Talking Small

The Activity

 

This activity is: talking to strangers about the weather.

 

The Rules

 

1. Anyone whose name you do not know is a Stranger.

2. Anytime you come into contact with a Stranger you must at some point

comment about the weather.

3. ‘Contact’ is any point where you communicate with a Stranger; either verbally

as in ordering food or asking directions, or non-verbally as in a smile or a nod.

4. One must attempt to sound sincere when commenting on the weather, it is

therefore a good idea to know what the current weather actually is.

5. Some examples of weather commentary are as follows:

a) “Nice weather we’re getting!” (Enthusiastic, best for full sun, add 10%

to enthusiasm level for each day it has been raining prior to the sunny

day)

b) “Nice weather we’re getting.” (Sarcastic, best for rain)

c) “How about this weather?” (Genuinely questioning)

d) “How about this weather.” (Authoritarian, maintain full eye-contact)

e) “Hot enough for ya?” (Jocular, best used on members of same sex to

avoid accusations of romantic intention)

f) “How long do you think this weather will last?” (Inquisitive and open-

ended, be prepared for follow up conversation)

6. Record each conversation with an audio recorder, if one is not available to you

simply remember the result and document it by writing down the dialogue in

a diary. Remember to include the state of the weather; the date; the location

of the conversation; the exact nature of your relationship to the Stranger; what

you said about the weather; and what their response was.

7. Follow these rules for a predetermined amount of time, one week is

reasonable, the more encounters and the longer the time spent the better and

more varied the results will be.

 

Results

 

Happening One

Location: Wollongong University Administration Building

Time and Date: Monday 12th March, Approximately 2.00pm

Weather Condition: Partly Cloudy

Description: My first happening occurred before I had distinguished the exact rules I was going to use, while I was waiting my turn in line to see a secretary there was a large man of Indian appearance waiting before me. The secretary left the room to attend to one of his requests, and seeing that I was waiting he felt embarrassed for taking so long and attempted to make friendly conversation with me.

Dialogue:

Stranger: Uhh I think there’s normally more than more person on the desk.

Me: Aw yeah it’s all good I’m in no hurry. How about this weather we’re getting?

S: I’m just waiting for my *incomprehensible mumbles* (it was obvious he hadn’t heard me clearly either, there was some communication barrier as English was not his first language and my English is filled with slang and generally pronounced poorly and rapidly)

M: Oh yeah I gotchya, this weather’s kind of strange though yeah?

S: Yes it is. The sun was out before though.

M: Yeah it kind of looks like the afternoon now though, even though it’s *takes out phone to check time*…oh wow it’s only two o’clock, looks much later than that.

S: Ah yes, but the afternoon might clear up a bit.

At this point the conversation began to wane, the Stranger took out his keys and began to examine them closely, and I took out my phone and pretended to be text messaging.

 

 

Happening Two

Location: McDonalds Engadine Drive Through

Time and Date: Tuesday 13th March, 8.50am

Weather Condition: Early morning sun

Description: I was in my car and had just ordered and paid for McDonalds breakfast, I pulled up to the window to receive my food and there was a lady likely aged in her mid-forties that handed me my food.

Dialogue:

S: Bacon and Egg McMuffin Meal with a Coke?

M: Yup.

S: Do you need a holder for that? (referring to the cup)

M: No I’ll be fine thanks. How about this weather hey?

S: Yeah it’s good. Hopefully it stays that way. Have a nice day.

The conversation was quite rushed as she seemed quite busy.

 

Happening Three

Location:  Coffee Shop outside Wollongong University Library

Time and Date: Thursday 14th March, 9.25am

Weather Condition: Partly Cloudy

Description: I was ordering a cup of tea from a girl in her twenties, there was a line behind me.

Dialogue:

M: Hello can I just get a green tea please?

S: Sure that will be three dollars.

M: *hands over money* hope the weather is nice today.

S: Yeah.

I shuffled along to await my beverage, I believe she was brief because she was either a) busy, b) didn’t care, or c) thought I was hitting on her.

 

Happening Four

Location:  The Fish Mine, Helensburgh CBD

Time and Date: Thursday, 15th March, 2.15pm

Weather Condition: Sunny, after rain.

Description: I had just ordered and paid for fish and chips. There was a man of about thirty working at the counter, and a woman aged roughly forty making the fish. The man is Stranger 1 and the woman is Stranger 2.

Dialogue:

M: This weather’s a bit of alright yeah?

Stranger 1: Yeah it’s been a nice change.

Stranger 2: They say it won’t last but!

S1: Ahh we can but hope.

M: Haha I think it will hold up.

S2: Here’s hoping, have a nice day love.

I then exited the fish shop.

 

Happening Five

Location: Engadine KFC Ordering Box in Drive Through

Time and Date: Friday 16th March, 1.00pm

Weather Condition: Clear skies

Description: I had just ordered my lunch from the radio box at KFC when I decided to try a new form of Happening, I decided to ask voice box thing (really need to learn what that’s called) how the weather was. This was strange because as it is technically a machine we’re communicating with no one ever says anything to it except what they want to order. I myself was tentative as to whether the machine would even understand my non-menu language and if it had the autonomy to form an opinion on the weather and answer in form.

Dialogue:

S: Hello can I take your order please.

M: *order omitted for modesty’s sake*

S: Yup that will be *price omitted for modesty’s sake*, please drive through.

M: Ok, nice weather we’re having isn’t it?

S: Um, yeah it is, please drive through.

I drove away therefore ending the conversation. The man I gave the money to gave me a funny look, maybe the machine told him I was strange.

Happening Six

Location:  A house party in Redfern, close to Sydney University

Time and Date: Friday, 16th March, 12.00pm

Weather Condition: Night-time, dark, possibly cloudy

Description: I ended up talking to a man roughly twenty years old at a party, he and I were both drunk and since I did not know his name I asked him about the weather.

Dialogue:

M: Hey how’s this weather getting  yeah!?

S: Uh yeah.

The conversation ended after that, even though it had been previously flowing fine, we both went our separate ways.

 

Conclusion

The quote I most wanted to engage with was form Kaprow’s idea of the Universal (2003, pp196), as he says (in relation to breathing): “Universals (shareables) are plentiful. From this point on, as far as the artist is concerned, it is a question of allowing those features of breathing (or whatever) to join into a performable plan that may reach acutely into a participant’s own sense of it and resonate its implications”.

I disliked the idea of the happening as an “inside joke” for only the artist and his cohorts to enjoy. Although brushing my teeth consciously was enjoyable, I felt elevated over the people that came in to use the bathroom and were confused by my actions, they themselves not being conscious of the artwork in the social around them. I decided that my happening would seek to include, and indeed need, another person to perform. I also believe that each person must come into awareness of his own accord, and as such I felt it necessary that the other person, or the Stranger, would become aware that something was amiss in their own mind without me, or Kaprow, prompting to think that way. To do this I wanted to make a performable plan that would allow another participant to “sense of it and resonate its implications” without having to be fully aware of the full movement of Happenings. In doing this I like to think that I did not fully alert them to their breathing, as I now am, as that spoils the art in that I am changing it by observing it.

For these reasons I chose talking about the weather, as in the everyday it often comes naturally, but when forced, when performed, it becomes slightly surreal. I could tell that the unaware participants were becoming slightly aware that something was not completely natural in my dialogue, and several times I believe they found this disturbing and sought to end the conversation. I think that I caused them to wonder why I was asking about the weather, which might lead them to a new appreciation, or fear of, talking small.

Sources:

Kaprow, A, Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life,  ed. Jeff Kelly, 2003

One comment

  1. SandraJ

    At work today every person I spoke to, I mentioned the weather just to try it and to see what people’s reactions were and everyone I spoke to wouldn’t stop talking to me even when I was practically walking away.

    When I was serving coffee’s there was a line and I said to the first guy ohhhh beautiful day today, first sunshine we had in awhile (or something along those lines) and he replied with how crappy the rain is and gave me his life story and then guy standing behind him joined in our weather discussion and then so did the guy behind that guy so I had 3 strangers talking about the weather in a group discussion it was hilarious. Your happening is clearly amazing for making my day at work bearable. So thank you 🙂