VISITORS OF AN EXHIBITION SPACE ARE SUGGESTED
TO 'DO NOTHING'
Testimonial by Mélanie Weill / conversation with Katya Ev
KE: Hi, Mélanie!
KE: Mélanie you are doctor of philosophy and you took an active part in elaborating and drafting critical and theoretical texts around the performance, and I also invited you to perform this very important role which the one of the host. You welcomed and accompanied visitors during their experience of ‘doing nothing’.
MW: Yes, exactly. I was standing behind this grey desk, and when people entered I was explaining them the performance, showing them the contract and explaining the frame of the performance. And then I was sitting the visitors on the chair and I was there the whole time while they were ‘doing nothing’. I also ‘did nothing’ while being the host, and I saw a lot of different people ‘doing nothing’. That was a funny experience. I was a bit absurd in a way, but it was also interesting to see how people react to your performance, and reacted to ‘doing nothing’, how they behaved when they were on the chair.
KE: If you would mention the most striking attitudes, which ones it would be?
MW: Some people I saw were quite easily distracted, it was not very easy to them to ‘do nothing’, so when I was the host I was very careful about sort of protecting the bubble and creating a safe space for them to ‘do nothing’ because it was a public space, so what was a bit difficult to handle was that there were people coming by and sometimes observing the person on the chair, and of course it can become uncomfortable. I did also the experience of ‘doing nothing’. If you stay a long time on that chair become hyper aware - that is what happened to me - so you are extremely sensitive to what happens. And people who entered the space did not have this awareness, so I had to say “Please, do not come close, don’t observe too much the person. But people [participants] were into their own mind super quickly and I did not need to do anything. There was this woman who even covered her whole head… or some people slept, so with them it was really easy. Sometimes they made me very peaceful, I was watching them and I saw they were enjoying ‘doing nothing’, super deep into their own inner space [..] there was a sort of empathy between their state and my state.[…]
I had a very striking experience was the very first one, the first time I was the host - because of the setting. The chair on which the guy was sitting was really in front of me. It was Steyn Bergs. He sat o the chair in front of me, and our eyes stared at each other for an hour. We were both strangers and it was really intense and awkward. So afterwards I moved the chair so that it is in front of the window and people look outside …
It’s strange because also you are not supposed to talk to the person, so everything is a bit implicit but you are trying to guess, not to be too much intrusive and it would be strange if I would be reading my book because I did want to be in solidarity with the person on the chair without being too invasive. You are doing the same thing that the person on the chair, but also you are also in your own world so they do not feel you are not stepping into their mind space.
KE: But you were observing, right?
MW: I was also observing, I liked to see how people behaved on the chair, I liked to see how people received … the first reactions when I explained the performance, I liked to be very serious, very professional and I had kind of routine thing that I was saying to people… it was very much like working in administration, like in a real office…and I think some people were really amused by that attitude. The performance was about ‘doing nothing’ and ‘getting paid’ so It was funny to play with that.
I was walking them to the chair, and when I was sitting them into the chair I would also sit with them for a little bit and try to put them into the right mind state to do the performance. Actually it is a very complex performance and work of art and it is also very simple, everybody can understand what ‘doing nothing’ is, it has something very simple. But it also very easy not to fully live the experience so I wanted to make sure that people were taking that time seriously and having a real break and that does not happen like this [clapping fingers] The whole thing was also criticise the productivity, the fact that you are always under pressure, to have this moment that is only, solely there for you to be, to have no need to be useful to society, and we are so corrupted in all these imperatives normally, so it’s not as simple as just deciding to retreat yourself from that. So I was trying to walk with them, and sit them and have the moment when they land in the chair, they become aware of their surroundings. It was vey quick but…
KE: What did you say?
MW: It depended on the people. You can feel that some people wanted or needed that and some other did not. I was saying “This is your time to relax, I am here for you, feel your weight in the chair… I was trying to make it a nice experience, because it was very important that it’s not boredom and it’s not suffering. I think the way you frame it when you sit them and if you convey very good intentions, it can change the experience. I think I was very explicitly saying that “it should not be a suffering, and you can stop any time”. It was also a ritual to accompany them to the chair […]
KE: Was there any discussions about what doing nothing is?
MW: Yes, that what people were mostly interested in. They were very interested in the contract and they were interested in what ‘doing nothing’ is. Some people tried to challenge me, like “can I use my phone”, because of course it’s an impossible demand. In these cases I was going in their direction, like “yes, it’s the heart of the performance” The thing is “ok, it’s impossible” but it does not mean you can not take it seriously, and there are some obvious cases when you are not ‘doing nothing’ […]