It was not your average scene from collegiate academia: Students raced around in paper crowns and face paint. The room went completely silent for 20 seconds, then returned to whooping, chatter, and singing. Everyone lay on the floor. Everyone got up. . . .
It may have been unorthodox, but English professor Dinah Ryan is happy to (occasionally) encourage such behavior in the interests of getting the creative juices flowing. In her recent class on Writers and Artists at Work, Dr. Ryan introduced her students to the TASK party, a concept propounded by distinguished contemporary artist, Oliver Herring. The seeds were planted when Ryan met Herring over spring break through her work as a critic of contemporary and visual culture.
“The basic idea of the Writers and Artists course is that the working practices of writers and artists are influenced by critical thought,” explains Ryan. And the TASK party’s improvisational and creative approach, she feels, “pushes you past the threshold of your habitual thinking.”
In a TASK event, participants write tasks on slips of paper, fold them, and place them in a box. The tasks are then drawn by other participants who must perform them. Activities can be done individually, with a few others, or may require all members of the event to participate (e.g. Get everyone to be silent for 20 seconds).
“TASK’s open-ended, participatory structure creates almost unlimited opportunities for a group of people to interact with one another and their environment,” says Herring. The German-born, Oxford-educated, New York based artist was featured on the PBS biennial series, Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century. In addition to working in sculpture, photography, and video, Herring helps plan and run TASK events, parties, and workshops around the country.
Herring, who graciously agreed to a 50-minute phone conference with the entire class, encouraged the students to make the event as welcoming as possible and to gather as many materials as they could. Class members brought cardboard, paper, markers, face paint, rollerblades, a camera, makeup, pillows, confetti, and even a bench and a Principia go-bike.
The end result was a raucous two hours in Holt Gallery. Students ran platoons, sang favorite songs, told lengthy stories, and even proposed marriage. More important, they thought in new ways, interacted openly, and learned new things about themselves.