How To Do Things With Words

An Exhibition of Radical Speech Acts

October 30–November 9, 2010
Opening Reception:
November 1, 2010, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries
Parsons The New School for Design
66 5th Avenue at 13th St.

NEW YORK, October 18, 2010—The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design presents How To Do Things With Words, an exhibition of radical speech acts organized by Melanie Crean, an artist and assistant professor at Parsons. On view October 30 through November 9, Parsons will host an opening reception on November 1, 6:00-8:00 pm.

Carlos Motta, Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice (2010)

The exhibition presents the work of fifteen artists and collectives who explore the relationship between language and power, media, action, and socio-political context through gallery works, talks, workshops and performances. The exhibition takes its name from the title of a groundbreaking treatise by British philosopher J.L. Austin, who eloquently presented the concept of speech acts. He disavowed the notion of language as something passive that simply outlines reality, but rather described it as a set of practices that can be used to affect and create realities. Austin’s premise is that speaking itself contains the power of doing.

Participating artists include Melanie Crean; Azin Feizabadi and Kaya Behkalam; Andrea Geyer and Sharon Hayes; Yael Kanarek; Carlos Motta; Martha Rosler; the Iraqi/U.S. Cross Wire Collective; Mark Tribe; and The Yes Men. Artists presenting talks and performances include Wafaa Bilal; Feizabadi; Kanarek; Huong Ngo and Hong-An Truong; Tribe; and Mary Walling Blackburn.

Several pieces in the show relate speech to the urgency of the political process during an election season. Carlos Motta’s Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice (2010) reenacts a series of speeches concerning the concept of peace, originally delivered by six liberal Colombian presidential candidates from the last century who were assassinated because of their ideology. Performed by actors in public squares in Bogota during the last presidential campaign, the work emphasizes the transformative potential of fiction as a tool of reparative collective memory. Azin Feizabadi’s The Epic of the Lovers: God, Mafia and the Citizens (2009) muses on the disparity between individual and collective desire for change during an evolving political movement. Melanie Crean’s The Anonymous Archives (2008-10), is an online archive of interviews that document the rapid shifts in Iraqi and American desire for political change during the period of US military divestment, beginning before the 2008 election of President Obama, and finishing just after the current US mid-term elections.

The gallery space itself is intended as a site for speech and action, designed by architect Jordan Parnass with laser-cut plywood furniture as a contemporary interpretation of U.N. Security Council chamber. Student and advocacy groups will be meeting in the space throughout the run of the exhibition, exercising their speech rights in a form of ongoing performance.

Related performances and presentations take place in the galleries at 6:30 pm:

  • November 2: Trigger Words by Yael Kanarek investigates the impact of words used to categorize, separate and wound;
  • November 4: The Negotiation, (produced by Haus der Kulturen der Welt), screening and discussion by Azin Feizabadi;
  • November 5: AND, AND, AND: Stammering, An Interview by Huong Ngo and Hong-An Truong explores the process of becoming a citizen; Mary Walling Blackburn’s The Order of the Joke parses the raw materials of contemporary war jokes;
  • November 8: Performance, Mediation and the Public Sphere, a lecture by Mark Tribe;
  • November 9: Lecture by Wafaa Bilal about artists’ responses during time of war.

The exhibition is supported by funds from Parsons The New School for Design and The Jerome Foundation.

For further information, please contact For information about individual project descriptions, click here.

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The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center is an award-winning campus center for Parsons The New School for Design that combines learning and public spaces with exhibition galleries to provide an important new downtown destination for art and design programming. The mission of the Center is to generate an active dialogue on the role of innovative art and design in responding to the contemporary world. Its programming encourages an interdisciplinary examination of possibility and process, linking the university to local and global debates. The center is named in honor of its primary benefactor, New School Trustee and Parsons Board Chair Sheila C. Johnson. The design by Lyn Rice Architects is the recipient of numerous awards, including an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

General Information:
Location: 66 Fifth Avenue at 13th Street, New York
Gallery hours: Open daily 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. and Thursday evenings until 8:00 p.m.; closed all major holidays and holiday eves.
Admission: Free
For information about the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center Please contact 212.229.8919 or visit

How To Do Things With Words: project descriptions

How To Do Things With Words
Sat Oct 30 – Tue Nov 9
Opening Reception: Mon Nov 1 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries
The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
Parsons The New School for Design
66 5th Avenue at 13th Street
Organized by Melanie Crean

Art Work Project Descriptions:

The Shape of Change
Melanie Crean, 2007-2010
The Shape of Change is a series of projects that analyze the capacity of speech to produce personal and political change. Projects include Music for Shiloh, How My Son Learns to Speak of War, Conversations on the Line and The Anonymous Archives.

Music for Shiloh
Melanie Crean, 2010
Music For Shiloh is a musical score that investigates how language expresses desire and thus constitutes individual subjectivity, tracing how an infant can go from cooing to forming full sentences over a two year period. A series of one-minute of video clips, recorded every month for 24 months until the child is able to say “I love you”, is rotoscoped into a series of abstractions that lead to the creation of a musical score. The process emphasizes the profound nature of developing the capacity for speech in a two-year period, as reflected by the meticulous nature of archiving that act. This project serves very much as a personal, intimate counterpoint to the larger, more political form of The Anonymous Archive.

How My Son Learns To Speak of War
Melanie Crean, ongoing
How My Son Learns to Speak of War explores the process of understanding and verbalizing conflict in a series of monthly interviews with the artist’s five year-old son. The project investigates when and how war is understood, where it is learned from, and how it is described.  In kindergarten, there is great concern with power animals, robots and playground altercations, with vocabulary concerning wars in Iraq and Afghanistan slowly filtering in.

Conversations on the Line, 2010
Participants: Zaydoon Ali, Zaid Balasim, Mohammed Basim, Rachel Bernstein, George Bixby, Melanie Crean, Chris Crews, Alaa Dhiaa, Huong Ngo, Gabrielle Guglielmelli, Julio Hernandez, Kimberly Hogan, Jessica Jaffe, Lauren Larken, Hasan Nasir, Grant Noel, Andrew Persoff, Ayoush Qais, Ali Salim Abood, Rafal Usama and Or Zubalsky.
Conversations on the Line was an exchange conducted between a group of students from The New School and The University of Baghdad. The project investigated the role of language and power in the class room, and how education systems might be used to foster change, freedom of speech and human rights. The conversations inadvertently began to address the nature of online communication: at once amazing for its ability to reach across cultural boundaries, but fraught with technical difficulties in an era of multiple software platforms and electricity outages. After a series of writing exchanges and online conversations, the participants chose topics from the conversations to pursue in three artworks: I Can See the Road But Dare Not Speak its Name, And Longing Is No Longer Speaks and No Its Broken, Broken For Me Too.

I Can See the Road But Dare Not Speak its Name, 2010
Tamara Chehayeb Makarem, Melanie Crean, Rafal Usama, Hasan Nasir, Zaid Al Nasiri
I Can See the Road But Cannot Speak its Name investigates the portrayal of female subjectivity in postwar Iraq. In an international media environment where Iraqi people are often represented by male politicians, crowds of men on the street and traditional women in veils, how do young professional Iraqi women seek to portray themselves to an outside world which largely renders them invisible? The gaze that observes them is predominantly objectifying, assuming a stereotypical portrayal of traditional women whose role in society is secondary to their male counterparts. The text chosen to complement the photos are words of longing, addressing an unknown You, who might be a lover, the future identity of the writer herself, or the future identity of her country, Iraq.

And Longing Is No Longer Speaks, 2010
Rachel Bernstein, Gabrielle Guglielmelli, Julio Hernandez, Kimberly Hogan, Huong Ngo, Grant Noel, Andrew Persoff, Or Zubalsky
Beginning with an exploration of Immigration and Human Rights, And Longing Is No Longer Speaks juxtaposes the portrayal of immigrants in the media with excerpts of poems and stories from those who have recently been displaced. Nearly invisible text serves as a poignant metaphor for the invisible struggle of immigrants in the United States and abroad and the stories that go untold of the loss of home, sense of security, and community that continues to happen well after the official war is over.

No Its Broken, Broken For Me Too, 2010
George Bixby, Melanie Crean, Chris Crews, Jessica Jaffe
No Its Broken, Broken For Me Too explores the notion of ‘free speech’ through textures in a type based composition. The United States and Iraqi constitutions, the codification of legal control over speech, form the background layers. Formatting is removed, portraying the basis of our two governments as neatly bounded information, representing the utopian nature of how speech should be protected in an ideal world. Contrasted with these idealized boundaries are ragged columns of text, excerpted from skype conversations between Iraqi and American students. Efforts to discuss free speech are frequently punctuated by technical difficulties. The strongest elements of the composition are personal stories from students in both countries, portraying the very visceral reality of how speech is experienced in every day life.

The Anonymous Archive
Melanie Crean, 2007 – 2010
The Anonymous Archive is an online archive that investigates the ability of language to describe change on a national level. It tracks how Iraqis and Americans profess their desire for change, democracy and freedom as the two countries attempt to disengage from one another politically, and how these concepts themselves change over time in response to outside events. An interactive interface demonstrates commonality and disparity between records from different times and places, and allows viewers to visualize the ever shortening life span of political vocabulary, concepts and trends. The project can be found here.

The Epic of the Lovers: Mafia, God and the Citizens
Azin Feizabadi and Ida Momennejad
26:25’min, 2009
Two intermingled narratives melt into images to construct the piece. The first consists of personal diary entries prior to and after the 2009 Iranian elections. The diary starts with a personal fascination with a role playing game highly popular among the Iranian youth, ‘Mafia, God and the citizens’*, about which the author is about to make a film. The diary entries reflect a parallel between the making of the film and a record of the subjective reflections and emotional reactions of the author to the participation of millions in silent protests, violence against the protesters, and political elements, iconic images, and symbolism emerging during this era. The second narrative consists of a body of questions collected from Iranians and non-iranians concerned with this movement as a fragment of the historical processes shaping up the future.

The Negotiation Version # 2
Azin Feizabadi and Kaya Behkalam, 2010
HDV, 35min, Produced by Haus der Kulturen der Welt
A diverse group of actors come together on a film set analogous to the architecture of a conference room – a round table. The script: an unnamed visual/textual three-act drama on an undefined revolutionary situation. Within the working process: directing, reading, rehearsal and embodiment – in which the actors interpret their real and scripted characters – the borders between fictional and factual histories, individual and collective desires, projections and biographical backgrounds become more and more blurry. Only commented from afar by an authoritarian narrator, the actors discuss, improvise and negotiate between language and the necessity for action. But to what extent can Action be thought and performed beyond the inherited dramaturgical patterns, which the theatrical holds in itself?

In Times Like These, Only Criminals Remain Silent
Andrea Geyer and Sharon Hayes, 2005
In Times Like These Only Criminals Remain Silent takes its name from the slogan on a banner held by Daniel Berrigan and Ned Murphy in a protest outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, December 1972. Jesuit priests and anti-Vietnam war activists, Berrigan and Murphy protested the NYC Cardinal’s practice of praying with U.S. troops in Vietnam each year.  Andrea Geyer and Sharon Hayes’ project consists of five double-sided posters that ruminate on political desire and on the negotiation of social and political belief systems. On one side of each poster is a line-drawing of a different protest image traced such that the placard or banner is intentionally left blank and the faces and details of the people in the photo left vague. On the other side of each poster is a set of questions addressed to a generic “you” about belief systems, public opinion, identity formation and knowledge production.

Not Yet, No. 1
Yael Kanarek, 2010
wood board, the words “not yet” in silicone in Hebrew and Arabic
31.5 x 31.5″ / 80 x 80 cm
Kanarek uses the square as a basic metaphor for space. Illustrating the universality of territorial dynamism, Not Yet, No. 1 is a linguistic composition that examines spatial construct that is marked by both Modernism and globalization. The words, “Not Yet” reference Reem Fadda’s essay “Notyetness” which uses the term to describe the state of Palestinian national project. Despite the inert constant lack of notyetness, it becomes a driving force of action and self-regeneration. Notyetness proposes a break in the period of digress, it is a zone where everything is possible. Linearly organizing the piece are incomplete rows and gaps that articulate an imagined physicality. Using a range of blues and greens the words “not yet” in Hebrew and Arabic fill the picture plane, describing a collective feeling of mixed emotion. In between the words and grid is a knitted fabric of social connection the probes the meaning of one single thread that has looped into itself. Transliterations: Hebrew – Ada’in Lo / Classical Arabic – Hatta

Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice
Carlos Motta, 2010
Set against the current presidential election campaign in Colombia, Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice is based on a series of performative actions in public squares in Bogotá. Six actors of different social and ethnic backgrounds read peace speeches originally delivered by six Colombian liberal and left-wing political leaders (Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Luis Carlos Galán, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa, Jaime Pardo Leal, Carlos Pizarro and Rafael Uribe Uribe) who were assassinated in the last 100 years because of their ideology. These ‘acts’ focused on the need to remember the systematic elimination of voices that have dared to oppose the ruling order by articulating their differing points of view and that have denounced by name those responsible for Colombia’s repetitive history of political corruption and violence. Drawing upon the notion of ‘narrative justice;’ that is, justice from the perspective of an aesthetic experience instead of a normative concept, this work offers an exercise of collective memory to underscore its transformative potential.

If It’s Too Bad To Be True, It Could be DISINFORMATION
Martha Rosler, 1985
16:26 min, color, sound
In a collusion of text and image, Rosler re-presents the NBC Nightly News and other broadcast reports to analyze their deceptive syntax and capture the confusion inserted intentionally into the news script. The artist questions the fallibility of electronic transmission by emphasizing the distortion and malapropism that occurs as result of technical interference. Stressing the fact that there’s never a straight story, Rosler asserts her presence in character-generated text that isolates excerpts from her sources, rolling over the randomly erased images. In Rosler’s barrage of media information, the formal structure is inseparable from her political analysis.

Chinoise A
Mark Tribe, 2009
Chinoise A is a remake of a scene from J-L Godard’s “La Chinoise” (1967) in which a radical student contemplates bombing a university. The original scene, which takes place on a train, is reimagined as an online video chat. The script, which is based on a transcription of the Godard film’s English subtitles, is relocated from Paris to New York and updated from 1967 to 2004.

The Yes Lab
The Yes Men (Andy Bichelbaum and Mike Bonnano), 2010
The Yes Lab is a series of workshops and trainings to help activist groups carry out Yes Men-style projects on their own. This video presents the Yes Lab with footage from one such lab, that took place at Columbia College, Chicago.


All performances take place at The Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries, 66 5th Ave. at 13th Street. at 6:30 pm.

Trigger Words by Yael Kanarek
Tuesday November 2nd, 6:30 pm
Live Action Performance, produced by Lauren Larken
Trigger Words is an experimental speech action with 8-10 multilingual participants of all ages. During the event the group of people call, cry, shout and whisper a single word in their native tongue, to generate a velocity of sounds, which have been used to classify, categorize, separate and wound.  The action is choreographed into simple movements, to speak the unspeakable and to trigger emotions and experience around otherness. By choosing words that are commonly used as artillery to wound, we may relieve some of the pressure and context of these Trigger Words and discover a more profound understanding of the power of language.

The Negotiation
Thursday November 4th, 6:30 pm
Azin Feizabadi introduces and screens The Negotiation.

Huong Ngo & Hong-An Truong: AND, AND, AND – Stammering: An Interview
Friday November 5th, 6:30 pm
What defines the [multiplicity] is the AND, as something which has its place between the elements or between the sets. AND, AND, AND — stammering. —Gilles Deleuze
In this tutorial, participants who have never had to naturalize into the United States will rehearse the process of becoming a citizen through an interview format. Those who have gone through a process of naturalization will have the option to relinquish their citizenship. Within the span of a conversation-interview, participants will help problematize the notion of allegiance and the structure of authority and power implicit in the state. Finally, this tutorial will help to underscore the ideal of responsibility to community and place, while also considering different forms of belonging through the concept of ‘nomadic citizenship.’

Mary Walling Blackburn: The Order of the Joke
Fri Nov 5, 7:30 pm
Together we will parse through the raw materials, goat, helicopter, soldier, child, as used within specific contemporary war jokes–American and Anti-American–produced by both the invaders and invaded. These ghastly jokes reflect a double suicide “in slow motion that devour each other and are exhausted in each other.” [Genet] These jokes thrive on Internet humor sites, are studded throughout Youtube videos authored by US soldiers, and perhaps, are passed from mouth to mouth on American and Afghani streets.  Can we disrupt the order of the joke?

Mark Tribe: Performance, Mediation, and the Public Sphere
Mon Nov 8, 6:30 pm
In 1968, protesters outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago chanted “The whole world is watching,” and shortly thereafter their images appeared on the evening news. These days, protesters bring their own cameras and post their clips on YouTube. Has participatory media effected a structural transformation of the public sphere? How have media technologies and practices changed the roles of public space, performance, and the human body in politics? How have new forms of mediation and distribution altered the ways in which history is produced and experienced? Mark Tribe will discuss recent work and current projects, including a video archive of police surveillance of activists, a Skype video remake of a scene from a Godard film, and reenactments of Vietnam-era protest speeches.

Wafaa Bilal: lecture
Tue Nov 9, 6:30 pm
Wafaa Bilal will give an artists talk about his life and work with text, performance, and body modificatin.  Wafaa gained international attention with his 2007 work Domestic Tension, wherein he sequestered himself in a gallery for a month with a paintball gun which people could shoot at him over the internet – a statement on the remote and technological nature of the war which claimed his own brother in 2004. He has continued to create provocative, dynamic pieces, including inserting himself as a character in a video game originally crafted to celebrate the US invasion of Iraq and later hacked and recast by Al Qaeda. His latest medium includes tattoo, with the 2010 piece “…And Counting” using his own body as a canvas for tattoos representing Iraqi and American casualties and exploring the double standard in their acknowledgement. He is an assistant professor of art at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Interview with Huong Ngo

The following conversation took place between Huong Ngo (bio below) and Melanie Crean during June and July, 2010.

Melanie:  So to begin with, what changes do you think might need to take place to change the political environment of our nations school systems?

Huong Ngo: This is a big question. First, I think that the changes should happen on all levels, not just in the universities. It is a mistake to think that we can create real change if we neglect the time in our lives when we are most enculturated, which is when we are young. Second, I think that we need to abandon our notions of what we teach as being neutral. Everything that we do as educators is political–the materials we choose to show our students, assignments that we give, what we value in their work, how we interact with them in class, everything. Once we do that, we can see so-called “neutral” subjects in a new light. History is not just history, but is a narrative that favors the male body, Western European culture, capitalism, and normative sexuality. We will then see the language in which information is presented as also political. Take the obvious example of Texas’s new textbooks, which will be “corrected” to rename the slave trade to “Atlantic triangular trade,” claiming that the civil rights movement created “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes” among black and white Americans, and many more linguistic slights of hand that erase histories that were already pretty hidden. Look at Arizona as another example of violence in the name of neutrality, where soon you won’t be able to teach in schools if you have an accent. Differences are erased, alternate histories are silenced, and teachers and students are coaxed into believing that what they are learning is neutral. Why aren’t students getting up and leaving their classrooms? Because teachers aren’t getting up and leaving to support their fellow teachers. As students, we need models for how to become politically active by seeing our teachers struggling with other teachers, attending community board meetings, being leaders, not just by being told to vote.I remember one history class in which I had an African-American teacher who was teaching us about the native tribes in North Carolina. Actually, we were just reading our books about the tribes and then answering some factual questions from the back of the book. Now when I read about them, the stories are horrific, but at the time, I had no way to connect to them. Here we were: me, a Vietnamese American, and African-American teacher, and the ghosts of Iroguoians and Algonquins sitting in this room with no conversation about our collective colonial pasts. Such a wasted teaching moment! I don’t blame my teacher (though I would have preferred a more active role model), but I do believe that educators must understand where they fit in the world socially and politically. This sometimes takes some research, discussion, soul-searching, and self-actualizing. It doesn’t mean that the entire class must be based around that, but an understanding of it will pervade your teaching, regardless of the subject taught. As teachers, we are recreating larger structures of the world in our classrooms. If unjust structures of the world are never challenged in our own minds, then they will merely be reproduced in those of our students.

MC: Some of the self actualizing you mention reminds me of the analytical thinking we had discussed  earlier in terms of John Dewey’s model of education.  Because Dewey was one of the founders of the New School for Social Research where we both teach, and where this project originates, I feel a very special relationship to it.  Can you describe Dewey’s model for education and how he saw art situated in that model?  Has that model influenced your teaching in any way?

HN: Dewey envisioned art at the center of education as a way to test out and reflect on our observations of the world. It rounded out his concept of a meaningful intellectual experience, the foundation of his ideas of education. He described art as a “device in experimentation, carried on for the sake of education.” Thus, art is merely a part of an experimental process with a goal of learning. Art is the process, not the end. This is fundamental shift from how we often define art in our society.  I am interested in how Dewey’s ideas are connected with Antonio Gramsci, Paulo Freire, and bell hooks through their respective philosophies of praxis. By placing art at the center, we give permission for education to be an aesthetic practice–something ongoing, messy, and forever incomplete. Since my work as an educator is also a learning practice, it is a perfect excuse for me to constantly experiment with different ways of leading discussions, configuring the architecture, encouraging collaboration and risk-taking, and challenging inherent powers structures within the classroom.

MC: It seems that Dewey was a pragmatist who saw art as a means to an end, a way to engage in a transformative experience that stimulates analysis & reflection.  The end it seemed; was democracy.  I find that triangulation quite telling: education, art and democracy.  You mention experimenting with variables that alter power structures in the class room.  How do you feel that different forms of education are related to democracy and the production of citizenry?

HN: It’s a bit of a paradox, because as citizens of the US, we are told to value our democracy, yet in most schools situations, we have little choice about what we do. Do you remember (in K-12) ever being given a choice about what you read in class, who your teacher would be, what your assignments were? I never remember a discussion about an important decision that the class would make as a whole, yet I was expected to be able to work with others, use diplomacy over force, favor reason over emotion. In the average school classroom, we can witness the teacher regulating what students do with their bodies, their speech, and their minds, yet we question why the citizens of our society so blindly follow figures of authority. This is not to say that students should be given free reign and make every decision in class, but that, with the guidance of the teacher, they should call out and question the status quo, systems of power, and even the teacher’s authority. Introducing critical engagement into the classroom thusly is risky for the teacher, but that is as it should be. As a society, we perceive teaching as a safe alternative to practicing the discipline which one teaches. This is an unhealthy perception that will in the end corrupt the discipline itself, its teachers, and thus its future leaders. All of the educators that I deeply respect have risked themselves and their positions of power in some way in order that we as students can become more active participants in our learning and thus in society.

MC: I would like to take this one step further then, to think about the connection between the cultivation of risk and democratic choice in the classroom, and the pursuit of freedom.  Not necessarily the recent American flavored brand of freedom that gets used in military slogans, but more along the lines of bell hooks’s concept of education as the practice of freedom.  Can you elaborate more on this concept?

HN: The concept of education as the practice of freedom, a quote from Paulo Freire whose philosophy has greatly influenced Hooks, is dichotomous to the “banking” system, which Freire sees as education as the practice of domination. In the “banking” system, the teacher deposits information to a docile student much like, of course, a bank. Education as the practice of freedom is based on the student being an essential part of a praxis that involves questions, dialogue, action, and reflection. It is a creative process that implicates the student in naming the world and in so doing, understanding it.Where the experiences of Freire and Hooks tend to differ is that Freire worked with groups of illiterate laborers in Latin America who are primarily of the same socio-economic bracket. They collectively understand themselves as the oppressed facing an outside oppressor (save for the teacher who must understand his potential for being an oppressor). Hooks bases much of her work on university classes which are comprised of unpredictable mixes of female and male students from different ethnicities and economic brackets. Oppressor and oppressed may exist in the classroom together. Thus, class dynamics that reproduce larger power structures must be acknowledged in order for a sense of equality to be defined and internalized.

MC: If you can be empowered by an educational setting, can you leverage this practice of freedom to more clearly articulate thought and speech? How do different models of education, then, relate to the politicization of speech?

HN: Critical, dialogic education has the enormous power to help us articulate ourselves and aid us in deconstructing speech delivered daily from different sources with different motives. This speaks to Freire’s idea of reading the world by reading the word. A speech, a sentence, a word are all windows in the consciousness of the speaker and her or his perception of the world. Even understanding that all speech is politicized is an important first step.

Huong Ngo was born in Hong Kong, grew up in North Carolina, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. She has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Aldrich Museum, Smack Mellon, the Soap Factory, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the National Gallery in Prague, the Neuberger Museum, and Conflux Festival and has received awards and residencies from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently teaches at Parsons the New School for Design and Pratt Institute. Ngo’s deepest desire is for radical aesthetics to invade the classroom, and education to resume its subversive role in the practice of freedom.Melanie Crean: By way of introduction, the Shape of Change project investigates the perception, structure and representation of political change in a world that has seemingly negated the term of late.  In the 2008 US presidential election the term ‘change’ meant whatever a particular political party wanted it to mean;  now two years later it appears to mean the opposite of whatever it had previously referred to.  The project also looks at the process of speech as a political act to testify to people’s beliefs, and how that speech functions in different contexts, whether it be online, in person, public, private, anonymous, in conversation with others etc.  The nature of information itself is investigated, transferred as an inevitable agent of power, emotion, corporate branding, nationalism, idealism, etc.To this end, I wanted to write to you about some of the work you are doing with Secret School and education, that questions how we transfer knowledge.  I know that sometimes there are not designated teachers in these sessions, and that they might take place in spaces that don’t promote students facing a ‘higher authority,’  You had mentioned that some of these alternative methods are being used in current school systems today, but that they are under utilized.

Interview with Ben Shepard

Ben Shepard

This conversation took place over video Skype with Lauren Larken, Provocateur from Shape of Change, and Benjamin Shepard, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Human Services at City Tech/City University of New York. He is the author/editor of five books, including the second part of this study, Play, Creativity, and the New Community Organizing (also under contract with Routledge) and Community Projects as Social Activism: From Direct Action to Direct Services (Sage).

LL:  How do you define change over time? How do you see it manifest in your personal life and work?

Ben: Organizing change isn’t a soccer game. It doesn’t end after two hours with a 2/1 score or a 1/0 score.  From a positivist point of view, even in the corporate world, you can look at quarterly reports and see- we are ahead, we are winning, change is happening!

Howard Zinn, who was with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) will talk about how historians in Albany, GA site Montgomery as a big win with de-segregation of buses.

There was no clear identification of a score or a winning. Except that when the campaign was over the people that lived there felt like the city was never going to be the same again.

Winning takes place in lots of cultural ways in very subtle ways life. On a one on one basis. doesn’t have to be just the way I thought it was, itis definitely not a soccer game.

When I moved to New York Giuliani wanted to shut down all the sex clubs as the Triple X zoning law was going into place. It felt freeing to join the fightagainst prohibitive progressive politics.  The basic argument is, “get the Government out of my underpants,” [and that] this is a moral panic, this is a sex panic. I remember how freeing it felt in that moment to say, Yah this is completely right, “The People Perverted will not be Converted!” It felt liberating from the East Coast Social Moore kind of stuffiness. I didn’t have to worry about what the people in the Country Club or in Princeton would think.  I was gonna live my own life. Being able to come out on my own terms and be okay about it and let the chips fall where they are going to fall.

LL: What would constitute true political change in our country?

Ben: It’s real personal. When people find space for their own self determination and they can define that on their own terms.

Change starts with real personal real micro tribes building their own spaces and practices. The Radical Faeries have been building their own rituals of freedom and enjoyment and convivial social relations for many years and if you look at the second biggest parade in California is the Folsom Leather Parade where a bunch of people get together all weekend long saying, “we are gonna engage in our own practice of self and it is going to be meaningful and we will set our own terms for democracy and self determination on our own level.”

Sarah Schulman said, “You have to have a plan for what you want to have happen, a strategy to get that done that you are willing to do”  If you can’t get all those three things done you may not have change.

Being flexible about Strategies and Tactics. You can fettishize one tactic over and over and over and not get anything done.  Some of this is a stage. What is the audience for the performance.  Who do we want to perform for?

What are stages of a campaign? There is something really useful for getting what you want.  What is your ask?  Where is your research-where is your policy in the food-chain? Who/What/When/and How? Who is affected by this problem? Who is affected by this issue. First is the Ask, Then the Strategy, then the Research, then the  communication and media.  How are we going to mobilize people around communicating about this ask.

We are thinking about not just a press conference or a policy briefing but also thinking about creative policy. Perhaps some direction action or theatre.  But also prefiguring that solution. Creating an embodied solutions. If you want  to get out more clean syringes because you know that HIV is being spread through intravenous drug use then pass out those syringes; if you want more green space, build more community gardens.  It is not just saying what you are against but building what you are for with in your direct action.

Research around the legal strategies in terms of a short and long term solution.  If you want to give out clean syringes you need to figure out whether it is legal or not legal. If it is illegal have cameras with you if you are willing to take the bust, what is the extent of the bust you will be taking. Know your rights.

Also know if it is an enforcement strategy for a campaign, such as National Welfare Rights Organization. Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven [Cloward/Piven Strategy] knew there were some welfare laws on the books that weren’t being used so they said, lets enforce these laws that are on the books.

In a group I am working with on the Bike Lanes in New York we have spent five years asking the city to enforce it’s own traffic laws that cars aren’t allowed to park in bike lanes. It doesn’t say that this is a parking lot or a taxi stand. Bikes ride in bike lanes. They don’t paint cars on the lanes, they paint bikes in the lanes. They are bike lanes, they are for bikes.

Viable feasible strategies on the ground to show what a more sustainable non polluting city looks like and bike lanes are a really simple ways of creating a healthier city in the here and now.  Using clowning and positivity we get cars to move out of the bike lane.

Research, Media, Direct Action Mobilizing and Play.  For creative change we have to have some level of enjoyment along the road while we are doing the heavy lifting. If there isn’t a play element we are going to really miss a big piece. A lot of people leave the culture piece until the very end

The people I know that are in organizing for the long term they play allot. If people don’t get their needs met when they go to a demo or a meeting it’s like walking away from dinner with out a meal.

If there is not celebrating along the road people will loose interest. In 1977 the Young Lords a group in New York stopped organizing because of all COINTELPRO [ (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program) was a series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States.]  when Richie Perez and Ricky Meléndez hung the Puerto Rican flag from the Statue of Liberty and of course they all got arrested.  Tito Puente was Ricki Malendez’ uncle and played benefit parties for their legal funds.  They had a pretty good time when Puente was playing those shows. Benefits are a way to celebrate life honor their relationships. People who stay in organizing for a long time make this a part of their daily life as much as possible.

LL:  What is Utopia?

Ben: It is right here and right now. I am trying to build it today. Utopia seems like Socialist Propaganda. It is not some day to be seized.  I am tyring to enjoy my day every single day. A creative sense of the solution in the here and now.

I get very scared about the suburbanization of New York City. I also get excited about fabulous things people are doing in their cities all over the world.  Last year I went to a community event called Earth Celebration lead by Felicia [Young]…..and they had a right of Spring Celebration where people dress as vegetables and flowers and I was walking over with my daughter and I remember seeing a few of my students and friends playing double dutch right by a fountain on the West Side Highway.  The little moments that take shape in front of our eyes. Nothing planned nothing big. Those little moments are what I live for.  Last summer I came back from traveling in Sweden and Berlin. There is a park right where the wall used to be and it has become a big public space where the wall used to be. There are these big surrealist sculpture for kids to climb on, there was live music and graffiti art murals where the wall used to be and I thought this is a really an indigenous community space that transformed a once repressive space.

There was an 80’s bike dance ride and we were dancing in Tompkins Square Park.  Any one who says the streets of New York are dead hasn’t spent a summer night in New York City, the city is pulsing with life.  There were 5 guys on low rider bikes and we were playing punk music and we were playing, “It’s Raining Men” and “Push It” and at the West Side Highway people were gesturing what “Push It” meant to them.  Then a police officer came and told us that we couldn’t have the sound system but he wasn’t trying ruin the party. Then there is the Wilhelm Reich stuff where the people don’t want anyone to enjoy themselves because they aren’t enjoying themselves.

I’ve taken to calling John Boehner the Republican, John “Boner” and these guys who are kind of misanthropes and they feel comfortable get rid of Habeas corpus, denying people health care, [the sentiment]  “I’d like income distribution  to move towards one percent owning 90 percent of the wealth in this country, one of five new yorkers living in poverty, I am really comfortable with that separation.”

The people who feel connected. The people who sing and perform and work in community gardens with their neighbors go to gospel choirs with their friends. They feel connected with other people so they want them to have health care, they want them to have embodied gestures with each other and a healthy community.

People that don’t  have that enjoyment in their lives try to live larger than others.

LL: The people who are oppressed become oppressors.

Ben: Immigration reform will be next, rhetoric, [Emma] Lazarus, “Give me your poor and your hungry,” would be called a Pinko Commie. I wish there was a social change story that a lot of people could participate in. I was really happy seeing health care move towards a re-distributive program, it is a building block, a process.

LL: How do you define Freedom? Where do you feel the most Free?

Ben: I define freedom in the body. When your body can move in directions that it wants to move in. Freedom of thought. Freedom from Shame.  There are all sorts of horrible antiquated consequences for People who live shame based lives.

Look at what is happening with the Catholic Church and the cover ups of the abuse of the kids.  In a German paper last week it said, when you create a system of celibacy that prohibits people from enjoying their bodies and engaging with people the way we feel that we need to do you are going to have a context  of inhibition and repression. Repression finds expression. Maybe not conscious expression. I think there was a priest in Milwaukee that had non-consensual sex with 200 deaf boys so he wouldn’t be caught.  I think  that [Elena] Juerdo was right with the authoritarian personality, I think Wilhelm Reich was right in the Mass Psychology of Fascism.  When sex is repressed and we are not allowed to feel connected with other people, on a personal, chemical, physical level, it’s easier to annihilate or torture them. Walt Whitman, ” I am you, you are me.”  The Martin Buber, I Thou:  If we don’t have respectful, sane consent mutual connection the consequences are horrible.

I think War is instigated when we aren’t connected with our self we want to define our sense of self by who is crazy, and who is not me versus–when you are connected with other people you don’t need to define yourself by what you are not.   I am interested in the politics of freedom based in affirmative gestures of care and community, pre-figurative gestures creating a better world, one that we want to live in with public space, green space, bike lanes and community gardens. Affirmative connection with other folks. Freedom to connect or not connect with other people as we wish.

LL: Where do you feel the most free?

Ben: Walking down the street, in my apartment, riding my bike, hiking. To me it’s that sense that I can navigate multiple parts of myself in one day, in one city.  Walt Whitman said “Do I contradict myself? Yes I contradict myself. I’m bountiful.”

The freedom to walk into the class room in a suit, work well with my students and then put on a clown outfit and ride on my bike, then come and see my family and enjoy those multiple identifies as a part of my life. To feel free and open being comfortable talking about being part of all those communities in one week or one day. Self determination leads me to feel the most free in multiple ways. cheap Zetia online pharmacy Valtrex

Interview with Krzysztof Wodiczko

Melanie Crean: I know from your website that you refer to your work as “Interrogative Design” and I wondered if you could elaborate a little bit on what that means.

Krzysztof Wodiczko: I can try. This Interrogative Design has to do with responding to the needs that should not exist in a civilized world. Unfortunately they do exist. It is a scandalous situation that they exist. Therefore the design of response to such needs should also make a scandal of their existence. These designs have multiple objectives.

One objective is to respond to the needs that should not exist as an emergency matter so that it will help some people to ameliorate the conditions of life and help them to survive.

The second objective is to articulate the situation and conditions them selves to people who do not have such needs. By disseminating an understanding knowledge and emotional contact with the needs that should not exist, such projects and design hopefully will contribute to an increase of consciousness about such unacceptable situations and conditions. Then with the help of media and all of those who exaggerate and further amplify the visibility of the scandal behind such project, actions will occur that will make such design obsolete.

This is the utopia of this project. It is a kind of horizon to which some project is moving. So it’s temporary characters are a very important part of such utopia. It must be temporary. We might say that it is the wrong thing to do to respond to needs that do not exist because it might legitimize something. I feel it is important to really articulate needs with design in order to really make these unacceptable circumstances a legitimate problem. So it’s not legitimization of the crisis but through presentation of the crisis as legitimate problem, an attempt to solve that problem.

The Interrogative Method will attract while scandalizing. In order to scandalize it cannot be boring. Therefore I would call this kind of design Scandalizing Functionalism. Finding a form that best articulates the function in order to expose that it is a scandal must come into account.

There are critics of the design I propose, but if we follow their logic, then they would also have to oppose bandages. In emergency hospital situations bandages are often used. According to the reasoning behind the logic of the moralizing approach referred to by these critics; bandages should not exist because there should not be wounds. However since there are wounds, we should bandage them to heal them. My proposal is to add to the bandage another function not only as an emergency measure trying to heal but also the capacity equipped with the ability to transmit, articulate and speak under what conditions that the wound won’t happen. Therefore the community design aspects are very important.

MC: That’s an interesting circularity that the designs are created to make themselves obsolete if the discussion happens and people start to solve problems. Then the design, if its successful, is no longer needed.

I have a question about some of the instruments: I have seen some of your projects referred to as “Prosthetics for Communication.” I don’t know if that’s a fair term. There are pieces like Aegis, the Equipment for a City of Strangers. Can you talk about the motivation behind some of these designs, just to further your last answer. Are they meant to promote discussion, or the idea of healing in the user, or a change in the people who are interacting with the user?

KW: The prosthetics contain a part of such an Interrogative Design project: creating equipment for people who are silent, marginalized groups who have lost faith that their voice will make any difference, who need to develop or redevelop those capacities because of the qualities and conditions under which they live.

If we are able to transmit the messages and help the capacity to communicate, we would really be extremely inspired by assisting those who we could learn allot from about the very systems that need to be changed for all of our lives. The objective of equipment that I design for strangers, immigrants, homeless, war veterans, and women who survive abuse and neglect and for children (like high school students in Japan) whose voice is never been heard and who never get a say in questioning the way society operates and questioning their own fortunate future in such a society.

M: I wanted to move on to the different vehicles which help people speak. You’ve previously done many projections on buildings which seem to give a voice to what architecture might testify to if it was allowed to speak. Can you talk a bit about how you have used architecture to convey issues of power and perform speech acts in these works?

K: In early projects in which I animated the facades of monuments in public places with iconic projections I was trying to teach those buildings about the events that were surrounding them in the present time, and make some link between their memory or revealing some contradictions between what they were intended to say and what they were hoping for ideally, and the situation that contradicted their hopes today.

In them there is not so much a critique of architecture or monument that counts, but the possibility of appropriating governmental structures with prestige as historical witnesses to the events by those who are themselves silent monuments of their own. Here people, who are the same people who may be operating the instruments and prosthetic devices I designed, may also use the monuments and facades as equipment.

When people talk about public they talk about spectators or a crowd who comes, whether invited or passersby, who are forming this audience. I like to stress the importance of something that I call “inner public.” They are in touch with the people who choose to take part of the project, and are becoming in the process co-artists in the project. It is they who become authors of what they say, they are the ones who are actors, and they are the ones who are the first public. In a sense they start listening to themselves, and they recognize themselves as if they were people other than whom they really are. In this process of healthy alienation as Brecht would like, it actually turns them into people as actors and characters and scriptwriters and they share allot with their families and friends and colleagues. They have to consult them for example if it makes sense to do this. They have to calculate the risk very often, of doing it very often, whether it is safe or not.

For instance, one person who put her husband in prison was expecting him to come out of the prison soon, and she was afraid that he was going to kill her. So the question is: was it safer to become visible through media or stay hiding. She decided that it was safer and important to be in the public in the open. She consulted many people in making the decision. Then there is the editing crew, projection crew, curators, people who film and organizers of festivals where specific projects are produced. There are of course media people and social workers (without whom this project would never happen), as they are the people between the project and those that bring their lives to the project. They bring trust and light to the project. Then there are a number of people who are generated by the project from within. Lets say 8 or 10 people, and then this number multiplies to maybe 200 people. These 200 people are part of the project and people will come to the projection because of them. It creates a kind of buffer zone between this core public and the outer public. There is a kind of intermediate public, who Brecht would say is, “not without interest.” So this is what I have to say, but I have to pose this question and ask this question. When people say, “What was the response of the public?” it means that they have no idea what is really happening here in the social plane and the discourse in that space to which the project responds and which the project generates.

Only 1% of war veterans speak in public. Almost none of the members of their families and people closest to them do. A small number will decide to take advantage of the project that I propose. That small number actually is a big number in comparison to total silence. The sickness of the war occurs between those who know what war is and those who don’t. The number of those who know what war is, is enormous because of secondary trauma. Each soldier coming back from war (more or less traumatized) will re-traumatize perhaps 7- 9 more people. Those people who are recalled several times back re-traumatize and traumatize more. So probably the entire population is traumatized by this war If you consider all of the families who have social ties to the troops, soldiers, those in the National Guard and Reserves. Many of the veterans will break their social and familial ties and become homeless. Working with war veterans is a serious matter. We will be suffering this war for generations as much as we suffered from the Vietnam War. Probably more so because of the wounds. There are more people coming back alive from war than ever before because of military technology, medical technology and armament.

Therefore there is enormous sickness mentally and psychologically of people who will be making lots of damage to their own lives and the lives of others. Taking this into account the responsibility to produce any project with war veterans becomes a responsibility to an entire society. So from this point of view, it’s a different game because of the scale of the problem. Now in terms of the method of work, this created need to make much more of a direct kind of technology. So I have been transforming war vehicles from those meant to eject projectiles into those which emit projections. Replacing the projectile battle station in those vehicles. This in itself says, life after the war is a continuation of war with other means. This continued war breaks the wall between those who know what war is and those who don’t. This wall is actually physically the equivalent of blank walls and blank facades of monuments. Blasting the truth of their experience against those walls, using the vehicle which is their war vehicle adapted to the new warfare is part of the project. The relationship between the vehicle as a very aggressive type of prosthetic device and what is being projected: this time words and explosions. It actually looks and sounds as if the as if the vehicle is actually really firing the truth and shelling the cities with the truth which is an important interruption and wake up call. A painful process of piercing the hole between those who know what war is and those who don’t.

Keeping in mind that the wars from which they are coming from are taking place in cities. Public space is usually the most fearful place for war veterans. They are afraid to show up in crowds in public places and roofs of buildings because that is usually where they were attacked. That’s where the snipers were. They are the ones who have to attack and defend themselves against the nightmares and post traumatic emotions.

These elements are born of the specific needs in response to the specific situation of war veterans. This kind of advanced armament brings up the relation to the conditions from which they are coming which, are really foreign to us. Like the homeless and the immigrants they are coming from a totally different environment that is hard to imagine for the civilians in our cities. So when they continue the warfare in front of us with the use of the equipment, the reference to their own experience comes across more clearly and for them it is much easier to speak. The project makes use of the same kind of weaponry which they used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

MC: The last question is about peace. I was reading in an interview with you about the Hiroshima Art Prize, where you described quite eloquently, how working towards peace involves sharing the unspeakable, defending others rights to speak and to engage in discourse that can sometimes get messy. The death of speech is the death of democracy. I wondered if you could elaborate on the idea that creating peace is not always a peaceful process, that sometimes it’s a very difficult and messy process.

KW: Yes that sounds exactly like what I would say.

M: I am thinking about the situations like the mosque in New York that that people are trying to build but this interesting pastor in Florida opposes. There very tense exchanges that bring up the right to protest and the consequences that this type of speech can have.

K: One has to make a distinction between kind of bad open speech and good open speech. Not every moment you open your mouth and exercise your first amendment guarantees good results. The issue is not that people speak what is in their stomach and heart and mind. The issue is how we are talking about their speech; reprimanding and discussing whether that was a right thing to say or not.

In general all of this is quite healthy. However it doesn’t mean that I endorse every act of speech.

There is a kind of bad parusia or good parusia and Greeks in Antiquity kind of already knew about this. So one has to reprimand someone who is saying stupid things in public. I am sure that this is all fine, but I don’t want to get too involved in the very core of this debate in our discussion. It is clear that I am on the side of building this cultural center in the center of our city.

Democracy has to be a communicated process. What I am trying to say through my work is also that not everybody has equal capacity, ability and luck to participate in this discourse. We all have the right but not have the same access to the right. Therefore we should try to compensate for this lack of symmetry and be on the side of communicative arts. Artists, media artists, and performance artists, there are many people who could work with those who need inspiration and assistance. Media artists could learn a lot from the communicative arts about the terms of what ever role and impact our work could have in the democratic process. It’s not simply our role to provide tools and equipment but to work together with those who wish to become themselves artists in speech, artists in survival and in transformational action, in the process of becoming agents for change.

There is an artistic aspect in democratic process that’s an expression and it is protected in the 1st amendment. It’s right there: the seed of the kind of art that I would like to continue and that I advocate. Though I do not expect that everyone should or will follow this path, but there should be room for artists to work together with non-artists or with artists that are kind of existential artists in the process of transforming and interested in ameliorating their conditions of life for themselves and also acting on the behalf of others. Those fearless speakers, as Foucault or somebody who translated Foucault wrote, those “free fearless speakers” the new Parusiasties are our colleagues. We could work with them. I try.

Interview with Sharon Hayes

Melanie Crean: In many of your pieces you employ the act of re-speaking: the recitation of historical texts. Can you talk about the method of interpretation you are exploring, by shifting historical contexts and spaces? What types of issues are you playing with by inserting the past into the present?

Sharon Hayes: I arrived at this set of strategies that I call, “re-speaking” which has to do with taking an oral text that was once spoken and “re-speaking” it in a different moment. An oral to oral translation with out the idea of shifting language but rather shifting time. Shifting temporality and location. I came to that through two influences: one was my history working in downtown theater, dance and performance in New York in the early/mid nineties. Using the conventions of theater using scripts and having scripts, having to script yourself and to repeat yourself again and again as if you are speaking anew.

That intersected with my content interest in historical narrative. The way in which historical narrative is constructed and the way in which history interacts with the present moment.

Re-speaking gets at the operations which are already happening in the present moment. The ways in which our root and our ability to access history is always fragmented, fraught, interrupted, mistaken or there are mistakes or mis-identifications in that attempt to understand or to recuperate a certain understanding of a past event, past moment, past articulation, past understanding, past speaking.

MC: There is no seamless understanding of history. You use the word “operation.”
Operations are rule based and structured, not necessarily invested in a particular emotion or character necessarily. So what is the relationship between the action and the speech? The idea of the language you are dealing with as a material, and the idea of the action also as a material: there are two things you are dealing with at the same time.

SH: There is a slogan that I used in a piece, In the Near Future, where I stand on the street in different iterations in different cities, for a number of days with a protest sign with anachronisms or citations culled from some past moment. Some were conditional or future. But most were from the past. One citation read: “Actions speak louder than words” and it’s actually only half of the slogan. The second part read “Ratify the ERA now!” and I ended up splitting them and using them in two
separate slogans.

The idea of me holding a sign and saying “Actions speak louder than words,” is the impossibility of separating the speech and the action. Most of my work has been animated by a foundational understanding and interest in speech as action. On a theoretical level I could call it, “JL Austin’s performitive.” The speech act that does something rather than says or tells something. It is also something that comes about or evidences itself in the way I experience the world (not just in a theoretical framework). Even if we are outside of the space of the “performative” and even if we
are outside of the space of rhetoric, explicit classic parliamentary debates or speech debates. There is constantly speech that is doing things. All of this crap that is being said about Park 51 is doing something really powerful and potent and horrible that may make it impossible for that center to ever come about. I don’t know how to separate the speech from the action in those cases. They are bound up with each other

That is where my ground is. On a precise level, from project to project I engage different strategies to work through a set of questions that varies. In very similar types of terrain. It is my interest in these intersections of history, politics, and speech. But in each given piece it is a different set of questions I am trying to ask. In the Near Future, which is the piece where I am holding the sign, I am interested in the speech act of protest and how that speech act makes meaning. It is not just the words that form the meaning of the speech of protest. It was something that I was interested in asking and had to do the piece to understand. To fully feel the triangulation between the words on the placard and the body that holds those words and the time and place in which they are held. The speech act only has meaning when those three things are together. When one is disconnected there is kind of a rupture that has to go on. A double take.

MC: I wonder if there might be one other axis, if the viewer has been a part of the era when the original slogan took place and maybe they took part in the original action. Like the piece you did in Warsaw that referenced some of the things that were going on in the 80’s. Some of those people who saw your signs could have been at the original event. What is the difference between people who were a part of those original protests and maybe connected the dot back, and people who were teenagers who didn’t? In addition to those other axis, maybe there is connection to a past moment as well.

SH: Things that function as citations reverberate in a field of differing reception. Someone’s understanding, age, geographic or national background, someone’s
linguistic competence and identity, all determines their relationships to a given
citation. That is true of how citations function. Some people who wear Che Guevara tee shirts have no idea who Che Guevara was, but they got it because their friend identifies with an idea of revolution, but don’t really know. This is an example of how historical events ripple. Both how they ripple into a present moment or how they more violently rupture into a present moment. Our differing access to those moments is a big part of our relationship to history. We all have different reaches and proximities to various historical events.

There are three elements that for me collaborate to create the meaning of the speech act of protest. What I am doing is then a demonstration in a Brechtian sense, I don’t think of what I am doing in that case as a re-enactment. Rather, I am putting something into play, pointing to it, in order to ask questions about how protest in a general sense, about how protest functions in a present moment. To do that I have to speak indirectly to an audience, to a public.

Both the people who had no idea what the slogan meant and the people who remember it and recognize where it’s from are still addressed indirectly. The only people who are addressed directly are the people for whom the sign was originally intended, which was maybe never totally codified but was direct because most protests are in a certain sense directed and goal oriented. The actions that I did weren’t goal oriented in that same way, but rather an attempt to call up questions around protests and our relationship to them in a present moment and what possibilities there are for public resistance that uses that kind of speech.

MC: You are not necessarily acting, but you are executing a task. In your methodology of performance I would guess that you would not consider yourself a character. How would you describe the methodology that you are trying to enact and what is the reason for it?

SH: In The Love Address I do think I am a character of sorts. It is not a named character that goes through an enormous amount of character development. Because I am speaking from the “I” to a “You” who is not who I am actually speaking to. I am doing and not doing what I seem to be doing. I am speaking to the people on the street literally, through a microphone or a bull horn. Who ever is in proximity can hear me. As I often repeat in that work, the ears are an orifice that cannot be closed. There is a fictional story between an “I” and a “You” and I am the “I.” I did use strategies unlike some of the other work that are strategies toward character. I did wear a costume of sorts. It is not far off from me and my persona but my character is not equal to me. I am not just a body with certain identity characteristics. I am also a speaking subject who talks about her home, apartment and work and this “You” and the things they have done together. In the other work I don’t think of myself as a character. In The Near Future I am in the task of holding those signs. I am a
white woman having characteristics that can be observed on the streets. Part of why I am doing that work is that I felt like it was important that it was an act that I took responsibility for. It changes the meaning of the piece if I hire an actor or cast someone to do it. In an attempt to limit what it is I am trying to find out. If I cast and then hire someone I am making choices about who would do the piece who would hold that sign and would they always be the one to hold it and why and those factors aren’t really relevant in the piece.

MC: In the SLA pieces there are issues with memory and accuracy and repetition but mostly this idea of historical memory being imperfect. I wanted to ask you about the purposeful difficulty you have in that piece and how it relates to the inaccuracy. I wanted you to speak a bit about your idea of an accuracy and what that exposes and why.

SH: I did four live performances to generate 4 video tapes. I never repeated a live
performance. I partially memorized the text intentionally and gave the transcript to the audience and asked them to correct me when I was wrong. I remember after one of the performances, one of the people came up to me and said that it was really frustrating because they couldn’t hear the text. It was so interesting because he wanted to have an uninhibited relationship to the words that Patty Hearst had spoken. I don’t think it is ever possible even if one can read the whole text and take it in or hear it spoken, I don’t think it can ever be a smooth process with full understanding or recognition. I think that speech and speech acts, the words we say, are repeatable and are repeated constantly. How they function as an act and hit an audience is very particular to each enunciation. Each enunciation happens at a different place and time.

MC: There is no seamless understanding, experience or access to history. It is always
mediated by something. This segues to the idea of “publics.” The frustrated man was an active participant trying to make meaning in his own way.

SH: Frustration is not a bad response.

MC: You’ve treated publics in different ways. You’ve performed in public where people have come up and spoken to you as part of the experience. You’ve filmed people watching different pieces of media. In After Before with the two newscasters speaking to people and calculating public opinion. You have made work where the audience was a character in the performance. It seems like you’ve been moving through different constructions of how to work with audiences in different ways. What kind of explorations are you trying to do?

SH: Doing work in largely theatrical venues in the downtown dance, theatre, and
performance scene in conditions where I would perform in a room by myself and there was an audience that came in and then watched and then got up and then left. One thing that was uncomfortable to me was that I was speaking words that I had written in another time and yet addressing to this group of people as if I was saying the words to them for the first time. I picked up this set of systems and incredible respect for the community of performers but always rubbed up against this idea of the “wink wink nod nod” I know that you know that I am not truly having this experience with you but that I’ve scripted it. There are two bodies that are functioning differently but both as themselves and something different than
themselves. One is me as the performance. The first five performances I did started with, “Hi I am Sharon Hayes.” But clearly it wasn’t the same Sharon Hayes that wasn’t on stage that hadn’t scripted themselves who would be talking to you after the show or as I am to you know. Similarly there was this contract that we make sitting or standing across from each other in the theatre that they are functioning and sitting there as an audience, or a collected body. In the artificiality of that encounter, from the beginning of that work I was very interested in the position of the audience. In
the last theatrical piece I did I named the audience as a character and they didn’t do anything. It wasn’t audience participation. I named them and I even said there was a scene that we just didn’t have time to do but I gave them a script of the scene that was theirs.

I am creating imagined positions for a public and an audience in all my work. In SLA I made the work by doing four performances where there was an audience. I gave that live audience the transcript of each text, I said I was going to speak it and that they would have to correct me so you hear their voice on the video tapes that are eventually made from those events but they are never imaged. The viewer of the video tape in a sense could be them, it’s not an extraordinary thing that they are doing, you can recognize that they are a group of people who are there with
me at a particular moment, which is what the viewer to the video is, in a sense. There are these kind of layers of audience which hopefully allow people to understand their own participation in these speech encounters. By giving them an imagined body that could be them, either a character called the audience or a group of people on a videotape that respond as the audience, it creates something that they can look to as the choices that are available to them in those motions and how that position in itself functions. The position of the public.

In the works that I do on the street, In the Near Future and The Love Address, work a little bit more so that there is an interesting interaction between the audience and the public. The audience being people who know that I am going to be there doing a performance and come because they get an email that I am going to be there. I lightly advertise, I inadvertently try to keep it a little under the radar because I want there to be a balance between an audience and the public. There is the audience who shows up to see me and the public who doesn’t. We three interact in those moments. For many audience people The Love Address work talks about how the piece is about the public and me and they would notice things that happen between me and
the public. Something I said would layer itself onto that body, the public. For the public the piece is me and the audience. They are also aware that they are there, in the case of The Near Future, taking photographs, which is what I asked audience members to do. I invited people to come and document me. In The Love Address work the people that gathered in a small semi-circle in front of me becomes something and turns peoples heads. They think something is happening because
people are watching. They don’t exactly identify themselves as people who are watching because they are not yet watching but if they choose to watch then maybe they fold into the audience.

There are these positions which are different but which are all a part of these encounters. For me it is part of the question of the work.

MC: Your work addresses who is allowed to speak, and when it is appropriate and in what venues? Does your work address notions of freedom of speech and if so how?

SH: For me maybe because of my privilege the notion or idea of “Freedom of Speech” is not helpful. The more pertinent questions are the ones you were just posing. Who has the right to free speech and who doesn’t, who has the right to be heard and who doesn’t – the provisions through what sanctioned lines. In New York City it is present in and under “Free Speech Zones” which of course is a myth and doesn’t exist. The classic free speech zones that were designated over the past 10 years in certain protest areas look like a prison. As great bastions and defenders of free speech we still exist in states of changing power relationships. The work I do is invested a lot in the operation of public speech, in particular speech that has rules and roles and it has exclusions and inclusions. A lot of the work I have been invested in doing in a small way allows those parameters and constraints to be seen or heard.

Iraq / US design exchange: chat summary from 8.18.10

Hi all,

Here’s a summary of today’s chat:

On the chat today we made a small change to the format, as per an interesting suggestion by george.  This week, we will rotate media again:

The Baghdad group will look at the NY media
The NY group will look at the USA West media
The USA West group will look at the Baghdad media

and make commentary / analysis / additions once more.  We will add this material in the comments section of the original media post, to keep everything consolidated. Then, for the final leg, the media will rotate back to its original creators, who will take two weeks to make the final piece from August 25th – September 8th in whatever media they choose, keeping in mind the comments / analysis / additions from the other groups.

I would urge people to add personal statements, comments and images whenever possible.  I think the most powerful media we have are the things that people uploaded about themselves.  This somehow seems the most “real,” how these issues actually affect our daily lives.  Even if you have to go back and add to comments you have already made, as much as possible, it would be great for people to contribute material from their own lives that relate to themes brought up in each batch of media.

Thanks all!  Talk to you next Wednesday the 25th at the same time! 11am California, 12pm Colorado, 2pm NYC, 9pm Iraq

Best :Melanie

Design Phase: Week 1

Hi all,

Very much looking forward to the design phase!  So as mentioned in our chat today, the goal for this week is to:

Meet with your respective groups (check out the attached Iraqi American Contacts Spread Sheet for contact info, which I will also send later via email)

Generate media that your group feels relates the theme of freedom and change to your community.  Subtexts of freedom of speech (my personal fave) and democracy also welcome, its up to you.

Post your media to the blog before next Wednesday, when we will skype chat, same time frame as usual, to discuss next steps.  If at least one representative from each group can be on the chat, that would be helpful.

Please email me with any questions that might arise.  Thanks, looking forward to it!


Design Exchange Project Discussion Tomorrow

Hi all,

I had a lovely chat yesterday with Chris Crews (Parsons, NYC), George Bixby (Parsons, NYC), and Hong-An Truong (about to teach at U of N. Carolina Chapel Hill) about the design project.

An thought that recurred several times was the idea that it would be good to incorporate a personal element into the media that we begin working with in the first stage of the design process.  Photographing people’s daily surroundings seemed one way to do this.  We also talked about the fact that it might be good to start with a common text, but since the US and Iraq groups speak different languages as their mother tongues, perhaps it might be better to isolate ideas from those texts.

For example, maybe we could start with larger concepts like freedom, speech rights, free speech, human rights etc.  In the first week, we could have groups generate some kind of media themselves that interprets what those terms mean in relationship to their surroundings.  Then, as I mentioned in my earlier email, in the second week, material could go on to a different group to re-interpret, analyze, and break down.  One example (I think from Chris?) was that in the first week, perhaps one group, in accordance with the theme(s) could take video without sound.  They would send it on to a second group, who comes from a different place, and would need to try to analyze and interpret how the theme was being applied in that video.  This is one example, but there are many we can do.

So I have a couple of questions & requests for you all:

If you are interested to participate in the design process, and wish to be put in a group, then please get in touch with Lauren and I (either email us, post some ideas to the blog, or participate in the chat tomorrow).  It looks like we will probably break up into 3 groups, organized by location: Baghdad, NYC, and US other, so that groups for the most part can meet together locally in person according to schedules that work the best for them.  Before people can really be put into groups however, we need to know who will be participating.  The timeline will basically be the month of August; we all need to go back to school after all!

If you have ideas to contribute to themes, generating media, or process, or anything else for that matter, please post to the blog in advance of the conversation tomorrow at Cali 10:00 am / NYC 1:00 pm / Baghdad 8:00 pm. We’ll try to finalize form, and once I get an idea of who is officially participating, we’ll put everyone in groups on Thursday so you all can get started immediately.

Please let me know if you have any other questions / concerns,

My best,


An ongoing project, consisting of interviews with writers, artists, theorists and other practitioners who discuss how speech can be modified over time: politicized, branded, historicized, documented, sexualized; and how this in turn affects its potential to create cultural change.