Day 1

We were a bit nervous. The rain put a damper on the day and everyone was trickling in, unnerved by train delays and soggy clothes. Once we began, all of our concerns dissipated, as students seemed to feel comfortable rather quickly, as if we had been working together for weeks already. Even before we began our introductions, they voiced their concerns about the future and the economy. They opened up quickly in the introductory performance exercises, and we immediately began having a nuanced conversation about the economy. Simple actions were already drawing out stories, observations, and memories. It was amazing at how informed, critical, and complex their perspectives already were! These are students that have already faced these issues in their daily lives, and immediately we could feel the urgency of the project in our present and future lives.

We began to confront issues like the alienating effects of labor and our alienation from people and objects around us. We told stories about our labor memories: one student was a stalwart defender of company brands while another student had to leave to work at a company that we had just discussed. The day seemed to be going too easily! They understood the concepts so quickly, the videos provoked such great discussion and the performances were bringing out such interesting new knowledge. We finally hit a bit of a speed bump (in a good way) when we began to talk about painting the walls. As concept met a material reality, we debated, drafted, and discussed. Though we wanted to finish painting today, the students felt rushed and pushed for more time to consider the task. We welcomed their agency and strong opinions.

Stains

Student Feedback on the Day:

I’ve always had this very vague idea that if we lived in a communist society there would probably be more order. Marx had a simple idea and it was to establish this kind of equality so there was no getting ahead and no one getting left behind, but as fascist capitalistic money hungry bastards we see this as the biggest sin of them all, because if I’m the creator of this corporation I want everything even if I don’t know how to make my goods and I think its better quality if I ship all my goods to a sweatshop in Asia. Communism is a good fit, we just need to work out the kinks, and I believe Marx is right though — I believe the capitalist system will soon fail.

   - Evalise Salas

To see the readings, exercises and media used today, click here.



My mind is exploding with ideas!
A student’s response after a day of discussing Marx and William Morris readings, creating zine pages based on the concepts: “labor,” “money,” “play,” and “action” as well as beginning our first performance based actions.

Day 2

A light drizzle turned to showers as we gathered again, pouring over our receipts, snacks and clippings from magazines. Initial nerves are now replaced with the comfort of familiarity, excitement at the possibility of a big group effort, and a healthy amount of apprehension about making big decisions together.



We started the day by having students work on collages for a few collective zines we are making. It was a great feeling all working together and everyone in their own little zone creating. Each person was charged with creating pages around each of the concepts: “labor,” “money,” “play,” and “action.” We shared individual pages with each other and launched into a conversation based on the Marx reading from the night before and the short reading by William Morris called “Art and Socialism.” We read sections out loud to the group and debated the merits and faults of capitalism, the idea of productivity, and the role of competition in the market and in our own personal lives.

The students all had really differing opinions. Some students spoke from their own experiences while others spoke more broadly and referred to texts that they had read or heard about before. The discussion got particularly heated around the question of whether competition was an immutable part of human nature with one student asserting “Survival of the fittest is human nature just because the biggest asshole beats everyone up and says it’s human nature!”  

In terms of competition in the workshop, it’s definitely a challenge making sure that everyone’s voice is heard. It’s often tricky when there are a few students who are more assertive than others, so as facilitators, we are constantly working on making sure to distribute that power to everyone present.

(Robert’s Drawing)

Student Feedback on the Day:

[The work] was hard! I was totally surprised by the level of discussion and expectations of Hong-An and Huong. I underestimated the project and I was happy and intimidated by the difficulty. I am sick of worshippers of Marx, but I haven’t bothered to really read the “Manifesto” so I’m a pretentious doo doo butt. We all have “it” much better than we think we do and we all have “it” worse at the same time, it just depends on how we look at “it”.

                               - Robert Cipriano

To see the readings, exercises and media used today, click here.


Survival of the fittest is human nature just because the biggest asshole beats everyone up and says it’s human nature!
 Christopher Ferrieiras’s response during a discussion on whether competition is a fixed quality of human nature.

Day 3



 

It’s our third day, and we’re realizing how amazingly well the project is going – everyone is working together, all the ideas that are flowing around are great, and there is an overall energy and excitement that is keeping things fun.  To be honest, we had no idea that it would go so well! Setting the tone on the first day – making our goals of preparing an installation for the final public presentation clear – gave everyone a focus and a deadline.


We started planning the “stains" today, which meant some big decisions on which we all had to agree. We were worried about the process of making decisions, as quite a few of us have some very strong opinions! Luckily, there was enough work that manageable groups naturally formed, and each group took the lead on a stain while also consulting on the other ones. To suggest this idea of our subjectivities, we decided to paint shapes throughout the gallery that would come together when the viewer stood in a particular place. We were excited about this direction of shapes, sounds, and gestures that could serve as poetic remnants of our time together and the new knowledge that we could generate by working together.  

We also listened to an episode of This American Life about the abstract value of money. This led to a really interesting conversation about our idea of money and how we assign value to the objects around us. Some of the students’ responses were so on point that we began collecting them with the idea of maybe using them in screen-printed posters. For instance, Evalise brought up the fact that she owns all of these black dresses that are all pretty much the same and all cost her a lot of money, but she has only worn each one once. Nevertheless, when she wears one of the dresses, she thinks to herself, “Oh my god, I look so fucking beautiful!” It’s so hard to recapture these moments in the conversation where many ideas converge into a single point that is so perfectly smart, poignant, and funny. Her comment to us clearly pointed out both the contradictions and complexities of being ensconced within a system of labor, value, and culture – our individual identities and subjectivities compromised. Hopefully, some of this process will come out in the final outcome!

We had been worried at first that we might not have enough time to get to the place that we needed to be in – in terms of understanding the economy and basic principles of Marxism and Capitalism – but we  realized, that in this kind of pedagogical experiment, the key is being clear about expectations, setting the goals high, and being clear that the knowledge that they already possess is the jumping point for going deeper.

 

Student Feedback on the Day:

As we were listening to “This American Life,” we started discussing waste and personal needs. This is where we got the quote. “OMG I LOOK SO FUCKING BEAUTIFUL TODAY!” I was explaining the difference between wanting and needing, and how all of us have that one thing we have an excessive amount of, like how I have about 20 different plain black dresses, and when I look at them now I think, ‘wow that was a waste.’ But in the heat of the moment when I saw it in the store I immediately had an overwhelming attraction to it because I had to have it and felt like this new dress was better—when I wore it and would feel so fucking beautiful that day. I think I keep buying these beautiful black dresses just so I can get that feeling of overwhelming happiness even if it is just for that one night or two nights. Also the other quote I contributed is “Today I worked 7 Hours” in relation to the “Dark Matter” article and the worksheets we were doing about “the ambiguous and the real.” My idea was about the imaginary after the word ‘hours’. So it would be something like, “Today I worked 7 hours, BUT I spent 3 hours thinking about what I wanted for lunch, spent 2 hours doodling on a piece of paper, spent 5 hours playing solitaire etc etc”. Basically all the time we work and wish we weren’t working.

- Evalise Salas

To see the readings, exercises and media used today, click here. 

Day 4

Chase Wall

We’re kicking everything into gear today! Painting of the stains is well underway, Cindy and Yvonne are designing posters, and upon Andrew’s suggestion, we began collecting CHASE bank ATM receipts that reveal tiny but fascinating narratives just based on the amount of cash withdrawn and balance. We’ve decided to cover a whole wall with them! Our more successful moments are when everyone jumps in, finds the task in which they excel, and gives themselves over to the energy of the group. There is a lot of cross-pollination of ideas and groups giving each other feedback.

 


Data Collection

 

From the first day, we began collecting information about ourselves- how much we pay for rent, wage, people we talk to during our day, how many hours per day we work for money, etc. We did this through simple worksheets that we filled out in order to use ourselves as an informal demographic.

The questions began with ones that were very concrete. They then moved to ones about value: “What did you desire to buy but didn’t buy?”, “What is something you regretted buying?”, “How many hours were you creative?” And finally they became very subjective and difficult to answer: “How can one compensate labor without the exchange of money?” , “How can we reward someone for caring for a common good/space?”, “What kind of productivity is non-productive?”, “What kind of desire is productive?”

Student Feedback on the Day:

I found it most interesting that the older interviewees ultimately fell to religion when answering philosophical questions. However, no answer was surprising; it was somehow expected. In suggesting the Chase wall to the team, I wanted to create a piece that was not only visually immersive, but relatable (as the Chase logo/palette is instantly recognizable to a New Yorker). The final layout, one block of Chase account balance receipts being intersected by a block of purchase receipts, served to represent the hemorrhage of spending out of the varied accounts. The sample of accounts had a surprising amount of fluctuating balances.

                              - Andrew Persoff                                                                                          


How Much is Enough?: Interviewing Strangers at the Port Authority (Day 4)

We also started interviewing people down at the Port Authority today with the questions that we had narrowed down from our surveys and brainstorming sessions. We settled on the following:

How much is enough?

What did/do you want to be when you grow up?

How do you imagine the present?

Is competition natural?

Why should we try?

We broke into pairs and went out for the interviews. The answers and the ways in which people answered were fascinating. Some people were hesitant but opened up once they got going. Others were curt, defensive, and unwilling to engage. We were really touched by some of the answers and the people. There was a little old lady who replied to the question about the present- that even at 90, she’s still trying to figure it out! There were a couple of guys from Jamaica that were both curious and extremely suspicious. We all returned to EFA really energized from the entire experience.

Conducting street interviews is such an excellent exercise for so many reasons – not only does it put into perspective, and thus make more real, whatever it is you are thinking about (in this case, the economy, labor, and desire), it is also an humbling experience to candidly approach people and either be embraced or shut down. We felt a bit torn between the kind of vox-pop style questions we had formulated and the desire to want to have longer conversations with people, more Storycorps style. But the questions yielded some interesting and varied responses.

In our case, it was especially useful to connect our project to the public in this small way. While none of our final outcomes engaged public space, doing the interviews partly allowed us to bring the public voice into the project, grounding our concepts in the larger social context. The resulting audio is interesting because while listening to people’s responses without seeing their faces, one can’t help but think of class - connecting the speaker’s own class positions to class aspiration and the value-laden yet abstract notions that are used in the varied responses: terms like “satisfaction” and “happy.”

In our brief conversation following our excursion out to get the interviews, it seemed that everyone felt excited by the interactions. We weren’t surprised by the responses necessarily, but making the briefest connection with people in the public around the ideas that we’ve been discussing really rounded out our conversation.


Day 5

Stand Up

To view our Stand Up piece, click here

Working on the performances today was so much fun. What makes performance such a great collective activity – specifically our performance activities borne from Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed – is the fact that everyone has to be vulnerable. No one is exempted if everyone is participating. It’s in this space of vulnerability where you are forced to be a part of something larger than yourself, but also be forced to have to contend with yourself and who you assert yourself to be.

Physical and emotional vulnerability are related to each other. Being physically vulnerable affects our emotional vulnerability – which can lead to ugly things sometimes, but in the space of performance, it’s about testing and experimentation – that we can step out of the performance and put up our guard again. But in that event of the performance, something else happens and it’s that kind of weird and awkward teaching / learning moment: everyone experiences it uniquely but somehow makes everyone different for doing it.

Pile Up 

To view our Pile Up piece, click here

For instance, we did this one really challenging action where one person is laying down, another person lays on top, and then another, and then another, and the person on the bottom crawls from underneath. It is intimate and physically demanding. I think it was a bit intimidating for some of the students, but once everyone saw how it looked in the video, they were excited to make it work. We worked on documenting another performance as well in which we are exchanging poses - one person makes a pose and freezes, another responds to that pose and freezes. The first person leaves, a new person comes on to respond to the second, etc. What comes out of actually going through the performance are interesting power relationships that form between the performers. It was also amazing to me to see one pose take on a completely different meaning by the way that the second person interpreted it.

For me using performance is also about calling attention to the performativity of everyday life and of our own identities. Boal’s approach uses everyday experiences and actions — the idea that our body remembers our actions and internalizes them, thus internalizing our relative positions of weakness, oppression, power, etc. It relates to Judith Butler’s notions of gender performativity, and the idea that by enacting simple everyday actions we make real the fictitious roles set out before us. Butler insists that what we think as our “personal” or private choices in terms of behaviour and action are actually already scripted by hegemonic social practices and conventions, driven by dominant ideologies.

Body Sculptures

To view our Exchange piece, click here

In our small exercises, much was revealed about how we perform ourselves. The final choices we made for the videos reflect both our process and more broadly the conceptual ideas we wanted to get at – about power, about desire, about collectivity. While not as much was communicated verbally as our ideas transpired, it was clear that our process of doing these activities facilitated an idea process that instigated both poetics and abstraction. The final gestures are quite beautiful, and on a more practical level, are poetic and abstract – with all of the elements of the installation – allowing all of the participants to feel connected to the work instead of being dominated by one person’s story, perspective, or ideology.

 

Crappy, Sad, Broken New York Umbrellas

What began as just an idea to collect broken umbrellas to express our exasperation at ubiquitous, cheaply made products now has a real presence. In playing around with the really broken ones, we began to hang them from the ceiling. They create these amazing, pathetic, but poetic silhouettes.

 

 

Student Feedback on the Day:

I think the idea of the “stain” was a little confusing at first, but I think the more we discussed ideas on the economy, and used collage to do so, the more we realized the ambiguity in all of it and this idea of the “stain” became a lot more abstract, in addition to “labor” and “work”, “play”, and “money” all became very loose terms. So I think because of that, our performance pieces were very open and it gave us the chance to work on the abstraction of the idea of the economy rather than specifics.

- Yvonne Romano

Why Should We Try? (Day 5)

We realize that we really don’t have enough of our voices or conversations in the final show; so we begin interviewing each other with the same questions that we asked people at Port Authority. The students have amazing answers.

Exchange (Day 5)

I was excited about filming the performances. I think the simplicity in the gesture of human bodies portraying something is very strong. It is visually powerful and thought provoking and very mundane, but with the use of simplicity and repetition, I think we managed to create something very powerful.  - Yvonne Romano

Stand Up (Day 5)

It was fun doing these performances. It was out of my comfort zone, not that I wasn’t willing to do it, it was just different from what I do in school. I definitely had a good time struggling from the pile, trying to stand up and thinking of what posture/gesture to do. I treat it more as a game rather than a project. It seemed more casual and natural that way. I think that the more natural we were, the easier it was to show the tension and the stress when we had to find our own methods in getting out of the pile or standing up. I think our videos/performances were a great way of getting to know the people that we collaborated with.      - Cindy Liang

"Pile Up"  (Day 5)

The body pile performance symbolized mainstream and creative labor. Within the pile, individuals are closely placed with one another: they have the option to accept the intimacy or attempt to block it. In struggling to exit the pile, others may act as counterweights or may choose to shift themselves to assist your escape. The process becomes a cycle. The performances had the capacity to be intimate or revealing. On camera, an extra impetus was added to perform the best sequence possible. The final videos were effective in the sense that they gave viewers an abstract venue to reflect on their ideas of labor.    –  Andrew Persoff