Playing Undetermined Roles, 2003/2009
Anke Bangma
11 Jul 2009

SMART Papers Performing Evidence 11/07 - 25/08/2009, P. 4                                                        

Group Exhibition: - Performing Evidence - curated by Anke Bangma.                         

With Guy Ben Ner, Anneke A. de Boer, Ian Charlesworth, Rod Dickinson, Harun Farocki and historical documents from the collections of the Filmmuseum, Amsterdam; Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam; Museum Dr. Guidlain, Gent, Belgium; Wellcome Trust, London                                                                                                           



Artist: Anneke A. de Boer
Work: Playing Undetermined Roles, 2003/2009 - installation with videos, photographs, and an audio piece

Inspired by social psychology and cinema, Playing Undetermined Roles explores how we come to identify with certain social roles. Six men and women previously unacquainted with each other meet for two days at a country estate to participate in a series of exercises. The template for these exercises is a business training program, meant to enhance social, communication and interpersonal skills for better future performance. This set-up functions as a script within which the participants play themselves.

The technique of the ‘real life situation’ was first used in the 1940s for the selection and training of army officers. Leadership, it appeared, was a character trait that would not materialize by means of theoretical instruction or questionnaires, but could only manifest itself in a dynamic context in which the roles that future officers would be called on to play could be acted out. Crucial to the leadership role is not authority, but the ability to maintain personal relations, even in situations of strain. Situational testing therefore involved the formation of a group of individuals without pre-assigned roles, who would have to respond in real time to the emotional field constituted by the interplay of their personalities.

The eleven exercises in Playing Undetermined Roles may at first seem far removed from everyday professional practice and from the more conventional rehearsal of roles in business training. Some exercises even resemble children’s games – a variation on ‘statues’ (‘Trump’), successfully leading a person whose eyes are closed through a terrain full of obstacles (‘Leader and Follower’, ‘Guide-dog’), imitating animal behaviour (‘Pretending’). Yet almost inconspicuously, in the succession of exercises a specific scenario unfolds, meant to equip the participants with models of conduct for later assumption in real working life. The trust and sense of responsibility built in ‘Blindfold’, for example, are taken to another level in the next exercise, where the group members take turns to be rolled in a blanket and hand themselves over to their fellows (‘Cover’). The playful approach is designed to provide the participants with the opportunity to spontaneously explore roles and relations they would normally not have taken up in the positions they hold. Recording the interaction from a detached position, reminiscent of scientific observation, Playing Undetermined Roles leaves it up to the viewer to evaluate how the six participants deal with the emotional field brought into play.