Art events in Chicago heal through expressive celebration

Lauren Dyrek leads Human Communion, a participatory therapeutic art series. (Photo courtesy of Human Communion)
Lauren Dyrek leads Human Communion, a participatory therapeutic art series. (Photo courtesy of Human Communion)

Many students use drinking, dancing and attending art events as opportunities for cathartic release after overscheduled workweeks. But some groups around Chicago are drawing an even more explicit connection between partying, healing and artistry. In an increasingly secular youth culture, communities are forming their own rituals.

One such effort, Human Communion, is a series of therapeutic art events hosted by Lauren Dyrek. Participants share various forms of artistic expression loosely based on a changing theme. Dyrek was inspired to create this community by her participation in Chicago’s music scene.

“That feeling of coming together to support your friends playing music, and to experience something with so many people makes you feel alive,” Dyrek said. “I felt like that needed to be extended beyond just music and reworked a little bit. There is so much life, talent and emotion in my friends that wasn’t being tapped into.”

Human Communion’s most recent event was themed “Letters.” Bodies crowded Uncharted Books’ tiny reading space and Dyrek set up letter-writing stations equipped with paper, pens and envelopes in nooks between shelves. Dyrek nervously greeted attendees and gave a heartfelt account of a letter her mother wrote her that she stumbled upon, inspiring the event’s theme. A series of volunteers shared bits of poetry, prose and songs.

“When you’re able to express yourself in the way that you have chosen and have people experience that with you, it can be a very great feeling,” Dyrek said. “When you share experiences you can talk with others that have been through the same thing or are going through the same thing. It’s that whole feeling of not being alone in something.

“Human Communion is, in some ways, an old-fashioned effort. Physical gatherings in which participants share art for the sake of building community have been around for centuries. Dyrek uses Facebook to promote and organize these events. Human Communion creates very personal, intimate experiences. Total Therapy takes a different approach to the same end.

Artists Ben “DJ Pluto” Marcus, Teen Witch, Claire Van Eijk, Virtual Brat and promoter Scott Cramer host parties at various venues, most recently dance club Berlin, under the name Total Therapy. Their goal is to create a healing atmosphere within club culture. One event, titled Spiritual Enema, involved an art piece where people submit anonymous “confessions” online prior to the party and later those confessions were used in an installation displayed at the event. In this sense, Total Therapy replicates the structure of church events — confessions are private and anonymous, then there is a group release.

“A party is healing in the way that breaking down hindering social barriers can bring us closer together,” Marcus said. “Dancing is a way to connect to people without the complicated social dynamics of language and meaning. We need healing because our culture feeds us a lot of garbage about what’s right and what’s wrong, and we learn to block ourselves from feeling love from ourselves and others.”

Total Therapy’s events play with imagery from Tumblr and net art culture. Spiritual Enema’s interplay of online and real-life dynamics suggests the Internet harnesses unique potential.

“There can be a lot of catharsis in being able to reveal as much or as little as you like through various social medias,” Van Eijk said. “The Internet can heal if you are open and coming from a place of positivity.”

“Sometimes people need to hide behind a screen to let themselves say exactly what’s true to them,” Marcus said. “When we know what’s true to ourselves, we can have a deeper experience of our own life and from here connect to others more realistically and clearly.

Human Communion and Total Therapy are groups that attempt to build community through an earnest awareness of the need for growth. They represent an attempt at creating modern rituals to fit to an evolving idea of community in a post-Internet era.

“This can be called a spiritual connection,” he said. “When we feel ‘connected’ or ‘plugged in’ to ourselves and others. I think the Internet can look like what people describe as having a spiritual connection. It’s a physical version of what how our higher consciousness works, or the kind of information our soul contains.”