"Black performance is Black life. And Black life is the future."
~Gabrielle Civil, performance artist
Interdisciplinary performance artist and recent Chicago transplant Anthony Sims has been quite busy creating must-watch durational performances around town, especially during this quarantined fall arts season. Fresh off his dynamic month long "Body/Space" exhibition in the windows of Bridgeport's Co-Prosperity, Sims opened "Spectated Specter" Saturday in the windows of Noble Square's Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center. The installation runs nightly through Jan. 10.
Sims' stated mission is to "embody Black and queer experiences through performance." (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Co-Prosperity Programming Committee and in that volunteer role, I have previously selected Sims' work for exhibition.) Until now, his time-based format of choice has been the "tableau vivant" (living image); a genre refined during his respective time at both DePaul University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In his post-higher ed arts practice, however, Sims credits Black luminaries such as artist Gabrielle Civil and scholar Harvey Young as models for his increasingly radical approach to performance during the pandemic. Sims has explained that performing during COVID-19 has raised huge issues within artist communities. To ensure everyone's safety, his target audience is those who pass by Roots & Culture’s window. “Like most durational work,” he said in a statement about the piece, “it's about the observation.”
This is especially true for "Spectated Specter," where the onus of duration is now entirely on the audience, a bold-yet-subversive programming choice for wintertime on Milwaukee Avenue. Sims is usually present IRL in his works, but here the audience only witnesses his projected shadow as well as those of his modest, highly recognizable props: a series of French doors, a bouquet of flowers, a chair, a book. At various intervals, Sims' figure performs waltz-like movements with the bouquet and the chair. Later, he sits in the chair and begins a series of subtle gestural responses to the book's content as he reads it.
During my "Spectated Specter" visit, I experienced layers of visceral connections to the work. For example, the 45-minute looped video is projected within three of the gallery's large windows, however it is edited to occupy just a third of the available "white" space. This choice immediately resonated as an expression of the literal and figurative act of diminution of the Black body, in society and in art spaces. I also noticed that though there were all manners of passerby, I stood alone, stopping to intently watch the windows that other folks merely glanced at between their scans of me. As a Black woman and native Chicagoan, I stay prepared for such encounters in predominantly white areas. However, I also couldn't help but remember how, pre-pandemic, this very stretch of Milwaukee Avenue used to be bustling with people, buzzing about all the art events happening at once during a "first Saturday" in December. A year ago, my standing and watching Roots & Culture's windows certainly would've prompted a live conversation.
I generally do not enjoy outdoor activities after Halloween. However, there was a nuanced element of "Spectated Specter" that captivated me enough to commit for 30 minutes during late twilight, despite Chicago's infamous "Hawk" bearing down upon me. The yellow light (and only source of color) that emanated from behind Sims seemed to leap off of the projection and into the symmetrical street lights that flanked me on both sides, creating a beautifully all-encompassing triangulation of comforting, warming light...
One would have to watch intently to experience it, though.
"The Black Body is who we see from the outside perspective. It is imagined and yet a highly recognizable figure who shadows the actual, unseen body."
~Harvey Young, scholar
Anthony Sims' "Spectated Specter" is viewable nightly through Jan. 10 in the window of Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center, 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave. For more information, click the event page below.