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.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chris Midterm

In the sculpture class I teach, one of the assignments is to build a conceptual piece. Many find the assignment bewildering, because the medium isn’t easily workable, like most substances used by sculptors. For a conceptual work, the artist is building something specifically inside the head of the patron. Most artwork is finished when it is completed as an intellectual circuit—when the patron experiences the work and internalizes it; for each patron, the artwork is a unique experience, and represents a fusion of the artist’s work and intention, and the patron’s memory of the experience. A conceptual work uses this last stage of completion as its primary form, and the sculptor is in essence using the reaction and imagination of the patron as her medium. By way of example, I gave the midterm for my class as Chris.

It is not a big deal to dress like someone else—most do this with their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes. However, it is something else to take on a shared persona with a large group of people, with the express purpose of exploring analogs of social interaction. It is also something else entirely to develop the idea and orchestrate the event. Having Chris discuss his project with my class, explore some of the questions and ideas it germinated, and cap it by politely and firmly giving each of my students their midterm evaluations (in the nicest, most non-confrontational way possible) helped many of my students understand that conceptual art is something that can be done by any artist with drive and intellectual curiosity, and the willingness to document everything. This also led many to the question of whether most art is conceptual, if in the end the art affects the patron. The answer (politely given): of course.

After Chris finished, I took off the hat and glasses, and had a big swig of my Vault. I can’t be someone else forever.

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