Intercourse is a practice based research project, running from January to April 2013, which explores participation as an artform. This blog will be kept up to date with information, links, event dates and times and all other developments, thoughts and musings.
In an attempt to push and question the boundaries and ethics of lying to and manipulating participants through art practice, Tiff Oben, with delegated artist Helene Roberts, set up the Artist Assertiveness Course at Chapter Arts Centre. Aimed at fellow artists to help them become more assertive and get better gallery deals and shows, the project completely took advantage of Oben's peers' aspirations and emotions, in the hope that it would lead to a productive and valuable discussion afterwards (which it did).
of Artist Assertiveness Course by Claire Prosser
I pressed 'record' on the dicta phone.
The first person to come through the
door was a middle aged women, with hair striped with different tones of grey
tied back to the nape of her neck. Devon Jay greeted her with a handshake and a
blunt hello. Her first comment was something about this course being 'legit'
but I acknowledged her with reassuring eyes and a smile. She went on to have a
discussion with Mr Jay, about what she wants to bring to Swansea through the
art world. How she loves working with glass. How this course would hopefully
help her to be more confident in realising her hopes for Swansea. All the time,
although she was speaking to Devon, her eyes were casting towards me. Perhaps a
female face is more approachable than the face of a male Assertiveness Leader
wearing a biscuit coloured suit. But anyway, I just smiled and nodded, smiled
and nodded, turning my eyes to Devon as if directing her voice towards him, and
not me. I was only an assistant for the course, not the teacher. She
passed comments of how sophisticated the layout of the room was. The room had
four tables joined together to make a large rectangular table, big enough room
for 10 people to sit around. At the front ( or back) of the table was a big
slab of clay in it's blue packaging and at each sitting place there were cloth
table mats. It reminded me of primary school days when we new we were going to
be painting or playing with clay dough, table covers and wet wipes at the
The lady quietened as the next batch of
people came through the door, again met with a blunt greeting from Devon Jay.
They soon took their seats around the table. I handed them all photography
consent forms. They awkwardly shared the two pens we had available amongst them
and returned the forms to me, all giving their consent for Devon Jay to use
their images for a range of marketing purposes.
They sat. We (Devon and I) stood. Pacing
back and for. I was eavesdropping, Devon probably focussed on the task
ahead.He announced the start, any late
comers were to sure to be in trouble if/when they arrived.
Task 1: MEANING OF
First task to the table. How do you
describe being assertive? Answers coming up with a range of answers, all
accurate in their own ways. Devon Jay summarising it at the end to be a way of
simply getting what you want.
Task 2: NAME AND WHAT THEY
A typical team building situation
passing around the table. Awkward situation. How are you supposed to summarise
in one sentence what you want?
Task 3: THREE WORDS THAT
Deep in thought, the members came up
with considered, deep, touching answers. They offered themselves to the group,
slowly breaking down their persona and confiding in the group and Devon Jay. I
felt bad for listening to such personal output. Then took another photograph.
Task 4: USE CLAY TO
REPRESENT YOURSELF/YOUR ART
The members were invited up to take some
clay. It wasn't cut out, not prescribed, they had to take for themselves,
waiting in line for each other. They had seven minutes. Not five, not ten, but
seven minutes, to manipulate the clay into something that summarised what their
art is about. And therefore, how it would describe them. Three minutes left-
they analysed what was left to do. Does this describe my art? Two minutes
left- one actually got up to get more clay to perfect his piece. One minute
left- they all delicately put the final touches to their piece. They stopped
and continued to look at the work they had just made.
Task 5: WHAT IS YOUR CLAY
Going around the table Devon Jay
antagonised each person about what they had constructed. What have you made,
Why? Does that describe you?
Task 6: TAKING (AND
Devon Jay requested two volunteers and
echoed a remark made many a time in school “if I have no volunteers I will
pick on two of you.” Two people rose
their hands, oh go on then.
They quickly decided who was going to
give and who was going to receive the criticism. The first comment was given
with hesitation, oh its sooo hard, and was finally delivered. It was
more of a criticism that double backed on itself to become a compliment. “You
should be more confident in what you wear.” It didn't even skim the surface of
a criticism. Devon Jay jumped in and stirred it up. The second comment was much
“Don't wear those big cross earrings, you are not
Task 7: REASONING BEHIND CRITICISM-
“I don't like that cage”
Mr Jay continued with the point of
needing a valid reason to support any criticism made. He played on it first of
all by throwing off criticism to one of the members. Pointing at the clay cage
and the person who made it saying “ I don't like that. I don't like that cage.
The theme of entrapment in society is over done and clichéd” passing criticism
yet never really giving a just reason. The member just sat there looking at
Devon Jay. The guy, was a big bloke, and his eyes widened as soon as he started
hearing these comments coming out of Jay's mouth. Soon enough Devon switched it
into constructive reasoning and heart rates returned to normal.
Task 8: APPLYING ASSERTION-SCENARIO-
RETURNING JEANS TO TESCO
Another two volunteers, the bloke and
one of the ladies. Several times they were asked to perform and re-perform in
different ways a difficult scenario of returning something to a retail store.
Not entirely sure who is right or wrong, the lady wanting to return or the
Customer Service man. Gender being one of the concepts brought up, big guy onto
slim young lady, who instantly appears more assertive, more authoritative? It
shouldn't matter but it did, and does. Jay was persistent, making them feel
more and more angry which contradicted something that he commented on at the
start- assertiveness is not aggression. Heart rates were at a height once
Task 9: TAI CHI
Probably the worst (and best) part of
the session. Observing the group follow Devon Jay in leading Tai Chi movements
in his suit and brogues. Behind the camera I was sinking. I had to pretend to
scratch my eyes for the humiliation was swelling inside of me for them. I just
about managed to take motion shots of them. Got some great ones, with their
legs mid-air and everything.
It topped it off for me when the middle
aged lady asked if those movements could be manipulated to suit her physical
abilities. Hoping that she could perform other movements in her own time and
still get the same effect. Oh God. Devon Jay replied with clear intent,
Yes. Of course. I creased.
Task 10: BACK AROUND THE TABLE,
MY NAME IS _______and I WANT______.
They returned to the first task of the
day, saying their name and what they wanted. Each and every person sounding
much more assertive, more adamant that that is what they want and what
they believe in.
As we came to the plenary of the session,
the leader went on to say. “If you want any more information then please visit
my website. At this point, the group all delved into their bags or took out
their smart phones only to copy down 'www.devonjayass.co.uk' from the flip board. (To myself: Don't
laugh out loud. Don't giggle. Don't even wince a hint of a smile. )
“I'VE BEEN DEVON JAY AND
YOU HAVE BEEN ASSERTIVE!!!”
Wow. Ultimate climax of the day. Topping
the session off with hitting that line out into the painful air. He then threw
on his coat, grabbed his bag and strode towards me asking “Cheque or cash?!” I
played along; “cheque.” Even though hardly anybody uses cheques now?!
Just before the group left I kindly
asked for them all to fill out a feedback form. Some of them having a chance to
fill out most of the sheet before Tiff Oben stepped into the room.
We stood chatting first of all, well, I
remained quiet. Tiff soon announced that “Devon Jay was actually a very good
actor. None of this was real. You were all completely tricked.”
The lady who wrote down “I definitely
feel more assertive” threw herself into laughter. It could have been worse.
Lucky for Tiff, these people took it quite light heartedly. I do believe
though, that on some level, they will take some of the comments away. Some
of(a lot of) what Devon Jay (Chris)
said was valid. Scarily- I, the assistant who was in on the con, the one behind
the camera knowing everything, even sunk into his words at one point.