Through an unfolding process alive with personalities and chance-taking, Herring's collaborative work in Denver eventually became the exhibition 31 Days, which opens today, September 18.
TASK curriculum he invented. Now adopted by galleries and art-school classrooms around the world, TASK asks people to share and follow instructions that often seem absurd, sometimes in a performative way. “It’s a credit to galleries willing to engage in such an adventure — it’s a real act of trust,” Herring notes.
At Emmanuel, things were no different. “This is the way I work in this situation,” he explains. “I build an infrastructure so I have the freedom to be flexible and work with people who cross my path and are sucked into the vortex.”
The open invitation attracted student groups, whole classes and random people simply interested in helping. Herring then took time to work with people individually, getting to know who they were and what kinds of tasks they were capable of handling in mental, physical and creative terms.
During the interviews, Herring, whose multimedia practice melds photography, video, textiles and performance, settled on the idea of creating a site-specific, two-sided quilt to pull together the growing feeling of common experience developing in the gallery space. “I’m not a fan of metaphors,” he admits, but he began to imagine a framework of enlarged portraits on cloth, which would be stitched together into a monumental two-sided curtain as an overarching symbol of shared time within a shifting group of people.
The enlarged portraits were printed on large cloth rectangles, and some of them have been further embellished with a scattering of sparkling Swarovski crystals to catch the gallery’s beautiful light. Herring, who’d been avoiding the daily news as a source of unnecessary stress and distraction, ended up incorporating headlines into the quilt’s structure as well.
Herring, who was influenced by the art/dance collaborations of Merce Cunningham, says this of his awkward, unschooled dances: “Performance is another way to engage curiosity.” As for the use of dance elements, he adds: “If you come at it from a non-dancer perspective, it’s almost something akin to sculpture — as something made of individual still lifes or tableaus.
“I started using dance ten years ago as means to an end,” he continues. “It pushes people out of their comfort zone. You’re too busy thinking about not tripping over yourself. But when non-dancers do movements akin to ballet, they internalize what dance does structurally — they relate that to their own experience. Really, it’s anti-dance.”
“I want this piece to still mean something twenty years from now in China,” he opines. “The quilt will go back to the studio and could have new lives. Imagine if you saw this twenty years from now in a museum: How would you want to be portrayed? It ends up looking backward as well as forward; it captures a moment of youth that you can never get back.
“We created a family,” Herring concludes. “It’s lovely, such an intimate way of getting to know each other.”
Oliver Herring: 31 Days opens at 5 p.m. Wednesday, September 18, and runs through December 14 at the Emmanuel Gallery, 1205 10th Street Plaza on the Auraria campus. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.weekdays.
Learn more about Oliver Herring and his work online.