Friday, March 21, 2014

Lonestar Explosion 2014 - The Artist Is Pleasant by David B. Collins

Dean Liscum

I've been confronted with many things when viewing performance art by David B. Collins: shrink-wrapped suicide hotline conversations, naked strolling down Westheimer with a clothed entourage, a naked body covered in green paint. Now I can add to that list a peanut butter sandwich sans nudity.

The Artist is Pleasant by David B. Collins

Collins piece was a one-on-one interaction in which audience members were invited to sit across the table from him. The two of them would exchange pleasantries, and at some point Collins would offer to make his audience a peanut butter sandwich. From what I witnessed of the performance, it was a plethora of pleasantness or at least superficially so.

I say superficially because it wasn't pleasant for me. The title is a pun on the phrase "the artist is present" and the concept of being fully present, of being in the moment. The piece made me wonder if the artist is pleasant, meaning he's conforming to societal norms so as not to offend or insult anyone, can he also be present as an artist? Isn't the artist, specifically the performance artist, supposed to challenge us in some way, to move us out of pleasant-ville if only for a day trip? When I go to see performance art, I expect and want to be challenged to embrace, to avert, to intervene, to abandon what I'm confronted with. I don't expect or want a cup of pleasantness and a side of peanut butter with my performance art.

I boycotted the sandwich. I grew up on peanut butter and pleasantness. I've had enough of that shit. I want my performance artists present. I want them intellectually, aesthetically, and emotionally engaged. If that means naked and smeared with peanut butter, so be it. If that means I'm shocked, disgusted, or emotionally scarred for life, so be it. The pleasantries, I can do without. They leave their own marks.

The audience, however, played along. No one challenged Collins or his menu. No one got belligerent or confrontational or naked. No one asked him to do anything inappropriate in "pleasant" company. And he didn't. Collins was a perfect gentleman, which was pleasant but not very satisfying. Unless, frustrating audience members with pleasantness was the objective of Collin's pleasant-present dichotomy.

If so, bravo. If not, I prefer him naked and green all over.

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