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A conversation with Duncan Prahl

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By day, Duncan Prahl works for a green building company. But by night, he is an artiste, setting up strange tableaux of toy plastic animals on bartops across the nation, which are recorded for posterity at www.baranimals.com. Recently, he became a collected artist when someone bought a Bar Animals photo at Lawrenceville's Art All Night. In Pittsburgh, Prahl is often found at Kelly's in East Liberty.

 

How did you get into this, carrying around two cases of toy animals?

It's bait.

 

What kind of bait?

People bait.

 

What kind of people bait?

How many times have you sat down at a bar by yourself, ordered a beer, and kind of wondered, "What sort of thing would I need in front of me, in addition to my beer, which everyone else [already] has, to foster some sort of social interaction?"

 

I don't know, maybe six?

Six beers?

 

No, six times, I've wondered that. Other times, I try to keep annoying men away.

That's because you're a girl. Sorry, a female. But I have the same compulsion. ... I aspire to a more eclectic genre of individual.

 

Didn't it all start out with a yo-yo?

I hate to admit it, but yes, yes it did. That became one of the fundamental questions, does a yo-yo go up and down, or down and up?

 

Right, down and up.

So Kelly's was opening and the publicist had plastic monkeys that she was giving out. And in some months -- you see what's up on the server's station -- we made one of the first Bar Animals set-ups.

 

Where did you get the toys?

I brought a couple, other people brought them. Kind of a collaborative menagerie. I found out I could buy really tiny pigs from Paper Mart for 15 cents each. One pig is cute, but if you've got 10 of 'em ...

 

Supercute!

Not only supercute, but if you have 10 plus something else, you can make a statement. There were a lot of plastic animals that had no relation to each other, but when you put them together it started becoming stranger and stranger, or more and more profound, or just sicker and sicker.

 

So it's a means to an end.

My formal college training is in art and design. And most of what I do right now is highly technical ... and it doesn't allow me to explore the twisted, creative and perhaps exploitative nature of pushing the person next to me, who's sitting at the bar and who just came in to have a drink, to experience something that's not anywhere near what they were expecting. It's not like I have a "bar" in a gallery, where people can say, "Oh, it's art!"

 

So these are a sort of a performance art, like Karen Finley and the yams.

I take a picture at the end, but that's not itself the goal. It's more of a performance-art piece, in the setting up of the animals and interacting with the patrons of the bar.

 

So you're going for the perfect provocation?

At a bar in upstate New York, I'd set up a bunch of animals and this guy starts asking questions, I start explaining, and he got very offended with the fact that the wolf was mounting the doe, and that there was a caution sign saying "Do Not Cross," and the buck was on the other side. I thought it was like the Peter Sellers movie, Being There, and the buck, he "liked to watch." But the guy said, "Buddy, you're just a sick m---f---!" The more he looked at it and thought about it, the more [upset] he became. "I'm gonna punch you in the head if you don't get the f--- outta here ..." I said, "OK! That's fine! I'm gone!"

 

He probably felt a special connection to deer.

Could be. There's a lot of hunting up there.

 

Do your plastic animals often involve some sort of sexual theme? Because when I walked up you had the frog mounting the, what is it, the stegosaurus?

I guess I would say, probably, yes.

 

Why's that?

I don't know. I guess you have to look at my art and find out.

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