People In Space implements Surrogate Backscratching & Footprint Collecting

People in Space has been on site at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai for the past week implementing surrogate creative actions.  We have had an audience of several thousand people experiencing ephemeral art in a largely ephemeral space.

The expo as a whole is crawling with people; the majority are Chinese who are interested in experiencing the spectacle of the Expo. We have encountered several challenges through the language barrier, but also through cultural references that simply do not translate.

Surrogate Backscratching

James Ellis Coleman asked us to offer to scratch the backs of people waiting in line and to encourage them to pass this favor on to their neighbors. This solicitous and somewhat innocent gesture speaks to the idea of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”. This saying does not translate into Chinese culture. The closest is the phrase is “If you give me a peach, I can give you a plum in return.” Because of this loss in translation, our audience was fairly willing to receive scratching, but was hesitant to scratch our backs or the backs of others. Out of the approximate 70 backs that we scratched in the waiting line at the US Pavilion, only 2 people returned the favor, however this exchange was both playful and well received. Watch the video documentation from this piece HERE.

Another challenge has been the fact that we are enacting these pieces Guerilla style, requiring us to be inconspicuous amongst the heightened security present at the Expo.

This created a bit of creative maneuvering to implement Julia Wagner’s piece, “Urban Footprints”.  This action ideally involved creating a stop-motion film documenting the accumulation of a line’s footprints clouding up a bolt of grey silk.  Julia asked us to invite each person waiting in line to walk one-at-a-time across the cloth. This was also another impossibility, since many of the people waiting in line do not wait at all, pushing aggressively through to get closer to the Pavilion’s entrance. When people do wait in the queue it is rarely single-file. Upon our departure of the US Pavilion, we were filtered into a high traffic area that Expo goers were using for the perfect photo op.

Photo Op

Overflow from a fountain created puddles that endless people walked through, creating a series of footprints on the asphalt. This was an opportunity to adapt Wagner’s piece. We captured the accumulation of wet footsteps for over an hour through time-lapse video that can be viewed HERE.

James Ellis Coleman is a mixed-media artist working in Boston.  He received his MFA from Massachusetts College of Art.  He believes: “Every Artist is charged with the capacity to entertain, challenge, and enthrall one or all of our senses. No one can alter past deeds, but we can help change the regrettable consequences of those deeds. Our deeds today will shape the past we leave for the future.”

Julia Wagner has lived and worked in Boston since graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 2008.  She illustrates themes of anthropomorphism, post-modernism, and simple aesthetics with her sculpture and drawings.  Julia also builds performance into her studio practice by seeking out meditative yet socially engaging work, like that of interning with the Sol Lewitt Retrospective fabrication team.  In all of these efforts, she seeks to promote elementary school values in conjunction with the sophistication required for critical contemporary art.