Monday, November 3, 2008

Open Learning: Protesting Performance at UBCO

My name is Chad Pratch and I am a fourth year Fine Arts student at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. I have been studying primarily in the practice of sculpture and performance. My artistic motivations have seemed to take on a theme of social interaction, with an aspect of participatory practice. Self expression to me is social reflection, because I believe the make up of an individual is a product of his or her surrounding society. As a fourth year student in the Fine Arts program, there is a motivation by the faculty to push their fourth year students to find their own individual style of expression. Through this motivation to “find my art” I have recently run up against a massive road block. I am writing to you on the hopes of gaining some insight on the subject of “Hate Speech” and “Free Speech” in order to find a way to respectfully engage these issues. I understand that you may have been involved with these subjects either by chance or by choice. I have been doing a performance piece at UBCO and the subjects of hate speech and free speech have come up. There has been a division of acceptance between the student and the institution. The students have embraced my piece and  institution has not. I have been cautioned by my professors and our department head Nancy Holmes to stop what I am doing for now until I can come up with a better plan of action. Their suggestion of a better plan is to not incorporate the issues of hate speech or free speech. If I do not listen to them and keep going with this performance piece I could be sent to a tribunal at UBC Vancouver where my academic standing could be at risk. 

 Before I explain what the performance is here is some of the protests I have done at UBCO:

"End women's Suffrage" " Stop Protesting" Random Hugs and Kisses" "Gaming should be a course" "Lower our tuition" "OJ is Innocent, If the glove doesn't fit you should acquit" 

"Make a Friend Touch a Bum" "Men Shouldn't Treat Women Like Crap in Relationships" We need Cheaper food on Campus" "PHD's Do Not Make A Great Teacher! Learn To Teach!!!" 

"I Protest People who Voted Conservative did you vote for a Recession?" "Lower the age of Consent" "Women should have the Right of Choice"

 "White Supremacy: Black people are less then white people. This protest is ok it was down by a black person" 

"Women shouldn't have the same rights as Men" " Keep walking, put your head down, Mind your own fucking business and shut the fuck up!" 

I have done approximately 300 different protest on campus.

Here is a clear explanation as to what I am doing:

I see this piece as:

Social experiment, satirical performance, improve, social reflective experiment, investigation on opinions and agenda, human rights demonstration, reflection of ownership of ideas, opinions and consequences for opinions experiment.

I am:

Not protesting on behalf of my personally belief system. Coincidentally I may encounter a protest that I believe in; however that being said I will not let that coincidence effect my commitment to that protest. If on the other hand I encounter a protest that is counter to my personal opinion, I will still treat that protest as if it was my personal opinion. To summarize, I am a completely objective performer, a venue, who is simply providing a service of projecting ideas. Any protests that are given to me, will be given equal effort in the name of its cause.

How it works:

I bring blank posters to my destination ( usually a place where there is a higher density of people) I begin to inform my audience that I am a “Protest for hire, free of charge.” I also inform them that they can come to my blank posters and write down whatever they want to have me protest. I at no time write down or protest anything on my own behalf. Once I feel my announcement was made clearly to everyone, I then commence the protesting. I will take the pirst protest that I see and protest that sign for five to ten minutes. After finishing one protest I then proceed to the next written poster. I finish my performance once all of the paper has been utilized so approximately thirty to forty protests.

Artist Statement:

This piece began in my studio while talking about various issues and art projects with other artist that attend this school. I was hashing out some ideas and personal philosophical viewpoints referring to the state that our society is in today. I am very politically active and currant to local and international events. While we casually talked about things we began to come up with a consensus as to the strange complacency to issues at this campus and Kelowna in general. It seems as though Kelowna and UBCO don’t really have a distinct voice and that theme is trickled down to the citizens and students. We spoke more on the topic and found ourselves talk on a more broder sense, talking about art and Canada. It seems to me that if someone wants to be heard in Canada they need to go somewhere else. They need to be heard or recognize internationally to be heard or recognize here at home.  Lisa Snelling a fellow art student that is also in her fourth year, suggested that I create some kind of protest performance. Like most ideas and conversations about ideas, this thought about protesting found a seat in the back burner of my mind. At that time I was massively immersed in a different project of which was taking up most of my time and thought. I was so immersed in this project that other projects began to fall behind. It was a commission sculpture for some local aboriginal groups. The sculpture was based around the idea of reeducating aboriginal culture back into the youth. Byron Johnson my advisers for my primary fourth year studio course saw this problem and alarmed me of the destructive quality this kind of art practice could have on my creativity. Bryron informed me and inspired me to find another outlet, another piece in order to keep me from closing off and having a one minded focus. He wanted me to do something fast, something spontaneous, something that would surprise me. All I was doing up until the point I had this conversation with Byron was highly planed art pieces. Directly after my conversation with Byron the protest piece went from storage to the forefront. I had no idea as to what I was going to perform, all I knew was that I was going to protest. So all I did was create two blank protest signs and walk out into the UBCO courtyard. I stood in front of the student service building with my blank signs for quite some time. I began to walk back in forth, to mimic the picket line protesting. Allot of the viewers seem to just ignore me at first. After about fifteen minutes of protesting people started to get curious as to what I was doing. A couple people began asking me why and what I was protesting. The first thing that came out of my mouth was “Whatever you want me to protest.” This is where the project began. I felt like I needed to say something more then just my personal agenda, this was it. Since that day I have been protesting for almost three weeks now. The piece has become a surprise.  To minimize my subjectivity in the piece I inform the viewers and participants that “I am a protester for hire, anything that you want me to protest, I will protest for you, all you have to do is go to that table right there and write down your protest on one of those posters, then I will protest it for you.”  Any opinions someone has, all they have to do is write it down on a blank poster and I then take the poster and begin my protest. Each protest I do, lasts about five to ten minutes. I try to focus on each protest with the same intensity. The piece has changed over time but one thing that has stayed the same is the openness of opinion. Anyone can say anything and that in my mind is key to the future success of this work. I have created an open forum where a dialog can begin. This piece is an intervention of voices, where at one moment students are following their daily routine, then at another students are being bombarded by protests. This piece in my mind is to stir up some kind of discourse or debate, something that will start the channels of communication to flow more freely.

 At this point in the project the piece is just at its baby stages. I have nothing but questions. There are so many levels to this piece that I truly need more time to understand. I am reflecting on different artist that have went down a similar road. Artist like Hans Haacke, Joseph BueyGillian Wearing and Sam Durant. I believe this piece connects more with Hans Haacke do to the fact that Hans Haacke seemed to always stay currant and entrenched within the issues of the times. It is very easy to look back five year ago and reflect on what was and what could have been. Haacke reacted to his social surroundings in a way that flowed cohesively with the times. Haacke’s MoMA poll was a work that asked the viewer “Would the fact that Governor Rockefeller has not denounced President Nixon’s Indochina Policy be a reason for you not voting for him in November?” He presented the viewer with tow ballot boxes (made of plexi-glass). At the end of his show twice as many yes ballots then no ballots were cast. Rockefeller was a art trustee for MaMA at this time.

I performed this piece from Oct 7th to Oct 27th    an hour a day every weekday. I usually performed either at the end of the school day, so around 3pm or 4pm or at noon do to the height of traffic from students go to and from classes.  

Let me know what you think and if you think I should keep doing this performance or not email me at