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Bureau for Open Culture: On Symptoms of Cultural Industry

Now on view through Sunday, July 31, at Bureau for Open Culture at MASS MoCA, On Symptoms of Cultural Industry is a work of performance, video, installation, photography and a book. It examines the changing economic and social life in North Adams, a city whose economic base has shifted over the course of recent history from making textiles and electrical components to making art and culture. The work was produced by Bureau for Open Culture as a collaboration among Timothy Nazzaro, Rachel Sherk, Nate Padavick, Cassandra Troyan and James Voorhies. The majority of its content was inspired by life in North Adams and original research and conversations with individuals and their families who worked at Sprague Electric Company, some for more than 50 years. The industrial complex that MASS MoCA inhabits today was once operated by Sprague Electric, which employed over 4,000 people in a city of only 18,000 residents.

On Sunday, July 17, the opening night performance There Is Only Light (We Do Not Know What To Do With Other Worlds)by Cassandra Troyan consisted of a recitation of a script that was composed from the conversations with former Sprague employees including Michael Hutchinson, Ruth Bernardi, Chuck and Joan Tompkins, Dee Garnish and the late Paul Garnish. The conversations were conducted and recorded over the course of the past several months. Troyan excerpted parts of these talks, transcribed the excerpts and combined them with excerpts from transcripts of oversight hearings on job services for dislocated workers in the Berkshires that took place in the late 1970s. These texts were combined with a journal-like register of deaths in the early 1800s in Massachusetts.

Comprehensively, the performance gave a portrait of labor in Western Massachusetts, from the personal words of lived experiences to the official hearings held to determine what to do about rising unemployment and loss of industry.

Prior to Troyan’s performance, members of the audience were approached unexpectedly by her and asked to read part of the script, to take on the character of each of the Sprague employees. Many members of the North Adams community, including artists, friends and neighbors, agreed to read the script. As the performance ensued, Troyan stood at the front of the room speaking the part of the narrator, but not in the sense that she was leading, or that in some way her text was more privileged than the others. Rather, she seemed to take on a historical voice, or that she was actually the voice of these lived histories of oversight hearings, labor crisis and archival death notices.

The current installation in Bureau for Open Culture includes a video projection of Troyan’s performance, recorded against the brick wall on which the video is now projected, appearing to fade into and out of the materiality of the wall. The installation brings to mind the conflation of the two different kinds of labor, both immaterial and material, that now and once took place inside the factory spaces. The voices of Troyan and the readers of the script can be heard throughout the space.

The recorded performance is about 20 minutes long, the average length of a coffee break at Sprague Electric. A vendor with a coffee cart used to make his way through the vast spaces at Sprague. As the cart stopped in each room, work would pause momentarily while workers gathered for a few minutes to talk and drink coffee. The cart would continue into different parts of the factory and work would continue.

The installation includes photographs by Timothy Nazzaro, images of Sprague employees who participated in the project as well as photographs of life in North Adams, from the perspective of an artist residing here today. The text “Unknown Pleasures” by James Voorhies is part of the installation and also printed in the publication.

Nate Padavick designed the publication for On Symptoms of Cultural Industry. It includes the text by James Voorhies, photographs by Timothy Nazzaro and the script written by Cassandra Troyan. The publication is available free.

Posted July 27, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Bureau for Open Culture: I Am Searching for Field Character
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