People in Space Says Goodbye

While children in the United States indulged in the ritual of trick or treating on October 31st, the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai China came to a close. Throughout its six-month run, 73.08 million visitors inhabited 5.28sq. Kilometers of space, which housed the creative imaginations of 246 countries and international organizations.  Alongside this closing, People in Space would like to say its final farewell to both the Expo and everyone who has helped make this project a reality. We appreciate having had the opportunity to contribute to and learn from such an extraordinary and landmark event.

We are also happy that this contribution represents a Boston based initiative that showcased the collaboration of artist, organizations, and curators from the United States who are working outside of traditional artistic contexts.  The work that was done was able to reach a diverse and relatively large audience. Through the performances, personal interactions, emails, and exhibition we were able to access an audience of over two thousand people!

In this final post about People in Space, it felt appropriate to say “so long” by highlighting one of our impulse surrogate pieces inspired by Jessica Gath.

The Expo sold official “passport books” as keepsakes for expo goers. You could collect stamps from Pavilions as if you were traveling around the world! Visitors could often be found rushing through a Pavilion just to find where their stamp could be collected, pushing, shoving and even throwing elbows to get to the front of the line for a stamp. People in Space could not ignore these swarms!

Passport Stamping Phenomena @ the World Expo from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Boston area artist and supporter of People in Space, Jessica Gath suggested that we create our own stamp, in line with the traditional vermillion ink stamps found on Chinese prints. After learning that the US Pavilion was one of the only Pavilions that did not provide a commemorative stamp for its visitors, we had stamps made and put Jessica’s suggestion into practice.

People in Space Artist/ Founder/ Director, Daniel DeLuca and I will continue to distill our documents and experiences within the format of a book about People in Space. Keep an eye out for this publication in the coming months. Again, we would like to thank you for your support and attention through this project!

Lewis Gesner @ People in Space

Lewis Gesner is an artist that has been creating surrogate performances on behalf of artists such as Boris Nieslony and Vassya Vassileva for several years. Implementing his work through People in Space was an intriguing experience, knowing that through his own practice, he often puts himself in the position that we were in. Lewis’ pieces were effortless to implement, perhaps because of this unique insight.

Lewis asked us to act as planted activators in lines, crowds, etc. He gave us a list of actions to perform. Through gesture and encouragement to imitate we were to inspire those around us to accumulate each action.

Lewis Gesner @ People in Space from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

The first action we implemented was dropping a coin repeatedly.  Inside of the Nepal Pavilion, Expo goers were attempting to throw coins into a bowl as an offering to a golden idol.  This seemed to be an appropriate site for this action since so many people already had coins in their hands, ready for participation.  Although curiosities were sparked, no one joined in this action.  Whistling, snapping fingers, and clapping hands were far more successful.  While traveling through the waiting lines of the UK and Japan Pavilions, these playful and accessible actions created a collective cacophony.

Lewis Gesner is an American artist who works across media with concentration on action  and performing, inventing simple, irreducible forms.  He presents his work  internationally, is a member of Mobius Artists Group, and has been living in Taiwan.

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.

Simultaneous and Simple Actions at the World Expo- Laray Polk and Brian Kane & Michael Oatman

When asked why they made the decision to visit the World Expo, the majority of the people that People In Space met answered that they wanted to experience the “spectacle”. Infinite lights, color, sound, copious space, the abundance of Haibao, the Expo’s absurd “imaginary” mascot made the expo, indeed, spectacular. The surrogate performances that People In Space chose to implement were not spectacular. They were minimal actions that became buried underneath of the dazzling marvels that only the World Expo could provide. This presented both challenges and immense opportunity. Although incongruous within this environment, these actions offered a familiarity for those who experienced them. This seemed to create a sense of relief for Expo goers amongst the lavishness that we had all found ourselves immersed in.

Through word of mouth we quickly learned that the Saudi Arabia Pavilion was a favorite with its promise of exoticism. Its daunting waiting line consisted of thousands. There was heightened security through guard presence and intimidating barricades. On our last day implementing performances, we decided to venture into the line in the early evening. We were unable to enter the line due to the multitude of people who were already present. This gave us the chance to implement performances along the perimeters of the line and offered the opportunity to create actions simultaneously.

Laray Polk and Brian Kane & Michael Oatman @ People in Space from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Laray Polk is a multimedia artist and writer who lives in Dallas, Texas. Upcoming projectsinclude Schrödinger’s Cat, an installation, at the FMOD (Free Museum of Dallas) in October. Her articles have appeared in print in D Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, and In These Times and online at Common Dreams, CounterPunch, Pacific Free Press, Sri Lanka Guardian, and Znet. Areas of interest include communication theory, media, politics and language.

Brian Kane and Michael Oatman have collaborated for 25 years in a wide range of media, from paintings made under the name of a fictitious artist, Robert MacKintosh, to video works, performances and drawings.  Meeting at the Rhode Island School of Design as undergraduates in 1983, they realized a shared sensibility around consumer culture, and initiated ARTZAK, a tactical media art collaborative that placed fake products in stores, filmed commercials for those products, and produced (arguably) the first infomercial, “The Leisure Channel”, a late-night cable show broadcast on Channel D in New York City.  This is their first project in China.

Kane went on to work as Creative Director in several industries, producing computer generated holograms, broadcast game show animations and later collaborating with artist Chico McMurtrie’s Anamorphic Robot Works.  He has designed and produced numerous online properties for PBS,, Harrah’s and other global brands.  His 2010 exhibition at Mason and Dine Gallery, in New York. featured recent iPad apps, digital prints and editioned objects.

Oatman’s large-scale installations, collages and videos have been widely shown inNorth America.  He has been a teacher for the past 25 years at Harvard, RISD, The State University of New York, The University of Vermont and Renssealer, where he teaches in the School of Architecture.  He is currently working on an exhibition for the High Line in New York City, and his MASS MoCA commission, “All Utopias Fell”, opens in late October, 2010.  It will remain on view for 10 years.

People In Space @ Mobius

People In Space is back in Boston, acclimating to a 12 hour time difference, the melancholy that New England fall brings, and has created an exhibition documenting their experience at the Expo in Shanghai. Video documentation, photos, and relics from performances amongst Expo memorabilia will be on view at Mobius through Tuesday, October 12th.

Thank you to the generous support from the following individuals who made this exhibition possible!

RM DeLuca

Ricki Scheeder

Justine DeLuca

Jonathan Fryer

Jeffery Byrd

Karla Schaefer

Toru Nakanishi

Kevin Clancy


Blaise Freeman

Paula Sokop

If you cannot make it to the exhibition, The Present Tense will be continuing to publish footage, articulations, and responses about People in Space.

WRMC Collaborative & Seth Taylor @ People in Space

Boston- based artist, Jeff Huckleberry uses the phrase “Success in Failure” to define his practice. This idea has always resonated with me because it gives integrity to chance and haunted me while trying to implement surrogate pieces at the World Expo.   Some of the actions that we curated into “What Are We Waiting For?” were unable to transcend the circumstances present at the Expo without some finessing. This challenged us to take a certain level of creative license to ensure that the work could be produced in a way that would honor its original concept.   Fear of failing the artists in some way kept me driven to find a way to make these works a reality. It was this urge that helped in finding success in creating an authentic solution to implementing the works that didn’t fit easily into the conditions of the Expo.

line for China Pavilion

line for China Pavilion

People in Space focused our project on waiting lines. We soon discovered that we did this for an event hosted within a culture where many do not abide by queuing etiquette.  This provided infinite challenges for several of the pieces we were trying to bring to fruition, particularly, WRMC Collaborative’s “Perpetual Waiting.” Artist duo, Alexia Mellor and Andrew Y. Ames asked us to offer ourselves as placeholders for people in line while they took a break from the often tiresome action of waiting.  The cattle-like barricades that encased people in lines caused a physical obstacle, but the mentality around waiting in this environment created an even larger barrier.  No one wanted to give up any piece of their real estate in the Expo Lines, making it impossible to execute this portion of the piece. The other part of the piece was to offer Expo goers to sign up at the Project Soya website to have WRMC Collaborative wait for something for them. This was also tricky due to the language barrier and the nature of the philosophical request.  We spent days searching for people who were willing to question waiting as an idea, not just an action. Below is the list we collected from Expo goers of what they wanted WRMC to wait for and their expected duration for the waiting:

Justin Timberlake

6 hours

Upside down pizza to fall

2 hours

Opportunity to tour around the USA

2 hours

Free T shirts

3 hours

Soccer Match

2 days

Autograph of someone who is famous and has a good personality

6 hours at most

Nelson Mandela

4 hours

Wait for an answer

4 hours

Wait to hear from God

3 days

Wait for a map

5 hours

Seth Taylor @ People In Space from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Seth Taylor proposed several ways for us to orchestrate a human DNA strand with the bodies in line. The physical limitations of the line and the chaos that erupted during the periods of waiting, made this piece also feel impossible. One of the most humbling experiences of being at the Expo was the massive amount of people present. How could we effectively utilize this volume and give justice to this action through the unanticipated barriers? On one of our final days at the expo, we agreed to activate one of the massive crowds by running in the shape of DNA through a public space. Although we were unable to use a multitude of bodies to make the shape, this action forced the people around us to consider their corporeality within the space of the Expo.

The WRMC Collaborative (Andrew Y. Ames and Alexia Mellor) is a nutrient-rich endeavor delivering high-quality, sweet and savory experiences that infuse the ingredients of humor and play into simple recipes. Through a combination of performance art and game design, WRMC aims to create unexpected alternative ways of experiencing the everyday that invite critical reflection on notions of consumerism, technology and globalization. The artists have been featured in the Providence Journal, the Boston Globe, the Boston Phoenix and ArtDaily as up and coming artists to watch, and have exhibited their work nationally and internationally. Recent exhibitions include 8 Bits Per Pixel and 55 Soya at MEME Gallery, Cambridge, MA; New England Photography Biennial at the Danforth Museum of Art; Pixilerations at 5 Traverse Gallery in Providence, RI; Axiom Gallery, Boston; and upcoming shows at Festival International en Arts à Montréal and Boston Cyberarts 2011.

Seth Taylor has built a career around innovation and entrepreneurship in the life sciences. Seth spent the last five years working at TSG Partners, a corporate advisory firm that focuses on strategic growthstrategies and M&A for the life science market, where he was instrumental in delivering strategic growth plans and strategic mandates for integrated healthcare, diagnostic, and life science tool companies. Seth also spent several years focused on genomics and proteomics business development at Packard BioScience Company, a leading life sciences hardware and reagents vendor. At Packard, Seth closed numerous licensing deals with both university and corporations, lead marketing efforts, performed intellectual property reviews, closed distribution partnerships, and developed business plans for both spin out companies and new products.  Seth has also established a track record as an entrepreneur. In addition to founding Vectur, Seth was a founder of Molecularware, Inc., a software company based in Cambridge, MA, that marketed workflow data management products to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. This company was also the winner of the MIT Entrepreneurship competition. In addition to his business pursuits, Seth founded and manages a popular networking event for life science professionals called BiotechTuesday.  Seth holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in molecular biology and an SM in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

Dreams of the Future!

The focus of the World Expo is the future. From Shanghai Corporate’s Dream Cube, to Toyota’s robotic violinist, to Saudi Arabia’s $164 million rendition of a “moon boat” that looms in the sky like the most grandiose UFO, the Expo exhibits a plethora or futuristic spectacles.

Saudi Arabia Pavilion

Saudi Arabia Pavilion

Amongst the extravagance, there are of coarse Pavilions with less. Upon visiting the lineless Iraq Pavilion, People in Space artists discovered that the Chinese government paid for and fabricated the majority of the content within the Pavilion. The theme of the Pavilion was not the future of Iraq, but a glorification of “1001 Arabian Nights”. Visitors could consume their very own magic lamps, jewelry, and a Princess Jasmine coloring book. This diversity in visions of the future in relation to history has been a point of interest throughout the development of this project. Is there a shared vision of the future that is able to transcend cultural variance?

Jeffery Byrd asked us to go to the people to collect ideas about the future. He instructed us to ask Expo goers to write a word that they associate with the future on a post it, proudly display it on their forehead, close their eyes, and think of the word as we photograph them. We had every intention of executing this intimate action through a waiting line, but the language barrier created a challenge. Upon asking an Expo volunteer for a proper translation of the phrase “associate with the future”, curiosities were sparked.

The volunteers were so intrigued that they led us into the private area designated for Expo workers so that their colleagues could participate. They even gave us popsicles once we had finished! Check out the visions of the future we collected below.




Marriage, Money, & ___

Courage, Marriage, & Money















Jeffery Byrd is a performance artist who has presented work all over the globe.  His art explores the relationships between reality and artifice. Recent pieces have touched upon ideas related to his day job as a university administrator and have focused on using creative thought to transform the mundane. In this piece, Post-It Notes (usually reserved for the most utilitarian communication) become the vehicle for dreams and desires.