“Protocols,” a new commission by Lior Shvil, was on view at Art in General in New York September 12 through November 21, 2015. It included a large-scale installation inspired by military counter-insurgency training courses, which was activated by a series of improvisational theater workshops and live performances based on combat procedures throughout the run of show. Reflecting on the psychological effects of the built environment, Shvil’s installation echoed specialized facilities made to imitate the urban terrain of conflict areas. These sites become alternate realities, or stage sets, for the soldiers in them, playing insurgents and civilians in each “mission.” The biomechanics and squad positioning perfected in training exercises are of key interest to the artist, as they are inherently tied to architectural context, and part of his larger investigation in deconstructing relationships between site, history, narrative, and testimony. Audience members were invited to work directly with the artist in collaboration with actor and improvisational artist Hollis Witherspoon via an open call for non-professional actors. Participants rehearsed scripts, exercises, and protocols based on Army training manuals and Shvil’s own military experience. Stereotypes embedded in specific roles and choreographies will be investigated and challenged, with opportunities for new understanding to develop. These workshops and performances, rooted in social theater, were free and open to members of the public as spectators or actors. Throughout this evolving exhibition, audience members were offered a rare opportunity to both witness and take part in creating content and meaning.
This performance was organized by Research Trip alum Anne Barlow in conjunction with Performa 15 and curated by Kristen Chappa.