Thursday night at the Contemporary Arts Museum, visitors were invited to a performance and photo shoot by Clifford Owens before an opening reception for his first one-person show. About 50 of us fit into the tiny room, where we were seated chockablock on the floor, leaving just a narrow, open alleyway where Owens spoke and where portraits were taken. The intimacy of space proved to be conducive for the project, breaking down ordinary divisions between performer and audience, fostering a friendly if sometimes perilous conversation.
It was a performance about anxiety and fear, and about how cameras organize our lives (and due to the personal nature of the performance and the audience's participation, no additional photography was allowed). Owens opened by asking who was afraid of flying. With this and subsequent questions, he brought up audience members to enact or confront their fears. Five folks admitting to fear of flying stood up to be posed with their arms out like airplanes. From there, the categories depended on impulse, audience energies, and Owens' own ideas about Houston, where he had just arrived for the first time. To facilitate the project, he'd fetch a bottle of champagne to be passed around, posed with, and spat in his face.