The Things They Do was a one-day symposium (29th July 2016) coinciding with the Ragnar Kjartansson exhibition that is on right now (through beginning of September) at the Barbican in the main gallery. A number of artists made responses to the invitation from Joe Kelleher, Nick Ridout and Orlagh Woods:
The Things They Do is inspired by Kjartansson’s interest in making art out of the things that other people do. In Kjartansson’s work the appropriation of these practices – like painting seascapes or playing in a rock band – involves a complex mixture of absolute seriousness and inevitable pretence, of sincerity and the ridiculous. Each of these practices is at once revivified, even as they are presented as somehow already used up and exhausted, by the contemporary artist’s own longing – but self-aware – investment in them. Our plan is that during the course of the day a selection of artists, writers and academics will offer a series of performances, demonstrations, talks and other activities, in which they share their investments in the things that other people do and their experiences of learning to do these things themselves.
That invitation and the response to it has now taken place. And it was a great day. I performed a repetition of a 1min 28sec section of a lecture given by Judith Butler:
Judith Butler Gets a Sip and Drinks It
In the midst of giving a lecture (Precarious Life: the Obligations of Proximity) at the Nobel Museum in Sweden, American philosopher Judith Butler takes 1 minute and 28 seconds to open a bottle of water and take a sip. This performance repeats that performance over and over again.
A number of artists performed other acts simultaneously, durationally, at specific times, just once, and repeatedly over a couple of hours or just a couple of minutes inside the conservatory which is usually closed to the public except on Sundays and bank holidays if there isn’t a private event going on.
Here below in the form of a thank you letter is a short description of my experience of it:
Dear Joe, Orlagh, and Nick,
Your symposium set up quite a few mechanisms for inspiring creative thought including: doing things in front of people; performing simultaneous actions both individually and with others in a large permeable series of subspaces; drawing disparate elements together; spending time watching and listening; experiencing space and proximity through sound; allowing some things to bleed with other things; listening, watching, and doing in order to think in alternate ways or to bring thoughts into the brain as a result of avenues other than speaking or writing or sitting alone.
Joe, I think I lied to you. It was a lie of fatigue and over-focus and a lie of confusion brought on by the chemistry of my body. Referring to Judith Butler you said: did she really take such a long drink? (*see note below) I said “yes” and at the same time suddenly realised that I’d made a mistake. It wasn’t actually true. I think the length of the drink grew as I performed the action and this is always what happens once a performer gets hold of something and finds a resting place or a hook or a hollow spot that can be filled. This married with the piano music of Emma in the background of my second position in the conservatory and I took a performer’s license to exaggerate. When I answered yes to your question, Joe, I heard it and recognised it as incorrect. But that was a bit difficult to explain just then. I was just realising for the first time that I’d seduced myself into thinking the drink really was that long. It was the most important part. Your question drew out this realisation. For me there’s a lot there. That’s why we talk about things isn’t it.
Stop exaggerating. My mother used to say. You are so histrionic. To which I’d respond: I have to exaggerate because you weren’t there and you won’t have the full feeling of being there (just me telling it).
I felt very well cared for Orlagh—even if everything was a bit rushed and tumbling at the beginning when the workers who might have carried water or set up sound seemed a bit elusive—I felt everything would go well because if someone else didn’t do it, you would see it done. I found it hilarious after watching a number of people fumbling in the Garden room with the video screen and its glare and wondering what to do about it, you breezed in and simply pushed it back a bit. Of course. It was much better.
Nick, the twist of your eyebrows and the up-turned edges of your mouth told us all we needed needed to know about the frame of mind with which we would be promenading through the day: a lark, a serious linger, a consideration, entertainment. CJ pointed out his favourite comment of the day, it was something like: “And lunch will be a classic one hour.” (everyone laughed) Your classic delivery carried it off with aplomb. The underlying message: we are looking at everything today.
Only a handful of people saw my third section over there by the pond (and the gent’s toilet), three of them were you three. It was a sudden highlight for me. I realised you had to steal a moment away but possibly this little moment (which might have felt obligatory) could open up a rest within the confines of obligation, the proximity to me meant you were still doing your “work” which for a number of reasons (some to do with repetition) was not too demanding at that moment. A known quantity allowing a hollow place. A break within the classic one hour lunch. Next to the carp and the pond. Only a couple of others ventured back there during my time in that position but I was conscious of the sound I was providing even to the other side of the Conservatory. If the sound of my voice and the rhythm it was carrying and the familiarity of its short message was still sounding in the room it was enlarging the space we were all in together. Later in the Garden room after lunch as Laure was speaking and I could hear Emma playing, the thought came back to me and I was feeling the shape of the conservatory through the sound that travelled through it to us there in the rows of seats.
OK, that’s too long already. What I meant to say was thank you. Thanks for the invitation to participate which was, of course, an invitation to think. The freedom you allowed within the remit you set out set off a multiplicity of actions in response and this felt relaxingly fruitful in the department of thought.
*note: the length of the “drink” mentioned here is the actual moment of lips to glass, water entering mouth. The preparation, glass bottle opening (with metal top opener), and water pouring into drinking glass etc took 1min 28secs. But the sip of water entering the mouth part itself was elongated by 1.5 to 2 secs in the performance of it (artistic license KC15041963).