In March 2014, Amani Olu made his artistic debut at SPRING/BREAK Art Show under the moniker “Scott Avery” with Reasonable Doubt, a marathon-style performance that probed character, honesty and integrity in the art world through a polygraph examination administered by the artist.
The performance asked interviewees a series of closed-ended questions that addressed politics, sex, relationships and other controversial topics and matters of private life. These questions included: Is it okay to cheat on your partner if the sex is infrequent; Is gentrification good for low-income neighborhoods; Do you obsess over what people think about you; Does it bother you when you see interracial couples and Is prostitution a form of feminism?
Polygraph exams do not measure “lies;” they measure arousal based on a mixture of emotional, physical and psychological factors that the interviewee is experiencing at the time of the exam. That said, the motivation for Reasonable Doubt was not to expose the truth; instead, the artist aimed to create an environment of doubt, one in which the determination of truth becomes a matter of debate amongst the people watching the test. Here, the interviewee was the art object, the audience the critic. Instead of judging conceptual and aesthetic strategies, the critic judges the interviewee’s body language (i.e. nervous fidgeting, sudden head movements, feet shuffling, etc.) when answering a question, all in the context of his or her own beliefs and instinctual feelings about the interviewer’s questions.