Q&A: Performance Artist Christian Cox

Christian Cox is a Knoxville-based artist and designer who has recently branched out into performance. His first set this year found a roomful of eager Royal Bangs fans running the anti-comedy gauntlet of hack standup “Garry Plimpton,” to the bemusement of some and the outsized rage of many more. His second, titled Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: The Play, shares a bill with White Gregg and Mito Band at Pilot Light on April 6. You can see more of Christian’s work online at nonthings.com.

You’ve done design and layout work for albums by local indie rock groups like Royal Bangs and Coolrunnings. How is this commercial work different from your personal art?

I’ve always wanted to design albums, so having completed several designs and having several more lined up has been very exciting for me. I believe both the challenges and rewards are in trying to arrive at solutions that satisfy myself as a designer and represent the band’s intentions.

I’m told you have a very special signature on those and other works. A little piece of Christian, if you will.

A lot of my work is printed and re-scanned to achieve a certain tactility. On several designs I’ve scanned in one of my own hairs and left them as part of the print. Every time I show my portfolio, people always try and dust away the hairs.

Your School for Aboutness project is described as a “self-initiated graduate school for the Internet.” What is the essence of Aboutness?

Aboutness is a library science term dealing with the analysis of subject. School for Aboutness uses it as a broader term to describe the understanding of an individual’s education. It also sounds really catchy. I started it as a way to structure myself in my studies and work when I was wait-listed at Yale’s graduate program. It’s more of an identity to make work than a functioning academic program.

Your Garry Plimpton stand-up set has been one of the most notorious events of the year so far.

I created Garry Plimpton because I never understood why people loved Ray Romano. Garry is my answer to Ray, except Garry’s stupidity is a little more dangerous. The people that hated Garry threw beer cans at him. Most likely, they were reasonable people that thought this guy was a total jerk. The part of the audience that laughed probably either knew me, or have a depraved sense of humor. It was pretty exhilarating.

Do you think he’ll ever find it in himself to play Knoxville again?

Aside from the flying beer cans and threats of stabbing Garry in the eye, the audience was otherwise complimentary. Garry will definitely be back. We’re trying to get his brother Barry to fly in from Schenectady and perform as a duo for the Organ Donors Club of Knoxville. They fix up organs and donate them to churches in the region.

You’ve teased your April 6 performance as being like “emotional karaoke.” Can you spill anything else about what audiences might expect? Or at least what sort of reaction you’re most hoping to get out of them?

I think “emotional mosh pit” is another good comparison. Those attending should ask themselves: Is this a play in the theatrical sense, or play as in jest? Both? There will be sound and video pieces to guide the mood of the performance, with the rest improvised human interactions. I want people to get involved and have a blast. I’m just there to facilitate that experience. Maybe people will get a little teary-eyed? I want this to be a positive experience and create a heightened sense of reality. There will even be a segment with free beer for those of drinking age. Also, bring your hugging arms if you have them.

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