Oliver Herring talks about TASK

New-York based artist Oliver Herring is bringing his famed TASK Party to the Arts Learning Festival. There are still places left for his student workshops, and he will hold a drop in TASK Party on our Community Day.

In this Q&A, we began by asking Oliver to explain the concept of TASK…


Oliver: Well, first of all, before I get into concepts, let me just talk about the structure a little bit. It’s a piece of art that’s important. I’m actually not an educator, I’m an artist, a digital artist, and TASK is an extension of my work, it’s grown out of my work, but it’s also become a very simple structure that can be translated into almost any situation.


For TASK you need three components. You need a space, some materials, and a group of people who are willing to follow two simple instructions. To write a task on a sheet of paper. And really that can be anything, you know, stand on a leg, start a revolution, re-define gender, whatever it is, you write it on a piece of paper, and then you deposit it into a designated TASK pool, a box, and then you randomly pull a task out of that box, and you interpret it however you want, with whatever, or whoever is around.


When you deem your task completed, you write a new task, put it back in the box, pull a new task, and so on. So, tasks are constantly being written and interpreted, and the tasks always tend to sort of corresponds with the change in momentum in the room.


And in theory, anything becomes possible. There’s really no right or wrong, good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, but with TASK, it’s always whatever happens is what happens.


TASK parties seem to have this tremendous capacity to make people feel free, to let their imagination soar. Why is TASK so liberating?


Oliver: I think life can get very claustrophobic…pretty much in every facet of it, and I think when there is an opportunity to break beyond that a little bit, to test an experiment with just simply who you want to be, part of your personality, or a material, or the environment that you’re in, or the situation that you find yourself in, or how to interact with another person, then that can be really cathartic and very powerful, and have implications way beyond the classroom.


With all that art material and performing of random tasks, can TASK can get a little messy?


Oliver: Well, actually, the interesting thing is it’ll look messy, and it really does look messy and chaotic, but it’s actually all driven by design, because you write a task, and you get a task, and you interpret it somehow.


So whatever you do is sort of purpose-driven, but yes, when you find yourself in an unstructured environment, I mean there is the overall task structure, but when you find yourself in that sort of situation, you allow yourself to test boundaries a little bit.


You suddenly may want to roll around the floor and do something, if everybody around you also lets this hang out a little bit, and make fools out of themselves, so to speak.


So it can be really quite liberating when you feel like the spotlight isn’t on you. It may look messy, but I think when you’re participating in this, you may actually redefine what a mess is, because it all comes from a place of purpose, and that makes you look at what you see differently.


There’s also only a limited amount of material around, and we’re going to do this for X amount of time, so the material is bound to get used and reused multiple times, which means the material is probably going to go through all kinds of iterations, which may make it look messy.


In fact, I think there’s a very positive message in there, that instead of just sort of moving onto another material, you actually have to break down something in order to sort of build it into something new and recycle it, so to speak, and I think that can be very powerful.


So while it looks messy, it’s actually all about potential.


Do you have a favourite TASK Party?


Oliver:  You know, actually TASK always is what it is. I think there are many transformative experiences that can happen. For example, we once did a TASK party in Philadelphia in a big warehouse, and there were hundreds of participants. Half of the participants were people from the neighbourhood. It was mostly Latino neighbourhoods, and the other half were students and artists, and so on. Two constituencies that don’t always necessarily work together or do something together.


And in this TASK Party, they came together and did exactly that, and this was just incredibly affirmative and surprising, and I think to me, a TASK party is successful when it takes you by surprise, and obviously that’s always dependent on who participates and context, so it doesn’t really matter. It can happen in the kindergarten classroom, and it can happen during a large-scale TASK Party like the one I just talked about.


Interested in participating in TASK? We’re running both student sessions and a Community Day session.