Talk Piece

Talk Piece
40-hour durational, intimate, site-specific live performance/installation
Private residence, Madison WI
February 2012

“Talk Piece” is a 40-hour durational performance conceptually located at the intersection of art, life, theatre, performance, and installation. The premise of the event was that we would have a conversation with each other that would continue until we fell asleep. We placed a combination lock on the front door of Andrew’s apartment and gave our rsvp’d guests the code, so that they could attend at any time of the day or night. The performance began February 17 2012 at 5:00pm and ended February 19 at 9:00am, when we fell asleep.

“Talk Piece” utilized theatrical rules in a domestic environment. We placed an art frame around life, putting an everyday conversation on stage with a fourth wall spectatorship structure: as viewers entered and exited the room, we did not acknowledge their presence. “Talk Piece” investigates conversation as a form that is inherently relational and aesthetic, a work of lifelike art created between two or more people. The piece also frames conversation as theatre, a script that unfolds as it is spoken. Our awareness of our staged yet spontaneously unfolding performance drew our attention to the ways in which speech tends to be scripted by social constructs.

Documentation of “Talk Piece” is published in Emergency INDEX Volume 2 (Ugly Ducking Press, Brooklyn NY, 2012).

Excerpts of the 40-hour video documentation will be posted soon!

Talk Back:  A Conversation about Conversation as Art
(responses from audience members)

“Congratulations on a lovely and moving project.”  – Doug Rosenberg

“I enjoyed attending very much.  […]  I was curious, in moments, intrigued, in moments. As I said, I wanted to stay longer – maybe much longer – just to see a) how long these two people could endure the experiment and b) how long I could put up with it. So I guess it was more than just amusement: it did feel like experimental theater and that feeling had its own strange edge.  The piece made me think of an Eric Rohmer film.  […]  I saw two people who had contrived a project for voice and body and contrived a setting for this experiment: it was theater without a theater, with a script that was no more than an idea for words, with an audience that could come and go as it pleased.  […]  I didn’t know if the audience was supposed to stay quiet – like a traditional audience – or if we were allowed to talk to the performers. I also thought, when I left, and the room was empty, except for you two, whether you’d “stop” and take a break. There’d be no witness! So that was kind of strange – thinking that the performance went on even in the absence of the audience/witness.  […]  The room was too small. Even if it wasn’t experimental theater and I wasn’t expected, as an audience member, to sit in this chair and watch these people talk, I wouldn’t stay too long in a room that small. It was stupidly small! It felt – theater or not – like I was bedside to someone dying – just claustrophobic, too intimate.”  – Max Rankenburg

“Throughout Talk Piece, I felt as if I was on the line between two places, two roles, two settings.  The entire process of arriving at the performance, from unlocking the door and walking upstairs to entering the room without being greeted, subtly created a surreal atmosphere; almost dreamlike (which may also be in part due to the performers’ lack of sleep.)  On one hand it was an ordinary, comfortable setting, just a bedroom and people that I know.  But on the other hand, it was a situation completely unlike any I’d been in before.  When else would I walk into a bedroom, see people I know, and let them carry on their conversation while I sat and watched them? […] I find it difficult to make a distinction between art and life.  I think that Talk Piece was life.  I think that it was art.  Katrina and Andrew were having a conversation, they were sitting in bed, they were laughing – that’s life.  The surreal atmosphere created by the entire performance, which I believe started at the invitation and lingered throughout the day after I’d left knowing that they were still performing – that’s art.”  – Jen Rocheleau

“It felt a bit like being at the movies, except I’m right there in the physical space of the movie. My proximity to both of you was interesting. I was right there, yet you were far away, in your own space. It made me feel complicit, safe, voyeuristic, part of a secret. It made me think of relationships, what we look for in them, and how we never stop looking for it, even if we don’t know what we’re looking for. It made me think of the vast inner spaces we each carry around, seldom sharing them with our surroundings. It made me think of giddy teenage sleepovers, too, discovering the complexity of other people for the first time. I was comfortable in my position as an audience. My position was clearly marked by the chairs. I was allowed, even asked, to pry. It was enjoyable. I felt with you. When you laughed, I laughed, when you talked about being tired, I empathized with your exhaustion. Since you were talking about the video camera when I was there, it influenced the piece and my perception of it. A part of me didn’t want it to be there. The filmmaker in me is convinced that you cannot put this piece on tape by just having a camera in the corner, and that frustrated me. Let it be in the moment and exist on its own. Find other ways to document. I appreciated the bed, the cover. It felt partly real and partly set up for the piece. It was a nice in-between physical space, covering the overlap between your private relationship and your performance. I liked that the cover was patchwork, falling apart. It fitted the piece, for me. The piece oscillated back and forth between art and life, and that was my favorite part. There was no way to keep the two things apart. Life in what you talked about, art in the fact that you never stopped talking, kept it going, no matter what (until you fall asleep).”  – Dominique Haller

“I enjoyed being there and listening to you two talk/perform. It was strange but sweet and funny. I felt quite relaxed and happy to simply observe. […] It made me think a lot about being in my twenties. What was I like then? What was my life like then? How accurate are my memories of that time? I also found myself reflecting on intimate relationships and all of the negotiations involved. Self/other. Blurring boundaries. Boundaries maintained. […] Because, as I said, I wasn’t really sure whether we were meant to make it past the lockbox (since someone else in the building responded to the doorbell and let us in after we couldn’t get the lockbox to open) I felt like a little bit like an invader. It was a happy sensation of playing the trickster. Neither of you acknowledged my presence or seemed bothered in any way by it, so then I felt free to simply observe, respond with laughter, jot down a note, take a photo, leave a treat, etc. No particular obligations or responsibilities. I didn’t feel that it would be appropriate to join in the conversation or sit on the bed – although there were moments when I wanted to do so.”  – Angela Richardson

“I suppose I viewed the piece more as art than life.  But then anything that’s radically different than what passes for typical ‘theater’ or ‘art’ like this often blurs those lines for me.  Since it’s organized as a specific piece with structured guidelines and rules that happens over a set amount of time, with an audience, that puts it more in the art category in my view.”  – Anonymous

“Thanks once more for the lovely and compelling project.  I am editing my book and just came to this quote from Michael Brenson and thought of the two of you.”
Conversation is fundamental. It is part of the machinery of culture, of society, of the self […] It stretches the imagination and makes it possible to envisage new narratives at the end of a century in which some of the most controlling master narratives have collapsed […] to converse [is] to be exposed.[i]

[i] Brenson, Michael. Acts of Engagement: Writings on Art, Criticism, and Institutions, 1993-2002. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004. 40-41. Print.
– Doug Rosenberg