Amateur Night | Pittsburgh City Paper

Amateur Night

Trying to learn how to do it all right, Lindsay Sampson rediscovered the joys of being an amateur.


Sampson, of Buffalo, visits Pittsburgh Dec. 13 with "The Unprofessionals," her unclassifiable combo platter of experimental video and goofy live performance. About a year and a half ago, as a recent graduate of upstate New York's Alfred University, Sampson was a video artist who needed a job. Two things happened: One, she found work -- "a big-girl job at a law firm," she says. Two, she started shadowing way-hip New York City-based video curator Astria Suparak, whose unconventional approach to presenting video Sampson admired.


During Suparak's stop at the 2002 Three Rivers Film Festival here, Sampson met Jim Mueller and Gordon Nelson of the local screening series Jefferson Presents ..., and arranged for a Jeffersonian road trip to show films and videos by Pittsburghers in Buffalo. Now Sampson returns the favor with a show she concocted based on her new working life.


On starting her office job, "I felt like I was going to crawl into a hole, that nobody understood my experience," says Sampson, at 23 the Girl Friday in her law firm's marketing department. Soon she realized she wasn't alone. Lots of artists, misfits and nonconformists need day jobs to survive. But a generation raised on the skeptical view of employment epitomized in films from Slackers and Clerks to Clockwatchers and Office Space needn't take it lying down.


"We all have things we have to hide when we go to work," notes Sampson. But on film and video, you can let it all hang out. Drawing mostly on friends who are "unprofessional" artists, Sampson assembled about 20 short videos loosely organized around the theme of unprofessionalism.


The New Work, by Monica Duncan and Annie Langan, is a series of four satirical takes on the workplace; in the first, new corporate recruits are ordered to sketch a pirate and an astronaut, renderings that are then sabotaged by their superiors.


Some entries are thematically more oblique. In Meg Knowles and Brian Milbrand's Christmas Pussy, a woman reveals her odd relationship with her cat -- something she likely does hide at work. Actions in Action, by Torsten Zenas Burns and Anthony Discenza, is sped-up footage of two jumpsuited nut jobs in a kitchen, playing with food like 5-year-olds on a sugar high. By contrast, Stephanie Gray's Kristy is a lovingly humorous deconstruction of '70s TV icon Kristy McNichol, via black-and-white kinescopes. And States of the Union, by Aaron Valdez, is flat-out George W. mockery, making the prez look bad just by letting us look at him.


It's all presented by Sampson, who says she wants to make the often cloistered world of video art accessible to a wider audience. She chips in her own passion for interaction -- a desire to sing and incite sing-a-longs, to act out and act up, when most screenings demand you sit still and watch.


As host, "People have told me I'm sort of like Andy Kaufman, a female version," says Sampson. "I get really nervous and I start dancing sometimes, or making strange gestures. I tripped across the mike wire [at the "Unprofessionals" screening] in Chicago and I was kicking my legs up in the air. ... It's not a serious performance."


Meanwhile, at her day job -- where she admits she sometimes dances in the office hallway -- Sampson says she's "really well taken-care-of" by her co-workers. So despite the sudden need to adopt correct clothing and proper behavior, she's learning the ropes -- and even some business and organizational skills that might help her more professionally bring unprofessional art to all kinds of people. "I'm probably in the perfect place right now," she says.