Think of a work of art, (it does not have to be performance) with which you have interacted, or perhaps the first work of art that made you think about art as being interactive. Did this experience change your perception of the artist’s role? Of your role as a viewer? Did you feel more engaged with the work or did it alienate you from it? Provide a link to the artwork your referencing.
In considering this prompt, three different works or pieces come to mind. Of the three works, I have personally experienced two but only read about the other.
The first is Joe Scanlan’s Donelle Woolford “project”.This year’s Whitney was part of the ongoing controversy of this piece. Scanlan basically creates/invents a black woman artist who he then promotes via his website (her website?) and acts as though she is real. She shows. She is in the Whitney. The problem? A question of ethics: should Scanlan be allowed to co-opt the identity of another, should he be allowed NOT to disclose the “project” as such, what is the role of the women playing Donelle in the artwork? This project also relates to earlier course discussions as Scanlan has used the anonymity and “authority” of the internet and social media in order to validate Woolford’s as a real living artist. Institutions hosting her must decide if they are in on it or if they credit Scanlan. I recently went to Woolford’s performance in conjunction with the Whitney, “Dick’s Last Stand” at Midway Contemporary in Minneapolis, MN.
The piece was carried out by Jennifer Kidwell, representing Pryor, also doing Mud Bone (pretty smart) with Joe Scanlan acting as stage lackey.Midway chose to promote the work as Woolfords and to my great surprise many people at the performance I spoke with did not know Scanlan was involved and had taken the invite from the gallery at face value as a piece by Woolford. I suspect the authority of both the gallery and the name “Whitney” came into play here.
At the performance I went to, dogged post performance Q & A centered on the fact that Scanlan in his introduction of the piece, invited the audience to “laugh and have a good time”. Many in the “audience felt this was too much direction and ignored Pryor’s racist and often offensive jokes and the fact that a black woman is performing this work as an invention of Scanlan.In terms of interaction, I think Scanlan is savvy to the perceived authority of websites, museums and galleries, and the Whitney. He uses this system of authority to heighten or reinforce our belief, and confusion. In terms of the particular “show” I saw, his opening suggestion invited the audience to take a specific posture to the work… he shaped the tone of our interaction. We were to be amused and wholly taken in by the piece as Pryor’s. It’s a good question whether he should have just let us engage the work in discomfort.
Side note: The recent Scanlan/Woolford scandals prompted Ryan Wong, writing for Hyperallergic, to post a piece claiming he, was in fact, Joe Scanlan. I find the bit highly entertaining. Hilariously, it also sent readers into confusion… was Joe Scanlan made up as well?! For another interesting dialogue around this work, read Infinite Mile’s “Will the Real Donelle Woolford Please Stand Up?”.
The second project that comes to mind is Miranda July’s “We Think Alone”. July describes the project:
“I’m always trying to get my friends to forward me emails they’ve sent to other people — to their mom, their boyfriend, their agent — the more mundane the better. How they comport themselves in email is so intimate, almost obscene — a glimpse of them from their own point of view. WE THINK ALONE has given me the excuse to read my friends’ emails and the emails of some people I wish I was friends with and for better or worse it’s changed the way I see all of them. I think I really know them now. But our inner life is not actually the same thing as our life on the computer — a quiet person might !!!! a lot. A person with a busy mind might write almost nothing. And of course while none of these emails were originally intended to be read by me (much less you*) they were all carefully selected by their authors in response to my list of email genres — so self-portraiture is quietly at work here. Privacy, the art of it, is evolving. Radical self-exposure and classically manicured discretion can both be powerful, both be elegant. And email itself is changing, none of us use it exactly the same way we did ten years ago; in another ten years we might not use it at all. Thank you to Kareem, Kirsten, Sheila, Danh, Lee, Etgar, Kate, Laura, Lena and Catherine for their daring and diligence.
– Miranda July
*All emails were written prior to the start of this project.”
Above is a shot of my personal gmail search for “Miranda July”. When I signed on to receive the emails I was invited to have a privileged view of the private space of others, famous and supposedly interesting people at that! (…and they were!) However July cleverly avoids the problem of emails being written with an audience (you and me and this project) in mind by requiring the emails to be found by searching for phrases within the participants email archives. Pre-written. Only the original recipient as audience. Private space becoming public without context or fanfare. July’s form of interactivity for those searching their emails is only one of editing, hands a bit tied. For those of us receiving the “We think alone” weekly email, we were like a fly on the wall reading private correspondence and getting to know these individuals from afar. July sent the emails weekly, did not archive them into a book or website, and limited the time frame so it felt very intimate to have been a part of “We Think Alone”.
July claims the only archive for the project is with the email subscribers. In terms of interactivity I am now in the role of caretaker. July has used the mundane yet personal form of email as a medium to structure her piece and our experience. And I won’t delete them because I just really love Catherine Opie and think we would be friends : )
More to the literal point of interactivity:
The third and last is Tino Sehgal’s piece “The Progress” at the Guggenheim in 2010. The best description I read was Lauren Collins piece for the New Yorker, “Primal Schmooze”.
Sehgal’s piece requires, depends on, audience participation. The museum goer begins up the quite famous circular ramp but will only experience the “artwork” if they are game for discussion with a random kid who crosses their path. It’s a very interesting way to weed out who your audience is as an artist. It seems Sehgal wants an audience who will engage with curiosity, thoughtfulness, and be flexible, unafraid of strangers. I think of the distinction Robert Whitman drew between a piece being spontaneous (as the phrase “happening” suggests) or “scored”. I think Sehgal has successfully found a way of scripting, or “scoring”, spontaneity.