For nearly 30 hours over four days, Wendy Hower and Myra Weise won’t be able to check their phones, read or speak to the dozens of people in an empty gallery.
All they’ll have is the company of others under the same restrictions.
“This is unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” said Hower, director of engagement and marketing for the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke. “Having no one to talk to for so long, it’s really going to be a challenge.”
Hower and Weise, the Nasher visitor services manager, are taking part in “Parliament at Duke,” a performance art piece at the Nasher from March 7-10. It challenges 100 participants to be in an empty gallery for six to 10 hours each day without talking, using electronic devices or reading. You can volunteer for shifts, for a minimum of six hours, by sending an email to Hannah Bondurant.
Michael Klien, associate professor of the practice of dance in Duke’s Dance Program, created the piece while living in Greece in 2014. Drawing inspiration from government protests, Klien wanted a work of performance art where a diverse group of people could set up their own societal norms.
“In Europe, parliament is a loaded word,” Klien said. “It’s a place where humans decide what governs their relationships. I wanted to create another kind of parliament where you decide these relations without a common language.”
Performances of Parliament will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 7; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 8; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, March 9; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 10. Attendance is free for all Duke employees and students.
Since Parliament premiered in 2014, Klien has presented versions of the art piece in Amsterdam, Brussels, London and New York. He said in the initial stages, there’s generally confusion and awkwardness among participants.
People then start to do things like sleep, braid one another’s hair, meditate and dance.
“It’s like an endless kaleidoscope of human behavior,” Klien said. “There’s no prescribed interactivity. You’re just being yourself.”
Weise is both apprehensive and excited about the mental challenge of Parliament.
“It’s going to make me very aware of patterns I’ve formed, like reaching for my phone,” she said. “I’m looking forward to hearing myself think and just start doing whatever drives me. Yoga. Dancing. It’s a freedom from social pressures.”