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In which The Art Assignment begins! Join hosts Sarah Urist Green and John Green as they meet artists Douglas Paulson and Christopher Robbins and receive the first assignment of the series. We begin at Flux Factory in Long Island City, Queens, and follow Doug and Chris as they lead us on a journey to Meet in the Middle.

EPISODE 01 INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Pick a friend, and calculate the exact geographic midpoint between where the two of you live.
You can use http://www.geomidpoint.com/ or other websites to calculate your midpoint, or even-gasp-use a paper map.

2. Decide on a date and a time to meet there, and don't communicate until then.

3. Document your experience. You can do this however you'd like, using photos, video, text, drawings, or anything else.

4. Upload your documentation and share it online using whatever social media platforms you prefer, being sure to tag it with #theartassignment so we can find it. Your response to the assignment may be included in a future episode!

Learn more about Doug's work here: http://www.douglaspaulson.com/
And more about Chris's work here: http://www.christopher-robbins.com/
And more about Flux Factory here: http://www.fluxfactory.org/, @flux_factory

Follow us!
@artassignment
@PBSDS
@SWUSUG
@realjohngreen
@olsenvideo
John: It’s a glorious brisk day here in New York City. I am literally looking at a pair of sneakers hanging from telephone wires.

Sarah: We are. It’s a cliché of New York Beauty.

J: Yeah seriously.

S: We’re here today at Long Island City, Queens at Flux Factory.

J: They used to manufacture greeting cards here but now apparently they manufacture flux.

S: So what they really do is host exhibitions, events, public dinners, art salons, all types of things and they emphasize the collaborative process. They strongly believe that art gets better and more interesting when people work together and share resources. Today we’re meeting with Douglas Paulson and Christopher Robbins.

J: Christopher Robin?

S: Christopher Robbins.

J: Oh, that’s a little disappointing.

S: They’re both independent artists and work on their own but they’ve collaborated on projects in the past and today they’re here to present an assignment to you on which they’ve worked together.

J: I’m very excited about it. This is gonna be a good one so let’s go check it out.

S: Let’s do it.

Doug: I’m Doug

Chris: I’m Chris

D: This is our Art Assignment.

(Intro)

S: Christopher Robbins is an artist and promoter of international development. He built his own hut in Benin, West Africa and has lived all over the world and in Nebraska where he built a birdhouse big enough to sleep in and tried to drag it to the ocean. He co-founded the Ghana Think Tank which collects community issues in the so called first world and sends them to think tanks in Ghana, Morocco, El Salvador and elsewhere.

Douglas Paulson is a serial collaborator. He turned this sculpture by Sasson Soffer into a live-in structure and site for concerts, meetings and barbecues and he gathered urban planners, artists and kids together to design and build a city for thirty kitties.

(Onscreen) How did you meet?

C: So basically I was looking for artists who I thought ‘they are using art for an excuse to have an adventure’, that’s how I read it, and I started writing to artists that seemed to fit that category with leading questions so that they’d say that and I could stick that in people’s faces I guess. And Doug was one of the group of artists with Parfyme who I felt fit into that category. So that’s how I first reached out to Doug.

D: So I get this email, like, out of nowhere from this guy I’ve never heard of whose saying ‘Do you consider yourself auto-interventionist?’

C: That’s right.

D: Intervening in your own life? And it was like this light bulb went off and we were like ‘Oh yeah. That’s exactly what we’re doing’.

C: Yeah, and it was funny. I remember when you wrote me like ‘Hey. We’re both in Europe now, you’re living in Serbia, I’m living in Copenhagen. Let’s meet halfway’. I thought I was being a smart-ass by saying like ‘Oh yeah, halfway’ and I looked at Google Earth and I’m like ‘Here’s the exact halfway point. Is this what you meant?’ and he was like ‘Yeah exactly. That’s what I meant’. ‘Alright!’

J: So to get a little more specific, Doug was living in Copenhagen and Chris was living in Serbia and the exact geographical midpoint between the two of them was the middle of this lake in the Czech Republic that turned out to be full of agricultural runoff. Anyway, so they agreed to meet at high noon on April 29th 2008 and their rules were as follows

1. No communication between agreeing to meet and, you know, meeting at the actual lake.

2. Chris brings lunch.

3. Doug brings drinks.

4. Don’t be late

D: So your art assignment. Find someone, draw a line between the two of you and meet exactly in the middle.

C: Once you’ve agreed on your halfway point and your date and time, you’re not allowed to speak to each other by any means, no email, no Skype, no telephone, you just agree to meet at that point.

J: Hold on, hold on, hold on. I understand why this is, like, beautiful and metaphorically resonant but, like, this is not The Metaphorically Resonant Assignment, it’s The Art Assignment. Like why is that art?

S: Really?

J: Yeah!

S: Are we really gonna have this conversation?

J: Yes!

S: OK, well people have been arguing for a long time that art doesn’t have to be an object or material. It can be something like Roy Ascott said, like, triggers for experiences instead.

J: Alright but, like, I just have to say though that, like, on some level to me, like, art is painting.

S: Well it’s still that, it’s just that it’s also this too now, the definition has broadened. I mean, there’s a lot of art historical precedence for this.

J: Really? Like what?

S: Yeah, well I’ll show you.

Meet in the middle echoes such performances as Marina Abramović and Ulay's, ‘The Great Wall Walk’ of 1988. After hearing the only human constructions visible from The Moon were The Pyramids and The Great Wall of China, Abramović and Ulay made plans to walk toward each other from opposite ends of the wall, meet in the middle and get married. But in the eight years it took to gain permission from the Chinese government, their relationship fell apart. They decided the walk would mark the end of their collaboration and they each walked 2500 km to meet in the middle and say goodbye.

Other art meetings include Francis Alÿs’ 1999 performance ‘Duet’ in which he entered Venice by train while his friend arrived at the airport each carrying one half of a tuba. After several days of roaming the labyrinthine streets of the city, they eventually found each other, put the instrument back together and played a single note.

While their motivations differ, the works have in common a very human exploration of our built environment. Each project makes geography and architecture tangible and personal demanding we grapple directly with space and time and the world we’ve built. It also begs the question who, if anyone, can you trust to meet you in the middle? Who do you trust to hold the other half of your tuba?

D: Part of this is about being extremely inventive and thinking through the problems and trying to anticipate them. And if we were neighbors, literally like next door neighbors and we had to meet in the middle we would have to, like, make, take a whatever, like a piece of plywood across the roofs and draw a line and say ‘this is the spot’. Right? It’s about re-imagining the way you understand space.

C: What this does is it forces an adventure in some place that we take for granted every day and that’s the reality. There are, I mean, we are surrounded by adventure if we just knock on a different door than we do every day.

Well, we’re gonna figure out the halfway point between my place and yours and then we’re gonna meet there for, I guess a late lunch right?

D: That’s right.

C: So, 3:30 tomorrow and this time I’ll remember you’re a vegetarian.

D: Yeah, thanks.

(Chris opens door)

C: Hey, how’re you doing?

Girl: Good, how are you?

C: Good.

(In Car) Well we’re at Purchase College. I teach sculpture at SUNY Purchase and started at my house this morning, drove down here, taught the class and now finishing my halfway travel then go meet Doug. It looks like it’s somewhere in New Rochelle. So this is where I live up here in the green. Here’s where Doug lives down here in the grey. This is where we’re meeting.

D: Like when you leave New York City just being a pedestrian is suspicious. (Laughs) Like, why… Shouldn’t those people be driving? So let’s just try to walk natural.

C: I really don’t want to bump into Doug until we’ve… actually at the half way point and I think I’ve guessed how he’s gonna get there. So I’m gonna try to take a route different from his so that we’re really pure about how this works out and we actually don’t see each other until that halfway point.

D: I think it’s this one here with that white…

S: The awning?

D: It’s the awning and the basketball hoop. My calculation is actually, it is like a willow. Is it that, like, willow tree?

S: Yeah.

D: It’s a nice little bridge. (Rings the doorbell) We think someone’s in the house like we were just saying and, um, that they’re not opening the door for some reason maybe because there’s two strangers out in front of their house with a camera.

C: It’s 3:15, we’re meeting in 15 minutes. I think he’s walking. I think he’s walking and he’s cold because it’s really windy today and it’s what, 44 degrees at the moment.

D: OK, it’s 3:16. No sign of Chris Robbins. (Sees car) They’re leaving. (Laughs)

C: Oops, this is my exit (Laughs) OK, let’s see which way it’s gonna tell me to go.

D: OK, let’s give it one more minute.

S: OK.

C: And then... I should have just gotten it.

(Doug climbs tree)

C: Almost there. Only one minute away or so.

S: So it’s three thirty.

D: I know. It’s kinda lonesome up here.

C: Alright that’s it. That’s the place and no-one’s home.

D: Chris, you’re a little late.

C: I got a ladder and I’ve got construction helmets so we look more legit. If you’re up for it?

D: I’m al… I am look legit. I’m at the halfway point.

C: You are? This is it?

D: This is it.

C: I thought we were doing the roof.

D: You want a hand?

C: Yeah, Oh actually no, I’m afraid I’ll pull you down.

D: You won’t pull me down.

C: You don’t think so?

D: Hey Chris

C: Hey Doug how’ve you been buddy?

D: How does it feel to be in the middle?

C: Good.

D: It’s good to see you.

C: You too.

D: I brought…

C: I didn’t think you were going to make it.

D: Yeah?

C: Yeah

D: It was a perilous ride.

C: And it’s (Pops open beer) Oowaa!

D: Cheers.

C: God, I love fancy beer.

(Credits)

C: I’m Ernie

D: And I’m Bert and this is Art Assignment

Both: On PBS

C: Digital!

(Laughing)