Theater & Performance Art Interactive Installation & Digital Performance

How to Explain Pictures to a Live PARO (2017)

How to Explain Pictures to a Live PARO

By Sahar Sajadieh

Pictorial Installation: Mengyu Chen and Sahar Sajadieh

“How to Explain Pictures to a Live PARO” is an interactive durational performance artwork about gun control policies in the US, and the safety and security of students. It is an invitation to a conversation about these issues and a tribute to the students who have lost their lives in shooting incidents at schools. The artist performed with PARO, a robotic baby harp seal (a therapeutic robot), which is scientifically proven to be helpful in hospitals, elderly houses, and trauma therapy. PARO has come to help facilitate the interaction, communication, and healing through a dialogue that has been long postponed in our community.

This artwork is a digital “performance revisit”* of Joseph Beuys’s “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare.” The original performance was about Beuys’s relationship with his artworks and his frustration with “explaining art” to the people intellectually. He completely ignored the audience in his performance and talked to a dead hare for 3 hours about his artworks. This performance revisit, however, is an invitation to the audience to interact with the artwork and talk about the pictures on the wall, which are polemical and disturbing. The pictures are of the victims of every mass shooting that has happened in the last eight years in American schools. In the room there are Twitter feeds updating live from popular gun control hashtags with different perspectives, in conversation with one another: #guncontrol, #stopgunviolence, #gunviolence, #gunsense, #2a, #nra. Despite various efforts and conversations over the course of the last presidency, school shootings are still clearly a big problem in our society. Now that we are entering a new era with a new presidency, what should we do as a community to hopefully put an end to this violence as soon as possible?

*“Performance Revisit”–as opposed to “performance re-enactment”–is a term that I have created for my practice-based research, which refers to the construction of an original performance artwork in order to remember and respond to a previously-presented historical performance piece. While “Performance Re-enactment” (or “Re-performance”) is usually referred to the act of preservation of a past performance by reviving it into a new performance event, and the replication of the old one as accurate as possible, usually with archival purposes in mind, “Performance Revisit” does not attempt to function as an accurate living archive of the previously-performed work. The new performance revisit (or “Revisiting Performance”) is in fact only inspired by the historical artwork, and by no means a replication or simulation of that piece. In other words, a “Performance Revisit” is a repositioned, re-contextualized, and (Deleuzian) re-territorialized version of the older performance work, which problematizes and makes an analytical dialectic around the similar dominant themes or concepts in both.

How to Explain Pictures to a Live Paro

Art Exhibition: 

  • 2017: Glass Box Gallery, Art Department, UCSB
  • 2017: Santa Barbara Center for Arts Science and Technology (SBCAST), Santa Barbara, CA

This performance reenactment, similar to Beuy’s piece, took 3 hours in total. The first hour and half, the artist was locked inside the gallery interacting with Paro. And the second hour and a half was for the audience members to walk inside the space, look at the pictures, and hold and interact with Paro.

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