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Q&A: Performance artist Oliver Herring discusses his appearance at UNC

The Daily Tar Heel staff writer Sam Jacobson had a chance to talk to artist-in-residence Oliver Herring. On Saturday, Herring will lead a group through a TASK Party. He discusses his career and TASKS below.

Daily Tar Heel: Talk about how your work has developed over the years.

Oliver Herring: The first TASK I did was in 2002. It came out of a series of videos that I worked on that had been conceived under similar conditions in a very open-ended way.

Attend the TASK

Time: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday

Location: Gerrard Hall


I opened up my studio to anyone over the course of two or three months, and I had people come in on a daily basis, and the idea was to generate something on the spot with these strangers. It was an experiment.

DTH: Explain what TASK is.

Herring: TASK is an outlet consisting of three ingredients. You need space, you need some materials and some people.

It’s a very basic setup. But each person who participates commits himself or herself to procedural rules to write a TASK — it can be anything like stand on one leg, start a revolution, hug your mother, build a fortress, whatever — and once you’ve written that TASK, you deposit it in the TASK pool.

Then you pick a TASK from that pool and interpret it with whatever is around. All this material, all these people suddenly become part of your arsenal.

Once you deem your TASK completed, you write a new TASK, deposit it back in the pool and so on.

So if you have hundreds of people doing that, it becomes very chaotic, very open-ended. Anything in theory becomes possible.

DTH: Do you have a favorite material?

Herring: People. I like people. I think people are really interesting.

DTH: How does TASK fit in to the framework of art?

Herring: I’m less preoccupied with that question. The easy answer would be because I’m an artist, so what I do is art.

But a more nuanced answer would be that it’s not that important because it addresses a need, and that need trumps the categories of whether it is art or not.

There was a need. I responded to it, and if I was a doctor or lawyer I would probably do something similar, except with a different avenue.

Ultimately, it’s about trying to be a responsible citizen or human being.

DTH: Do you have any expectations for the way UNC students will respond to it?

Herring: I think the reason I am focusing so much on social interaction is because I’ve done a string of TASKS in universities. On campus, to engage with each other seems to be the most pressing need. I think that will happen again.

DTH: What satisfaction do you get from doing TASK?

Herring: I operate from the belief that art can be actually useful. (laughs) Not to say that an inanimate object in a museum isn’t useful.

I’ve had very useful experiences and educational experiences with that. But I think they need to be more interactive, engaging, adventurous, open-ended, messy, paradoxical experience with art, because art at its best can provide exactly that. It can provide these really amazing outlets. And I don’t think there are enough of them, so that’s what satisfies me.

I will be a very happy person at the end of this TASK, not because I get anything out of it materially, but because I know that it works as a tool.

I know that some people who participate will really get something out of it. It will really change part of their perspective on art; also, in terms of how they can function socially with each other, and that’s just an amazingly satisfying worthwhile experience to have. I live for these moments.

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