Escape Artist Series Gets Personal

Nadya Primak, Staff Writer

It was a gloomy night at last Thursday’s “Escape Artist” series, and only half of the little studio’s chairs in Azru Oklan’s studio on Forest Street were occupied to listen to Chris Barr’s presentation. Mainly a performance artist nowadays, Barr has had his fill of advertising agencies and working on library websites. Currently, with a graduate degree under his belt, he pursues much more interesting projects.

One of these projects is the Bureau of Workplace Interruptions, a website where you can “request a customized interruption” of your workday and the Bureau will contact you with something random to brighten up any repetitive office job.

Barr wanted to address scryptic conversations with this site, explaining how much of daily life is made up of easily recognizable dialogue, even from an outsider’s perspective. “Inserting nonsense breaks the script,” Barr explained. The Bureau of Workplace Interruptions can provide some of that nonsense at

Another of Barr’s interests is “thinking about public space, and the structure of public space.” He looked at this concept with an umbrella taxi service project — anyone could call him up after finding out about the service online, and he would walk them to where they’re going “underneath my umbrella.”

Despite being in public, “the shelter of an umbrella creates a private space.” Barr wanted to see if the intimate closeness that is necessary to share an umbrella with someone could create the richly expressive experience that is missing in our daily lives.

In one of Barr’s projects, he explored the ways that instructions influence labor. Barr created videos of himself carrying out instructions created by famous artists belonging to the 1960s fluxus movement, and he played some of these videos to his audience. The instructions included brushing one’s teeth using a different toothbrush for each tooth, lighting a match and watching it burn until it went out, walking into a tree over and over but each time in a different way and playing baseball with a piece of fruit. Needless to say, the piece was highly entertaining.

At the end of the talk, Barr spoke a bit about his history in advertising and showed some of his design work. He encouraged his audience not to pursue advertising because, as he put it, “working in advertising sucked out my soul.”

He explained how he suffered to make ads for parties he did not support, urging everyone that being a graphic designer is not contingent on working for an advertising agency.

The final project in Barr’s presentation was more personal and serious than the rest. It dealt with suicide, and how a space of time in itself can have meaning.

In this performance piece, Barr stood by a tree, stared at it for 17 minutes, and then fell over. He has 72 of these videos. Barr’s brother committed suicide, so this project was a very personal reflection.

“Seventeen minutes is how often someone commits suicide in the United States,” Barr explained. “Duration holds meaning.”