The importance of civil discourse is driven into our heads from a young age. Its a cornerstone of polite society. If you dont have anything nice to say, were told, dont say anything at all. And if youve got some built up frustrations, dont air them in public.
One local artist recently challenged this cultural norm with a performance piece titled The People Pleaser. Joshua Blue Haney, a UNCC student and artist openly invited people to yell out their frustrations at him for five minutes while he sat mute and receptive. The idea, Haney said, was to signify two things, my own feeling of confusion and overload, along with my issue with being a people pleaser.
Many likely find it quite appealing to vent their frustrations at someone who cannot verbally pass judgment or give them sunny optimistic platitudes in response. In reality, it may turn out to be more difficult than expected. In a way, the performance pressure was placed more solely on the shoulders of the audience than on the artist himself. Its not easy to sit and listen to strangers yell, but neither is it easy to break free of the behavioral patterns youve had reinforced for your entire life.
At first, only the artists friends and classmates had a go. They yelled at him for smoking. They told him conceptual art was overrated. They said his art project was poorly thought out and doomed to failure because no one cared; only fellow artists were yelling at him and that didnt really count.
Hainey seemed to be thinking the same thing, as he asked if he could pause, briefly standing up to encourage more participation. You cant pause in the middle of an art piece! Haineys professor, Malena Bergmann, admonished. He sat back down and made due with the participants he had, who now seemed even more fired up to tell him what they thought of his art, and his existence in general. Eventually, this loosened a few of the two dozen or so in attendance. One woman walked up and vented about the colleges parking situation. A young man followed, asking, Why does Walmart suck to work for?
Hainey remained silent, taking drags off his cigarette and occasionally checking his watch, as things began drifting into the absurd. You peed on the floor again! shouted one man, as if Hainey were a misbehaving dog. Another, who after the performance was revealed to me to be Haineys best friend, pushed him flat on the ground before taking his shoes and chucking them across the plaza.
When the five minutes were up it was Haineys turn to dish it out. He took the nonparticipants to task for being passive, for not caring about art, and for failing to try something new even though thats what college is supposed to be all about. He finished strong: Do something! Youre here, make a movement. Do it! Its now. We live one time, one time only.
Finally all those quiet onlookers let out one big, group scream. Thank you! said a visibly relieved Hainey.
So was the piece a success?
I think it went okay, Hainey said. It could have been a lot better if more people had shown up and gotten caught up in the moment and participated. However, as far as the simple communication of my concept, Id say it was successful.
It was an extremely cathartic experience, he said of getting to yell back at the crowd (which, it turns out, was planned and signified his breaking away from being a chronic people pleaser). I shook for about 30 minutes after. It was so cleansing to scream my frustrations out at the world.
One cant help but wonder if the experience was more fulfilling for the artist than the audience, but considering the performances concept, that seems a fitting outcome.
A video of the event follows. (Please be forewarned that there is strong language used throughout.)