Sharon Hayes : SLA


Sharon Hayes - Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA)

In this work Hayes utilises the story of Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped on February 4th 1974 by the SLA. During her captivity, four audio tapes made by Hearst in conjunction with the SLA were released addressing her parents on three issues : the subject of her kidnapping, the SLA’s ransom, and the family and the FBI’s actions during the whole situation. In the fourth tape, Hearst renamed herself Tania and announces that she will be joining the SLA in their political efforts.

This video displays Hayes performing a recital of each of the four video tapes which she had attempted to memorise (but hadn’t memorised perfectly). She spoke each text to an audience, each member of which held a transcript of the text. The task of the audience was to correct her mistakes as she was reciting, to feed her a line when she needed it.

Each time she makes an error, she is rectified by members of the audience shouting out the correct version of what she already said. Once she has been reminded of the correct sentence or word, she repeats the whole phrase again.

The consistent pauses and use of fillers throughout the performance remind the audience that this has not been meticulously rehearsed, it is make-shift. She often looks uneasy and doubtful due to this lack of rehearsal. When the audience interrupt her, she seem mildly irritated, almost embarrassed. This is strange because we know she has purposefully placed herself into this position, she has made the decision to feel this kind of irritation.

When she appears to have completely forgotten her lines, a member from the audience throws her a prompt, and if this prompt does not suffice, she asks questions like “what else?” Within these moments there seems to be a comfortable dialogue between the two parties. At these points it seems like the audience want to help her, instead of wanting to interrupt her. And Hayes seems to trust the audience enough to trust their guidance, to ask them for more.

It’s usually the intricacies of the sentences that Hayes gets wrong (words such as “also”, “so”, “but”, “everyone”, “everybody”) she has grasped the actual content of the audio relatively well.

Hayes faces the camera when she is feeling confident, when she knows exactly what she is going to say. When she is doubting herself she looks out into the audience. The artist flits frequently between this assertion and self-consciousness, as she gains and loses self-sufficiency. She feels uneasy, despite the fact that she almost definitely knew that this would happen.

Whilst watching this video I became increasingly aware that Hearst’s original tone had been completely eradicated, Hayes had not attempted to replicate it even slightly. This is due to the fact that all Hayes’ effort and concentration had to go into memorising the lines, attempted to recall what she had already learned. Hence in this process, the actual character of Hearst is lost. This is difficult as we also know for sure that the speech does not belong to Hayes, because of her clear unfamiliarity with it.

The director (Hayes) is placing the role of the director into the hands of the audience. She is choosing to be directed - she is choosing to be scrutinised, corrected, almost constantly aggravated. The point is that she has made a formal decision to lose control, a decision I have also been choosing to make throughout my recent work. Hayes demonstrates that however hard you may try to eradicate any preconceptions, any preferences regarding the performance directed others, you will always be slightly frustrated, longing for something else. The audience are in the position that she was once in, so whilst she is in this position she has a vague recollection of this power, and I assume wishes to be in this position again.

I am interested in why she remembers certain points and why she forgets certain points easily. This would be unique for each individual who chose to embark on this task. The words we find easier to remember must be dependent on our whole individual perception and past experience - some words resonate inexplicably with us.

Hayes manages to establish a tension between the impression that she is being supported and guided through the task, and the impression that she is being forcefully criticised. My perception of the audience kind of oscillated between thinking of the audience as a positive force and then of them as a negative force.

This work has made me think considerably about the role and authorship of the audience when they are handed the position of director, something I should have been thinking consistently about already. I had not put much thought into how the audience may manipulate their role as they are given power, how they may enjoy the artist’s loss of control considerably. I may not have thought about this because I have only been working with family and friends - these individuals might have been trying to please me, trying to work politely within the vague constraints I had set. Perhaps when I present the exercises I have been working on to the public, I will experience a lack of tolerance, movement to work against the outcomes I had envisioned. I think that this kind of rejection could be really productive - there is, of course, no right outcome to any of the tasks that I am setting.