Strutting Their Stuff

By Saul Ostrow. Contemporary Art Series #8, Elliott Green, exhibition catalog, April 1996
Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

It could be Mardi Gras, Carnival, Halloween, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving or St. Patrick's Day, a victory celebration or a protest demonstration. Regardless, the atmosphere is almost always gay and most certainly chaotic. Barricades are set up, traffic backs up, horns honk, disorder sets in, the police wait in readiness. A cacophonous mix of military melodies, show tunes, chants and cheers fill the air. Then down the middle of the street comes a procession consisting of garish floats, high school bands, fraternal organizations with color guards, unions and mutual aid societies marching behind their banners. Everything seems to be covered in glitter, sequins and tassels. Big-headed characters ramble along, fantastic beings with bulging eyes and flapping tongues, with huge feet, and fingertips that drag on the ground. Some are so tall they scrape the sky, others so short they walk between their companions' legs. The mundane mingles with the fantastic and tawdry, giving reality the quality of an acid flashback. Then, without warning, the parade dissipates. The crowds disperse, and in their place among the litter are the lost and abandoned. The scene has everything one can wish for and perhaps more. It is "The Odyssey" and "The Iliad" rolled up into one, noble causes, passions and marching bands.

As darkness sets in, the experiences of the day retreat into the recesses of the mind, events become reduced to anecdotes, souvenirs and snapshots. Once more the participants are ordinary people who proceed to their workaday world, where they happily dream that waking dream about the day next year when they will don their guises once again, and, in complete anonymity, act out their deepest desires, their outrageous urges and their most ardent passions before an adoring and cheering public.