Tuesday, February 20, 2007

what's in a name

Two Sundays ago my parents called me in the remaining hour of my art show. My mom said they'd be passing through the city and asked if I needed help taking all my pictures down. An hour later they showed up and dutifully helped me not only take down the photos, but carry everything down a flight of stairs and out to the van parked a block away.

"I found a coupon for an Ecuadorian restaurant on Milwaukee," my mom said. "Want to go to dinner with us?" This surprised me--not the invitation to dinner but the fact that she's not usually the one to suggest "ethnic cuisine." God bless the coupon book--expanding minds and appetites all over the Chicagoland area.

We drove several miles north on Milwaukee until we found La Peña. As we crossed the street, the three of us joked about how it appeared we would be the only patrons in the restaurant that evening. But as we opened the first set of two doors, my dad said, "Oh look--there's one other family. I guess people do eat here." The hostess led us to the table almost adjoining the other family's.

My mom hadn't even sat all the way down in her chair when the woman at the table next to ours asked, "Is your first name Randy?" My mom sat down and looked in the direction of the question. "No..." she answered, confused. "But I know you," the other woman insisted. "You went to Sullivan High School." "Yeah I did. Who are you?" "Alyse [insert last name]." If there was ever an appropriate time for jaw-dropping moments, here it was. My mom pointed at me, her daughter, sitting across the table. "She's named after you."

* * *

Growing up I was always aware that my name was unique. Not only is Alyse not that common of a name, but to spell it with an "A" is pretty much unheard of. People with my name typically spell it with an "E"--Elise or in a few cases, Elyse. I've met one other girl who spelled it with an "A," and that was when I was 9 years old in the Mammoth Cave gift shop on a family vacation to Kentucky. For some reason this digression from the regular way of spelling my name really throws people for a loop. Every year in school I'd have to correct the new teacher on the pronunciation; every substitute teacher we'd have during the year--same deal. I even had a dance teacher one year who only called me Alice. I've been called everything from Alice to Alis to Alicia to Alisha to Allison.

It's Jewish custom/tradition to honor deceased relatives by using the first letter of their first name when naming a newborn. I got the "A" from my maternal great-grandmother, Anne. Originally, my mom wanted to name me Alana, but that was shot down by her mother, who refused to let her granddaughter don the same name as a woman she claimed to have unresolvable issues with at the office. So my mom was forced to choose a different "A" name. Runner up was Abby, which my dad vetoed out of fear that people would only associate his daughter with the columnist, "Dear Abby." My mom gave up sharing her name choices and single-handedly settled on Alyse.

Over the course of my lifetime I have heard the story of my namesake probably 100 times. People would say to my mom, "I love the spelling of your daughter's name--where did you come up with it?" And my mom would reply, "Well I grew up with a girl named Alyse, and I always loved her name and how it was spelled. So that's what I decided on when I knew she'd have an 'A' name."

Not that impressive of a story, I know. It's just one of those things you hear over and over but never think much about. I mean my own best friends (before this night) didn't even know the origin of my name. And they know (almost) everything about me.

* * *

I looked back at my mom, then at the woman sitting next to me. "What the hell is going on??" I asked.
"Yo!" my dad exclaimed. "Heck," he corrected me. He doesn't like when I "swear."
"Have you guys been here before?" Alyse's husband asked us.
"No!" we all said simultaneously.
"We haven't either!" they said. "We just found this coupon and thought we'd try it out."
My dad picked up an identical coupon off our table. "So did we!"

(Did I already say God bless the coupon book?)

"This is just wild!" I said, and I almost started to cry because I wasn't really sure how else to react.

What are the chances that my namesake and her family (husband, daughter, and daughter's fiancee) A) chose Ecuadorian food in the first place B) picked the same Ecuadorian restaurant as us and C) on the same night at the same time. And all because of a silly coupon in the Entertainment book.
Of course I insisted on taking a picture.

I'd say that meeting Alyse is about as close as I'll ever get to meeting Anne (the "A" sake), but with the weird games the universe has been playing on me lately, I might not be shocked if we end up face to face the next time I'm in a coffee shop. Or maybe I should check the Jewish deli...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

around the coyote

(this conversation happened online the week before the show when i had the flu)
Mom: You're spending a fortune on this show.
Me: Yeah...about $500
Mom: Alyse, you don't have that kind of money!
Me: Yeah it's a good thing i was sick this week, huh? I didn't have to eat.
Mom: That's not even funny.
Me: Sure it is.

I found out about the Around the Coyote winter arts festival two days before the application was due in December. I decided to throw together the necessary components and press my luck, hardly telling anyone that I applied because I had my doubts of whether I'd get accepted. About a month later I found out that I had officially been admitted as an artist.

When I lived in NYC I showed my photos in several shows, but all of them had some sort of NYU tie...as in I was just automatically a part of it because I was part of the class. (Well except for the Gallatin Arts Festival, which I did have to apply to, but even that was still school-related.) Because of this, I never really considered myself an "artist." It was time to "test the waters," as they say, and see if I could prove myself otherwise.

I had about a month to get everything together. I had the prints made with about two weeks to spare, but then I saved the framing until the morning of. Part of the delay I blame on my unwillingness to sit down and sign my name at the bottom of the photos. I had what one might consider a meltdown the night before the opening. My dad unfortunately had to witness this. Nothing was ready. Nothing was good enough. And I thought writing "A.Liebovich" as my signature could be mistaken for "a liebovich," like I am "a Liebovich" instead of "I am A(lyse).Liebovich." I know that sounds ridiculous, but it got to the point where I almost e-mailed everyone I had told about the show to tell them not to bother coming. My dad came with me to paint my wall space before the kick-off party. I wanted to look like a normal human being for once, so I changed out of my usual sweatpants attire and put on my one pair of jeans sans holes. I had only bought a tiny can of white paint, which apparently wasn't enough, which in my mind just added to why I wanted Thursday to end already. So I started haphazardly rolling paint, not realizing that the excess had been flying of the wall and covering my hair, my face, my hands, my jeans...I gave up on trying to make my wall a cohesive white. "I don't have the patience to be perfect," I told my dad. And with that we left to go across the street to the party. My dad was bummed because it cost him $20 to get in and because of my breakdown we were an hour late and therefore there was no food left. So, while I stood by myself with a plate of chips and guacamole, self-consciously trying to eat with my paint-covered hands, he continued double-fisting margaritas. After maybe an hour I finally initiated our exit. All I could think about was how I didn't fit in with the pretentious art crowd and how much work I still had waiting for me back home.

Friday morning my dad and I worked like a machine. He decided to skip the auto show, his motivation for spending the night in the city, just to help me, which was awesome and much-appreciated. I put the matted photos into the frames (the mattes by the way were all cut by my former high school photo teacher/current friend, Colleen Duncan, who I owe a lot of thanks to), begrudgingly more than once in some cases because there'd be specks of dirt caught behind the glass. Then he'd put the wire hangers on the backings. As soon as we finished the final one, Jenny got down here. Between the three of us we loaded up the car and headed to the Bongo Room for brunch before hanging the photos. We had an overly-huge meal and then carried all the frames and tools two blocks and up a long flight of stairs. Once there, we jumped right in. Jenny helped me figure out what height we should hang everything, and then my dad hammered in the nails. As soon as we hung the first one I was nothing but smiles and bursting with positive energy. That's all it took...seeing that it was all coming together.

It was a long (22 total hours) weekend of sitting on my folding chair watching people walk by. I actually brought four books along with me, thinking I would get a lot of reading done. I read one one page. What I loved most were the people who glanced at my work and looked like they were going to pass it by...I imagined their thoughts--oh they're just photos...and then some of them would stop in their tracks and turn back around and start studying what I had displayed. Something they saw drew them in, and just seeing that was valuable.

I found it interesting how the consensus seemed to be that I somehow managed to digitally enhance/manipulate/create almost all of my photos. People seemed shocked when I told them that first of all, all 15 images were shot with 35mm film, and second of all, I barely know how to use Photoshop, so even if I wanted to make the pictures look better, I wouldn't know how.

The comments/questions I got on my "love shadows" picture alone:
* "Now, you staged that, right?" No.
* Someone thought it was a building with two fire hhydrants sticking out of the wall and people standing on them...?
* "I don't get how you took that. Were you flying, or what??" Haha, I wish.
* "Is that photo famous? Or did you take it?" I looked at him, confused. He thought that I had just framed a "famous photo" I liked and put it in my show. I told him I took it, as I had taken the rest of the ones hanging around me, and that as far as I know, it's not a famous image.
* "Now you transposed those shadows onto the wall, right?" Well first of all, that's the street, not a wall. Second of all, I don't even know how to transpose things.

Then there was the woman representing a gallery that was showing work in the festival. "How did you get those seats [on the ferry] red?" she asked. Again, I was confused. "That's the color they were...?" I said. "Really? Wow. See, I thought you went in and colored them." "Nope. I just saw what I saw and pushed the button."

Someone asked if i set up Sol's apartment before snapping his portrait. Not only did I not set it up, the reason I love that particular image so much is that how he is and how his apartment is (even down to where he hung my coat in his doorway every time I went there) and the angle I shot him at were exactly how everything looked from my point of view during all of our conversations. If you look closely, you can just barely see my shadow in the reflection of the T.V. Someone else examining that photo said, "It's rare you can see into a person's soul, but I feel like I can look right into his in this [photo]." Maybe I am doing something right, I thought.

If people asked, I shared the stories behind the photos, especially with the 9.11 accidental double exposure (which I had to repeat several times was truly an accident and had nothing to do with Photoshop tricks) and portrait of Sol. Who is he? What's his story?
One man walked by, looked briefly and said, "You've got beautiful compositions." And another man, who I later learned was a commericial photographer, complimented my "eye for natural light" after I told him that all of them were shot with available light. "I hate using artificial lights," I admitted. "Well, if you can use natural light that well, you don't ever need to use the artficial ones." I smiled.

And then finally someone got it, pin-pointed the quality I like in my own work. He rounded the corner (my wall space was on an end of row of zig-zagged wall spaces), took a look, and said, "Now someone just told me there was no realisism in this show...here it is!" I said, "Well I like to show life as it is. I appreciate people who do abstract work or manipulate images to make them 'prettier,' but I'm a straight-forward kind of person, and I think that attitude manifests itself in my photography as well."

A woman asked me to "teach her how to have an artistic eye." I told her I'm not sure that that's something that can be taught because everyone sees things differently. She saw the photo I took of my aunt's torso, which I titled "Funeral Gloves," and asked, "Like how do you find the courage to only take a picture of someone's torso? To just cut their head off like that..." I said, "I guess it's just that I don't think you necessarily need to see someone's face to understand their emotion. You can get just as much information from someone's body language or how they dress. It's rare that I do take such close-up pictures of people like that, but if I see someone standing a certain way, it's like I have to capture it because if I walk away, intimidated, I will regret never having taken the photo."
She stood silent for a few moments, flipping through my tray of unframed photos. Then she held out my "red bike" image. "I just don't get it. How do I teach myself to look at things like you do? For instance, with this one, why not keep the whole bike in the frame?" I had to think about it for a minute...I'm not used to attaching words to my art, I'm used to them speaking for themselves. "Well..." I started. "I guess it can be more interesting to look at only part of the bike because it leaves room for mystery or room to form a story. Maybe the front tire was flat and that's why the person is standing next to it. You just never know, so the possibilities surrounding the frame and what's outside the frame are endless."

I didn't think anyone was coming by on Sunday. One second I had my nose in a book, and the next hour or two I was overwhelmed with visitors--mostly former high school teachers. It was so wonderful for all of them to come out, and as most teachers do, they tried to make me make the most of my situation. I got scolded for not placing a price on my photos, told that there's no reason to apologize for telling someone how much my work costs, that if if I want this to be a career as opposed to a hobby, I need to start respecting my work. The thing is, if i thought my work was crap, i wouldn't have hung it in the show. I do like my "eye" and that I can transcribe how I see the world into a photograph. But I don't think I will ever be comfortable dealing with the business side of art. I hate money...that's what it comes down to.

My friend Matt jokingly, but astutely pointed out, "This is like a petting zoo for artists." I laughed, but then I thought, he's pretty much right. People display their work in festivals like this to, in essence, search for validation from the commonfolk that they are worthy of calling themselves artist. The ATC people sent out a survey via e-mail yesterday asking how we think they can improve the festival, etc. One of the questions asked: "Did you sell any work? If not, would you still consider the weekend a success?" I did, in fact, sell some work--one framed and three unframed, which is way more than I expected. But even if I hadn't sold anything (which is what I expected), I still would have considered the weekend a success. I met a lot of great artists on my floor--(such as, John Kowalcyzk [another Fremd grad], Shawn Stucky, Damien James, Gabriel Mejia, Tifanie O'Riley, Nichole Chandler, and Michael Jackson--a girl so obsessed with the pop star, he's the sole subject of her paintings and she even adopted his name for the show...you can view all their work by clicking on the link at the bottom), had lots of interesting conversations with people, a lot of friends and family showed up to support me, and I feel one step closer to feeling comfortable about labeling myself an actual "artist."


Saturday, February 3, 2007

all you need is lovie

Even though our beloved Bears lost the SuperBowl, it is still worth mentioning this grandiose piece of hometown history. Everyone knows the Chicago Bears won SuperBowl XX in 1986 and haven't been back since. Growing up with a dad who die-hardedly supported the Green Bay Packers (and the New York Yankees), the love of the pigskin was never really ingrained in me. Well no sport was really, but if I was going to invest any time in taking sides, it was going to be with Chicago. I figured if you're not going to root root root for the home team, then why bother rooting at all.

On May 28, 1991, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School--incidentally where I was ending my year as a second grader--held a school-wide surprise assembly. All six grades crammed into the lunch room and sat row by row, cross-legged, facing the stage. The surprise: none other than famed Chicago Bears linebacker, Mike Singletary. And he was there to hand out "E" (excellence) Awards to 60 students--2 from each class in all six grades. As far as I can recall, I'm pretty sure I had no prior knowledge that I was going to be a recipient of one of these awards (Amy can confirm this because she, of course, won one too), but sure enough they called my name. It was a year of recognition, as at age 8 I also won my first photo contest. I was a shy kid, and I'm sure I felt some anxiety about going up in front of the whole school and anticipating shaking the hand of this huge football player. That handshake ended up being reproduced photographically the following day in Chicago's Daily Herald newspaper.

Even though I went to school in NYC to get away from the confines of suburban Chicago, I couldn't hide my roots. Almost every day someone asked if I was from Minnesota because of my "accent," and I had a boss who told me I wasn't "in Kansas anymore" because I didn't find it necessary to run around the coffee shop like a disinterested maniac. I decided to embrace my "midwestern-ism" and this included representing Chicago's sports teams. While I was working at SNL in 2005, Patriot's quarterback, Tom Brady, hosted the show. For his photo shoot I wore my worn-in "vintage" Bears shirt (a prized ebay purchase).

The following day I found out we were shooting some photos for one of the sketches. A spinoff of VH1's Behind the Music series about The Superbowl Shuffle, with Tom playing Jim McMahon and a bunch of extras playing the rest of the 1985 Chicago Bears team. I was bummed out that I had just worn my Bears shirt the day before because what I really wanted to do was stand amidst all of them as the only real Chicagoan. No such luck. But I did convince the props people to let me try on one of the helmets and my boss snapped a few photos of that moment.

Twenty-one years after Superbowl XX, the Bears headed to Miami to take on the Indiana Colts. Despite the sub-zero temperatures, Chicago embraced football fever in all ways possible...
On Friday the Oldies station announced that the Mayor had thousands of Lovie Smith masks on sticks made and anyone interested could pick one up at the Millenium Park ice rink.
Several radio stations held contests for listeners to submit their own rendition of popular songs, changing the lyrics to revolve around the Bears going to the SuperBowl. Saturday night I was driving home from a play, listening to 97.9 the Loop, Chicago's classic rock station. Someone called in to request a song and the DJ said only if you say "Go Bears!" before the request. He had no problem doing that, especially because his request was the SuperBowl Shuffle.
I got in just in time for the start of SNL. But before that came on, I caught the end of the channel 5 10:00 news, which showed footage of the Lyric Opera singing "Bear Down Chicago Bears" and donning Bears paraphernalia. Surprisingly I couldn't find a video on youtube.com, but I did find these two.

I haven't been able to make it through a full-length SNL for awhile now because I get too tired and fall asleep, but I made myself stay awake for Saturday's episode, anticipating the return of the Superfans sketch. Sadly, Bill Swersky did not grace the screen. But there was a sketch about Donatella Versace (Maya Rudolph) hosting a SuperBowl party, in which Horatio Sanz guest-starred as Elton John decked out in an Urlacher jersey with the "54" filled in with silver sparkles. She at one point says to the half-naked men surrounding her: "You guys are so boring. If you were a football team, you'd be called--Da BOARS!" Hahaha.

SuperBowl Sunday I spent about an hour driving around downtown to do a mini photo documentary to show how Chicago had gone Bear-crazy. First stop--the Picasso statue at the Daley Center plaza. What would the famed artist think about a Bears hat sitting atop his masterpiece?

Next up, the lions guarding the Art Institute. Turns out I wasn't the only insane person freezing my ass off. The right lane of Michigan Avenue had a line of cars flashing their hazards, waiting for their turn to get closer to the entrance. I decided the most efficient thing to do, since I didn't have a passenger with me, was to leave my car running, put on my hazards, and run around like a nut snapping as many photos as I could before jumping back in my car.

Orrrr getting verbally reprimanded by one of "Chicago's finest."
"Whose vehicle is this??" she yelled.
Luckily, I was done taking pictures and was standing right next to the car trying to take a picture of two tourists at their request.
"You can't leave your vehicle unattended like that!"
"Ok..." I started.
[commence stare down]
"They asked me to take their picture, so I'm trying to help out."
"EXCUSE me?! I don't care WHOSE picture you're taking! You can not leave your vehicle unattended!"
I apologized to the boys and handed back their camera and glared at the cop before stepping off the curb and getting back in my car. She proceeded to start in with her exaggerated "EXCUSE ME?!" with one of the tourist boys when he asked her to take the picture instead. He is my new hero. I snapped a photo of them arguing as I pulled away. I love using my camera as a weapon.

That woman needs to take a freaking chill pill, I said out loud to myself as I headed towards Lake Shore Drive. A few minutes later I drove past Soldier Field as I winded my way through the "Museum Campus" en route to the Field Museum. Final stop--the dinosaur wearing a giant orange Urlacher jersey. I am not kidding you. The temperature was -1 without the windchill. With the windchill it was -22!!! And I left my gloves in the car. Smart move. I ran in my moon boots to the dinosaur and snapped as many pictures as I could before I literally thought my hands were going to fall off. It got to the point where I was watching my finger on top of the shutter-release button, and my brain was telling the finger to "push down" and it just wasn't functioning. I forced a few more shots, then haphazardly ran/stumbled back to the warmth of my car...all the while clenching my fingers into fists and spreading them wide to try and get some sort of circulation flowing.

From there I drove to the burbs to meet up with my dad before heading to Glenview to watch the game at the Joseph's house. Since my dad refuses to root for the Bears, I decided to propose a bet. He told me to name my price but warned, "Remember--you never bet more than you have." I decided on $25. Whoever lost would be responsible for doubling the $25 donation I already planned on making to an organization for a friend's birthday gift.

I don't even know how the game of football is played. It's so stop and go that I find it quite boring and even during the most important game of the year, zoning out. Physically, my eyes were looking at the TV, but nothing was registering. Of course in the beginning I was into it, even jumped up and yelled, "Go go go!" at one point, but the later it got, the more of my body became one with the couch. I did pay attention to the commercials, and despite the high rate of violence and suicide, managed to pick my top three favorites.
1) Bud Light's Rock, Paper, Scissors
2) Bud Light's (?) where the dog ends up a fake dalmation
3) Taco Bell's lions trying to pronounce "carrrrrrne"

My dad wore a Packers sweatshirt and a Yankees hat, yet ended up pulling for the Bears halfway through so he could win his "square pool" at his office. My mom joined us after she was done at work, and we took a picture for Sheri (who's currently studying abroad in Spain) wearing "los osos" shirts created/left in the mailbox Sunday morning by David Sampson and holding a paper plate on which I wrote "We miss you Sheri." Now that I think about it, I should have written that in Spanish tambíen. Packers sandwich.

Bears lost 17 to the Colt's 29.

I displayed my sadness with Jello helmets.

Oh well, there's always next year. All you need is Lovie...