginative costumes. The French horn section has a long-standing tradition of matching garb. They’ve had so many distinctive and occasionally flamboyant creations: one year they all came as Big Bird, another year they were all ice cream cones, and so on. I never know in advance what they’re going to do: they keep it a closely guarded secret.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat should a first-time audience member be prepared to listen for—and see?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWhile there are lots of theatrical extras involved in this concert, it is first and foremost a concert, featuring earnest and artistic performances of great music. Yes, there are decorations all around Mandel Hall; yes, there is a special entrance by yours truly down the center aisle; yes, there is storytelling, set by yours truly in patently unsophisticated verse; yes, there is dancing in the aisles by the wonderful young dancers from the Hyde Park School of Dance. But first and foremost, the purpose is to bring the audience excellent performances of great music. The orchestra works very hard to prepare the concert with only a month of rehearsal. It is a testament to the talent of our student musicians that they’re able to do that.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat’s your favorite thing about this concert?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWithout question, my favorite aspect of this concert is the enthusiasm of the audience. We have kids of all ages, family groups of all combinations, college students, community members, and the like who come to the concert—many of them in costume, of course. They are enthralled and inspired by the whole event, and many make it an annual tradition. I love talking to the audience members as they exit the hall. Energy and enthusiasm are both high, and it makes me feel that we are really doing something meaningful to build the audience for classical music. The most frequent comment that I get at the exit door, though, is the question of what I’m going to program next year.

In my experience, the Halloween concert has always been a lighthearted and family-friendly affair, so bring your kids (or just the kid in you) to Mandel Hall on Saturday, October 29. There are two performances, one at 7 p.m. and the next at 9 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted at the door. (Suggested donations are $8 general, $4 students/children. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.)

Barbara Schubert in last year’s Halloween costume. What will she wear this year? You’ll have to come to find out.
Photo courtesy Barbara Schubert.

About October 2011

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in October 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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