On March 26, 2023, the experimental artist group //sense at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) organized a theater event that gave participants an interactive and experiential experience of performance, sound, and theater. The event was called “We are sitting in a Deleuzian ballroom, experiencing ego death through a Freudian slip,” which might be highly confusing to some but spectacularly accurate to the experience itself. Walking into the Maclean Ballroom, I had no idea what to expect. Walking up the staircase to the second floor, I could already hear strange ambient sounds and soft voices. Once I got in, I was confronted with some strange kind of pocket dimension. The space was so altered, along with the way that the performers were acting, as if I had stumbled into a realm absolutely unfamiliar to me. The performers floated around the room like butterflies, as though they couldn’t even see me. All I could do was take it in.
The Ballroom’s overhead lights were off, but it wasn’t dark. At the front stage was an audiovisual live set that included projected films by Gordon Fung and Yezhou Zheng, and a video projection along with AI-generated text-to-voice audio by Nicole Chan Javellana and Jung Soo Kim. They showed images that moved so quickly and were distorted so wholly that I couldn’t decipher their origins before the clips were warped into a kaleidoscope of patterns and fractals that kept expanding into each other. There were no scenes, no cuts, and each image morphed seamlessly into another.
Yiyi Liu, an interdisciplinary artist wearing sunglasses in the already dimly lit room, performed his piece “Crash Studio” by pushed around a red grocery cart filled with a machine wired to a monitor and a computer. Another person floated around the room with translucent plastic sheeting trailing behind them, making it seem like they were a ghost or an angel. I couldn’t tell.
The room was filled evenly with modules of performance, spaced evenly throughout the ballroom — some static, and some that ambled about the space, all of them, though, happening simultaneously. Not only were they all happening at the same time, but they also overlapped, some work bleeding into others, making something completely new and separate from the original performance. The combined energy gave the impression that it was simply one large immersive experience that I had stumbled into.
I walked over to a table full of Petri dishes and sound equipment and asked the two artists at the table if they could explain what I was seeing. They introduced themselves as Yousif Alzayed and Ben Glass, and their work as Slimevolt. In these Petri dishes, they told me, was a cultivation of slime mold, and they were running voltage through the agar plates to influence the sound that they were working with both analog and digital sound setups. This was new media at its cutting edge; the artists have also featured their work at SAIC’s booth for EXPO Chicago 2023.
Overall, the performance was a strange and wonderful artistic experience. Perhaps at the next festival, I would like to see more attention paid to accessibility- things like chairs, a warning before flashing lights, and perhaps moments of less intense sound (there were ringing alarm sounds playing throughout the night). But truly, this was an incredibly lovely festival with so much careful attention paid to presenting the work, and I really enjoyed it.
Since then, //sense has put on countless screenings and experimental theater events organized in venues like the Gene Siskel Film Center and No Nation Art Lab.
Thank you for sharing your experience and insights in your article “A Night of the Senses.” Your vivid descriptions and thoughtful reflections truly transported me to the event, allowing me to feel the energy and atmosphere of the evening. The way you described the fusion of art, music, and performance created a captivating picture of the immersive experience that unfolded. I especially appreciated your exploration of the sensory elements and how they interacted to create a multi-dimensional encounter for the attendees. It would be fascinating to delve deeper into the impact of such sensory experiences on the audience and how it enhances their connection to the art. Additionally, discussing the role of events like these in promoting inclusivity and accessibility within the art world could further enrich the conversation. Thank you for providing a glimpse into this captivating event and inspiring readers to engage with art in a more immersive and sensory way.