The Automatic Workshop
Monday 12th - Friday 16th December 2016 (13.00 - 17.00)
A collective exercise in self-disruption
by Ant Hampton and Christophe Meierhans
Overview project description
* A “workshop” which aims to create the best possible conditions for its participants to dare enact another possible version of themselves; to take a leap of both faith and imagination, by which one decisively steps out of one's own ‘comfort zone’ to engage with the world as if such limits had been removed.
* A "performance” where the only people present are a group of participants who follow a mix of pre-recorded and scripted triggers. There are no leaders or authors present.
* 5 days x 4 hours. Participants can be from diverse backgrounds - not just the arts. The artists and hosts will engage with different milieu (activist, civil society orgs, etc) to reach a wide array of participants (see below).
In 2015 Ant created ‘Someone Else’ - a 45 minute ‘Autoteatro’ piece for two at a time. As with much of his recent work, instructions for action are mixed with other sounds and heard on headphones by participants who find themselves both incorporating and discovering the performance at the same time. This whole construction however (which would normally be considered the work itself) turns out to be just a preamble. The piece develops into an assignment, or put differently, a carefully delivered (non-didactic, at times humorous) challenge: to think about who might represent ‘someone you wouldn’t normally get to speak with’, and then to go out, find that person, and try to have a conversation with them.
Created initially for the 50th anniversary of Beursschouwburg, a theatre in Brussels, Someone Else is essentially a 45 minute automated trigger for a real-world experience of action outside of the art centre: beyond the usual parameters of artistic participation. It first introduces the idea of an artistic practice based on conscious risk-taking and real consequence, before handing over the keys to it, leaving the participants to decide for themselves where the actual 'participation' ends, if at all.
(Someone Else has since been re-written for presentations in Hong Kong and, more recently, in Amsterdam within the context of IDFA where it won the award for Best Immersive Non-Fiction. In Hong Kong it was re-developed alongside some initial work on this workshop)
The Automatic Performance &/or Workshop was born of conversation about Someone Else between us (Hampton / Meierhans), considering how the work managed to exist both as a constructed ’show’ and as a kind of assignment, or challenge. We spoke at length about the possibilities of extending the time spent focussed on such a challenge within a framed context, and began to imagine a workshop which opened up to other examples of risk-taking, “comfort-zone-breaking” action. We also considered the idea of a collective exercise whereby the only people present were the participants, who would follow a mix of pre-recorded and scripted triggers, enjoying the sense of a crafted experience whilst aware that the outcome remains unspecified; that whatever happens would depend on their imagination, and subsequent action. The implications of ‘an automatic workshop’ are numerous - more on the concept below.
We may sometimes be confronted with an intuition that the limits of what we personally feel is acceptable to do are not always well founded. The workshop, over time, frames the impulse that comes from that mistrust of ones own established norms; from having 'had enough' of not taking up the challenge of trespassing those limits. While this might mean the workshop is not for everyone, it will certainly resonate for many; indeed, politically, such an impulse is often now a majority issue. We are living in times when mistrust of each other seems to be growing all the time, human inequality and environmental damage have reached proportions both obscene and critical. Why don’t we do something? There is a sense of being stuck, blocked. We like to think that art can unblock, and of this workshop especially as a kind of de-blocking agent, principally by working towards a practice, accessible to anyone and drawing from a variety of disciplines, of creating moments of exception; something like a conscious insertion of a parenthesis into daily life ( ) within which one’s normal behaviour is to be suspended, and deviation finds legitimacy.
“The principle of direct action is the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.” David Graeber
In conversation with the writer and academic Joe Kelleher, he correctly posited that the workshop should not be framed as ‘addressing any bucket list’ (all the things you’ve always wanted to do but somehow never dared to) but rather as ‘a claim on your capacities’. Indeed, the workshop puts faith in the participants to identify a behavioural area which they know in their hearts could be pushed or changed, to potentially valuable ends. The workshop aims above all to leave the participants at a point of having identified and imaginatively amplified that potentiality, leaving them as it were on the edge: the moment the workshop ends is where it’s up to them if they jump or not. We are both interested in
art which projects (imaginatively) and sets up instances of actual real-world consequence.
A challenge becomes clear: how to avoid the sense that the consequence is for the participants’ benefit only. We don’t want to add to the ever-growing mountain of self-help literature / videos / websites. While there is certainly a degree of introspection required to define and identify one’s ‘comfort zone’ in order to surpass it, we need to know which one we’re addressing: each aspect of our lives has its own comfort zone. We want to focus on those aspects which in some way involve other people, so that any action which constitutes taking a risk - or going beyond the limits of one’s usual behaviour - will have a reciprocal consequence with at least one other person. While it’s certainly about contemplating and taking personal risk, the workshop could just as much be thought of as an exercise in creating accomplices. ‘To surpass oneself’, thought of in this way, suggests a useful double meaning.
“It seems to me that one of the essential elements in tenderness is that it is a free act, a gratuitious act – it has an enormous amount to do with liberty, with freedom. Because one chooses to be tender. And in a certain sense, in face of what is surrounding us, it is an almost defiant act, of freedom.” - John Berger (in conversation with Michael Silverblatt).
Please contact Vigdís Másdóttir department coordinator for further information on registration at vigdismas [at] lhi.is