Previous: Art Trip: London | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios
Next: Cases for Political Art | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios



View count:24,126
Last sync:2024-04-27 04:00
Pre-order our book YOU ARE AN ARTIST (which includes new assignments!) here:

We drop in on London-based artist Peter Liversidge, who gives us proposals in the place of assignments. Do one or do all three and show us your good work!

1. Respond to Peter's Proposals, and many of as few as you like.
2. Document what you do and share it with us using #theartassignment
3. Fame and glory (Your work might be in a future episode)

Find out more about The Art Assignment and how to submit your response:

 (00:00) to (02:00)

This episode of the Art Assignment is supported by Prudential.  

(PBS Digital Studios logo)

Sarah: We're in London and are about to meet up with Peter Liversidge, who begins each work by sitting down at his typewriter and writing proposals for what he might like to do.  Some of these, he does not realize, like "I propose to dam the Thames and flood the city of London", and others he does.  They've included offering gin and tonics to his audience in hand-etched glasses, flying flags over Edinburgh saying a simple 'hello', making a large lightbulb sculpture that randomly illuminates the words 'before' and 'after' and lodging an 18th century cannonball into a wall of the Aldrich museum.  Since 1992, he has done a number of what he calls Postal Pieces, by placing postage and writing an address directly on an object and sending it through the postal system to the exhibition site.

Liversidge's proposals are invitations to action.  Dynamically including the exhibition site and you, the viewer, in their creation and reception, he encourages us to think about what is and is not possible, and today, he's gonna offer up some proposals specifically for you.

Peter: Hello, I'm Peter Liversidge, and this is your art assignment.  


I always try to make the work evolve during the show so the show changes, so it's not always...there is a live element to it, and that live element often isn't there because the live element can just be the visitor thinking about the proposal which addresses them directly and doesn't exist as a work, and it's almost as if they're, the physical realized works, are the support structure for the works that don't exist, so it's almost as if, okay, so say you're in the show and you're looking at the proposals and you say, okay, well, this exists.  This actually has some sense of itself in this space, in a space.  Then you read the next proposal, which is unrealizing.  Somehow, they support one another.  It's like saying, well, okay, we fired a 17th century cannon into the wall of the gallery, so if that's possible, why is it not possible that this happens, you know, whatever this is, and I thought the idea of a proposal being the quintessential beginning or starting point, you know, you propose to do something, and then potentially you do it or you don't do it and that materiality whether it's a physical thing or just the idea became really key to the work.

 (02:00) to (04:00)

It was about the imagining space rather than the actual, and in that way, it can be anything.  You know, and my version of the work is just my version of the work.  If we all, all three of us, read the same proposal from the same book, we all bring ourselves to it.  We all have this different way of imagining that, you know, if we all read Moby Dick, we all know it's about a whale trashing a boat, but we all imagine that boat slightly differently, you know, the--you may have more rigging on your boat or I've got less sails or whatever.  Do you know what I mean?  It's that sense of how that, how imaginations in individuals work, which I'm really interested in, because then, it doesn't, the work doesn't have to be just the work.

Your assignment is to respond to three proposals.  Now, I've not written those proposals yet.  I'm just about to do that, but what I'd like you to do is either pick one or maybe all three and respond to those as you see fit.  I very much look forward to seeing your response.  Thank you.  

I propose to invite the reader of this proposal to dress as their parents.

I propose that the person reading this proposal should imagine that their feet are in a mountain stream.

I propose to invite the reader of this proposal to assist further in Samuel Johnson's attempt to discredit Bishop Berkeley's theory of the non-existance of matter.  Bishop Berkeley put forward the theory that there are no material objects, only the idea of those objects in our minds.  It was not Bishop Berkeleys intention that it should just relate to visual perception but to perception in any of the five senses.  When Samuel Johnson responded to this theory; of the non-existance of matter he did so declaring: 'I refute it thus: 'as he spoke those words he kicked a large stone.  I request that the reader of this proposal leave their home, place of work and go out and find a stone.  Once that stone has been located they should kick it back to the place they have just left.  On the way taking one photograph of the stone where it is found, one on the way, and one once it has arrived to the place it has been kicked.

Sarah: Okay, John, which of these proposals would you want to do the most?

John: Well, this is not gonna surprise you, because you know that I am obsessed with the relationship between the experienced world and the actual world and the relationship between matter and sensation.

Sarah: So you're gonna kick a rock?

John: I'm gonna kick a rock.

Sarah: As for me, I thought I was going to go with the dress like your parents, but I already kind of dress like my mother a little bit.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

John: Yeah, although, to be fair, your mother is very fashionable.  

Sarah: She is.  Thanks.  So I think I'm gonna go with the mountain stream and that's gonna be my way of dealing with the world.

John: So Peter has talked about how he was influenced by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's card game "Oblique Strategies".

Sarah: Right, it's a set of 100 cards that they designed in 1974 and it's different strategies for dealing with creative dilemmas.  

John: But this is a little bit different because, you know, Peter isn't offering us an oblique strategy.  He's offering us specific instructions.

Sarah: Right, this is textbook instruction art, where Peter is asking you to do this thing and by doing it, you are bringing into the world Peter's artwork.

John: But of course, those of us doing the assignment do have a lot of agency in how we execute these proposals.

Sarah: Exactly.  Everyone is gonna respond to these in different ways and this gives me the chance to talk about this book, Do It, that actually exists in real life as well, and it's an exhibition that was conceived by the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, beginning in the mid-90s, and he invited artists from all over the world to submit instructions for artworks that could be made and remade in different exhibition sites and I'm gonna share with you a few of those instructions.

Some resulted in things that can be seen in a gallery, like Sol LeWitt's instruction: "A black, not straight line is drawn at approximately the center of the wall horizontally from side to side.  Alternate red, yellow, and blue lines are drawn above and below the black line to the top and the bottom of the wall."  While others, like Allan Kaprow's dictates something that happens during the course of the show, sweeping the dust from the floor of a room, spreading the dust in another room so it won't be noticed.  Continuing daily.  Or Andreas Slominski's instruction, "Tip a bicycle sit so that the front points upwards and use the seat to squeeze lemons", or Maurizio's Cattelan's demand, "The curator or organizer of the exhibition must wear only his or her underwear and shoes at the opening of the show."  

Others are prompts for the audience to do a particular thing, like Simone Forti asking us to think about climate change, sit for some moments in dumb grief, dumb knowing, dumb amazement. 

 (06:00) to (08:00)

Like the Do It instructions, Peter's proposals for us signal the wildly diverse and divergent ways that prompts, even very specific ones, can be interpreted and reinterpreted and shared with the world.

Peter: "I propose to write a choral piece to celebrate the opening of the new building at Tate Modern.  The choral piece will be performed once by a choir of 500 singers, presented in the Turbine Hall  The songs and vocalizations that they perform will be based on interviews and observations of date.  The interviews will be conducted with members of staff, from the director to the porter, with architects and builders of the new building, with visitors, friends of Tate, local businesses, and a local primary school, so to obtain as rounded an impression of Tate as possible.  The gathered material will be distilled into songs and vocalizations that trace the museum's history from when it opened on the 12th of May, 2000 to the opening of the new building to the public on the 17th of June, 2016.  The performance on Saturday the 18th of June will be sung by 24 different choirs representing many different communities from across London, echoing how the original material for the songs was gathered." 

And that's the end of the proposal.  So, it just describes, and that's one of the key things of the proposals.  They're descriptions.  They don't say, in this case, it's (?~7:24), although there were 25 choirs by the end  of it, that it represents the beginning of something, and that sense of a proposal, I think what they're saying at the start, is just the beginning.  It's always--it always has the sense of being in a moment.  Not necessarily the moment, but a moment, and in this, this just, this describes the work, but not the work, you know, it gives you a beginning, an introduction.  Yes, they are proposals but they are also potentially a starting point for someone to do something that they wouldn't necessarily have done otherwise.  And that will appeal to some people and not to others, so I'm just as happy for them to be unrealized as I am realized.  Perhaps that should be one of the questions to people.  Why did you realize the work?


 (08:00) to (09:18)

Thanks to Prudential for sponsoring this episode.  It's human nature to prioritize present needs and what matters most to us today, but when planning for your retirement, it's best to prioritize tomorrow's needs over today's.  According to a Prudential study, one in three Americans is not saving enough for retirement and over 52% are not on track to be able to maintain their current standard of living.  Go to and see how if you start saving more today, you can continue to enjoy the things you love tomorrow.  

(The Assignment)