A Task, But Not a Chore

Sometimes I feel like I have been living under a rock the past few years. Under a couple of kids is more like it, but the fact is that this weekend I encountered two cultural phenomenon that made the rounds over the past few years without crossing my field of vision, even as shadows: “Caine’s Arcade” and Oliver Herring’s TASK. Once again, I’m grateful to the super cool folks at the Columbus Museum of Art’s Center for Creativity for bringing me up to speed.

“Caine’s Arcade” is a short film about 9-year old Caine and the arcade he built primarily out of boxes he found at his dad’s auto parts shop. The film has been viewed nearly 4 million times on YouTube alone. Yesterday, in conjunction with the Imagination Foundation (read about it, it’s really cool), the CMA hosted a cardboard challenge to celebrate that group’s Global Day of Play. Dan, Rosa, Cora, and I rolled through asking people about their projects, but we saved our energy for TASK which had been highly recommended during the previous day’s discussion of Play=Art.

Herring has been hosting TASK events and parties around the world for over ten years. (Turns out I can’t completely blame the kids for missing this one.) This is how it works: Herring writes a few directions on scraps of paper and puts them in a bin. Participants retrieve tasks, complete them, and they write new tasks to add to the pool. It’s kind of like DaDa meets participatory performance art. This sampling demonstrates the wide ranging nature of the tasks we encountered:

“Make a string web.”
“Host a talent show.”
“Write 5 tasks.”
“Everyone play dead.”
“Lead a conga line.”
“Ask a child about what they are making.”
“Imitate someone for 5 minutes.”
“Make sushi and give it to a dad.”
“You are a fish.”
“Cut the web.”

Most definitions for the word task include some level of discomfort, a chore one is assigned to complete. I’m sure Herring understood this when he chose that word as the name for his project. For while TASK can be a fun-filled venture that invites moments of play, Herring doesn’t believe play must always be pleasurable. Conversely, he suggests play can be an opportunity to break free of routine, to push one’s boundaries. I like this idea. It resonates with my growing sense that disruption can be a powerful catalyst for play and creativity.

It’s been nearly a year since Dan and I brought George to the CMA to participate in Dispatchwork. That had been such a great experience for our family I really wanted to try another round; this time with Rosa as our focal point. But while we started out collaborating on a task, she wanted to do the next one on her own. And the one after that. And the one after that. Dan and Cora also got involved in their own projects as I fell into a participant-observer role and chatted with some of the other educator-researchers in the room.

Our family has been working hard on home projects lately and this was a welcome break from our regular routine. Dan was reluctant to give up time for his works in progress, but ultimately said he was glad he went, that he took the time out. Rosa has had a few good experiences at the CMA recently, and was less difficult to convince. This came as a bit of a surprise since she is a teenager who values her weekends as time to do, pretty much, nothing. When I asked her how TASK was different from art class at school she told me, “Here you have something to do, but you decide how to do it. At school you have to follow the teacher’s instructions.” For us all, this activity was a task, but not a chore.

(Final note: I’m interested in learning how educators have integrated both of these activities into their work. I think the dynamic of TASK must be much different with a finite and more homogeneous group. I’m still processing. Have you got anything to share? I struggle with activities that expend excess amounts of material with ephemeral results. But that’s a big part of process art which I fully support. For now, I think the Makedo reusable cardboard challenge kit is going to be my new “go to” birthday gift.)

11 thoughts on “A Task, But Not a Chore

  1. Yay! I too was there on Saturday and I agree, it was blast. I’m so glad we all got to seriously PLAY together! I’m fairly new to TASK myself, but I think I can offer some insight into a few of your questions:

    ” I think the dynamic of TASK must be much different with a finite and more homogeneous group. I’m still processing. Have you got anything to share? I struggle with activities that expend excess amounts of material with ephemeral results”

    Regarding homogeneous groups: I recently had the opportunity to observe TASK with a group of Ohio educators. While everyone had different backgrounds/ages/experiences, it was a group of similarly minded people, all doing TASK for a set amount of time (an hour I think?). The results were fascinating. A drop-in TASK like Saturday’s was definitely fun, however with a closed group of people,one could really watch the group evolve, both in their willingness to take risks and in the complexity of the tasks.

    As to the second part, expending lots of materials; As we were cleaning up, Flossie mentioned that she had done TASK with a group where they only had four simple materials available. She didn’t mention what materials were used, but she did say that when the materials were limited, the tasks themselves became less about ‘put stuff on stuff!” much more about performance, and were overall more conceptual/complex.

    The variations seem limitless! I want to become a TASK scientist.
    Great, insightful writing!

    • Thanks for comment, Cat. I love the notion of a task scientist and know Flossie could provide you with guidance on setting up measurement tools. That woman has a huge brain in her head.
      The permutations do seem infinite. And playing with parameters seems key to shifting focus and outcomes here. I am curious what kind of analysis we could find in the book on TASK that came out. I haven’t seem it but saw mention on Oliver’s blog.

  2. Hi Jodi – Our son Dylan is the one talking to Oliver and holding the “huge” piece of pizza. I believe you were at the Friday night talk too. I would love to meet for coffee and see if you might be interested in being a community member of the PAST Foundation, the organization I work for. Also, I am a former art teacher and work to help transform education for our children. Our twin boys attend Wickliffe and Fred Burton is a dear friend of ours. I am sure we would have a lot to talk about. Let me know if you are interested in meeting. Thanks for putting this information out there. It is fabulous!

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