Visitors of an exhibition space are suggested to 'do nothing'
exhibition 'In the Long Blink of an Eye', HISK -Gosset site, Brussels, curated by Daniella Géo
Images by the artist
For all its deadpan self-explanatory qualities, the title of Katya Ev’s Visitors of an Exhibition Space are Suggested to ‘Do Nothing’ (2020, henceforth Visitors) does not mention what is in fact a crucial aspect of the work: that it employs legal means to explicitly frame ‘doing nothing’ as productive labour. A participatory performance piece, it indeed invites visitors to do nothing, but not without first meticulously spelling out the conditions that ‘doing nothing’ will be both subject to and enabled by.
Upon entering the exhibition space, visitors first encounter a reception desk where they are explained the parameters of the piece. If a spot is available, it is possible to take part and ‘do nothing’ for any amount of time, and to be financially compensated for every full hour spent in and on the performance.
Before commencing, visitors sign a contract that was developed by Ev in close collaboration with a lawyer, and which is legally valid and binding. Afterward the performance, they are remunerated and receive a proof of payment. They are reminded that, since they have sold their time and labour-power to the artist, they are responsible for paying any applicable taxes and social contributions.
The ‘act’ of ‘doing nothing’ itself takes place on a chair placed in the exhibition space and can consist of anything, insofar as the contradictory and ultimately impossible proposition to ‘do nothing’ must be interpreted and navigated anew by each visitor, as they see fit. Nonetheless, some instructions are given: visitors are invited to be attentive to themselves as well as to their surroundings, to try to be fully ‘present.’ [...] According to the website for the work, ‘doing nothing’ will therefore reveal “its generative emancipatory potential.”
[...] “In whichever way ‘doing nothing’ is enacted concretely, the contract signed by participants formally recognizes that what they are doing is what ‘nothing’ is.” The pragmatic solipsism of contractual and legal circumscription here substitutes for rather more lofty meditations on the ontology of ‘nothingness’. At the same time, however, it is also what makes ‘doing nothing’ appear as available and practically realizable. This recalls the example of the perception or experience of the absence of a friend in a café, which Jean-Paul Sartre famously uses in Being and Nothingness to demonstrate the dialectical entwinement of appearance and non-appearance, and ultimately of being and nothingness [...]
Steyn Bergs, Nothing/Doing: On Visitors of an Exhibition Space are Suggested to ‘Do Nothing’, 2021
June 20, 2016 (summer solstice)
9 p.m. - 11:10 p.m. (twilight, 'heure bleu')
2 hours 10 min (= duration of Art of Fugue of Bach)
" [...] A strong signifier of state power and a signal of danger, in Ev’s performance the police emergency light is taken over by the performers, thereby shifting power metaphorically to the people. Entering through the strategic defence points of the city, the performers converged on the historical “Belly of Paris,” referring to the ancient Greek understanding of the market square as a space for practicing direct democracy. The polyphonic texture of Bach’s composition served as a metaphor for the political equality of voices, as opposed the contemporary understanding of democracy which reduces this polyphony to the single voice of the majority.
The performance triggered a strong reaction that revealed the sense of panic, hostility and aggression between the police and the city inhabitants. During the performance twenty two of twenty-four performers were stopped by the police, and two of the participants were suspected of terrorism and detained for questioning. At the end of the performance armed police special forces were waiting for the performers at Les Halles. They intended to disperse the “gathering” prohibited during the State of Emergency. They failed because the assembly of sirens replaced the forbidden assembly of people.
By subverting the local legal system, in ‘Augenmusik’ Ev tested the borders of state power, through an alternative kind of public assembly as well as the use of state instruments as the objects of empowerment for civil disobedience".
- Katia Krupennikova, 2018