In times of adversity or prosperity, people can
truly make a difference in a community.
Making a difference is not about being a hero. It is simply about leaving a positive imprint on our own time. Artists, teachers, firefighters, police officers, performers, politicians,
and even children make lasting positive contributions to our communities. Parents around
us make a difference by being good mothers or fathers to their children, who in turn
grow up to be positive contributors to society.
Ordinary people make a difference when they
perform simple acts of kindness: exchanging
a smile with a fellow bus passenger, shoveling
snow for an elderly neighbor, taking a flower
arrangement to a public library. The person
who receives that act of kindness often feels
inspired to pass on the good feeling.
For centuries, whether overtly or subtly, artists have made a difference in the way people
think. Some artists deal with subject matter
that concerns everyone. Other artists tackle
subjects that may not have obvious social
impact, but are significant because they address
issues that everyone should know about.
In the late 1950s, artists began to experiment with projects that incorporated community involvement into their artwork. These
projects, known as “performances” or “
happenings,” often included viewer interaction.
Contemporary artists such as Oliver Herring
are reinvestigating the participatory element of
works of art, often on a large scale.
Oliver Herring was born in Heidelberg, Germany, received
his degree from the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University in
England, and now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Among
his earliest artworks are expressionistic paintings. The bright colors
emphasized in these works appear in his later video pieces.
After 1998, Herring started to emphasize video and photography as
part of his work, including stop-action video. In both video and photographs, Herring has documented such varied experiences as a model
spewing food coloring from his mouth, and a participant whose face
was painted to blend in with a variety of backgrounds, including one
that evokes Piet Mondrian’s paintings.
Herring’s belief that video and documentary photography can
enhance people’s appreciation of the nuances of life has led to such
landmark works as Seniors: Center Stage, a video collaboration with
elderly people living in retirement homes in Japan, Massachusetts,
and the Bronx. His improvisational video “events” have led to the
development of community events in which art and performance
merge with very few rules.
Herring’s TASK events are based on the idea that art brings
people—especially strangers— together for a common purpose. The
simple premise of TASK includes a stage or space, props and materials, and a pool of written task prompts. The pool consists of dozens
of suggested art and performance tasks written by the participants,
such as “Make a crown and crown a queen,” or “Create the raiment
of a knight and form a round table.” The events are photographed and
Herring’s TASK events break down barriers between artists and
non-artists, and encourage mutual respect. The most important
component is that the participants are usually strangers who have to
interact to complete the project.