SOUTH LOOP — When artist Alberto Aguilar first pitched the idea to host a wedding for strangers as a performance piece in Columbia College's "RISK: Empathy, Art, and Social Practice," he imagined that he would find a couple to marry by posting an ad on Craigslist.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago grad got a few responses to his ad, "Wedding to Unknown," which promised "a wedding free of charge to a couple that desires to marry but cannot for whatever reason, financial or otherwise ...The only requirement is that you must be willing to get married before strangers."
But as the wedding date — March 21st — drew closer, his contenders began to drop out.
"In February, they sent me a text saying they decided not to do it after all," Aguilar said. "I guess one of their parents told them not to do it this way."
Last week, his last couple fell through.
During a conversation with her step-sister last week, Aguilar's wife, Sonia, detailed her husband's predicament.
Sheila Aguilar didn't know that Nina Young and her husband, Charenzo, had been secretly planning to throw a wedding for their five-year anniversary in October, to renew their vows and have the reception their City Hall nuptials had lacked.
"No one from my family came when we got married initially, because we just decided on a whim that we were going to go and get married," Young said. "We didn't have anything — we actually didn't even get to have a honeymoon. A month after we got married, we got pregnant. We felt like our preparation for our child was more important."
Sheila asked Nina to be in the ceremony immediately.
The Youngs agreed to Aguilar's terms. They were allowed 12 guests: the other 150 people were a random assortment of strangers Aguilar connected with at lectures, on Facebook and through his job teaching studio art at Harold Washington College.
The couple has no input on the style of the ceremony or the reception, which together will last from 6 to 11 p.m. and include performances by local artists Jorge Lucero, John Phillips and Edra Soto — whose medium is, conveniently, wedding cake.
"I think it's about the risk of the couple for sure, but I think it's also about the risks that I take, and the risk that's involved for the guests," Aguilar said, explaining how his piece fits into "RISK," the nearly three-month expiation series hosted at various galleries citywide.
"All the guests who are coming, they don't know who else is coming ... people who come as dates, chances are they're not going to be sitting with their dates."
The Youngs invited 12 of their own guests to attend, including their 3-year-old daughter, Nia.
Nina Young might not have much say in the wedding she's had five years to think about, but she says it doesn't bother her at all to have her wedding be an art project.
"We don't look at it as doing [Aguilar] a favor, we feel like it was meant to be," she said. "The place they're going to have it, and all of the guests that are going to be there, we wouldn't have been able to do that on our own."
Young is focusing instead on the details of her wedding that she can control.
"I'm wearing a white suit and a pink top. We'll all have pink on, my daughter and my husband as well," she said. "I've done an outfit for my daughter, an outfit for my husband, I just got an outfit this week for myself. Now it's coming together. All we need now are shoes."
The wedding will be at an undisclosed location hosted by Columbia. At the reception, Aguilar plans to serve a mole sauce he says illustrates the experience he envisions for his guests.
"I'm making it out of 50 ingredients ... all things that were purchased at Trader Joe's that are already pre-packaged or processed, like jarred or canned, nothing is made out fresh ingredients," he said.
"I'm confident at the end that it's going to taste like Mexican mole, even though I'm using Indian food, peanut butter, chocolate, Italian plum tomatoes with basil. Even though I'm using all these different things, I'm confident that it will taste like mole and people won't even notice as they're eating it that it's made out of all these disparate elements.
"At the event, people from all different backgrounds and places are brought together to have this shared moment."