Deshon James (2019)
The Arkansas Repertory Theater, ArtWorks: 40 under 40 Exhibition
On view alongside the production of “Native Gardens,” April 16 – May 5, 2019
For the opening of ArtWorks: 40 under 40, which highlighted artists from Arkansas, I orchestrated a performance by Deshaun Jones of the character Deshon James from my comic series “Camaro Jr,” alongside a photograph of Jones as James, photographed by Cary Jenkins, staff photographer for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. As a character in Camaro Jr, Deshon James’ origin was inspired by a typographical error in a May 24, 2015 Arkansas Democrat Gazette feature on the Little Rock Film Festival that pictured Deshaun Jones and other attendees photographed by Cary Jenkins, with Jones’ name misspelled in the photo’s caption. Deshon James then made his first appearance as a comic character in the short-lived Arkansas Times series, Camaro Jr, on October 16, 2016.
In orchestrating a performance where the performer essentially plays himself, or performs in cosplay as himself, to adapt a typical comic convention term where a person dresses as a character from a film, book, or video game, I hoped to design a work that wold respond to the theatrical context of the exhibition while expanding on my previous work with narrative comics, and provide a theoretical framework for understanding art as performance in general. This framework is represented by the headshot taken by Cary Jenkins. By hiring Jenkins to reshoot Deshaun Jones, I elicit her previous photograph of Jones and her typographical error, while highlighting the positive potential of her error as my inspiration. It’s worth mentioning that Jones was never offended by the misspelling of his name in the first place, and that it was his attitude, along with the misspelling as alter ego idea, that would later inspire the character’s defining readiness and grit.
As a performance, the work was is minimal and confuses the relationship between actor and self, and performer and viewer. James’ performance is essentially to be present and includes walking, talking, drinking, and other typical behaviors at exhibition openings. His mere presence suggests that all social activity is a performance, and whereas actors perform on stage, artists also perform when presenting their work. By performing alongside his headshot which includes the caption “Deshon James,” Jones asserts his own split-persona, and like an actor in audition, demands recognition for this ability to change character.
In the larger context, Jones’ performance draws a direct connection with the art exhibition and the theater’s coinciding production. Yet Jones’ performance is so imperceptible that one could almost miss it. In this sense, the performance is as helpful as it is problematic. By lodging itself between the visual and theatrical modes of art, it becomes a sticking point, an error, a typo.