Multimedia artist Clifford Owens is being a bit evasive. I'm asking him about exactly what he plans to do with the audience that shows up for Photographs With an Audience this Friday and Saturday night in Gerrard Hall. Spontaneity—and not giving the game away—prompts him "not to disclose too much about what specifically is going to happen."
There will be a large- and medium-format camera, a couple of photographic strobes and not too many chairs.
"I want them moving, participating," he says.
Owens says he plans to ask the audience a series of questions and then ask members from the audience to stand in front of the camera to play out the responses. "I'm not quite certain what the audience will expect; not quite sure how people will respond."
Megel calls Owens' Photographs "a piece that is process. He's interested in audiences being subjects—and subjects being art. It's a very different type of performance than we're used to in the Process Series."
In our conversation, Owens maps out a tantalizing realm of hypothetical interests. "I'm thinking about the social decorum that governs institutions ... what [theorist] Kathy O'Dell talks about as 'the contractual agreement of performance art.' The audience will be willingly entering into the performance—into the frame I've set up for the cameras. There's a kind of social agreement implicit there. In a sense, that relationship makes us responsible for each other, as part of the experience together."
After Owens tells me a couple of the instructions he gave his audience in the New York version of the work, I ask him what exactly it is that he's trying to capture on film.
His answer is almost immediate. "Social relationships," he says before pausing, and then adds, "I'm thinking about the photograph as a kind of mirror, in a sense—and how viewers outside of the experience of the performance might make relationships between the other individuals and me, specifically. I'm thinking about my role as the artist and the provocateur in the project."
Get the picture?
Photographs With an Audience, presenting Nov. 6-7 at 8 p.m. at UNC's Gerrard Hall (admission is free), is part of a two-week residency for Owens on the UNC campus. While in Chapel Hill, Owens will contribute to an Internet archive of African-American performance art currently under construction by UNC art professor John Bowles and his students by staging several different performances in the art department's sculpture garden and elsewhere. A collection of his works is on display in Alcott Gallery through Dec. 9.