The Thing: An Automatic Workshop in Everyday Disruption

The Thing: An Automatic Workshop in Everyday Disruption
Ant Hampton & Christophe Meierhans
Presented by Times Square Arts

September – November 2018

Role: Producer

Ant Hampton and Christophe Meierhans make contemporary performances and improvised circumstances that blur and transform the traditional notions of participation and spectatorship.

Ant Hampton’s works mine the tension between fixed, unchangeable elements in society and instances that need to be lived and negotiated in the moment. His “Autoteatro” series explores a new kind of self-generating performance that functions automatically: there is no audience beyond the participants who follow a series of fixed instructions to perform the work by and for themselves. Recently, his practice has been marked by a step away from the idea of art as a safe and autonomous space toward works in which a participating “audience” takes meaningful risks to experience real consequence.

Christophe Meierhans’ artistic practice is dedicated to deconstructing and reconstructing the basic social mechanisms, which turn a person into a spectator. Working alone and collaboratively, Meierhans develops politically engaged and often participatory theater works and interventions into the public domain. Previous works include a constitutional rewriting project, an anarchist cooking show, and staged postcards inviting people to participate in scenes from the future.

The Thing: An Automatic Workshop in Everyday Disruption is a workshop, a journey, and an “automatic” performance for a self-led group of participants who will explore the overlap between the ways in which you can challenge the world and the ways in which you can challenge yourself. It is simultaneously private and public, collaborative and individual. Unlike other workshops, there is no charismatic expert to lead The Thing; only the twelve participants are present, opening a suitcase filled with texts, supplies, bits of video, and equipment, and following a wild mix of cues that function as an automatic guide. These instructions, examples, and cues create the space and circumstances for each workshop participant to devise an individual “thing” — a beautiful, urgent, disruptive, and inclusive action that you would not normally do. While potentially outside the bounds of socially accepted behavior, this “thing” is nevertheless eminently doable.

“We think of The Thing as a claim on your capacities. It sounds serious, and in many ways, it is, but like any good teaching experience or performance, the piece is also entertaining, surprising — something you can enjoy.”

– Ant Hampton & Christophe Meierhans

Taking place over four sessions in the Times Square Alliance’s conference room, overlooking the lights and rhythms of Times Square, The Thing creates the necessary conditions for taking a leap of faith, daring you to step outside your comfort zone and enact another possible version of yourself — to insist, as David Graeber describes, “on acting as if one is already free.” The workshop aims above all to leave you at a point of having identified and imaginatively amplified your potential to surpass yourself.

While the workshop guides you to the point of pledging to do your “thing,” what happens after those four sessions is ultimately up to you. The efforts and personal risks you take in carrying out your “thing” — or whether you have carried it out at all — will remain a mystery to the artists, organizers, and even your fellow participants unless you choose to share it with them.

Times Square Arts’ presentation of The Thing is the U.S. premiere, marking the eighth country in which the workshop has taken place and a continued global lineage of strangers connected through their experience in and commitment to doing “the Thing.”

“We are living in times when the problems we face seem to multiply daily. Human inequality and environmental damage, for example, have reached proportions both obscene and critical. Why don’t we do something? There is a sense of being stuck, blocked. We like to think that art can at the very least unblock, and of this workshop especially as a kind of de-blocking agent, principally by working towards a practice, accessible to anyone and drawing from a variety of disciplines, of creating moments of exception; something like a conscious insertion of a parenthesis into daily life within which one’s normal behavior can be suspended and where deviation finds legitimacy.

“We are interested in art which isn’t cut off from the real world, considering itself in some kind of safe or ‘autonomous’ space. We’re interested absolutely in real consequences and situations. It’s possible to feel a kind of legitimacy to act differently, to do things that are outside of or beyond your normal scope. If that usually comes with a feeling of dread, The Thing is about transforming it into an exhilaration — a joy grounded in urgency and conviction.”

– Ant Hampton & Christophe Meierhans