Artifacts on the Loose

To view a copy of the manuscript click here: Artifacts on the Loose

To listen to a preview of the audio component click here: The Letter

Artifacts on the Loose is a performance in three parts exploring the implications of transgressing the subject-object division, the possibilities of envisioning animism within contemporary capitalist society, and potential forms of communicative exchange between people and things. The performance takes the form of what might best be called “theory-rooted speculative fiction”. At the dawn of 2013, a group of 22 objects escape from the holdings of a prestigious art institution. Baffled by the event, museum directors, curators, and staff are forced to speculate how and why these objects enacted an escape.

The first part of the performance is in the guise of a slide-lecture delivered by the director of the museum to address questions and concerns surrounding the event to the public. Though reaching no definite conclusion, the report centers on a list of artists, writers, and critical theorists suspected of aiding and abetting the escaped objects by creating a framework under which the objects began to envision themselves as animate.

The second part of the performance is the reading aloud of a letter sent to the museum director by the escaped objects with the purpose of declaring both their reasoning for enacting the escape and their independence from human theory in achieving their own animation, and finally to invite the museum directors to a subject-object conference to flesh out new ways of thinking about subjects and objects. An English translation of the letter is read over the original letter, which takes the form of a Morse code recording on cassette.

The conference takes the form of a short play (the third part of the performance) in which a family is gathered together for a psychometric séance to contact a lost loved one. The play takes its premise from the multiple definitions of the word séance: the gathering together of people for discussion/lecture or an investigation/exhibition of spiritualistic phenomena.  Though the goal of the séance is to communicate with the spirits of the dead through objects, the objects soon begin to rebel and speak out for themselves. What results is a discussion around the formulation of new terminology to consider objects and subjects, the formulation of new modes of communication between people and things, and steps towards a post-humanist world.


Continue reading for logistical details pertaining to the performance.


Logistical Details of the Performance/Lecture:

Approximate time: 20 – 25 min

The performance/lecture can be delivered by one speaker with the exception of the 3rd part, which requires six additional readers, either rehearsed or selected from the audience. All dates mentioned in the lecture will be adjusted to fit the date that the performance occurs; for example, while in the manuscript the conference/séance occurs on May 1st 2013, the date of the conference will always be updated to the current date, time, and location where script is being performed. This way the audience will know that by listening to or participating in the performance they are indeed attending the subject-object conference mentioned in the letter from the objects.

Between each of the three segments of the performance a small blurb of narration (printed on yellow post-it notes throughout the manuscript) is delivered to inform the audience of the overarching plot and connections between events.

The first part of the performance (THE SPEECH) is delivered by a professionally dressed individual stationed at a podium between two slide projectors. Each slide projector is situated so that the image it projects rests upon a pedestal or other surface, so that when objects are projected they boast the illusion of appearing in real space. Each projector is stocked with 11 glass slides of objects from the European Decorative Arts wing, de-accessioned from the Art Institute of Chicago’s slide library. Throughout the speech the speaker will flip through the 22 two slides, representing the 22 objects said to have escaped from the institution.

For the second part of the performance (THE LETTER) a tape will be revealed containing a message in Morse code sent from the escaped objects and delivered to the main desk at the Art Institute’s administrative office. The cassette tape will be played and an English transcription of the tape’s message will be read aloud at the podium.

The third part of the performance (THE CONFERENCE) can occur in one of two ways: either with a small cast of rehearsed readers, or with audience participation. If performed by a small cast, the performers will gather around a table and begin the play shortly after the transitional narration is read. Performers will be equipped with the following as mentioned in the script: a Ouija board, a bag of scrabble tiles, and a set of plastic alpha-numeric refrigerator magnets. During the play whenever a performer is spelling out a message transmitted by a spirit they will spell the message out with the Ouija board/scrabble tiles/refrigerator magnets. Performers will either speak the messages as they are spelling them out or pre-recorded voices will be played while performers are spelling out the text so that the audience can glean the message without seeing the text. Live video feeds or overhead projectors can also be used if desired. If the play is performed without a rehearsed cast, prior to the performance a small group of audience members will be asked to participate and given highlighted scripts with a cue to assemble and begin reading. After the transitional narration is read, the selected audience members will gather around a table and begin reading with guidance from the main speaker. When reading messages transmitted by spirits, participants will either read their lines without the use of Ouija board/scrabble tiles/refrigerator magnets, or will spell out messages with these tools while pre-recorded voices are played (cued by the main speaker). At the end of the play one performer (transmitting the voice of an object) will ask if anyone else in the room has any comments or questions; this will serve as the end of the performance/lecture and an invitation for audience-participant discussion.


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