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D.C.’s network of surveillance and traffic cameras has been much criticized. This weekend, however, government-installed video cameras will be the medium for protests rather than the target of them.
For two days the Floating Lab Collective will stage performance-art protests in front of cameras throughout the city. Conceptual artist and event organizer Edgar Endress has entered the piece—titled “Protesting on Demand”—into “Multimediale,” a multimedia arts festival running from April 19n22.
“We want to engage people who don’t normally engage in the contemporary [political] discourse,” says the 36-year-old Manassas resident, who is also an assistant professor of Art and Visual Technology at George Mason University. “So the further away we get from doing a typical political protest, the more intrigued they’ll become.”
Four groups of four artists will set up at points throughout the city to protest in front of surveillance and traffic cameras. Live links to the public webcams will be available on the group’s Web site, floatinglabcollective.org. As the work’s title suggests, the artists will protest any idea that’s supplied to them by people on the street or by those logged onto their Web site. One performer will act as the group’s spokesperson, communicating protest topics to the artists; two performers will document the protests; a fourth person will wear a large mask designed to resemble a cross between Lenin, Stalin, and Mussolini. Each performance will last for three minutes, at the\ end of which time the artists will move on to a new topic—and each team plans on performing 100 protests per day.
In order to help them grab the public’s attention, the artists will wear jumpsuits that coordinate with the Metrorail color system: the orange team will protest in Washington Circle; the red team in Dupont Circle; the blue team in Logan Circle; and the green team in Henley Park. (If connected by imaginary lines, the four protest sites and the White House form a pentagonal shape around the center of the city.) The jumpsuits’ colors are also meant to evoke the government’s terror alert system. “The colors will mean something different in D.C. than, say, in Idaho,” Endress says. The artists wearing orange know they’re in for more than a few stares. “I expect curiosity from a few passers-by,” says orange team member Bryan Leister of his prison inmatenesque outfit. “[I]t’s a loaded color.”
Every hour, a fifth group of gray-jumpsuit-wearing messengers will collect the videotapes, digital photos, and sound recordings from each group and transport them to Dupont Circle’s Provisions Library. There, yet another group, clad in white jumpsuits, will post the documentation to the Floating Lab Collective Web site as well as display it at the library. The constantly updated and evolving body of work will involve “a line of 50 red [jumpsuit] protest images in a sequence, underneath a line of 50 orange protest images in a sequence, underneath…green images, and then blue images below that,” Endress says. “The aesthetic evolves around repetition, sequencing, and basically aestheticizing the act of protest to create images.”
Though the artists are aware that their protests may not be heard by anyone with real political influence, they hope that the message behind them won’t fall on deaf ears. “[The performance] is a commentary on the lack of passion in our society,” says orange team member Sam Abdel-Hamid. “It’s showing how people would rather have someone else protest for them instead of doing it themselves.”
“Protesting on Demand” will be on view from noon to 7 p.m. Friday, April 20, and Tuesday, April 24, through Thursday, April 26, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at Provisions Library, 1611 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 299-0460.