Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bizarre art stunt met with oblivion

"White Heart Bar" (acrylic on receipt folder; 2008)
by Christopher Michael Sullivan
The Bollard is one of the most interesting independent Maine publications around, but every now and then they have a story that is even more wildly-improbably-but-true than their usual fare.

For instance, their June 2011 issue features a short but jaw-dropping piece by Christopher Michael Sullivan, titled "Customer Copy," wherein he recounts his attempts to dazzle Portland waitstaff with his artistic feats of illusion, only to find them so focused on their jobs that no trick of skill was perceived:
Customer Copy: An artistic gift that failed
By Christopher Michael Sullivan

I imagined myself as David Blaine skillfully performing street magic. Not so much the flashy Blaine frozen in Times Square, or the ripped, glowering Blaine who held his breath for 17 minutes on Oprah. I would be the benevolent, unfettered Blaine, the one who wields a simple deck of cards, and who then might suddenly, quietly levitate for an audience of one or two zaftig tourists on a boardwalk. The Blaine who doles out intimate acts like the transformation of a playing card’s color; a delicate trick that brightens the day of the few people fortunate enough to witness it.

As an artist, my deck of cards would be a paintbrush, and my trick would be the transformation of restaurant receipts into paintings. My magic would brighten the night of all the servers who stumbled upon it. It would be my gift to the service industry.

The trick was supposed to work like this. When dining out, after finishing my meal, I would ask for the check and hand the server my credit card. The server would return with a black receipt folder containing my card and the receipt. The server would see me take my card, sign the receipt, and leave. When the server came back to collect the receipt, she would discover that – magically! – the folder now contained two identical receipts: alongside the paper original was an exact replica, meticulously hand-painted onto the inside of the folder.
I have spent the past two years performing this trick and can assure you that no one has mistaken me for Banksy. In fact, eight “receipts” have been dropped at establishments all around Portland and not one has conjured any excitement whatsoever. They have, without exception, been completely overlooked. After a cursory glance, the painting is mistakenly thought to be another receipt. The work of art, and the magic, are wasted.

My tragic magician’s tale began (as so many tragic tales once did) at the now-defunct White Heart Bar and Cocktail Lounge on Congress Street. [...] Over the course of several weeks and half-price bottles, I studied the rhythms of the White Heart, noting prices, the servers’ work schedules — even the time it took to pour and deliver a drink. I gathered all the information I would need in order to create a convincing facsimile of the receipt I would be given. Then I went to work in the studio, meticulously painting a receipt onto the inside of a folder just like those used at the bar.

After a week of painting, I was ready. With the folder concealed beneath my coat, I returned to the White Heart, ordered and drank wine, executed the switch, and left. A secret magician’s assistant, planted elsewhere in the bar, stayed behind to observe the server’s reaction. He picked up the folder. He entered the totals into the register. Then he put the folder on a stack of others behind the bar and went to take another order.

Maybe the White Heart was the wrong venue, I thought. Two more bars, two similar reactions. Two restaurants, two similar reactions.

Maybe it was a lack of complexity – perhaps the painting wasn’t dazzling enough. I made double receipts, folded and creased receipts, wine-stained receipts, stapled receipts. Nothing. The most notable response was, “Wow! It is really stuck down.” Each time, the work was tossed aside. The hours of preparation, the sleight of hand, and the artifact were all lost on their intended recipients. The work wasn’t received as art. It continued to be perceived as a receipt, and thus failed to manifest magic.

Click here to read the full article and see more of the paintings! http://www.thebollard.com/bollard/?p=8652
While you're there, don't forget to take a peek at this month's cover story, NPR's Other Enemy," about John Crosby, interviewed while in jail for sending threatening messages to NPR via email, including a death threat directed at the host of the popular show, "All Things Considered." Or, if you prefer lighter fare, a regular favorite Bollard feature is "That's My Dump," a column which investigates the history (and possible futures) of abandoned or ill-treated properties around the Greater Portland area, here: http://www.thebollard.com/bollard/?cat=46

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