For Reasons Opaque To Me

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Apr 7

The Art Assignment: Stakeout

So, last week I did the second Art Assignment, Deb Sokolow’s Stakeout. We were encouraged to find an interesting object to put in a public place and observe and document in minute detail how people interact with it. Some friends from school and I decided to do a version inspired by Margriet and Josien. So, we got together after school and collected quotes we liked, wrote them onto pieces of paper which we put in a shoe box filled up with dried lentils. We made a sign that said: “Take a quote”, and then put them out on a fairly busy street with a perfect place to observe what was happening. Here is my detailed script of what happened:

14:08: We begin preparation, i.e. finding and writing down quotes, and putting them into the box.

15:10: The box is out on the street; the observing begins.

15:11: The first person, a woman, seems to notice it, but keeps walking.

15:12: Someone stops, looks at the box, but eventually walks away without taking anything.

15:16: Yay! The first two people dig in and take a quote! Success!

15:17: Another person looks, but doesn’t take something.

15:19: People keep looking at the box, some even walk by closely, but nobody takes a quote. It feels like it’s been more than fifteen minutes already since the last person took something!

15:22: Two women walk past it, but then they turn around and walk back! In the end, there’s three adults and two kids at the box. The kids really dig in and rummage around the box. The adults smile after reading!

15:30: A woman keeps looking at the box for like half a minute, but ends up taking nothing.

15:37: A man and a woman take one quote each and read it. They are also smiling. They seem to know each other, but not in a romantic way. Brother and sister, maybe? We are so happy:)

15:39: Two older women only look closely.

15:42: An old man: again: only looking, no taking quotes.

15:46: People keep looking at the box, sometimes even take a few steps toward it and look at it for a pretty long time, but nobody takes anything.

15:50: Two cab drivers that have been waiting for some time close to the box seem to be talking about it. They also keep looking at it every now and then. Will they eventually take a closer look?

15:52: A man with a dog approaches the box and digs in. Two women (who seem to know each other) join him and take a quote each, too. He seems to have trouble opening it. I forgot bringing little rubber bands, so we had to use Scotch Tape. Maybe that wasn’t the best idea… They show the quotes to each other and talk (maybe about who is doing this?) for a couple of minutes. Then the man leaves and the two women take a few steps away from the box and talk for some more minutes before they hug each other and leave, too.

16:02: (1) One woman from 15:22 (the one with the green shirt) returns! And she takes another quote. She must have liked the first one! (2) It looked like an old woman took a quote, but it turns out she didn’t.

16:06: A man walks to the box, but doesn’t take anything. He looks around, trying to find us. He doesn’t, but surprisingly he’s the first person to do that.

16:07: This just made my day! While an older couple is skeptically inspecting the box and actually kind of blocking the view, a young woman walks straight to the box and takes a quote and walks off, without stopping or hesitating, like it’s the most ordinary thing in the world! Why doesn’t my camera take photos faster?! (Spoiler: The couple doesn’t take anything.)

16:10: A little girl stops her mom at the box and takes a quote. Two women, one pushing a buggy with a kid, join them and both adults take out a quote. They seem to belong together. As they are leaving, the little girl runs back and takes another quote. You go, girl!

16:14: Another woman looks, but doesn’t take one.

16:17: A woman walks by the box, stops and goes back and takes one.

16:28: Mom (or Grandma?) with a kid takes out a quote. This time, interestingly, it’s not the child who provides the impulse to take a quote.

16:30: Man looks for quite some time; decides not to take anything.

16:32: Boy with a bag for an instrument (trombone, maybe?) takes one.

16:33: Another woman takes a quote. This is going quickly now!

16:36: I’m starting to get tired. I didn’t think I’d be that exhausted after school and 90 minutes of this.

16:37: A woman with a dog looks at the box, but the dog pulls her away. Would she have taken a quote otherwise?

16:38: My camera, after being turned on this whole time, is starting to get hot. Will it survive this?…

16:39: Another woman stops, looks, but walks off without taking something.

16:40: Just like 16:39

16:41: Again, this time a man, though.

16:42: And another woman…

16:45: And again… Maybe people just don’t like quotes. Maybe we shouldn’t have written it on the box.

16:46: Seems I was wrong:) An older woman takes one out. She keeps looking at it closely. I think she has trouble reading it. Did we write too small?

16:47: And old couple looks at the box. Close, but no cigar.

16:48: An older woman with a full shopping bag hesitates, then takes one out and seems thoughtful after reading it. She keeps standing there for a while, looking at the paper in her hand. When she walks away, she seems to be in deep thought. I’m glad we made her think! I wonder what she is thinking about, though…

16:54: Three girls walk to the box, hesitate for a while, daring each other to get in there, until one of them carefully reaches into the dried lentils, repulsed, like they’re some disgusting, gooey material we put there to mock people. After reading them, they throw the quotes away while walking off.

16:55: Did that woman just take a quote or not? We’re not entirely sure…

16:57: Two women look at the box. They seem to be offended by it, like somebody left their trash in the middle of the street. They keep on walking, though.

17:12: A man looks at the box, then takes a couple of steps away from it, and looks around, like he’s trying to find out who did this. But then another guy (a friend?) comes and they walk off. So, my assumption was wrong, I guess?

17:15: Even though more and more people are out on the street, fewer people actually take a quote. Maybe because of that?

17:18: We end the assignment.

Things I learned in the process:

1) Something trivial, though not to be left out: The battery of my camera actually lasted throughout the whole two hours!

2) Time goes SO MUCH slower when you’re just sitting, waiting, wishing.

3) People had incredibly different reactions to our project and to our quotes. We never knew which quote they picked, but it was still very weird to see some people really think about them or smile and then to see others just throw them away.

4) Even with heavy observation you can only go so far in getting to know people and you still make wrong assumptions.

Thanks to my friends for joining me on this assignment!

Also check out my other Art Assignments here.