Poor Oscar Knox. The local artist, recently profiled on national television by talking head Bill Prior, is so despondent about the public outcry over his art that he's planning something drastic at his upcoming show, unSENSored. Knox's photographs, most of which deal with the five human senses, have generated so much rancor that Knox feels there's only one way to staunch the tide of criticism coming from groups such as Not OK (notice anyone's initials in that name?), the group of "concerned St. Louis mothers" who count themselves among those scandalized by Knox's work: Over the course of the evening, Knox will completely sequester himself from the criticism, and the world outside of his head, by blocking off every cranial orifice with blobs of a black, tar-like substance so that his countenance mirrors the disfigured faces in his recent work. This can't be good for his complexion, let alone his respiration.
But Knox, because he is a fictional character, doesn't really have to worry about such things. Knox, Prior and Not OK are all parts of a complex performance piece created by the Flux Art/Theatre to explore ideas of censorship and how they affect the role of the artist.
Conceived and created by director Luke Lindberg and artist Jasin Lifshin (who also plays Oscar Knox), unSENSored is an art show, a theater piece, a political commentary and an evening out on the town.
Lifshin's art is more than just set-dressing for the show, however. While it was created especially for unSENSored, the work is strong enough to stand without the theatrical element, as proven by the group's decision to have "gallery viewings" of Lifshin's pieces (on Thursday, August 5 and 12, at the Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts (3151 Cherokee Street; 314-772-3628). For the full experience, you have to attend one of the "complete" shows (8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, August 6 to 14; admission is $10), where all of the pieces come together before a live audience. Lifshin/Knox's art will provide a very real backdrop for the evening's action, as you witness Knox's "live interview on national television" (with Prior, played by John Foudy) while watching an edited version of the same interview on video monitors. Throughout the course of the evening, Lindberg hopes, the audience will "see more and more of the different influences that have been pushing the artist in different directions, putting pressure on him, through video interspersed with performance art by the artist who created the art on the walls."
Lindberg explains further: "One of the ideas that the show deals with is to encourage people to question the sources that they're given, question the bias of who's talking, think about what they're given and choose what to participate in and what not to. This character takes it to an ultimate extreme." As far as unSENSored being taken as political commentary (and in an election year, no less!), Lindberg is unequivocal: "This show is definitely, consciously created as a response to what's going on right now," referring to the FCC, wardrobe malfunctions and Patriot Act politics. According to Lindberg, "The reality of the show is a fictional reality, but they're not that far away. It's a warning shot, in that sense."