The Thing: An Automatic Workshop in Everyday Disruption
Ant Hampton and Christophe Meierhans make contemporary performances and improvised circumstances that blur and transform the traditional notions of participation and spectatorship.
Ant Hampton’s works mine the tension between fixed, unchangeable elements in society and instances that need to be lived and negotiated in the moment. His “Autoteatro” series explores a new kind of self-generating performance that functions automatically: there is no audience beyond the participants who follow a series of fixed instructions to perform the work by and for themselves. Recently, his practice has been marked by a step away from the idea of art as a safe and autonomous space toward works in which a participating "audience" takes meaningful risks to experience real consequence.
Christophe Meierhans’ artistic practice is dedicated to deconstructing and reconstructing the basic social mechanisms, which turn a person into a spectator. Working alone and collaboratively, Meierhans develops politically engaged and often participatory theater works and interventions into the public domain. Previous works include a constitutional rewriting project, an anarchist cooking show, and staged postcards inviting people to participate in scenes from the future.
The Thing: An Automatic Workshop in Everyday Disruption is a workshop, a journey, and an “automatic” performance for a self-led group of participants who will explore the overlap between the ways in which you can challenge the world and the ways in which you can challenge yourself. It is simultaneously private and public, collaborative and individual. Unlike other workshops, there is no charismatic expert to lead The Thing; only the twelve participants are present, opening a suitcase filled with texts, supplies, bits of video, and equipment, and following a wild mix of cues that function as an automatic guide. These instructions, examples, and cues create the space and circumstances for each workshop participant to devise an individual “thing” — a beautiful, urgent, disruptive, and inclusive action that you would not normally do. While potentially outside the bounds of socially accepted behavior, this “thing” is nevertheless eminently doable.
“We think of The Thing as a claim on your capacities. It sounds serious, and in many ways, it is, but like any good teaching experience or performance, the piece is also entertaining, surprising — something you can enjoy.”
- Ant Hampton & Christophe Meierhans
Taking place over four sessions in the Times Square Alliance’s conference room, overlooking the lights and rhythms of Times Square, The Thing creates the necessary conditions for taking a leap of faith, daring you to step outside your comfort zone and enact another possible version of yourself — to insist, as David Graeber describes, “on acting as if one is already free.” The workshop aims above all to leave you at a point of having identified and imaginatively amplified your potential to surpass yourself.
While the workshop guides you to the point of pledging to do your “thing,” what happens after those four sessions is ultimately up to you. The efforts and personal risks you take in carrying out your “thing” — or whether you have carried it out at all — will remain a mystery to the artists, organizers, and even your fellow participants unless you choose to share it with them.
Times Square Arts’ presentation of The Thing is the U.S. premiere, marking the eighth country in which the workshop has taken place and a continued global lineage of strangers connected through their experience in and commitment to doing “the Thing.”
“We are living in times when the problems we face seem to multiply daily. Human inequality and environmental damage, for example, have reached proportions both obscene and critical. Why don’t we do something? There is a sense of being stuck, blocked. We like to think that art can at the very least unblock, and of this workshop especially as a kind of de-blocking agent, principally by working towards a practice, accessible to anyone and drawing from a variety of disciplines, of creating moments of exception; something like a conscious insertion of a parenthesis into daily life within which one’s normal behavior can be suspended and where deviation finds legitimacy.
“We are interested in art which isn’t cut off from the real world, considering itself in some kind of safe or ‘autonomous’ space. We’re interested absolutely in real consequences and situations. It’s possible to feel a kind of legitimacy to act differently, to do things that are outside of or beyond your normal scope. If that usually comes with a feeling of dread, The Thing is about transforming it into an exhilaration — a joy grounded in urgency and conviction.”
- Ant Hampton & Christophe Meierhans
The Thing Schedule:
September 8th 11am-3pm
September 15th 11am-4pm
September 22nd 11am-2pm
September 29th 11am-3pm
October 6th 11am-3pm
October 13th 11am-4pm
October 20th 11am-2pm
October 27th 11am-3pm
October 20th 4pm-8pm
October 27th 4pm-9pm
November 3rd 11am-2pm
November 10th 11am-3pm
November 17th Time TBD — Meeting and discussion with Ant Hampton and Christophe Meierhans
Ant Hampton (b. 1975, lives and works in Germany) is a British artist, writer, and performance maker. His work began in 1998 under the name of Rotozaza. Since 2007, his Autoteatro series tours widely and includes Etiquette, The Quiet Volume, Cue China, OK OK, This Is Not My Voice Speaking, The Extra People, and Crazy but True. Ant often collaborates with other artists, including Tim Etchells, Christophe Meierhans, Britt Hatzius, Glen Neath, Gert-Jan Stam, Ivana Müller, and Anna Rispoli.
Ant Hampton’s performance works vary greatly in content and tone, yet always involve an explicit tension between, on the one hand, formal or structural elements that are fixed and unchangeable, and on the other, what has to be lived and negotiated in the moment. Since 1999, he has explored a strategy of guiding people through unrehearsed performance situations. This began with works in front of an audience where guest performers, different every time and often non-professional, would agree to follow instructions without any prior preparation. Later, this developed to include the audience themselves, in often small-scale and intimate formats such as cafes (Etiquette) and library reading-rooms (The Quiet Volume). More recently Ant’s practice has been marked by a step away from the idea of art as a safe or autonomous space towards works (Someone Else, The Thing) where a participating ‘audience’ take meaningful risks and experience real consequence.
Christophe Meierhans (b. 1977, lives and works in Brussels, Belgium), was trained as a composer at the Amsterdam Conservatory and at the University of the Arts in Berlin, before he rapidly drifted towards performance and theatre. His work comprises performances, public art interventions, media installations, short films, publications, and music. It has been presented in many parts of Europe. Christophe is a founding member of the duo TAPE THAT and was a co-founder of the Brussels-based collective C&H. He is artist in residence at the Kaaitheatre in Brussels for the 2017-2022 period as well as associated artist to the Nouveau Théâtre de Montreuil, Paris.
Christophe Meierhans’ first productions, realized mostly with the C&H collective, were essentially dedicated to a deconstructing and reconstructing of the basic social mechanisms which turn a person into a spectator. (Bühnenstück, 2005, Konspiration, 2006) The collective then turned toward a practice of interventions in the public domain with “Postcards from the Future” (developed in different cities between 2007 and 2011 and culminated in 2010-2011 with a series of performances involving 9 different populations of the city of Brussels. Since 2013, Christophe develops a politically engaged and often participatory theatre, either on his own, as with the constitutional rewriting project Some use for your broken clay pots (touring since 2014 across Europe) or the anarchist cooking show Verein zur Aufhebung des Notwendigen — a hundred wars to world peace, or in collaboration with other artists such as Luigi Coppola, with Fondo Speculativo di Providenza, a monetary dispositive aiming at turning a festival audience into a political community, or Ant Hampton, with The Thing, an entirely automated 16 hour workshop-performance.
Concept and Creation: Ant Hampton & Christophe Meierhans
Video Production: Luca Mattei
Coding and Electronics: Toby Duckworth
Creative Producer: Livia Piazza
Times Square Arts’ presentation of The Thing is a U.S. premiere. The Thing received development support from Das Theater, Amsterdam; Studio support from Kunstenwerkplaats Pianofabriek, Brussels. Thanks to Agnieszka Kurant, James Plummer, Ella Ziegler.
The Thing was originally coproduced by Auawirleben Theaterfestival Bern, Kaaitheater Brussels, West Kowloon Cultural Development Hong Kong, Theatre & Dance Department at Iceland Academy of the Arts Reykjavik, Zeitraumexit Mannheim, Techne — eine Produktionplattform von Theater Rampe und Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, Over het IJ Festival Amsterdam, Nouveau Théâtre de Montreuil, FAR° Festival Nyon.
Image courtesy of Danny Perez for Times Square Arts. The parenthesis motif bears a serendipitous resemblance to the work of Gregory Edelein, who inspired the development of The Thing.