New York

Tim Etchells

P.S. 122

While not exactly a school or a genre per se, the lecture-performance has a history all its own that is just beginning to be examined for its own merits. Recent practitioners in the art context range from Andrea Fraser to Walid Raad; earlier iterations include Robert Morris’s 21.3.1964, in which the artist lip-synched to a projection of Erwin Panofsky delivering his lectures on Studies in Iconology; Bernar Venet’s invitations (1967–71) to experts to present lectures in a range of subjects to accompany his own painted scientific diagrams; and Joseph Beuys’s famously engaging lecture-actions. Mostly practiced by artists who also do other things, lectures often serve to query not only what the artists are doing but also topical subject matter and artistic practice, like reality versus mediation or interdisciplinarity. Implied in the course of performing is the question Is this a real lecture, or am I faking it? No performer expects viewer feedback as such, although there is a sense that a process of self-discovery unravels in the telling.

Tim Etchells’s solo performance, Instructions for Forgetting, was more in the style of a graduate seminar than a lecture per se. Seated at a table and dressed in street clothes, Etchells began with an explanation of the structure behind the work that also functioned as a description of what was to come: “I ask my friends to send stories and videotapes. For the stories, I ask for things that are true. The topics can be anything. I ask for short reports on things that have happened in the world. For the tapes I say, ‘Don’t make me anything special—send what you have.’ I say, ‘I’m sure whatever you choose is bound to be right.’” Between reading seg- ments aloud from letters and starting and stopping videotapes, which played on three monitors at the front, center, and rear of the stage, Etchells said these words several times during the one-hundred-minute performance, almost as a way of limiting viewer expectations. Remember (he seemed to be saying), this is a work of reality, not fiction. The letters from friends—“Dear Tim, In the end I moved out of the house. It was too big and I was too lonely”—are just as they’ve been described; the videos—which include a clip of Etchells’s young son retelling the sinking of the Titanic by biting into a cookie and another showing English soccer star and poseur George Best—were made for fun, not art. The points Etchells made about sincerity and verity were well taken. Only the title suggested the possibility of metaphoric afterthought, hinting that meaning might emerge from the juxtaposition of ordinary narratives.

Colloquial language as the link between audience and performer has been the modus operandi of the much-heralded British performance group Forced Entertainment since its founding by Etchells and five fellow art and theater students in Sheffield, England, in 1984. Highly skilled at connecting with viewers (most photographs show the performers in a row, facing the audience squarely) via everyday subject matter—whether it be the latest news from Downing Street or British television shows—they usually keep their audiences absorbed, often with a defiant lack of theatricality, sometimes for hours on end. This solo made fewer demands on the audience but nevertheless served as a pointed introduction to the ethos and style of Forced Entertainment as a whole.

RoseLee Goldberg