I thought Liz Haley’s performance piece, Polygraph, in the Gerding Theatre (the old Armory), would take place on stage in front of an audience. Instead, she sits in a small room, connected to the lie detector, waiting for a one-on-one encounter with strangers. What a beautiful surprise.
After waiting in line for a bit, I headed into the room, and like every other participant I witnessed, I had a few questions prepared. I introduced myself, shook hands, and sat down across from her. The jury-rigged machine sat on the table between us off to the side, and a projection of the meter stood on the screen behind her. I could watch if the hand moved on the large screen; so could people waiting in line outside the room.
She became congenial and forthcoming quickly, and I found myself losing any interest in putting her into a squeeze; it was like making a new friend. I record here some of the questions I asked, with paraphrased answers and in shortened (less conversational) form:
Do questions have to be yes/no questions? No.
Is Liz your real name? No.
Do you like vanilla ice cream? Yes.
Have you ever had really good Chinese food? No. Wait… yes.
Do you like my haircut? Yes. [The hand on the meter rises to the midway point. My hair had just been cut by a 10-year-old as part of Mammalian Diving Reflex's Haircuts by Children.]
Does that mean you just lied? What? No. It moves whenever I react to a question, when I think about the answer or feel nervous. It does not mean that I am lying.
Are you enjoying every minute of this? Absolutely. I am trying to be really present, to be honest and truthful with the people that visit me. I want people to know that I am vulnerable here, and to take that into account. And to think about honesty and truth in their own lives.
Do many people try to embarrass you? No, not really.
Did you read about or practice how to cheat the lie detector? No.
Have you lied today? No.
Are you lying to me now? [Laughs] No.
Is this art? Yes.
I thanked her for a wonderful conversation, and conversation piece. As conceptual or performance art, it is delightfully simple and participatory, breaking down the wall between art and the ordinary: an intimate dialogue with a remarkable woman. If this had taken place in a large theatre, with less intimacy, participants may have distanced themselves from Haley’s vulnerability and resorted to easy exploitation or objectification, an effort at embarrassment. Instead, in Liz Haley’s Polygraph, the simple truth is that we’d rather get to know her, put ourselves under the lie detector, and find out the truth about ourselves.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly