I am Chris Purdie is a performance art piece involving thirty-five performers playing the role of visual artist Chris Purdie. The cast wears the "Chris Purdie uniform" and performs the role as they interact with patrons attending the artist's reception. For the duration of the exhibition, there will be at least one "Chris Purdie" in the gallery during their hours.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Saggy Nerd

Last Friday was a special day. My fifth-grader was mortified that I took her to school in my Chrisgear, and by the time I got to work, I was comfortable in my oversize pants, black shoes, and awkward glasses. My coworkers (hesitant to say anything about my behavior or uniform) quickly adapted to the real me, and asked me to explain my art project to them. After establishing a solid, politely nonconfrontational presence at work, I went to BYU to uninstall the exhibit my alter-ego had previously set up.

Taking down the exhibit, people approached to help or offer greetings, only to stop a moment and readjust to the new reality. People stopped what they were going to say, smiled slightly, and said, "Nice to see you, Chris," and more often than not, offered to help for a second to take down Andy's show. Another Chris adjusted my hat for me (thoughtful). After taking down the exhibit, it was back to work. My interaction with people at my job is limited (I am rarely let out--unescorted--of the locked room), but the customers I met with either were completely unimpressed with my snappy attire, or seemed genuinely interested with my art project. After a long, grueling day of adjusting my glasses, I had to go to the Orem library and pick up a sculpture to be delivered to another site the next day. That was interesting.

Growing up south of five nuclear power plants, with an engineer father who helped develop early robotics software and a mother with multiple Masters degrees, I feel a particular familiarity with the stereotypical nerd profile. I was a bit surprised, however, by my reception at the library (NOT, however, by the librarians--they are always models of appropriate behavior). My oldest, who believes that observing the adult "uncool" condition will help her avoid the same problems, agreed to go with me to pick up the sculpture, and observed reaction to the new me.

Standing to wait for the reference librarian (patiently), I passed the time by smiling occasionally, fiddling with my fingers, pinching my sides with my elbows, and correcting the perching angle of my feet. While he was finishing with the patrons before me in line, a couple young men (members of the high school social elite) came up behind me and started muttering to each other. My daughter said that, when I failed to respond (I couldn't understand them, for one thing--and besides, responding would have been rude) they would slightly raise their volume. They made a number of comments about my nifty hat and sweater, which I ignored because I thought they were discussing a statue nearby. The librarian came to help me, scowled at the two boys behind me, and took me to the basement display where the sculpture was. For some reason, the two boys followed us downstairs.

The librarian kindly helped us get the work out of its display case, pausing frequently to scowl again at the two boys, and guided us back upstairs. At his desk, he asked again if there was anything he could do to help us, and complemented my alter ego regarding the show on display. As my daughter and I were leaving, he turned to the two boys and said (with a bit of snap), "What do you want?" They asked something, and he told them he couldn't help, and they'd have to come back on Saturday. Then he turned away and completely ignored them. On our way out, I asked my daughter why she thought the man would do that. "Well, Dad," she said, "I think the librarian was angry at them for following us around and making fun of you." "What do you mean?" I asked, because I was completely oblivious. "They called you a Saggy Nerd."

The librarian stuck up for me, not even knowing who I was.

Did I mention I like librarians?

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