Monday, May 23, 2022

Ben Patterson | Instruction No. 2 (Please Wash Your Face)

Ben Patterson
Instruction No. 2 (Please Wash Your Face)
New York City, USA: Fluxus, 1964
10 x 12 x 1.5 cm.
Edition size unknown

"Contained in a small plastic box was a paper towel, a small bar of soap, and the instruction 'Please wash your face,'" Patterson explained in the lead up to a 2011 performance of the work at New York's Third Streaming project space. "As far as I know, this will be the first performance of the piece with total audience participation. People will come to the stage — or optionally, to the bathroom — and wash their face. Afterward, there will be a moderated discussion on the subject: 'How is washing your face in public a work of art?'"

Fluxus advertised Instruction No. 2 as early as the fourth issue of the Fluxus newspaper (cc. fiVe ThReE), in 1964. It was made available both as an individual work (selling for $3.00) or as part of various Fluxkits. All consisted of a plastic box (typically white but sometimes clear) with the same George Maciunas designed label.  The paper towels were rubber stamped with the instructions/subtitle.

Instruction No. 1 - a series of dance instructions - was intended for publication through Fluxus, but never produced.

"Perhaps his simplest composition for action, Patterson’s Instruction No. 2 (1964) consists of a small plastic box containing a bar of soap in the shape and color of a lemon slice and a paper washcloth on which is stenciled, “Please wash your face.” With this work, Patterson transforms a habitual action that typically happens in the privacy of one’s home into a public performance. The work has been realized in various public settings, and yet Patterson noted the public’s resistance toward performing this activity: “In New York people were a bit hesitant one way or another, wondering whether or not they wanted to do this activity in public because it’s something that you normally do in the bathroom, in private.”  Instruction No. 2 asks participants to “concentrate one’s attention and focus on an everyday activity which is very important and taken for granted.” The work marks out an everyday activity as an artistic and collective action, blending art and life, which is at the core of Fluxus. Life is art. And Patterson knew exactly how to help us experience differently, appreciate, and find humor in life."


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