Performance Art Brings Suspense to the Bookstore at Library Square
The noises echoed into a silent room as the crowd held its breath on Second Friday Art Night.
“Raising the Bar”
David Carpenter, performance artist, was elevating a narrow beam higher and higher, using cement blocks and one iron girder.
But there was one catch: the entire time, the artist was kneeling or standing on the structure he was building. If he touched the floor or fell off, the piece would end.
The question wasn’t so much whether he or the girder would fall, but when the fall would happen. Thus the nail-biting suspense. In this case, the beam and the artist fell sooner than expected, with a dramatic crash. And yet, the piece was a success, because unpredictability was part of the artistic theme.
What is performance art?
Unlike a stunt, a piece of performance art is not intended to showcase the completion of a difficult task. The outcome of the artist’s task is not relevant except to inform the larger themes of the work. Whether the crash comes early in the piece or late, the artistic event allows audience members to think about the deeper meaning of what they are witnessing.
Artistic inspiration and process
“On a very simple level, “Raising the Bar” shows that I build a foundation, but then I have to rob and steal from it to elevate my status,” David Carpenter said. “I’ve done performance pieces before, but never one this bare, where it’s just me and the audience.”
He described the similarity between this piece and his sculptural work. “There’s a way that this performance art piece shows the process I go through with sculpture. To make sculpture is very physical, and there are moments when you wonder if it’s going to work. So this piece shows that creative experience in a compact time frame.”
Carpenter was pleased by the audience reaction. “I’ve never performed this piece in front of a live audience before,” he said. “And I thought they might just watch part of it, or walk in and out of the room. So I was surprised by how much they got into it, especially when I heard the first audible gasp.”
Patrons and guests praise the performance
Many attendees at the event had never seen performance art before and came to explore a new experience.
Friends Julia and Ana were first-time performance art watchers, and both said they would like to see more.
Julia said she enjoyed the piece. “It presents strength in a dynamic and interesting way,” she said. “It seems dangerous because the bricks he’s using are quite heavy, and he’s doing it in front of people.”
Ana also expressed admiration. “It’s pretty difficult! Even the floor was moving. And there’s the surprise factor.”
Louise said she would like to see more performance art in the city. She appreciates the suspense and mystery of the art form. “I went around saying I was going to a performance,” she said, “And people asked me what it was about. And I told them I didn’t know yet, and that’s part of the fun of it!”
Bringing more performance art to local venues
The gallery and meeting rooms inside the Bookstore at Library Square create a perfect venue to host a performance art event in conjunction with a visual art exhibition. “Raising the Bar” appeared as a part of the popular “Delta des Refuses” exhibition, now in its final days at Library Square galleries.
Exhibition coordinator Rachel Trusty praised the effect of the piece. “David’s performance added a dynamism to the show that could only be achieved through a live event,” Trusty said. “Very few Arkansas visual artists are working in these modes, and I hope that his work has been an excellent introduction for gallery visitors.”
David Carpenter looks forward to more performance art in this area. “Performance art has as much potential as any other art form. It can be good, and it can be bad,” he said. “But we live in a time when there aren’t really any barriers to what artists can do.”
The “Delta des Refuses” exhibition will be open to the public through August 25th, 2018, at the CALS Bookstore at Library Square and the Galleries at Library Square (formerly the CALS Butler Center Galleries).
David Carpenter grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from University of Central Arkansas and a Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art from Louisiana State University. He now teaches full time at the University of Arkansas – Pulaski Technical College. For more on his work, see www.thedavidcarpenter.com.