It's hard to know what to make of David Nixon's new one-man show Center-Cut Ham Dinner Night Slide Show currently playing at Annex—or, as it could have more descriptively been called, Stoner Who Teaches Philosophy at UW Shows You a Bunch of Different Things He Thought of While Stoned, or Hey Guys, Look at This Other Freaky Visual Thing I Made and Here's a Funny Thing to Think about While You Watch It. As the most expressive performer in the seven-member art-band "Awesome," Nixon—bendy, versatile, vaudevillian, hilarious—was always the one to keep your eye on, and when "Awesome" did a serious, slow, interminable stage show about the west called West at On the Boards earlier this year, Nixon was the member of the group most outspokenly against it. (His objections to its pretentiousness were overruled.) Following West—a show I walked out of and others hated, too—Center-Cut Ham Dinner Night Slide Show has the distinct whiff of, "Jesus, that West sucked. Lemme just do something weird and funny."
Center-Cut Ham Dinner Night Slide Show is weird, and it is funny. I could not tell you what it's about. Rebellion is a prevailing theme. There's a bit about the time he worked for a psychic hotline and really wanted to tell the Southern housewives who called in stuff that he was not allowed to tell them. There's a section about all the ways he rebels when it's time to sit down and make art, like for example checking email and checking Slog, which in Nixon's treatment becomes Slög (here's an image). There's a visual loop (projected onto that screen in the image above) of David Nixon thrusting his hips and bending over provocatively and rolling around and smoking imaginary joints and then other David Nixons walking into the frame and repeating the gestures—loops on top of loops—making it look as if the David Nixons are molesting each other or having sex with each other, and then real-life David Nixon walks in front of the screen so that the piled up loops of David Nixons having simulated sex with each other, etc., are literally on top of David Nixon—a kind of stoner masturbatory fantasia pile-up that ends when the guy in the sound booth calls out, "All right, David, that's enough, we need to move on—why don't you grab your banjo?" (Stoner Masturbatory Fantasia Pile-Up would have made another fine title for the show.)
There's an extended riff on having children that's concealed as an extended riff on making art, and the commitment to making the same piece of art everyday for 18 years even if you realize at some point in the process you are not a fan of the kid/art you're making, full of very funny lines like, "A lot of people have told me they think I'd be a really good artist, like when they see me around other people's art and stuff." And there's an amazing moment when Nixon succumbs to paroxysms of saying "Fuck it" to himself over and over—"Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, you know what, fuck it, you know what, fuck it, fuck it, you know what..."—that seemed like both the mantra of an artist trying to get new work made (someone making a solo show, say) and the mantra of an artist suffering through the making of a piece of art he didn't have control over (like Nixon during the making of West).
Oh, and there's tons of beautiful stop-motion animation made with leaves and grass and other elements of nature, and comics drawn by Nixon set to original music, and many more metaphors than you will ever be able to sort out. I kinda wished he'd stuck more to the autobiographical stuff—the audience came alive with the autobiographical stories about working for a psychic telephone hotline, not because people are particularly interested in psychic hotlines but because they are interested in autobiography. We want people's stories, the good ones. Generally speaking, we want people's stories more than we want abstract noodling around. Something about the concrete truth seems more daring. I would have loved to see a segment of Nixon critiquing West directly—that would have been ballsy and autobiographical and very much about art-making, which Center-Cut Ham Dinner Night Slide Show is preoccupied with. But I didn't leave disappointed. I'm not sure what I got out of it, but I liked getting it.