Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« On Facebook, Everyone's a Huss... | So I Hear There's Going to Be ... »

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Task, Act I

posted by on June 28 at 14:11 PM

Still underway at the Seattle Public Library right now is Oliver Herring’s Task. I just came from there.

First, what it is: Task is a work of art by Herring. Its entire purpose is to give other people a chance to be creative within a structure. Herring sets the structure, and then Task plays itself out.

It started this morning at 10, when a mix of art types and regular library patrons waited for the downtown library’s doors to open. By the time we got up to the main floor (the one level with Fifth Avenue), Task was already underway. The 35 volunteers of all ages chosen in advance by the artist had each received, randomly, one task to perform, written by the artist. (Other than that, the artist doesn’t participate. He walks around talking to people and filming and generally looking slightly stressed.)

The first task I witnessed was a man crawling on a path between the two main stages, then doing situps on it. I tried to guess what the task was that he’d been given, but quickly got distracted by another thing. After he was done, he discarded that task and wrote another one, then put it in a tin-foil-covered box. That’s what all 35 of them will do all day, until 5:30. Then, at 6, they’ll talk about it in an open Q&A.

After the tasks are performed, they are entered into a computer and appear on a screen near the stage, so you can see retrospectively what it was that you were just watching.

Here’s what I saw:
1. A young man in a plaid shirt vivisecting a plastic holstein cow with an exacto knife.
2. An older man wearing glasses on a chain, cutting a flower out of cardboard.
3. A dark-haired, busty young woman in an Obama T-shirt tied up in a chair. After several minutes of her sitting quietly, someone came over and freed her.
4. Three people standing on ladders and trying to sing “God Bless America.” An older woman in the audience stepped forward and mouthed the words because the singers didn’t really know them.
5. A thin and stylish older woman, holding a placard she’d made, announcing, “Refashion Nation parade starting! Please? Please?” No one responded, because the others were standing in a circle nearby and bouncing a beach ball.
6. A young woman declaring, “I am not disposable” while her legs were wrapped in toilet paper.
7. A scene from Oprah magazine performed. (Tips on how to talk about body image with family members.)
8. A sit-in protesting walking on the walkway.
9. Three women stretching in unison.
10. A young woman introducing herself to an older man and shaking his hand while saying, “Hi, my name is Tara. And now, you have to shake everyone’s hand in Task.” (The man then turned to me and said, “Everyone has to shake everyone’s hand! That’s 35 factorial!!” He was wearing a nametag that said “Sol (Actually Ned).” I asked but immediately forgot whether his name is Sol or Ned.)
11. A young man and woman inventing a secret handshake.
12. An old man and woman waltzing.
13. A young man subverting other people’s tasks.
14. An old tenor singing a few bars of an aria.

I was asked to participate in the singing of “God Bless America,” but I declined. I did allow my hair to be styled with clothespins by an older woman.

Because there are two stages, the energy in the place is oddly split. (One of the stages, on the bleachers above the auditorium, is generally empty, while the other is crowded.) By noon, the participants seemed to be flagging and I was mildly irritated. Then, I was talked into believing in Task again, by an older man wearing a worn blue U.S. Marine Corps cap and building a fort with cardboard and buckets. On the side, it said “Fort Badass.”

I started talking to him because he was very old, clearly the oldest in the group, and he had long black hair streaming out between the buttons on his shirt at belly level. When I asked him how he got so hairy in the middle, he said archly, “I beg your pardon. I can not help that.” He continued building Fort Badass with two young guys. They kept thinking they were done, and he kept adding features: smokestacks, chimneys, a box for A/C. He even “wired” the place using extension cords.

When he was finished with Fort Badass, I asked his name (Bob), his age (he turned 83 yesterday) and I asked him about his cap (I knew the participants can bring costumes, but he also looked about the right age for World War II service). We fell to talking and it turned out he did fight in WWII, including storming the beachheads in Guam and Okinawa. Later, in the Korean War, he sunned himself on an aircraft carrier in the Caribbean. After that, he owned five men’s stores in Southern California. He has been married 42 years; before that, he was married 21 years to another woman. I asked what was his favorite task so far, and he said making snow out of cottonballs. “I took this pile of cotton, and I knew I was being photographed, see, and I just threw it up to the sky,” he said. “Oh, and I got to read a love poem to a lady on the floor over here. Want me to read it to you?”

“Have a seat,” he said, returning from fetching the manila envelope containing his love poems. (The participants are also asked to bring a few of their own writings.)

“Now I’ve been in love since the first grade,” Bob said. “I have never been without a heartthrob in my life. This poem I wrote to woo my wife, 42 years ago.”

I don’t remember most of it, but it included the lines “Stir the passions of our gender” (!), “Give us love, give us peace,” and “I am yours, you are mine/We are sublime.”

He then read me a poem about his cat.

“Something like this is really good for us,” he said, unprompted, when there was a long pause in our conversation as we figured out a way to disentangle ourselves from this oddly intimate interaction. “Have you noticed that you can really get outside yourself? You can really communicate without anxiety here.”

Another participant came by. “Bob, you wanna be in a conga line?”

“Well sure, why not?” he said, standing up. “Where’s the rhythm?”

RSS icon Comments


"Fort Badass" is the only cool part about this.

Posted by The CHZA | June 28, 2008 3:37 PM

Wow, what pretentious bullsh-- oh wait, Jen Graves. Right.

Posted by Chris | June 28, 2008 3:40 PM

Say "YES" to War on Iraq by Dan Savage Oct. 2002

"War may be bad for children and other living things, but there are times when peace is worse for children and other living things, and this is one of those times."

"The War on Iraq will make it clear to our friends and enemies in the Middle East (and elsewhere) that we mean business: Free your people, reform your societies, liberalize, and democratize... or we're going to come over there, remove you from power, free your people, and reform your societies for ourselves."

Washington Post June 27, 2008

"Bomb Kills Marines, Iraqi Tribal Leaders
At Least 40 Die in Two Separate Attacks"

Posted by Meanwhil back at the Iraqi ranch, people are being maimed and killed and Dale Chihule is niot a fuck | June 28, 2008 4:22 PM

Oh man thoise were the days when aman supported a war he went off and fought in it. Now we have famous writers supporting wars and going off to eat assholes and coin words about the experience. Know what you call it when a guy farts in your face as you eat his ass? Caesar Salad. Dan Savage coined that term. Witty huh?

Posted by danfansarewarmongersupporters | June 28, 2008 4:26 PM

I thought this was a nice post. I hope I am still that cool at 83. Thank you.

Posted by Nicole | June 28, 2008 6:33 PM

It sounds like a really fun time with neat people doing interesting things.

The part that makes me want to punch someone in the kidneys is "Task is a work of art by Herring."

Whatever, dude. Taking credit for content generated by other people is plagiarism. It's a lie.
If you want to organize community theater or group therapy or just a really fun all-day activity, do so.
But if you want to call yourself an Artist, make some fucking art. Make it yourself.

Posted by Thisbe | June 28, 2008 9:25 PM

I was a Task participant and I thought it was so much fun. I had no idea what I was getting myself into...I figured, shoot, if this is lame I can always just walk home and do something else. But I didn't think about leaving once, and although I was exhausted when it ended at 5:30, it was a little disappointing to have to leave the microcosmic fantasy world we'd created. It was so cool to have your "job" for the day to be creative and try new stuff and have no distractions from that mission. I feel like it was once in a lifetime experience, and I would encourage anyone to do it if they ever had a chance.

Posted by abomb | June 28, 2008 10:15 PM

Maybe giving people the comfort they seem to need by offering specific directions to wacky "acting out" scenarios IS an art... don't the mental health professionals "practice"?.. (and that's certainly no "science"!)
My compliments to Jen Graves for getting into this as deeply as she did, while observing as dispassionately as she could. I "got" something from this... ^..^

Posted by herbert browne | June 29, 2008 9:34 AM

#3 will figure prominently in my fantasies from now on. Thank you.

Posted by Greg | June 30, 2008 9:25 AM

No Act II?

Posted by kurt | June 30, 2008 1:12 PM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.