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July 2nd, 2008 HEATHER WISNER | Books
 

Information Station

Tahni Holt's brainchild Information Studio was a remote-controlled icebreaker.

     
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IMAGE: www.tahniholt.com

Spending a sweaty Saturday in an airless room silently touching strangers might not sound like a good time. But Information Studio—a combination of Twister, sociology experiment and art happening—was actually a lot of fun. Every half hour at the weekend-long event June 27-29 (conceived by choreographer Tahni Holt), groups of four people entered a small office space in PSU's Smith Memorial Union and for the next 20 minutes, performed a remotely orchestrated dance together.

The dancers weren't dancers necessarily. When I signed up for a Saturday afternoon shift, I was joined by Ivy, a slim, blonde personal chef; Eric, a tall, blond data analyst; and Stephen, a white-bearded painter (Stephen knew Holt; Ivy had heard about the event from a friend and dragged Eric along). Holt's partner led us into the room, the floor of which was divided into numbered masking-tape squares and littered with big wads of white construction paper and notes taped to the wall. We each got a nametag with just a letter on it—mine was C—and a note from the person who had last had worn it (mine said, "Be cool like the cloud you are." After brief instructions, we donned headphones attached to CD players. On the count of "Three, two, one," we turned the players on, and Holt's voice began telling each of us what to do. We started facing a wall of windows: "Leave an imprint," Holt's voice said, and I touched my elbow to the glass. The challenge of the piece was not in the movement itself—"walk to square 19," "move like bubbling lava/wind/a washing machine"—but in the logistics. Ivy (also known as A) and I had to walk in slow motion while attached at the shoulders, and with our arms around each other's shoulders, we all had to shuffle backward to another square without stepping on toes or tripping on each other's CD player cords. Because we couldn't speak to one another, we had to rely on gestures and expressions; at one point, I thought Eric and I were crumpling up the wrong piece of paper with our feet to make the cloud Holt asked for, but I just had to go with it.

And that was what propelled Information Studio, more or less. Holt said the pleasure in viewing was watching how differently people interpreted her instructions. The group dynamic (friends vs. strangers, women vs. men, dancers vs. nondancers) altered the look of the work, as did one person's more obviously dance-y moves or uninhibited enthusiasm. The next person to wear the C nametag bounced to the sludgy feedback I knew she was hearing, and flattened her nose against the glass to leave her imprint. Ultimately, the "information" was what we made of it.

 
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