A Sort of Joy

Designer | Artist The Office for creative research
Year 2015

A Sort of Joy (Thousands of Exhausted Things) is a performance of the museum’s 123,951 object collections database.

The work is a collaboration between Elevator Repair Service Theater and The Office For Creative Research. Using MoMA’s collections database of 123,951 items, the two companies have created a variable performance script that is delivered to actors electronically as they roam throughout the second floor galleries of the museum. Artwork titles, artist names, materials and dimensions all become fodder for exchanges between performers; this spoken text and the ambient sound that accompanies it is experienced through wireless stereo headphones worn by audience members. The performance takes the form of an extended audio tour in which the patterns, idiosyncrasies and secrets of this enormous database are revealed to museum-goers, and the database itself takes its place in the galleries alongside the very artworks it contains. Every word spoken during the performance comes directly from the database.

To generate the performance scripts, the artists have undertaken a series of computational analyses on the collections data, classifying artwork titles, for example, in terms of their grammatical construction, lexicon, phrasing, emphasis (stress patterns), and other linguistic attributes. The artists then devised database operations, sorting criteria, and filtering algorithms and applied these to the collections data, resulting in an endless variety of text sequences. In some parts of the performance, these texts are distributed directly to the performers. In other sections, language has been hand-assembled by the artists from clusters of material discovered during the analysis and processing.

The performance runs approximately 45 minutes and will be repeated twice during the scheduled time. Audience members are free to enter and leave the performance as they please; when you are finished with them, we ask that you kindly return your headsets to the drop-off location at the 2nd floor gallery exit.

This project is part of MoMA’s Artists Experiment, an annual initiative in the Department of Education that brings together contemporary artists in dialogue with MoMA educators to conceptualize ideas for developing innovative and experimental public interactions, and is made possible by Paula and Jim Crown.

Performed by Kate Benson, Lindsay Hockaday, Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, Gavin Price and Ben Williams
Conceived by John Collins, Mark Hansen, Ben Rubin and Jer Thorp
Directed by John Collins
Software Design & Operation by Mark Hansen, Ellery Royston, Jer Thorp
Sound Design by Ben Rubin
Stage Manager: Mo Lioce
Project Manager: Sarah Hughes