Art Lies, Volume 3, October-November 1994

HUSTLING
by the Green Hornet
Art's a peep show, performance and theater: we take our seats, wait for the lights to go down, peer in through the
window. And if we're lucky, something dramatic will happen, something compelling: maybe a man and a woman mas-
turbate while their pet retriever watches from the blanket it sleeps on, a boy pees into a beaker filled with a rocksalt rosary.
Or maybe it's violence, cheap sentiment, love, satire or the erudite allusion, spirituality and the foreign phrase. Any image
or story may do, which one, after all, is neither here nor there. We like what we like, and we go, presumably, to see it,
peep-peep, to watch it go by, and preferably, up there, out there, over there, the safe page, shower curtain, stage floor and
rigging. And there's nothing wrong with it really, this theater of distance, the comfort of glass somewhat fogged by our
exhalations. We do, yes, like to watch, watching is, in itself, a'kind of performance, there it is, we think, Etant Donnes,
performer as landscape, and audience, the paying voyeur, demi-god of fantastical abstraction.
Yet some of us also occasionally like to see the window broken, to see our trousers shredded by sharp glass, to feel
the impulse to roll out of the shadow of the wall when we are sure that it is falling. When the performers approach us, hold
silver trays they puke upon above our laps, we are, as some say (I say), uncomfortably engage, which is just another way
of describing a condition of danger, of risk or empathy, the supersensible soapbubble of consciousness suddenly com-
pressed, expanded or shattered. There's nothing new about it, this "theater," as Artaud described it, "like the plague," its
psychic assaults and physical concretions, the image and/or idea invading the body, invited or not.
For decades artists have been experimenting with presentation, constructing contexts in an attempt to
dismantle-sanctum sanctorum--audience isolation and complacency. Tired of trite predictability, of linear narrative and
polemical cliche (the primary safehouses of adequate funding), they struggle to find forms and non-forms through which to
compel a hostile audience to cathartic revelation. Tough task, indeed, such agon and hamartia. Generally, if we see
something that threatens our chosen perceptions, we turn away. If we attend a performance that causes displeasure, we leave.
Those who remain or return form a collective mirror, a convention of twins, which is as much perhaps, as we ever get, an
irony that's mitigated by applause.
But there is an additional impediment as well: any performance that announces itself, advertises, invites-all
invitations participate in the rituals of institutions-implicitly constructs, to varying degrees, the voyeuristic context, ie., the
complacent space, converted congregation. And voyeurism is about distance and withdrawal, control: the mind assigns to
itself the divine seat of power, a kind of condescending fiction, from which it guards the gates of heaven, designating the
forms and methods of approach. We all do this-for the one center we are sure of is where any one of us is standing. The
more rigorous our certainty, the more we'll do to defend it from assault.
Which gets me thinking: is there really such a thing as an unwilling audience where audience itself implies, beyond
opening night, a kind of willingness? What of all the performances on the street-not the jugglers and mimes and sweating
commuters but the hustlers: hookers and dealers and sour-pantsed junkies passing dime bags of manitol to neophyte dabblers
looking for thrills. Costumed, employing the strategies of a persuasive rhetoric and a stylistically appropriate language,
hookers and dealers have developed an art that combines neo-classical pop with the unrepentant teleology of capitalistic
desire. But based as it is on hoped for colloquys of sensation and thought, it also requires a receptive audience, willing, in
a sense, its own beguilement: the internalization of image and text. For most hustlers this is the operant context: the
sensitivity of the mark to the proferred apple.
Pickpockets, however, rather than establishing the performance context for the willing, impose it upon the
unwilling-not so much the loners in Times Square on New Year's Eve who strive for an idealized obscurity, but the small
mobs of children who surround us-an apt enough metaphor for modernity-and grab hold, their small naturally angelic and
feral faces weeping as they empty our pockets and handbags. We could, of course, strike out, push them away. But we have
constructed an identity in which value is based predominately on sympathy and kindness, and to act would constitute an
expansive fracturing of self, the locution of a dislocating abnegation, the revealed capacity of a comfortably unacknow-
ledged condition, ie., self-disgust, shame, the use of an ambiguous violence, ambivalent force. Which is the point, isn't it,
for a "cruel' art: to shake us out of complacency, those comfortable delineations of self-representation that offer only the
sanctifying profiles of niceties and concern, a kind of christmas list for paralytics and liars. Which is the delight of it. The
kids know this, and as we hesitate, beneath their sad faces they are laughing.

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Huerta, Benito; Ballou, Chris & Loftus, Kelley. Art Lies, Volume 3, October-November 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228036/. Accessed April 24, 2014.