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In “Areas for Action,” You’re the Artist and Anything Can Happen

Next week, Emersonians can close out the semester by throwing bottles of paint and showering themselves in glitter as they participate in improvisational participatory performance art alongside world-renowned experimental artist Oliver Herring.

The performances will take place at 80 Mason Street—a vacant storefront in downtown Boston and now a studio and gallery space for Visual and Media Arts faculty and students—as part of Herring’s Areas for Action series.

Areas for Action consists of eight-hour performances during which contributors are invited to improvise and explore various materials common in artistic work, from paint to props to choreography. While he knows there will be food coloring, aluminum foil, paint, and lots of glitter, Herring says there is no way to know exactly how each improvisational piece will turn out, or what any of these installations will look like.

“These performances are special,” Herring said in his preview presentation in the Beard Room on April 25, “especially for those who participate in them.”

Foster Chair in Contemporary Art Theory and Practice and Distinguished Curator-in-Residence Joseph Ketner organized Areas for Action at Emerson as part of the Urban Arts Program. There will be five performances from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm daily, May 3–7, with a closing reception to follow the final performance. Over the summer, Herring will edit the footage and still images he records of the performances, and he will create an exhibit in the fall at the same venue.

“The main objective is to really generate something that surprises us,” he said at the presentation. “That’s actually really difficult…I’d like to throw myself into situations where we don’t have a safety net, where we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Herring described the conception of his installation in a commercial art gallery in New York. He said he opened his performance to participants with an online application, and soon he had dozens of people who wanted to partake. He said the majority were strangers, and over half traveled for the performance. Herring said the installations often start small but grow as the audience becomes involved.

“All I’m trying to do,” he said, “is find value in the process, not just the final product.”

According to Herring, Areas for Action does not have a political agenda and has toured across the globe. At the introductory meeting, he showed video clips from his installations in China and a similar project in Japan.

“It’s an adventure; it’s an incredible opportunity to actually connect with whoever is joining you,” he said. “I will know so much about you, and you will know so much about me, simply from having gone through this adventure together. Hopefully we’ll come out at the other end and produce something that’s worth remembering.”

Members of the Emerson community are encouraged to attend and participate in the installations. The performances will be open to the public, but participation requires advance signup. Anyone interested can email, but act fast, as spots are limited.

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