Chicago. What a hot mess. And I'm not even talking about the parking. As a professional truck driver, I had to again apply my wizard business to navigating the city with a vehicle that's really not permitted to be there. I'm happy to say I did not have any metal on metal altercations, but it was close. I was fortunate to get a couple good days talking to local people on the street, but missed out on the necessary parking to facilitate the last day. Nonetheless, I had great interactions and discussions about America, Chicago, and privilege. Many thanks to my brother Eric Fuertes for sharing my project with his class. Great gratitude goes to Mr. Andy Jessup for hosting me in the city and traversing the totality of creative exploration and critique of this project.
American Expressions got going early and was rewarded with great parking in Wicker Park, an uber hip part of the city. The big city life brings diversity as well as aloofness with both on display in Wicker Park. My hustle in getting people to participate has become more nuanced, more aware that city dwellers know what's going on around them and adjusting my approach requires reading their potential attention. One Hispanic couple with a child stroller slowly walked by looking intently. When I approached, they quickly moved to hasten away, but I caught them and convinced them to share their thoughts about America on the flag. As they deliberated what they together thought should go on the flag, I turned my attention to other patrons. When I turned back around they were walking away having simply written "Hate" on the flag. The message about "the wall" must be getting through. Is it not surprising that when asked to share their feelings about America, immigrants cautiously express honestly what is being directed towards them? That takes some courage and a lot of bravery. I wonder where our bravery has gone when our nation openly promotes distain.
As this project evolves, there is a distinct dynamic between urban and rural America. Maybe city dwellers are more exposed to the craziness of close packed humanity that makes them acutely aware of the actions around them. Or perhaps rural communities are more tightly knit where obscure thinking can lead to being ostracized, therefore a graffitied American flag is "out of bounds"(ask Colin K.) Regardless of the causes, the dynamic between those who have to live in peace with one another despite their differences and those who exist in homogenous cultures within our country is growing more polarized. We might look at race, class, and wealth as the terms of our national fracturing, but in my experience with American Expressions, it is the proximity to those that are different from you which divides our diverse nation. We're becoming a grilled cheese sandwich with nicely brown outsides and creamy, white American cheese in the middle.(and who doesn't like grilled cheese, amirite?) My time in Chicago gave me interactions with tourists from all over our nation and the world (btw the French wish us luck). Strangely enough, it was the people from rural America who are most put out by sharing their feelings on the flag when they encounter it in the city. The disgusting facial expressions and hurrying along of family members only makes me image what fear is paralyzing them so much they cannot inquire about the nature of what they're seeing. It is as if they're reciting tales of Sodom & Gomormah, witnessing the violation with their own eyes. Where is all this fear coming from? Is it the cracking shell of their understanding about their country, that it is not here just for them? Or is it long held misconceptions about stereotypes that have calcified into "beliefs" that renders them unable to grant respect to that which is unfamiliar and unknown. We live in a free society, meaning we all respect one another's freedom, but that concept seems amiss among those that live in geographic and patriotic seclusion.
Chicago gave several interactions with many beautiful people. Much of what I do is subtly convince folks to come out of their head space and interact with me and my project. More times than not, people don't want to be bothered, which I completely respect. This has inspired me to develop differing approaches to connect and engage with people. The people pictured above were all brought into the project without words. I see them slyly notice the flag, while I sit to the side, and then I point the marker at them when they look at me, then point it at the flag. It is so effective, the guy pictured in the middle, we didn't even exchange words. The purpose of my artwork is to engage people with my concept, free speech primarily, but it also examines the awareness and willingness of people to engage in that which might be mysterious to them in their daily life. Often I have people ask "Who are you working for?" and they don't normally believe I am doing it for myself & the betterment of our society. So I have found that when I speak less and use gestures, I reduce the weight of the intrusion into their brain space, opening up the opportunity for them to think about what I am presenting. This is the sale. Sure, getting someone's attention and getting them to part with their money are two different things. But when you're selling an idea, one that might be controversial, you're asking people to open their thoughts to your guidance and influence. I am proud of this tour because I am bringing creativity into the streets and challenging everyone's thoughts about our country. If you make a controversial piece of art, but only art lovers go to see it in the gallery, is it really controversial? Are you really confronting those who think differently than you? I think I am, and to do so successfully bridge our differences takes awareness, compassion, and sensitivity to you fellow human beings.