Thursday, July 09, 2015

Jim Pirtle: NoZe Brother and Performance Artist - or is that redundant?

Jim Pirtle
Performing Performance Art

I was going through my numerous art-mail emails and happened across an artist named "Jim Pirtle." The surname struck a mystic chord of memory - one doesn't forget a surname like "Pirtle." Could this be the Jim Pirtle I knew at Baylor? The friend who heard that I had scored at the 99th percentile on the English Literature GRE and observed with mock seriousness, "That means that out of 100 people, you did better than 99 of them." I had to laugh. Anyway, I Googled his name and found some of his work at the CUE Art Foundation, which also provided some biographical details:
Jim Pirtle was born in Houston, TX in 1960. In High School he was selected "Most Nonconformist." He went to Baylor University in Waco, TX and received a BA in history but more importantly was a member of the NoZe Brotherhood. The group was an underground mask-wearing secret society of satirists that through writing, campus interventions and performance art exposed the hypocrisy of conservative Baptists.
Yeah, that was him. And we did claim to be exposing hypocrisy. But the NoZe Brotherhood as performance artists? Never thought of it quite that way, but I suppose we were. In part. Pirtle, anyway, has an interesting perspective on art and how he turned to it, which started with his job at a hospital, a job somehow linked to research on rats:
In one psychological experiment examining fight or flight responses to electric shock, it was found that one rat in a cage would escape when possible. Two rats in one cage with no escape would fight each other. One rat in a cage with no way out and no one to fight would turn his fight instincts onto himself, weaken and die. When I worked in the Austin State Hospital in Austin, TX, I saw a lot of rats in a no escape cage who were so drugged they couldn't fight. I found one patient who drew all day as a way of fighting his demons instead of himself. I became his friend and advocate. I did a lot of reading about mental illness and began to wonder if the individual's response might be a perfectly sane response to a society gone mad.
And he adds:
When I left there I decided to make art, my escape into the safe cage.
Good call there, Pirtle! I wonder if you remember me . . .



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