Theater Around The Bay: Untitled For Your Protection

I only just met Phil Huang in April while facilitating a panel on “Offensive Theatre” for TBA. Phil is a trip- super smart, super concerned about the world, super unconcerned with your opinion of him- which is as refreshing as you’d expected it to be. He first published these thoughts on his particular brand of performance art back in January of 2011, but in that way that Facebook has of occasionally spitting up the bones of the past, it recently resurfaced and instigated some more interesting conversation on Facebook. I asked Phil if we could republish it here for our readers and he consented, despite being semi-retired and fairly certain he wouldn’t write this list as is today (note he did update it, however, to include a reference to me). Still, I think he raises some amazing points here. Let us know what you think!

Recently, a number of people have talked to me about the offensive nature of my work. What’s the point of shocking people? What good does it do? It’s just juvenile. It’s not art. Art is supposed to have substance. Art is supposed to heal and bring us together and stimulate thought. You’re no better than Rush Limbaugh. You’re just hurting people. If you’re not careful, you won’t have a career in the arts.

This got me thinking about my work specifically, queer art in general, and obscene/offensive art in total. Here are my thoughts:

* My queer ancestor, Leigh Bowery, said he only asks himself one question when he makes work: Where’s the poison?

* Queer artists are here to end the world as we know it. We’re here to be the monsters they say we are. And they should be scared.

* There’s a difference between offending people and hurting people. I’m out to shock and offend you, but I’m not out to hurt you. You have not been victimized by my work. You do not need to be protected from my work. As Keith Hennessy says, “Safe space…continues to frame us all as victims or potential victims in need of protection. And victims are always justified in excluding others, or Others. Safe space is the ideology that supports the prison industrial complex.”

* The bible is an object. Objects do not have fixed meanings. I am defiling what the bible means to me, not what it means to you.

* I don’t give a shit if I have a career in the arts. Bust my ass and play nice so I can beg for a $2,000 grant and do some shitty 3mo residency for $500? No thanks.

* I don’t need to be more sensitive or careful about what I do. Your feelings are your responsibility.

* Lydia Lunch said she used to scream obscenities at her audience until half of it left, separating those merely seeking entertainment from those who will fucking die without her work.

* If your only intent as an artist is to bring healing, your work probably sucks. Conversely, to paraphrase Stuart Bousel, if your only intent is to shock and offend, your work probably also sucks. But you’d be more fun to make out with.

* If you’re a curator, have faith in the intelligence of the audience. You don’t have to pre-chew their food for them.

* Offensive art starts conversations. The avoidance of offensive art does not. Once the worst thing has been said or depicted, the rest is easy.

* To paraphrase Kirk Read, the true evil in the world is fearful, well-meaning people.

* Art never needs to explain or defend itself. Art does not need a reason to exist. Art has no obligation to heal.

* I never said what I do is art.

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