Friday, July 1, 2011

Every Job, a Performance

So, I’ve been writing this post in my head for about a month now. Yesterday was my last day at the Centre for Continuing Education. I got my foot in the door through the University’s temp office. I initially worked with the Support Team, booking venues for courses. At that point, I had been out of work for about 6 months so I was eager to do whatever. I approached the whole thing as a performance piece. I thought if I’m going to do a job that I’m overqualified to do, then I have to do something to keep it interesting. So, in my mind I thought I was doing some kind of grand performance art, where I would be documenting my tasks and experiences on a daily basis, so when it was all over I would exhibit the ephemera and people would think I was brilliant and blah, blah, blah. The problem was that after a week or so I forgot to document my ingenious creative endeavor and it simply became a job, where there was a lot of documenting but none of it was for art. When you book venues for a department like CCE, which runs over 1600 classes a year, you soon end up from your ass to your eyeballs in spreadsheets. Let me just say, I love spreadsheets. I don’t know if it’s the grid of cells or the organization of information or the merger of mathematics with aesthetics…or all of the above? The concept of the spreadsheet is simply the best thing ever invented. My performance piece evolved into a project in which I was going to use Excel to create visual delights that would be interactive via ‘if /then’ formatting. I would create this huge body of work I could exhibit. There would be computers for gallery visitors to engage with and the spreadsheets would be printed on really nice paper; they would be larger than life, hung on a wall, people would think I was brilliant and blah, blah, blah. A couple of weeks went by and I was like, that’s the dumbest fucking idea I’ve ever had. Nonetheless, I was making some kick ass spreadsheets. The Head of Programs at the time called me into his office and said, “John, what I like best about your spreadsheets is that not only do they have useful information that can be sorted, but they are also very nice to look at.” He went on to say, “Just because we work in sterile office environments doesn’t mean that the items we use on a daily basis have to be that way. I appreciate your efforts to add flair to the mundane. I know you are immensely over qualified to be doing the job you are doing, but I do think it is important for you to see how this place works at its base levels. If you are interested, there is certainly room for you to expand and grow.” A couple of weeks later, he offered me a position in the Programs Department. I accepted. In the 2 years since, I’ve put the creative part of my brain through some real tests. After some time and some mentoring, I was given the reins to shape the Arts and Humanities program. My Excel project evolved and I went from creator to curator. This wasn’t done alone. It was accomplished through the hard work of a group of dedicated people. Looking back today, I see a finished project (perhaps a work of art), complete with experience, documentation, and bits of myself inside of a program. I didn’t get a gallery show; I got something better.


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