By Douglas Repetto
ONCE IN AN ART CLASS AT CAL ARTS reacting a bit differently, some hamming it up,
our teachers, Sara Roberts and Hillary Kapan, others playing it cool, some reacting right away,
told us we were going to play a game to get others taking a while to process what they’d
to know each other better. There were about 15 stu- seen and heard.
dents, and they divided us up into two groups and The simple rules set up a feedback loop, and
gave us some simple rules: like many feedback loops, the signals in ours were
• Sit in a circle. folding back on themselves and starting to squeal.
• Look at the person to the right of the person Before long people were jumping up and down,
(or space) directly across from you. standing on chairs, shouting, contorting their faces
• Do exactly what that person does; otherwise and bodies, doing little dances, in general having
do nothing. a grand time. Meanwhile the other group sat idly,
That might not sound like a very interesting game, wondering what in the world had gotten into us.
and it’s not clear what’s supposed to happen. Many After a while they gave up on their own circle, and
of us were skeptical; how were we supposed to get started watching ours; the simple “get to know you”
to know each other by sitting around doing nothing? game had turned into a full-blown performance.
We weren’t even making eye contact, since following Roberts and Kapan, having played this trick
the second rule ensures that no two people are look- before, knew that something interesting would
ing at each other. happen. They didn’t know what, exactly, but they
In fact, in one group, nothing did happen. They knew it would be fun and it would get us thinking
stared at the sides of each other’s faces, bored, about simple systems as generators of complex,
dutifully doing the nothing they’d been instructed often surprising behaviors. Lots of artists have used
to do, wondering what all of this had to do with the games, rule sets, algorithms, processes, and proce-
“integrated media” seminar they’d signed up for. dures as ways to generate new materials or explore
The group I was in, however, seemed to be play- novel situations. You don’t know what you’ll get, and
ing an entirely different game. After a minute or sometimes you’ll get nothing much, but giving up a
two of sitting quietly, someone shifted in a chair, or little control can be a powerful creative technique.
scratched a nose, or maybe just blinked. I wasn’t Many artists have used text-based instructions
looking at that person, so I didn’t see exactly what or scores to explore algorithmic art-making ideas.
happened. All I remember is that suddenly a gesture Some of the most compelling are concise. La Monte
went zipping around the circle. The woman across Young’s Composition 1960 No. 10 consists of a
from me scrunched up her face, so I scrunched up single instruction: “Draw a straight line and follow
mine. A moment later she grunted, so I grunted it.” Sol Le Witt’s many Wall Drawing pieces are a bit
too. In a few seconds the scrunch came back, but more involved, but not much; #65 is: “Lines not
now it was a full body scrunch/grimace/hunch- short, not straight, crossing and touching, drawn
ing action. Followed, of course, by an elaborate at random, using four colors, uniformly dispersed
grunt/heehaw/raspberry. Each action was ampli- with maximum density, covering the entire surface
fied and modulated as it made its way along of the wall.” Composers and musicians get in on the
the zigzag path around the circle, each person action as well; Yoko Ono’s “Voice Piece for Soprano”
30 Make: Volume 13