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.

Monday, March 2, 2009

UVU Panel of Chris Purdie

For me, becoming a reflection of Chris Purdie involved a lot of surprise. Over the weeks of info and observations, I have thought about what I immediately connected to with Chris, our most obvious differences, etc., & it came out as intellectual ideas, like us having our conversion to the LDS church at the same age, our retrospective glances at lives we once pursued with vigor, & now remember with awe, & nostalgic "what ifs." But when sitting among a panel of other Chris Purdies so willing to speak, so prepared to expose him - as Chris Purdie, himself, requested - to a room tiered of tabled students & garish florescent lights, it became very clear to me what I cherish most about Chris Purdie. And it was nothing so concrete as a topic or event in time. 

With the dominant Chris Purdie on my left determined to be heard & understood, undaunted by his stories of testicular cancer & realities of offspring, & the reasonable, measured Chris Purdie down the table on my right, patiently explaining what the Chris Purdie experience may or may not be all about, I felt surrounded by a distinct sense of adulthood, an angular, crisp, unfaltering, sure, adult-sense of life & art, & it was then that I identified what was most Chris Purdie to me, & the less I felt it from the panel, the more overwhelmed I became by it, with a stronger need to represent it, to embody the side of Chris Purdie most incongruous to the whole Chris Purdie Project. 

Within the soft, black hoodie & stiff, gray work slacks, between the snug, knit cap & fleecy scarf, I started sliding. I slid down into a place brimming with childlike wonder & hesitation. To a sassy extrovert, it was like being six years-old again, where everything is impossibly new & magical, & the need to share it & be understood, so desperate, the sheer endeavor of communicating it was becoming painful. Taking in a breath, filling my response to another Chris Purdie, I would lean into the mic, & the fear of potentially being mistaken, or garbling my intentions, my visions, was like a hand over my mouth, covering all sound, & I would just hang, all over the mic, my silences heavy & awkward, mouth opened, body forward, thoughts racing, the desperation so pure & artless, I didn't even know how to cover them up. I could laugh, at the wry candidness of the other Chris Purdies, I could laugh, & it felt like bursts of relief, my mouth stretching back, elastic, so willing to endure the impulsive yanks of joy, but then back I slid into the conflict of needing to express, & the need almost paralyzing the expression.

When I finally did connect to a voice, my ideas came out in blurbs, sound bites that seemed only half-related to the current dialogue, but were so essential in my head, & the words landed on the audience like chunks of Styrofoam, "Herman's Heads!"  "Thirty-five, it's thirty-five!"  I could feel how uncomfortable my participation made the panel & the straining audience, & I thought "Yes! This is it! Be with me in this! This space, this glowing, unbearable space of hope & impending rejection! Don't move! Just sit here with me!" And it was in those humiliating moments that I felt we were most connected as a panel, as a room, as an experience, because we could not be sure any of the previous moments were a success in articulation or expression, or understanding, but in the gruesome silences that formed around my attempts to participate, was an undeniable sense of failure, & that was just straight-up uniting. 

The keen presence of both hope & the anxiety of potential failure, negotiating every moment, is what the Chris Purdie experience became for me at that panel discussion Thursday night.  And I thought of a comment Christopher Guest made about J.T. Walsh & his understated choices as a performer: "You have to have a lot of confidence to do nothing." And that night I realized it may not be about choosing to do nothing, choosing not to react, but a reaction so filled & complex with possibilities, that when it looks up, reaches out, it appears very simple & glassy, but is so alive & electric, can pulse across a room, and back again.   

Kat Mandeville

1 comment:

Chris Purdie said...

That is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. It is too good to be on my blog, but I am very grateful you have offered such a genuine, heartfelt entry. I am also touched that you were able to connect so strongly with the moment and your character. Thank you Kat for being so wonderful.