Heather Kapplow @ People in Space

Boston-based artist, Heather Kapplow had a special role with People in Space. She actively made herself available to offer her insight during the development stage of the project. This gave her a unique perspective, strengthening her performance concepts to be enacted at the World Expo.

Kapplow’s pieces seemed to serve as premonitions of the chaos that we would experience within this project. Both of the 2 actions that we implemented on Kapplow’s behalf demystified the absurdity of the spectacle of the Expo through simple human interaction.

Her first action “Astrid’s Surprise!” Used humor to transcend language and cultural barriers.

Heather Kapplow @ People in Space “Astrid’s Surprise” from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Kapplow’s second piece came to us with the following instructions:

“Do this occasionally when you feel the need for strength, support or perspective that you imagine I could have contributed if I were there: Stand, focus, and survey the people around you, keeping your mind and heart as open as possible. Inspect your feelings for anything that might inhibit your ability to take the next step of “dowsing” the people in your immediate vicinity. If you feel anything that could interfere with your taking completely open action, say to yourself “I AM THINKING OF A CLOUD!” and then look up to the sky for a cloud. Memorize that cloud and think of it in particular while your peruse the crowd with your eyes and other senses, seeking someone. When you find them, visit them. Tell them who you are and that you are trying to transcend cities and politics and inequity and pasts and futures. Tell them that you feel that the perpetual thing we all have in common no matter where we live in the world or when we lived in history, is that we have all been staring at the same sky and watching these same things that we call “clouds” drift by. Ask them to stare up at the sky with you for a while, and point out a particular cloud that they find interesting. Watch the cloud with them and find out why they find it interesting.  After a while, thank them and move on.”

This action was implemented in English to a non-English speaker.

Heather Kapplow @ People in Space from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Kapplow’s actions were the only actions that People in Space repeated. Both pieces were enacted twice. At the time, this was a decision made because we were unhappy with the documentation. In hindsight, I think these actions offered catharsis. Kapplow created an opportunity for us to be present with expo-goers in a truly humanistic way.

Heather Kapplow is interested in the formal characteristics and textures of digital media, and in investigating very simple philosophical questions about the workings of daily life through performance. These investigations are generally playful, requiring audiences to be active agents in the exploration and art-creation process. Kapplow’s video projects are of low resolution and short. She also makes small ritual objects out of blood, hair, string, wire, bones, keys, burned texts, etc. for particular people that are used by their owners to gain power over situations that they could otherwise not manage completely.
Kapplow had (and recovered from) academic aspirations before having artistic ones. She has a day job in public media.

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.

People In Space

In 6 days I will be on ground in Shanghai as part of the People In Space project. We will be venturing into the 2010 World Expo in an attempt to bridge the participation gap between the US and the rest of the planet.

Approximately 375,000 people attend the Expo each day. Many of these visitors will spend over 10 hours waiting in lines consisting of thousands of people in order to enter popular pavilions. The Artists involved with People In Space will be enacting surrogate pieces to spark unexpected dialogue among the waiting. I will be one of these individuals, acting as a physical filter in one of the largest attended events in history in one of the most populated cities in the world.  Simultaneously, I will be blogging, using The Present Tense as one of the main platforms for archiving this experience.

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