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What to Expect at the 25-hour Marathon Reading of John Cage’s Book Silence

Hundreds of Chicago artists and allies convene on the MCA’s stage this weekend for a free performance.

William Pope.L, Cage Unrequited, 2013   Photo: Paula Court, courtesy of the artist and Performa

Even after nearly all the Chicago bars close this Saturday night, performance art will still be going strong in Streeterville. Specifically, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where a 25-hour marathon event blends spoken word and music in a tribute to John Cage’s 1961 book Silence. The multi-faceted performances includes a cover-to-cover reading by hundreds of artists, curators, and Chicago culturati. Here’s what to expect.

Why It’s Happening

The coordinated readings are, in their entirety, a work of performance art by William Pope.L, a professor of art at the University of Chicago. It was Pope.L’s idea to turn the reading into a piece of endurance art, so he invited hundreds of groups to participate. The event is one of Pope.L’s contributions to the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music 1965 to Now, on view through November 22.

Who Will Be There

Artists and performers in groups will rotate reading passages from Cage’s book in 15-minute intervals. Expect to see artists William Pope.L, Laura Letinsky, Scott Wolniak, and Edra Soto, curators Naomi Beckwith, Eric May, and Danny Orendorff, among others. Musical interludes  will feature recordings of sound art commissioned specifically for the event by Ono, Brian Case from The Disappears, and JR Robinson from Wrekmeister Harmonies. If you stick around until the very end, your reward will be live music at the finale.

When to Go

Looking for an avant-garde bedtime story? Visitors can come and go anytime between Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. “We’re setting it up to be inviting and welcoming so people will want to stay,” says event producer Michael Green, who’s providing pillows, blankets, snacks, and drinks.

Why You Should Go

“The event will riff off notions of experimentation and improvisation in avant-garde music,” says Green. And in that  done in the spirit of Cage, and using some of his antics, too, like his famously silent composition that made use of ambient audience noise and arrangements of random notes.

The performances runs Nov. 21 at 3 p.m. to Nov. 22 at 4 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave; mcachicago.org; Free  

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