Five contemporary artists capture the impromptu actions of ordinary people—to surprisingly powerful effect

The five contemporary artists in Acting Out invite real people—non-actors—to be taped participating in these varied activities. The exhibition introduces a new generation of artists exploring the expressive potential of social experiment.

Yael Bartana
In Wild Seeds (2005), Bartana records Israeli teens in a game, first playful, then unsettling, in which “police” pull “settlers” from a clinging group. The escalating hostility of action and dialogue-translated into English on a separate screen-echoes the conflicted sentiments in the Occupied Territories.

Johanna Billing
Billing’s Magical World (2005) presents Croatian children rehearsing an American song. The fragile melancholy and optimism in the song, coupled with the children’s struggle with a new language, evoke their country’s efforts to adopt Western ideals.

Phil Collins
He who laughs last laughs longest (2006) highlights the hysteria of televised competition. In a contest to see who can laugh longest, set in the small Scottish town where the inventor of television was born, laughter is transformed from a natural and personal expression of release into an exhausting, defeating performance.

Javier Téllez
In Letter on the Blind, for the Use of Those Who See (2007), Téllez invites a group of blind people to touch and share their perceptions of a live elephant. Inspired by the Indian parable “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” Tellez updates the ancient narrative’s lesson that every being experiences the same thing in a unique way.

Artur Zmijewski
Zmijewski organizes a workshop in which social activists create and desecrate each other’s symbols of belief. THEM (SIE) (2007) presents groups of nationalist Polish youth, conservative Catholics, Jewish activists, and leftist socialists, who aggressively negotiate, fight, or ultimately withdraw from the exchange in ways that echo the successes and failures of diplomacy.

By leaving acting out to let unscripted action unfold, these works highlight the forces of isolation, connection, and friction that shape our lives today.