Limits

The Milgram Experiment

“It is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.” -Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority

Each of us would like to believe we are inherently good people. As humans, we experience feelings of empathy and altruism. We want the best for those we love. We fall in line and do what is required of us in order to progress. It is only when we find ourselves in extreme circumstances that we may know the true extent of our humanity. Ordinary people have been brought to truly shocking limits, and in our daily lives, we can easily allow ourselves to gain personal power through the suffering of others, however large or small. Maligned populations often serve to lift up those who oppress them. A culture of bullying is claiming the lives of promising young people. We all know that children can be cruel to one another, mocking what it is they do not understand. But do we truly shed this trait as we get older?

Sinisa Labrovic is in the process of preparing performances for the coming season. The Croatian artist exhibits around the world. In London, he will undertake a performance titled Interview during which Labrovic will be interviewed in the style of an interrogation but with the sort of questions often posed to celebrities (who are you wearing, etc.). Eventually, the interview devolves into torture as Labrovic is unable to correctly answer the questions. The performance is largely unrehearsed and the torture methods are authentic. Labrovic’s methods fall in line with a tradition in performance art where artists put themselves in harm’s way. While some artists believe it is the responsibility of the audience to intervene, Labrovic does not necessarily follow this logic with regards to his performances, though there have been times when others have intervened. Labrovic supports whatever choices viewers make. “When you put yourself in this situation you are surprised that someone is suffering and you might decide very quickly what you should do…you might decide very quickly which risks you will take.”

Riva Lehrer is a Chicago based portrait artist (kind of). Lehrer explores issues of stigma in the context of the human body. Her portrait work is collaborative and based on an ethical practice. She begins with a conversation about the relationship of her subjects to their bodies. Lehrer works extensively in the queer community as well as with individuals who have some sort of physical impairment. Her work ties together how subjects relate to their bodies and what it is they do with their bodies for a living. Lehrer’s project The Risk Pictures involves subjects who come to her home for a three-hour sitting. At the two-hour mark, she leaves giving subjects total control of her home. She doesn’t ask what they do while she is gone. In this way, Lehrer renders herself as vulnerable as the subjects themselves. During the third hour alone, subjects are asked to use Lehrer’s art supplies to alter the portrait she has begun. Most of her subjects are not artists and Lehrer tries not to give instructions. She may respond to their alterations but she will not remove or change them. Following completion, Risk Pictures are exhibited and sold, usually to collectors. Lehrer recently penned an op-ed for the New York Times which garnered enormous attention. Publishers, galleries, museums, and radio programs reached out to her. Lehrer is now in the process of writing a book exploring many topics surrounding disability culture, which is still wildly underrepresented within the art world, and what she calls “bright luck and dark luck.”

A Few Words to Keep in your Pocket:

Make room for honesty. Observe your own mind and cast a light on your prejudices and possibly cruel intentions. It is only by witnessing our own behavior that we can hope to do best by all.

Additional interviews include Natasha Martin, Spurse, and Shimon Attie.

Interviews are available on iTunes as podcasts, and for Android please click here. All weekly essay pieces in a shareable format are here. The full archive of interviews here.

Books to Read

What are you reading? Add your titles to our reading list here.  Riva Lehrer is reading Inferno by Eileen Miles as well as Lincoln and the Bardo by George Saunders. Lehrer keeps different books in each room of her home.

Opportunities / Open Calls

The Washington Award is accepting applications. This award recognizes talent in the fields of dance, music, and visual arts. Winners in each category receive a $5,000 cash prize and are honored at the spring Washington Award Ceremony. The committee may designate a grand prize winner to receive an additional $5,000. Deadline for entry is October 5.

Deadlines

Weekly Edited Grant and Residency Deadlines – review the list here.

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