• Welcome
    Welcome to the Oliver Herring | Task blog for the June 28, 2008 Task performance at The Seattle Public Library.

    Feel free to leave comments by clicking on the comment link at the end of any post.

    Task participants: to receive access to post images, video, or your thoughts about the Task performance, email info@fryemuseum.org.

  • Task Photos - Submitted by B Strand

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Oliver Herring | Task

Oliver Herring | Task
The Seattle Public Library
Saturday, June 28

Artist Oliver Herring’s improvisational performance Task brings together a group of thirty-five strangers of diverse ages (14-82), professions (house-cleaner, retired judge, stay-at-home mom, barista…), and backgrounds to explore and experiment for one working day at The Seattle Public Central Library in downtown Seattle. The audience for this version of Task, if it is a usual summer day at the library, will be 7,000 people, making this performance as dynamic for the public as for the participants.

Task’s participatory focus creates opportunities for the diverse group of participants to interact with one another and express aspects of their individual personalities that might otherwise be hidden. The event begins with the participants choosing and acting out simple tasks provided by Herring. When these first artist-assigned actions are completed, participants invent their own tasks, placing them in a “task pool” for selection by their fellow performers.

Task’s open-ended, participatory structure creates almost unlimited opportunities for this group of people to interact with one another and their environment. After outlining some basic ground rules, Herring opens Task to improvisation and does not interfere with the activities on stage. Therefore, the performance’s flow depends on the kinds of tasks created by the participants, and how they decide to utilize seemingly mundane props such as markers, toilet paper, blankets, bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, ladders, chairs and tables.

Oliver Herring | Task is presented in Seattle by the Frye Art Museum, The Seattle Public Library, On the Boards, and Tacoma Art Museum.


10 Responses

  1. I just finished the TASK. It was great, very creative, and exhausting. I thought one of the unique features was that people were peaking creatively in waves. Some dived right in, others warmed slower. While some, like I, were really doing nothing more than chaos in the end, others were becoming more organized by the end. It reminded me a lot of a day at kindergarten, without cleanup time. The first task I had was number 26, it was a good way to get started. One of the other things I noticed is that the “Western” stage kept going through phases of building and being destroyed, which was pretty cool.

    Two or three tasks I participated in stood out. I got one called “Write a Novel”. I created a book out of paper and rubber bands and plastic ties. Made a cover, wrote one page and ‘the end’ on the last page. I was really surprised to see how much it got filled in by the end of the day, with a very interestng story. I thought the process was very poetic and productive, a bit like the “exquisite corpse” idea of composing artistic product.
    I wrote a task called “make yourself a box monster and scare people”. I thought it was really cool to see how that task was carried out, how into the guy who did it got. Another was where I put a plastic toy cow in an envelope and tossed it in the task box. Someone took the cow and did really cool stuff with it.

  2. I was inspired by the TASK experience. It was amazing to be around so many creative people working towards the same idea. I agree, it was very tiring, but in a good way.

    I’m not sure if i had more fun doing my own tasks or working on the tasks of others which required multiple participants.

    A task that i felt was successful was one that i don’t think was posted, because i found it in my pocket later that day: “Make yourself an egg. Make yourself a nest. Find yourself a mamma to sit on you until you hatch.” I got my mamma to “b-b-bock” as i “cheep”-ed upon hatching.

    One task that i wrote was “use 14 props to create a model of a room you once lived in.” I didn’t really know what to expect when i wrote the task. But when I walked by the diorama sitting next to the Task desk, I was astounded. The detail put into it was beautiful. I think it was one of the few tangible tasks that wasn’t destroyed in the carnage of it all.

    BTW, mark b, i have the “novel” if you would like to see the contents. I’m working on transcribing the text to post online somewhere…

  3. Hey all–what a trip huh? It’s Monday after Task, and I’ve talked about it since Saturday night. Like everyone else, I went through stages of high energy and exhaustion, diving in quickly for some tasks or just stopping some times to watch others or check out the destruction we left behind. My favorite task was having to interview someone for 5 minutes (Harvey); my least favorite, because I couldn’t accomplish it and walked around with it in my pocket all day: “Stare at an audience member until they become uncomfortable; when they stare back, ask them what they are looking at.” So the first person I tried this on, after I got over my own discomfort and my own reaction of diverting my eyes when his met mine, he never really stared back or seemed uncomfortable; he just watched the participants and now and then looked at me with no more regard than the rest of the performance. Later, I stared at another man who was sitting across the table from the woman who was typing in the completed tasks; he caught my eye a couple of times, then finally got up and walked away. He only walked a few steps away though, and once he saw me walk away he went back and sat down. Later I saw him typing in the completed tasks, so I think he might have been the husband or friend of the original task-typing woman. I’m not sure. But I thought it was funny and was a little surprised that I affected someone’s behavior. I tried it a few more times throughout the day, but no one ever got too uncomfortable to stare me down or say anything. But oh well, it was interesting.

    About our props: although I brought along some very non-personal items, I found myself feeling disappointed and a little shocked when I walked through the mess on the first stage and saw my Consumer Reports magazine laying underneath torn paper, markers, cotton balls, torn tape, piles of string, cardboard, cows, and other garbage. It felt wierd that MY THING was just laying there like a piece of trash, so unimportant and unappreciated. I was also shocked that I simply stepped on it and went on.

    Another reaction I had: I’d written a task to count the number of books on the little portable bookshelf and post the results; later, when I was sunbathing in my handmade lawnchair, I noticed a piece of white paper taped to the book cart that said “Lots and lots of book.” At first I was thinking “Hey!! That’s not what I meant!! Why didn’t you REALLY count the books!?!?” Since I was pretty wiped out, I could only be briefly shocked and disappointed, then sort of thinking thru the whole thing and how we all can interpret each task as we wish and how the tasks I authored are no different. Maybe the person who wrote the tasks that I performed intended me to do them differently than I did as well. Funny how I have to go through a lot of thought to accept that the same rules apply to me.

    Anyhow, thanks Oliver. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I won’t forget.

  4. I took about a hundred photos near the end of the day. They can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/strand/tags/task/

  5. Eva, that is so funny that those two tasks stood out to you. I am the one that made the model of my childhood room. It was so fun and was one of my favorite tasks. it was so intimate and tactile. I was also the one who wrote the task to make yourself an egg. I wish I could have seen you being hatched! Thanks to everyone for a fantastic day. Thank you Oliver, for such a special experience.

  6. That was one of my all-time favorite life experiences. I admittedly threw back some of the tasks I didn’t like, and in retrospect I wish I hadn’t. I could have interpreted them in different ways than the obvious, but I didn’t always take the time to do that.

    One of my least favorites was to borrow a stranger’s computer and go to the website badgerbadgerbadger.com. I first couldn’t find anyone to borrow a computer from (and the guy at the Task table for typing in the completed task refused to loan me his), and then I got nervous that I’d go to that website and it would download some horrible virus onto some poor person’s computer. I’m still scared to go to that website. Someone else should go and tell me what’s there! Anyway, I should have been more creative about my interpretation of borrowing a computer and “going” to badgerbadgerbadger.com (I could have created a place by that name). So, a few regrets about things I could have done differently to engage more completely.

    That said, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Task – it’s kind of profoundly affected my outlook on life. I find it interesting to read observers’ impressions because they are so different than my experience – as they should be! I loved the little society we built, with all of its ups and downs, and I loved how everything that happened was a part of the art.

    I went back to the library last night just to look at the space again. It was kind of sad.

    I think I’m a Task junkie now.

  7. katyc posted this in the forum:

    already wrote this once but I don’t know what happened to it.

    I’m really interested in having the videos edited down to a viewable length. I’ve made some initial calls with little progress so far. I know nothing about video editing. Some thoughts are getting a grant to pay for the editing &/or getting someone at one of the colleges in the Film & Video department to edit it as a class project.

    Does anyone else have any ideas about this? Does the Frye Museum or the Seattle Public library have editing facilities?

    Afterwards we should have a viewing party for all the participants, organizers, & friends.

    I had a fantasitc time at the event!


    Oliver responded:

    Hi Katy,
    I just noticed the Forum part of the blog.
    I’m in the process to have all the footage digitized and will send you (that is the Frye) the DVDs next week. I assume that at least some of you will be interested in viewing the material, which will bring some of you together again. It will also give you a chance to physically see and talk to each other face to face about the material. You don’t’ really need a grant to edit, unless you intend to make this fancy. If some of you got together and spend an afternoon or day on i-movie, or if someone knows final cut pro, you can make some simple cuts and dramatically consolidate and work with the sound and so on. It’s pretty easy if you stay simple.
    Good luck and all the best,

  8. […] Videos from University of Maryland Task Posted on June 17, 2008 by fryeartmuseum Task, on June 17th, 2008 at 9:38 pm Said: […]

  9. I have had a few weeks to think about TASK now, and I thought I would share a few of the thoughts I have had. First, in response to some posts, TASK was not a gathering of international artists, it was library and museum patrons who filled out an application and were selected to participated based on that one page sheet of information. I also find it odd how people react in a way wishing for something different than what they saw. This is precisely the reaction performance art is meant to have on the viewer/voyeur. If you found your passivity challenged, it should make you think about the passivity of your life in all the ‘art’ you find yourself engaged with.
    One of nicest things about this project was that it occurred in a public space during normal operating hours. As far as public art goes, communities around the world, via their governments and private parties, funnel billions into public art in one way or another, and the only commonality to most of it is that members of the public never get to engage in a creative way with that art. The Rem Koolhaas designed Seattle Public Library is one of these. Its artistic pretensions, and I mean that in a good way, is part of the price tag, and its a beautiful building, and it was nice to see it used as a “space” wherein a temporary community could react in a spontaneous creative way. After all, if a group of homeless youth’s went in there today and did what TASK performers did, they would all go to jail.
    Many years ago, I was part of a guerilla performance/theater goup. We would go to places like large office buildings and convention centers and art museums and do plays and other things in front of supposedly ‘public’ art to reclaim that work. Essentially, but allowing members of the public to engage the library space in this way, Oliver Herring and the various curators and Library administrators facilitated a true opening of the Library to the community in all its possibilities. I think it was an important meaning to attach to the space via the performative acts and hope it becomes a part of the permanent language in many minds when they conceive of their Library and other public spaces.
    This leads to my next observation, that of the meaning of the actions of the performers. Essentially when one does a Task, one is doing work, and like everything else, that work is meaningless. There were several who observed that the playing of the St. Matthew’s Passion seemed to give an aura of ‘something’ to the actions. In essence, it was the very randomness of the acts that created such a space of meaninglessness, allowing the music being played to inject its pious spirituality into the occassion, again I mean that in a good way. In fact, it seems many of the observers commented on the ‘pointlessness’ of the TASK. What this means is they found the actions meaningless, and once again I would go back to the sheer number of performatives being engaged for no other purpose than the task was randomly chosen. The variety of the work highlighted the meaninglessness of work itself, and thus allowed the work to be entirely open to the subjective interpretation of an outsider to the performative discourse, regardless of the meaning of those individual performances to the performer. Blah blah, there’s my two cents. Two Sense.

  10. The big memory….Trash.
    In this day of “aware” Task participants rendered up a huge amount of throw away “art” . This generates its own statement and it looks a lot like USA Arrogance on Steroids or Fools on Parade. We already have many spokespeople for that agenda…making this wasted point hollow, extravagant and ironic.

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