English

Takes Care of You: A participatory performance

Sarah Roshem

To Cite this Article

APA : Roshem, S. (2014). Takes Care of You: A participatory performance. p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e , 1 (1). http://www.p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e.org/?p=352

Chicago : Roshem, Sarah. “Takes Care of You: A participatory performance.” p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e 1, no. 1 (Fall 2014). http://www.p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e.org/?p=352

MLA : Roshem, Sarah. “Takes Care of You: A participatory performance.” p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e 1.1 (2014). http://www.p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e.org/?p=352


Abstract

More than an artist, Sarah Roshem is an artist researcher. She conceives her artistic practice as a means of examining our perceptions and feelings in order for us to be transformed by the artistic experience. She has developed her art work through an artistic, fictional medical laboratory – SR Labo – whose mission is to help people feel better. By making assumptions which she then tests out with spectators or participants, she hopes to show that art can help make us better human beings. In this article, she presents “takes care of you SR” a participatory performance produced in 2014 at la vitrine am, in which she aims to examine the following hypothesis: does physically wearing a well-meaning message help people empathise with others and literally embody the message? This article will present the methods and results of this work of research which combines a scientific goal with an artistic process.

Keywords

Sensitive experience, artistic experience, participatory performance, care, relationship, responsibility, artist entrepreneur, service, hospitality, palliative care, society life, interaction, work, role, engagement, real presence, representation


Being an artist researcher does not only mean organising my artistic practice around theoretical concepts. I am staking a claim to a title more than a teaching perspective. This title represents my methods and my commitment: I explore and experiment to stimulate and feed my creative work. From concept to completion, each project is its own prototype, whether executed or simulated, encouraging a sensible awareness[1] which aims to challenge perception and cognition. Though I do not feel bound to achieve a certain result, I do care about the effect my works have, I want them to affect, shake up, and change our perception[2].

Since 2000 my pseudonym as an artist has been SR Labo, an artistic, fictional medical laboratory whose mission is to take care of people to make them feel better: its motto is “SR Labo takes care of you”. Each artistic event gives me the opportunity to address a new issue and to test its effect on the audience or the participants. Participatory performances, immersion processes and new media are for me artistic tools which I use in my goal to create art. The exhibition space becomes an experimental space where our attention, our feelings and our imagination are all put to work.

I shall explain my practice as an artist researcher through the practical case study of “takes care of you”, a participatory performance which took place on January 28th, 2014, from 6.00pm to 9.00pm, during the preview of the Business model / entreprises d’artistes exhibition, curated by Isabelle de Maison Rouge at la vitrine am. My aim was to introduce SR Labo in this exhibition, beyond the mere brand (trademark, motto, product), through an operation triggered by the performance and aiming to reroute normal high society behaviours and codes of conduct towards a human and sensitive relationship[3].

The present article marks the end of the work called “takes care of you”. It allows me to conclude my undertaking as an artist researcher by explaining the scientific process behind my artistic perspective. It also allows me to measure the value of such an undertaking and can be used as the basis for its assessment and its improvement. In order to achieve this, we will present the context in which “Takes care of you” took place, the issues it raised, the way it was carried out. We will also provide an analysis of its outcome based on a post-performance discussion organised on February 7th, 2014, with seven of the ten performers and two observers – as well as the conclusions and future developments the experiment leads us to anticipate.

Introduction

I am an artist researcher. At Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne I am involved in a line of research called Art & Flux and led by Yann Toma[4] and Caroline Ibos[5]. The aim is to interconnect the links between art and society, and art and the economy, and to introduce the notion of critical artist companies, by recording and analysing the modus operandi of artists whose work evolves following the business pattern of traditional companies, eventually turning this process into a work of art, a concept, an attitude.

Isabelle de Maison Rouge, art critic, historian and a member of Art & Flux, is curator of the Business Model exhibition. Wishing to report on the emergence of such artistic practices, she called on a group of artists using this business model in their artistic practice, either as critical fiction, or as economic model for the artist. Isabelle de Maison Rouge conceived and produced this exhibition at la vitrine am [6], a gallery specialising in contemporary art and brands, where the following artistic companies are brought together and presented : Cloaca/Wim Delvoy, Micro-climat/Damien Beguet, Grore Images/Philippe Mairesse, IBK/Benjamin Sabatier, Jesus had a sister Production/Dana Wyse, Ouest-Lumière/ Yann Toma, Société Anonyme, inc/Marcel Duchamp, Soussan Ltd/Sylvain Soussan, SR Labo/Sarah Roshem, That’s painting production/Bernard Brunon, Toiletpaper/Maurizio Cattelan.

I am one of the artists known as artistic entrepreneurs or artist companies, as SR Labo defines itself by referring to the real world : its visual identity (brand, trademark, motto), its field of intervention as a “public health organisation”, and its online programme (avoiding any artistic dimension). SR Labo is a fictional entity based on the world of medicine in an alternative world made possible through art. The connection between art and a medical environment allows us to try new kinds of experimental art resulting from logical correspondences which can transform reality through a pro-active approach and the sharing of a world of sensations.

For this exhibition SR Labo planned to not limit itself to a presentation of the laboratory (brand image, licensed products, brochures), but rather to demonstrate its role as a “service provider” able through personalised interventions – whether for individuals or groups – to help people feel better.

Therefore we suggested to the exhibition curator Isabelle de Maison Rouge that we should organise a participatory performance during the preview, in which volunteer performers, recruited by us and wearing a t-shirt with the motto takes care of you (with the trademark as copyright), would follow a certain protocol for their intervention during the preview itself in order to deliver this message.

Our main assumption – that wearing a motto can lead us to be the vehicle for that message[7] to reach others, and can also allow us to experience personally this kindly attitude towards others – is part of a more general questioning about care ethics and practices. This typically Anglo-Saxon concept revolves around moral aspects of caring as well as care as a healing human activity.

Within the framework of Art & Flux, Caroline Ibos and I created a research project focussing on this relationship between certain artistic practices and the concept of care. “With this in mind, art will be seen and understood first and foremost as practice and performance, not only because it has a bearing on the world and can transform it, and because it enables collective and public experiences to take place, but also because, with its heuristic and epistemic potential, it allows us to see what was unseen before, to move the boundaries of our knowledge.[8]

This idea of practice and performance is central to my work, including in this particular case: the volunteer/performer, by becoming a care-giver, follows a certain protocol resulting in his behaving simply with thoughtfulness and kindness in his interactions.

Methodology

In order to test our hypothesis, we looked at a first type of exercise: the performance organised at la vitrine am in which our volunteer performers would wear a blue t-shirt emblazoned with the motto, and would follow the protocol collectively.

protoTCOYbleu

A new problem surfaced: how can a type of behaviour alien to the normal rules of behaviour at a preview be adapted to that specific environment? How can the discreet and sensible presence of the volunteer performers operate when most people present are performing themselves?

We also printed white t-shirts with the same motto, to be given to people who, in exchange, would agree to follow the same protocol in their daily lives. This individual experiment, with no detailed pre-condition as to its environment, raises the issue of how someone can train himself to follow a certain rule of behaviour without a framework for reference. The issue becomes whether his relationship with other people is transformed and whether he feels changed by the experience. We will not deal with this second type of exercise here as we have yet to design a feedback process.

The advice given in the protocol results in part from a personal experience at the Jeanne-Garnier care home in 2005, during a training session in palliative care[9] for volunteers[10] : focussing on the here and now, being there for the other in self-abnegation, being thoughtful, not answering questions but allowing people to find their own answers, sharing feelings with the group, etc., which is all part of the training and awareness-raising for volunteers. This experience has modified my point of view and my relationships ever since.

I wished also to introduce the notion of hospitality[11]: allowing another person to feel welcomed, and developing a natural tendency in the volunteer to be welcoming rather than just fulfilling a helpful task (serving a drink for example).

I also wanted to insist on the importance of finding time for oneself, in order to be there for others: observation, withdrawal, and attention to personal comfort are necessary steps when we want to reach out to others.

Thus the protocol was established.

The instructions were:

-feel that you are carrying and actively representing the message you are wearing: takes care of you

-be true to yourself (you have been chosen for this performance)

-feel both available to others and free to take time out for yourself; to create your own observation moments

-be fully aware of the situation, your encounters, yourself, in the here and now, forgetting about your personal issues

-feel within yourself the personal space to respect when interacting with someone

-if you are asked about yourself or about the message you are wearing, do not try to answer, but get the other person to say what it means in their eyes, i.e., what do you think? What does it evoke? What is your opinion about it? Etc.

-caring for people does not mean serving them: offering them a drink, holding their coats, etc.

-understand the meaning of hospitality. This space where you find yourself since 6.00pm should now start to feel like your own space, you must be able to welcome the newcomer, the person who is new, a bit lost, alone…

-ask yourself what it means to be in this situation of performance: do you feel different? What do you feel? Is it what you had imagined it would be?

Video

At the exhibition, the first things people saw, walking into la vitrine am, were a video, and a mannequin wearing the same t-shirt as the volunteer performers. This one-minute video was conceived to be broadcast during the exhibition and serves as a reference point for the whole experience. Following usual ad hoc publicity rules, it shows 4 people, in comfortable surroundings, one after the other, all wearing the “takes care of youSR” t-shirt, turning towards the viewer with a kind expression. A different slogan appeared for each one:

  • what if by caring for others, we found out who we really are
  • by offering yourself, you get something in return
  • by making yourself available, open to encounters
  • kindness is an asset we are all endowed with.

The video, clearly identifiable as from SR Labo, – slow-paced, soundless, in sky-blue hues, with smiling actors – broadcast its message in a loop, revealing the spirit in which the project and the performance were conceived.

Volunteer performers

For this performance we called on personal acquaintances, men and women with a connection with art. We conceived their recruitment with the following criteria: the performance can be carried out by people with a kindly personality, or, the performance can be used by people who want to work on themselves. The performance can be led by people who are interested in performing. Lastly, the opportunity to take part in this performance should be offered to members of the Art & Flux research project, and more specifically to those researching art & care, in order to combine all the relevant themes and to feed a thought process based on this artistic experience.

People who declined the invitation did so because they were unavailable, and more generally, because it made them uncomfortable: “I am not comfortable doing it”, “I don’t feel like doing it”, “It worries me actually, I fear I might do the opposite, personal barriers are hard to overcome… I am very shy when it comes to aesthetic relationships; I feel I become almost irrational”. I had to reassure them and explain to some that their performance was not meant to be an acting part at all, but that on the contrary, they should be themselves and follow their own instinct, whilst staying open and receptive to others and to their own feelings. These necessary explanations allowed some recruits to decide in favour of taking part.

10 people agreed to volunteer: the curator (I), 2 members of art & care (A and D), one woman who is a singer studying for an M.A. in Art Therapy (E), one M.A. student from UFR04-Paris 1 (Arts Plastiques et Sciences de l’Art/Visual Arts and Fine Arts department at the Pantheon-Sorbonne university in Paris) who is a former performing arts student (C), a contract worker in the theatre (S), a production coordinator (MA), 2 female visual artists, a performance organiser.

Volunteers received the protocol 2 days prior to the performance. A team meeting was organised for 5.30pm, on the day of the preview.

Performance

Volunteers arrive on time. They put on their t-shirts and join the group to introduce themselves (the French informal “tu” is used by all), and to be reminded of the protocol and have a chance to make any comments. Volunteer performers seem to be perfectly clear as to what the protocol involves and they understand the need to stay for the 3-hour duration of the preview event. Questions arise as to how they should answer queries: I remind them that it is crucial they let enquirers speak and thus find their own answer…

It is important that volunteer performers gel as a group. Each individual must feel both part of a team with a common goal, and able to reach for that goal idiosyncratically according to their own personalities.

We return to the exhibition space. It is 6.00pm and guests are arriving. Volunteers need to spread out in the space already occupied by the organisers and the first arrivals. The performance starts.

My role during this performance is not an easy one: being an artist present at the preview and at the same time observing the performance turns out not to be a simple matter[12]. The feedback session organised 10 days later at la vitrine am allows me to report back on the event by referring to what volunteer performers relate and to how they understand their own experience.

7 performers take part in this discussion, as well as 2 guest observers: Véronique Godé, an independent reporter who was present at the preview, and Caroline Ibos. I suggest each person present should share their observations and relate their experience, its highlights, and what they see as the shortcomings of the performance. Everyone will have a chance to speak in turn, and they can all intervene at any time. The guest observers will then be given a chance to speak. The conversation, recorded and transcribed, was the basis for my double query:

  • wearing a message and becoming the vehicle for this message: what really happens during a performance?
  • introducing a real human contact in a formal environment: how do people react?

02 groupetakescare

Results
  1. The performer as vehicle for the message
  • The fact that the performance lasted all of 3 hours, gave C a chance to grow into the experience, to gradually become the performer and forget himself; E ended up forgetting her bodily needs and even her exhaustion and felt “as if in a daze” (after the performance E was very tired, and MA felt exhausted the next day). For another participant it is the start of the performance which was the highlight, because of the preparation and warming up involved, the first contacts with the team being exciting, and inspiring her to communicate with other people at the preview. MA felt that because the performance lasted so long she possibly became deflated, and struggled to remain welcoming and to keep reaching out to people.

03 vitrineAM0

The point was for volunteers to focus not so much on themselves anymore, but on others and on their mission. Involving oneself in this way is felt as appeasing, and allowed C to forget about his own personal challenges[13].

  • Volunteers felt it was possible to communicate with the people attending the preview. “We had the feeling we could potentially meet every person present in that space” (MA). That communication felt natural and real, soon friendly, to some (A); others saw it as “anti-natural” (C), based on play-acting and secrecy (MA); even “surreal” (VG); “it resulted in something interesting but not necessarily logical” (D). D explains it by the “fictional dynamic” of the performance, and A sees it as resulting from the “relationship process” embarked upon by volunteers, which makes them aware of the artistic undertaking in an oral exchange.
  • Interactions were easier with people who were aware or had noticed something different, according to MA. It seems they suited people who had come on their own, suggests Véronique Godé: “I found it very nice knowing that you were there if I suddenly felt a bit isolated”. Women apparently found it easier to perform around the art works rather than at the bar, which was seen as a place to take a break (upstairs facility), not as included in the performance (I). In contrast, men seemed more comfortable performing up there: physical proximity (D) made it easier to join a conversation (C)[14]. Interactions seem easier for women when there is more space around them, and they seem more obvious for men in closer proximity to other people.

04 vitrineAM2

  • Some volunteers end up forgetting they are wearing the t-shirt, in their immersion into the attitude they are trying to convey (E). For others the t-shirt helps them to immerse themselves into their role (becoming a supporting tool) (I). It can be seen as projecting humility, by ignoring the usual dress code of an art preview (VG and A). It can also help put oneself in a good light, and reassure people (D) in order to feel acknowledged (seducer? not performer acting out a caring role!). For Véronique Godé, the t-shirts play an important role: they help identify performers and disregard social conventions. She compares it to Burning Man, where the participants are naked – divested of any visible evidence of their social status – which facilitates a more authentic connection between human beings[15].
  • The “mission” (MA), the “role” (I) can be understood as work, because it is not that natural to be kindly and smiling (C). The notion of work is mentioned in relation to the duration of the performance: to feel part of a team for 3 hours helps create the feeling of belonging to a task force (C). The word “staff” is used to talk about the group (S). The concept of team is used by all: it promotes reassuring exchanges; during the “time-out” of a break (S), visual complicity (I) – seeing the other “as an anchor in space”? – “made us comfortable” (A). Knowing that you can count on the other members of the team when in need (C) made us feel supported (C and S).

“I am working” (D) said a volunteer to avoid being interrupted when engaging with an unknown woman…

The fact that all the volunteers arrived very punctually at our 5.30pm appointment can mean they were respecting a work schedule. And the first ones to leave only did so at 9.00pm, which was the closing time for the preview.

  1. Social manners and natural demeanour
  • Volunteer performers all have a connection with art; they are familiar with how previews are conducted. Although we go to previews to discover the work presented, and to form an opinion on the exhibition, we are also there to greet acquaintances, to be seen, or to make new connections. Caroline Ibos reminds us, “people present at the preview went there to act out being at a preview and they played their role perfectly”.

05 vitrineAM4

  • With their atypical behaviour, volunteers experience what this “extra performance” can bring (C): “By going beyond the usual questions of who we are and what we do, conversation started faster and was more meaningful: it was surprising how much people talked and how much they revealed. In the world of art in Paris, it usually takes longer to have a proper exchange” (A). By showing ourselves as we are, we allow others to step out of the framework of a preview (D).
  • It is precisely by thinking of the other that the volunteer can feel he or she is helping the person encountered to deepen their own self-knowledge (C). It is as if we offered to give more meaning to a relationship, and we communicated that offer with the performance (S).

06 volontaireMA

Véronique Godé suggests the next step is to use this performance to examine why and how we start a conversation, why we choose to go talk to someone for no apparent reason. According to her: “I thought you looked friendly (talking to MA) and I did not want to break that link, but at the same time, we had not met, we could not talk about the work, this created an artificial situation with a real feeling of empathy between us, all the more interesting as we are asking ourselves why we choose someone for no reason, without following the usual protocol and asking the usual questions: what are you doing here, who invited you, whom do you know… The movement is the key.”

  • Volunteer performers experience this artistic endeavour as a process both artistic and relational. They are the medium for the work: “what shook us is that the work was spread out, unstable, that we felt like mismatched moving objects filling the space and that we could be anywhere” (C)[16]. “The performance is this invisible space between doing and being” (D), it facilitates “the invisible work” (VG) of a “discreet action” (MA) which can make you think that nothing is happening while it is silently taking place. The curator of the exhibition and volunteer performer Isabelle de Maison Rouge reveals that the organisers felt “the performers were not playing their part”. Amongst the audience there were also people who were expecting “a real performance”, a real show. They felt disappointed. Isabelle de Maison Rouge thinks that with the help of exhibition moderators, visitors understood better both the exhibition and the works presented, “so these people ended up thinking that yes, this performance was more subtle and interesting than they originally thought”[17]. Thus there were various levels of understanding during the course of the evening, explains Véronique Godé. She stresses this concept: as she is intrigued by the idea that the performance makes relationships confusing, it seems obvious to her that the substance of these relationships can only be assessed afterwards[18], when we remember it the following day, or when we hear volunteers discussing it.
  1. Limits

07 vitrineAM1

  • The performance was announced as “a discreet and sensitive event” in the brochure. On the one hand, some people thought it was not convincing enough, too light, unassertive, or loose, but on the other hand, some accounts by volunteers show that it provoked several negative reactions: mistrust of the welcoming and smiling volunteers (C), suspicion (eavesdropping (S), attempts at seduction (MA and D)), animosity towards people you wish were not there and who are trying to help you (like a salesperson in a shop) (I), belligerent looks from people who felt spied up, etc.
  • Indeed, it seems as if this performance gives the volunteer – easily recognisable with the sky-blue t-shirt – a certain power: the right to watch other people. This deviation results indirectly from the original proposition and is a diversion we need to think about: how do we deal with it? How can we watch without voyeurism? How can we be perceived as well-meaning and not as peeping Toms?

The fact that visitors feel embarrassed when observed, fosters an attitude of rejection, which makes the volunteer uncomfortable, rejected, facing walls, alone, adrift (S)… Fortunately reassurance is found in the comfort of the group.

  1. Issues raised

08 échange

Caroline Ibos and Véronique Godé remarked that this performance dealt with certain concepts: work, role-playing, and responsibility.

  • The idea of work is understood through what the volunteers say: physical exhaustion after the performance, importance of the group, perception of time, everyone having a specific occupation, following the protocol, serving the artist’s performance, being immersed in their role… For Véronique Godé, this performance raises the issue of what constitutes work, what makes it feel like work, and how the rules of this work can be broken.
  • Caroline Ibos raises the issue of role-playing in a more analytical and critical manner by referring to Erving Goffman (1922-1982), and reminding us that in every situation we are always acting, that we have a repertoire of reference, and that we know which role to play from that repertoire. Therefore each one of us is a very good actor. Caroline Ibos feels that volunteer performers were in a situation where they had lost their repertoire and had to create a new character to play. If visitors to the preview played the part of someone present at a preview, volunteers had no precise part to play and had to behave like actors creating their own roles. Not knowing what your part is can feel like a handicap, as if every new situation is a hurdle to face. According to Caroline Ibos, this is possibly where the performance becomes ambivalent and complicated.
  • Caroline is inclined to talk of responsibility to others rather than work: because there was “nothing to do”, you had to feel morally responsible for other human beings in order to take care of them (takes care of you). For Caroline, being responsible for others without really being responsible for them is difficult: “I don’t think any one of you can be sure you have succeeded in making people comfortable. Maybe you even said at some point: ‘they are uncomfortable’: there is a lack of certainty, a sort of gap between your mission of responsibility and your perhaps somewhat uncertain results.”

Véronique comes back to this notion of responsibility by mentioning the parent’s responsibility for a child: being tired, being watchful, and being on a mission, everything relating to the invisible work which is this ‘being permanently responsible for another person’ once you are committed to that person.

These suggested issues are discussed by the people taking part in the debriefing session.

Conclusion

After the experience of the performance and the feedback session which followed, we can now re-examine our hypotheses.

Does wearing a message on a t-shirt make the wearers feel they are a medium for this message? Volunteer performers say that for them, the t-shirt is an external sign of recognition for the public and for the group, and supports the volunteer in his “role”; but more than anything, it is the warming-up session and the long duration of the performance (3 hours) which helped and encouraged them to adopt the role – maybe even the work – of a care-giver. Because wearing the message and behaving as a caring person are apparently seen as work, something which is neither obvious nor easy, which forces you to lose your grounding and forget yourself in order to devote yourself to others. The t-shirt then acts as a mask behind which we can hide (this is not us), and allows us to become someone else (someone who is inside us), a person who appears in the specific framework of this performance – just as an actor may perform, acting out his part on stage at the theatre.

The next question was: can something akin to a genuine presence be introduced in a social environment? Volunteer performers answer that it seems possible, and happens surprisingly quickly. The discussion rapidly evolves towards a new level of understanding. The performer’s task was to encourage people to start a conversation, disregarding the usual framework for social interaction at a preview – through other means, other connections: “why we go talk to someone for no apparent reason” (Godé). The aim of the performance was to allow the volunteer to start a “fictional relationship” with the public: the encounter felt both more “natural” and “surreal”, as if people had felt encouraged to be themselves, spontaneous and creative, and as if relationships had become more meaningful thanks to the performance.

This issue seems to reflect the traditional opposition between presence and representation, between what is natural and what is artificial. It is precisely when you reverse this connection that the encounter can take place: in the real world, people attending a preview are on show; in this artistic fiction, they feel encouraged to be more truly present for others and for themselves.

One last issue to address is the disappointment of this performance, which was expected to be an event, to liven up the evening, to be spectacular; instead of which, volunteers tried very discreetly to meet people simply and naturally, and it seemed suspicious. Kind smiles were seen as aggressive, looks seeking to make contact were perceived as voyeuristic: when they tried to establish a connection, volunteer performers could end up kept at a distance or rejected… Paradoxically, even as they tried to foster well-being, volunteers had to face this sort of hostile reaction.

The participatory performance « takes care of you SR », although it is given for people attending the preview of the exhibition, is mostly a means of creating an unusual personal and

relationship experience for volunteers. How does one feel entrusted with a task, with a mission, by simply wearing a coloured t-shirt with a motto so discreet you hardly notice it, just as you hardly notice the physical presence of the volunteers in the crowded high society event? This attempt to be present, necessary and almost absurd, with no specific role to play –as Caroline Ibos underlined – is an approach which can help us understand whom we can be in such a situation, find out how much of our own self gets involved in this attempt, and see what our usual boundaries are, breaking those boundaries by adapting and facing the situations newly created by each new encounter with the public. Are we then so different from our usual selves? Do the protocol and the team allow us to feel driven as if at work, to channel our behaviour towards others? Does feeling responsible for the care of other people during the performance, turn out to be a training process that is interesting, worthwhile, frightening?

The experiment reveals how each volunteer performer is involved “in his own way”, according to his own sensibility and creative power, and his desire to accept or distort the rules suggested by the protocol.

The concluding analysis which we are submitting here is not meant to validate our hypotheses, but to help us discover what this type of experience with relationships and contexts can reveal. The discussions engendered by the post-performance de-briefing session are part of the work itself, as is this very article. One could argue that my observation tools should include testimonies from the participants, quantitative evaluations etc., but the reason I have circumscribed the scientific research is that I did not want to limit my artistic creation, but I wanted it to be a work in progress. The analysis allows me to take stock, to think about future experiments, and to improve the procedure: for example, audiences could be made aware of the volunteers’ presence if we handed out informative leaflets as they walk in…

For now I am considering follow-up options for this work. We invited volunteer performers to test the rules of volunteer work at an art preview in Paris. I feel it would be interesting to transpose the same idea to another environment. I would like to offer the same type of activity to elderly people, or to a group of disabled volunteers, to let them become carers for others – reversing roles for care-givers, we could better understand how intercourse with this type of population can help us feel connected meaningfully.

Lastly, I would like to thank everyone involved, and to say how invaluable I have found carrying out this experiment with and thanks to all the participants (volunteers, visitors, observers, organisers). I had explained to volunteers that no filming would take place, as what they experienced during their encounters should remain private. Each participant will have taken home and will remember some aspect of their sensitive and invisible experience.

Translated from French into English by Julie Pye.


Notes

[1] I am referring in this case to the work of Jacques Rancière (Le partage du sensible/The Distribution of the Sensible, 2000), who explains that the contemporary artistic practice and its aesthetic reception allows us to experience the world in a sensible way which can be shared collectively.

[2] For John Dewey, “the moral aim of art itself is to rid us of prejudice, to remove biases which blinker our view, to rip open layers of habits and traditions, to refine our ability to perceive” (p.520).

[3] Relational art as developed by Nicolas Bourriaud at the end of the 90s, defines a set of contemporary artistic practices where “art is when people come together”, and offers limited connection points between usually distant levels of reality as well as new models for socialising. In a more general intellectual context, the issues of one’s relationship to others (Levinas, 1971), of the “inter-subjectivity of our world” (Merleau-Ponty, 1945, p.406), of psychological inter-subjectivity as a building block towards a common psychic space (Kaes, 2008), all allow us to view contemporary creations within this relational and inter-subjective dimension.

[4] Yann Toma is an artist and a university professor. He manages the Art & Flux team, and is honorary life President of its artist company Ouest Lumière.

[5] Caroline Ibos is a university lecturer with a special qualification in leading research work in Political Science (Université Rennes2/Paris3). She also co-manages the Art & Flux line of research.

[6] La vitrine am is the exhibition space of Art en Direct, a communications agency specialising in consultancy, strategy, events, production of exhibitions, management and PR, in Paris (24 rue de Richelieu).

[7] At the end of the 70s, the artist Jenny Holzer was already using t-shirts as a means of circulating her series Truismes/Truisms, which allowed her to communicate and spread her committed and provocative messages around society. LED panels, projections, stickers… many different tools were used to reach a large section of the public and make art functional in a city environment.

[8] Caroline Ibos, in her presentation of the website http://www.artandcare.org.

[9] Whilst studying for a Masters’ degree at the University of Paris V (2013-2014), I did a year-long internship at the Jeanne-Garnier care home, an intense and enriching experience which thus ran parallel to this performance.

[10] We use the term volunteer here in its Anglo-Saxon meaning, to talk about the performers.

[11] This notion of hospitality is inspiring new fields of study in the art world. At the end of 2013, at the Blaffer (University of Houston art museum), an exhibition took place, called Feast : Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art, in which artists “conducted” performance meals as a means to encourage new encounters and new shared artistic experiences.

[12] As I was coming down with pneumonia, I felt I was physically drowning, caught between 2 streams and unable to choose which way I was heading.

[13] This is similar to the experience we had with palliative care: as we walk into a patient’s room, we focus on that person, forgetting our worries and our troubles of the day in order to be “totally present” with that person.

[14] This gender difference is interesting and calls for a social and psychological study. This was one of the first issues regarding care raised by Carol Guilligan in her book In a Different Voice (1982), which shows how men and women think and speak differently when faced with ethical dilemmas. According to Guilligan, women are naturally connected and men are naturally separate. Following that idea makes it possible to understand the situation with the bar as connection facilitator: immersive and helpful for men.

[15] This reflects the work of Vanessa Beecroft, who plays with dress codes in their capacity to reflect social codes, allowing both contrast and standardisation of the bodies assembled, to show and delete any difference: in her slow performances, the nudity offered does not mean to stress the natural state of a body, but becomes in its turn a uniform worn (vb45, 2001). The same applies to black women wearing maids’ uniforms arranged on a stage at the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair (vb58, 2005).

[16] To think of a work so openly is a contemporary way of apprehending the act of creation. The work of Thomas Hirschhorn is a case in point: the way he involves audiences and players in a space dedicated to creation and reflection seems to me a paradigm of this contemporary approach to artistic work. “Flamme éternelle”/Eternal Flame (Palais de Tokyo, 2014) bears witness to his wish to make artistic work an available public space as well as a temporary workshop reactivating a protocol of “presence and production”: everyone can therefore freely move around, intervene, meet people… just by being present for the others in that space. A significant encounter for me and my children was meeting a firefighter there, watching over one of the eternal flames.

[17] According to Bourriaud, the emergence of relational aesthetics is part of a general trend towards reduced human relationships, due to a certain extent to what Guy Debord called “the society of the spectacle” (Guy Debord, 1967), where relationships are not simply and directly experienced but become a show. Art can try to fill this gap by creating “space-time intervals dedicated to relationships, interpersonal experiences striving to be free of the constraints of mass ideology: in other words, places where you can build an alternative ideology, critical models, moments of organised friendliness” (p.47).

[18] Assessing the value of a piece of work based on the memory we have of this work, and on the change it may induce in our perception of future experiences, is a significant concept (cf. John Dewey).


Bibliography

Dewey, John (1934). L’art comme expérience. Paris : Gallimard, Folio essais, 2012.

Bourriaud Nicolas (1998). Esthétique relationnelle. Paris : Presse du Réel, Dijon.

Debord, Guy (1967). La société du spectacle. Paris : Buchet/Chastel.

Gilligan, Carol (2008). Une voix différente. Paris : Flammarion, Champ essais.

Kaës, René, (2008), « Définitions et approches du concept de lien », Adolescence, 2008/3 n° 65, p. 763-780.

Levinas, Emmanuel (1971). Totalité et infini. Paris : Le Livre de Poche, 1992

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1945). Phénoménologie de la perception. Paris : Gallimard collection Tel, 1992.

Rancière, Jacques (2000). Le partage du sensible. Paris : La Fabrique.


sarahroshem portraitSarah Roshem has been sharing her artistic work under the name of sr lab, a fictional medical laboratory, since 2000.

PhD in Art and Sciences of Art, she also holds a Master 2 in Art Therapy. She is a Lecturer at Paris 1 and co-leads the Art & Care research topic within the Art & Flux research line.

French version.