Give me an instruction, 2010

So this is and isn’t a piece of work. You might be able to make out my name on it, ‘Scott Massey’. We’ll come back to why it is and isn’t work later.


Over a period of six months I invited people to give me instructions. I would then attempt to complete them as best I could. The instructions were first accepted written on paper, but as I wanted to expand the range of people who had access to this I set up a website that they could be posted on.

Often the requests would result in irreverent or bizarre public performances and so functioned as an excuse for me to behave in a certain way, as such I am indebted to the people who gave them to me.

For example, I was asked to dig a hole in the woods and bury myself.
I did this on, or in, Hampstead heath. It was just within the tree line, so I was hidden. I was on constant watch as I dug the hole and got in. I covered myself, with some help from a friend and lay completely covered for a short while.

Another one was: Hop every third step for twenty-four hours. Well I thought I’d hate this one, but actually I enjoyed it in a masochistic way. It focused my mind, as I repeated 1, 2, 3…… 1, 2, 3…… 1, 2, 3……

Draw three tear drops on your face for the morning:

Shave your chest:

shave chest

When I exhibited it I decided not to show photographs or videos of the actions. I talked about them. A few months ago I finally read ‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau. It is a narrativised account of the time he spent living in the woods in New England. Reading it I decided there was a way for me to recount a story of my performances. But I wanted it to be a talk, so it would exist in some kind of oral tradition, which is a very intimate tradition. I relate what I have done and experienced; I understand that if the actions are just understood through a talk then I may not be believed, but hopefully there is an intimacy with the audience that enables them to have faith in me. It really fits in as my housemates became confused as to my motivation for doing things: ‘are you vegetarian because you want to be, or because you’ve been commanded to?’, ‘why did you ask that girl out? You’re not messing her about with your instructions are you?’.

Talking collapsed the space between my anxiety about decision making, and actual decision making. The talk was work. It was a performance and documentation.

I spoke for 5 minutes, some of which I have repeated in this talk. I repeated it 10 times, one after the other. So 50 minutes continuously. In the few seconds between me stopping and then starting again people would approach me to comment or question. And then they would be startled as I ignored them and repeated myself. So although oral storytelling is an intimate form I was shutting down communication that had been open through my acceptance of instructions. The repetition also became quite futile as more and more people ignored me, until I was talking to the air.

One more instruction now, because I’ve shown some documentation that I haven’t shown before, so there’s a short video to go with this one. I was a Japanese girl for a day. To complete this task I became Ayaka Shinada. I spent time preparing a character, and on the day dressed myself in what I thought were appropriate clothes. In my mind I had to repeat a mantra, ‘I am Ayaka Shinada, I am a Japanese girl’. My behaviour certainly changed for the day, and other people’s behaviour towards me also changed. I’m not sure how close I got to being a Japanese girl though.

The role-playing existed within all of the instructions to a certain extent, but was much more explicit in this one. It enabled me to have conversations, to get people to talk about things that wouldn’t usually be discussed.

So this is an extract from a short interview I did with the person who gave me the instruction, she wanted to hear the story, to hear what happened.