What is performance art? Does it follow in the footsteps of the "happening" and the "event"? Must it involve a multitude of media and spring from one individual's creative vision? Is content and clear-cut meaning taboo? Is open-endedness a given?
These are some of the questions that tug at the gray matter after a short evening spent in the company of James Grigsby, one of Chicago's most celebrated performance artists. Grigsby, a modest, immaculately groomed man, offered last night's audience at the Washington Project for the Arts a look at two of his works, and the chance to discuss them. The latter proved far more diverting.
Grigsby's greatest assets are his verbal dexterity and overall meticulousness. "To me it is the details in life that are the most significant," says one of the "characters" in his "A Slip of the Tongue," and that could well be this artist's credo. "A Slip of the Tongue" presents a shadowy, suited figure locomoting jerkily about the room, fingers twitching in their black leather gloves. He speaks on three interwoven levels, describing plants, spouting cliche's and relating the tale of an old man drinking tea. "Incident," one fragment of a larger work, is of a more light-hearted nature, with Grigsby reading Nathanael West-type vignettes about salesmen in hotel rooms, mystery women and a fellow locked out of his home by a two-timing spouse. Occasionally, he rises to match goofy moves to each phrase he utters.
The performance itself lasted no more than 30 minutes. Afterward, Grigsby chatted with the tiny group of spectators asking for reactions, telling of his varied background in the arts and setting forth, in a warm and witty manner, his notion of just what "performance" can be.