Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Art Guys - Nothing To It

After a work shift on Saturday 5/3, my preceptor dropped me off at the University of Houston so that I could see The Art Guys' show Nothing To It: An Evening of Itty Bitty Witty Ditties. Despite the trying-too-hard-to-be-humorously-obnoxious name, it was a lot of fun. The Art Guys are a Houston institution. I won't recount their biography, you can read that here. In brief, they are performance artists with an emphasis on the fun and funny rather than the dull and ponderous.

This show was a retrospective of their work performed in front of an audience that was clearly heavy on their friends, family, and ardent supporters. The first work sounded like a good idea, but in practice only partially worked. Called Future Music [In Three Movements], a projector displayed instructions that each audience member should, at a random time during the rest of the show, shout out one word. As soon as the description was up, people started calling out. The words were almost exclusively nouns like asparagus or chicken, you know "funny" words. And once the children got started, oh man was that annoying. Again, good idea for a piece, but when the audience is full of wannabe comedians and hyperactive, bored children, it don't work no good.

I won't go through every piece, just hit the highlights. A great work that worked was Kiss Piece where the two Art Guys applied lipstick and kissed every member of the audience. It was funny and sweet. Good friends and (I think) family got kissed on the lips, bald guys got kissed on the head, shy little girls on the hand. I can imagine that for a different audience it could be uncomfortable or even hostile (which would also be interesting), but for this hometown crowd it went smoothly. Kiss Piece was immediately followed by Guzzle A Beer - At Any Time - (For Tom Marioni). It's exactly what it sounds like. For the rest of the night, the director would intermittently flash up the title on the projection screen and the guys would crack open beers and guzzle them. Near the end they handed them out to some of the other back-up performers and even one guy in the audience. Seeing as the guys aren't really party animals, it was more to be endured than enjoyed, at least after the first round.

Inverted Karaoke was great. Jack, who cannot play, sat at a piano and attempted to perform "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" while listening to it on headphones that blocked out all other sound. Michael, equally horrible, "sang" along while also listening to headphones. It was cacaphonous and hilarious. Another mostly auditory work was Wrap Piece where the guys pulled out giant rolls of industrial-strength plastic wrap and proceeded to stretch it around rows of seats and handrails, working to express all the squeals and thrums they could. Plywood was a visual spectacle with dancers and chorus singing the praises of plywood. While fun to look at, this elevation of a mundane object to glory went on too long.

The last piece was also the most serious. Entitled For Martin, Jimmy and Bill, it consisted of Michael breathing audibly into a microphone while Jack slowly turned a rain stick. Sounds kind of lame, but in the near-dark, as a meditation on breath and the end of life, for someone like me that cares for people on ventilators every work day, it was beautiful and moving.

The whole show was filmed and will air on the Houston PBS station at some point. There are photos from the show on their website as well as clips from other performances.

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