April 4, 2011  |  Events & Programs
Educator Journal: Stop or I’ll Shoot! Performance and Photography

Teens displaying their photographic masks in Central Park

Through a series of adventurous performance-based actions, the teens in our “Stop Or I’ll Shoot!” workshops have formed themselves into a functioning arts collective to negotiate and investigate ideas surrounding public and private space, altered perceptions, and challenging interactions. The group built trust and community by making themselves vulnerable, taking small chances together to express art through their bodies, and capturing this physical work through the medium of photography. In this Educator Journal, teaching artist Rebecca Goyette reflects on one of the group’s first forays into creating a public piece of performance-based art.

Calder Zwicky, Associate Educator, Teen and Community Programs

Around our fourth week of workshops, the Stop or I’ll Shoot! Collective and I created a site-specific event to be performed among Central Park’s snowy hills. We talked about this performance as being an intervention into the daily routine of the park’s visitors, as well as being a perceptual game for ourselves as performers. Each teen wore a white Tyvek suit, to create a unified public presence, and was armed with an industrial strength glow stick, to connect themselves to the other members of the group without physically touching.

From left: teens blindly explore their surroundings; teens form a "perfect circle" through touching and hearing

The week before our Central Park performance, the teens and I had discussed Marina Abramović and her idea that performance is real, while acting simulates a real experience or emotion. We wanted to explore our own emotions and see if we could answer the question: could we intentionally make emotional faces, which were also completely real? In attempts to capture the reality of our feelings, the teens tasted extremely flavorful foods (wasabi, honey, etc.), screamed at the top of their lungs, made themselves dizzy, made each other laugh, and even sang opera to access real changes in their facial expressions. The photographs they took of each other were then printed out and made into masks with no eye holes. We wore these masks over our physical faces to finish our performance attire.

Clad in this costume of Tyvek suit and photo mask, our group embarked on our performance. We formed a line in the park and started to move through the snow, connected only by our glow sticks, snaking around the hilly landscape. We then tried to move from a line formation into a “perfect circle.” Again, this was all taking place without any of us being able to see. The chain was broken many times, and some of us became detached entirely from the group. At one point there were two circles. Movement was awkward, as some senses were deprived while others were heightened. The group learned to be patient, to listen to each other, and to try and perceive where sounds and emotions were coming from.

From left: more images from the Central Park performance; teens, masks, and Tyvek suits

One collaborator remarked that her inability to see while performing in public made her imagine a huge audience of onlookers. Another collaborator became separated and felt abandoned, not knowing how far away she was from the Collective, until she heard the photographers approaching, which reassured her that she wasn’t totally alone out there.

Clusters formed, connections were lost, pockets of panic erupted until chaos gave way to calm as the artists realized that they needed to be present and attune in order to connect with each other. Dusk fell. We formed the circle. After performing in the snow for about an hour and a half, we collectively became really frozen all at once. That’s when we knew we were done.

Once back in MoMA’s studio, we warmed up for a few minutes, thinking we were packing it in for the night. In a burst of creativity, someone got the idea to turn out the lights in the room and let the glow sticks do the talking. Another spontaneous performance erupted! We gathered around each performer and created lines of light in front of their faces. Drawing in space, we framed each person, becoming his or her fan club, paparazzi, and co-conspirators. Performers experienced this as being showered with an overwhelming amount of attention.

From left: teens setting up photos during the impromptu second performance; more neon and photography

In the weeks ahead, our Central Park performance gave us a great platform to build upon as a collective, and many more incredible visual and conceptual ideas were generated by the experience.

Summer 2011’s In the Making class descriptions and online applications are now available at the MoMA Teens website.