What Happened When One Writer "Trusted the Artists" at Hillyer Art Space's Soapbox?
On Friday, I was devirginized to Hillyer Art Space’s monthly Soapbox series. The exhibition, entitled Trust Us, included performances contrived by artists Paul Shortt and Samuel Scharf.
When I researched the event, it was described as an interactive performance facilitated by an artistic duo relying on audience members to complete the artists’ works. Like most descriptions, this could be interpreted quite a few ways, so I was anxious to see what was in store.
Walking into the gallery, my attention was quickly drawn away from the hand-crafted art that decorated the walls to Scharf, or rather, his first victim. Scharf’s performance could easily be described as a human puppet show, but rather than the bodies of his puppeteers being dangled by a string, each participant was adorned with a blindfold, headphones and sound piece.
As Scharf stood atop a small, elevated platform in the corner of the room, he guided his assistants through tasks as simple as walking across the gallery, to laying on the floor, to holding conversations with complete strangers.
For approximately three to five minutes, each person was subjected to the control of Mr. Scharf, who simply asked them to “Trust me.”
One bold volunteer explained her experience to me. She said, “I felt really vulnerable--almost like a doll letting someone control my movements. I didn’t know if he would take advantage of the situation and maybe have me do something crazy like destroy the artwork.”
So why did she do it? “Because it seemed like a cool experience. I wanted to be adventurous, putting my life into the hands of a total stranger.”
Well, she wasn’t the only adventurer of the night; about ten or so participants walked, danced and waved across the room before Scharf’s segment ended.
Then, over an hour into the exhibition, we readied ourselves for Contemporary Farewells by Paul Shortt. This time, volunteers braved a seated audience to demonstrate a series of physically innovative good-byes created by Shortt--because the hand shake is so 20th century.
Shortt explained that the concepts for the illustrations in his book, Contemporary Farewells: New Ways of Saying Goodbye, are a play on interactions that he’d noticed amongst individuals in daily life.
Feeling a bit trusting at this point in the night, I loaned my body and paired up to become a demonstrator of one of these goodbyes. My partner and I were assigned the “Shoulder Bow” to demonstrate. Instructions: Place both your hands on your left shoulder. Then bow into your friend’s right shoulder.
After a little pre-performance coaching and successfully figuring out my left shoulder from her right shoulder (hey, it’s a little more complicated than you think!), we performed the farewell. Then, we were sent off with a copy of Shortt’s book to peruse how audience members to follow would show us ways of bidding ado.
From “The Muscle Hug,” to “The Side Wave,” to “The Imaginary Baby Bye,” each demonstration was more or less intense and humorous but equally entertaining.
However, my most favorite of them all was “The Cell Phone Bow.” Instructions:
Approach your friend while looking down at your phone. Make eye contact. Then look back at your phone.
Yeah, that’s pretty much how I choose to greet everyone. I’m just glad Mr. Shortt finally acknowledged it as an official farewell.
Overall, the night was fantastic and each person walked away with a special treat which summed up the essence of the evening--a badge that read I Trusted The Artists.
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