“Colour Theory” was conceived and performed as part of the event Art School Anecdote, which consisted of a string of short performances on March 14, 2013: each performer was allotted five minutes to present a story or performance that encapsulated an aspect of the history of the Australian National University School of Art. The Anecdote event was the culmination of the residency of Zoë Walker and Neil Bromwich.
I chose five “artspeak” terms that occur in texts commonly read in the Art Theory Workshop at the Australian National University, where I teach. These were: metanarrative, trope, contested, discourse and reflexive. I painted large pieces of card in a set of five arbitrary monochrome colors—I was researching Gerhard Richter’s color swatch paintings at the time and imagined the colors I chose could feasibly “pass” as one of his early color swatch compositions. The actual colors were a middle green, a mustard yellow, a lemon yellow, a dark grey and a lavender.
The “artspeak” terms I rendered in permanent marker in 200-point Helvetica on white card the same width as the large monochromes. For the performance, which was held outside on a temporary stage built for the Anecdote, I took on the persona of a serious theoretician/professor. I solemnly asked for the assistance of the audience to begin a project of bringing more color into the compulsory Art Theory component of the School’s curriculum. Five helpers stood in a row behind me, each holding a monochrome aloft as I showed the audience the terms as flashcards and said each in turn, asking them to each decide which term ought to be paired with which color. The helpers then dispersed into the audience of about 150 people. Next, I repeated each term and asked the audience to gather around the color that they felt best matched that term. Another helper then took the card on which the term was printed and stuck it along the top of the color the audience had voted it to be. The process was repeated until all the colors and terms were matched, thereby creating a series of giant paint swatches called Metanarrative (green), Contested (grey), Reflexive (lemon yellow), Trope (lavender) and Discourse (mustard).
Enforcing synaesthetic responses in the audience in this performance has given rise to a broader ongoing project of crowd-sourced synaesthetic decision-making performances.