A night out at Performa, November 18th, 2013

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Clifford Owens, Photographs with an Audience (Houston), Hold #1 and Hold #2, 2011 (detail) 2 c-prints, 20 by 24 inches (each)

Finding out more about the artist later, I realized my three-minute experience could have been different had I done my homework before, but not necessarily better.

We signed up for the performance, and when we got there we were told we would each have 3 minutes alone in a room with what turned out to be one performer. We signed a waiver which was quite long, the most salient points of it seeming to be that we were not to describe our experience to anyone, after (which is why of course I’m describing it now).

I watched the first two people come in and out intact with no readily interpretable expressions on their faces. I was ushered in, after a loud knock informed the facilitator that the performer was ready. I found myself in a pitch-black room, reminding me of other times I’d been in pitch-black rooms, at other performances.

A voice asked me if I could hear him, and to identify where I thought he was. He then provided some simple directions to navigate around the room, at one point taking my hand, asking me to stand in one corner or the next. In the first corner he asked me to say something, anything I wanted. Realizing he had expectations for me to be more interesting, I immediately became bereft of thought. In the second corner he told me to ask him any question, any question at all. I felt very badly because the only question that came to mind was whether he had any clothes on or not. I countered instead with a position of social nicety, and asked him if his background was in Performance Art. He said, somewhat dramatically, “I have no background”.  I could feel myself being propelled towards what I knew, now that my eyes had adjusted to the light, was the exit. I stifled the impulse to apologize for being so boring. Feeling summarily dismissed, I had the nasty feeling for the rest of the evening that I’d been on a very unsuccessful date, but at least it only lasted three minutes.

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