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Zetetic/Peripatetic: Investigations into the Ontology of the Elsewhere Public Works Agency and the First Steps Towards the Formulation of a General Theory of the Practice of Nonchalance

By Jessica Tully

Part fringe folklore, part comment on group potential, part dérive, this hyper-real alternate reality game’s clues are presented through a tightly synchronized constellation of rivalries, quixotic maps, surrogate locations, and chance meetings. Each sequential piece to the puzzle activates the shadiest corners, forgotten garden medians and earnest municipal call box in San Francisco’s historic Financial, Chinatown, and Mission Districts. Presented for the first time in a combined gallery installation and public program for Southern Exposure’s 2009 inaugural exhibition, the piece is a collaborative effort by Jeff Hull and Sara Thacher, working as Nonchalance. The artists lure participants down a rabbit hole of experiences in their new work Zetetic/Peripatetic: Investigations into the Ontology of the Elsewhere Public Works Agency and the First Steps Towards the Formulation of a General Theory of the Practice of Nonchalance.

The component treasure map, Web 1.0 sites and sub-sites, vigorous low-power radio transmissions, and audio CD bend time and pit rival movements against one another in search of the highest form of human potential, Divine Nonchalance, leaving missing persons and an idealized past in their wake. From a fleet of ornate boom boxes, to an acquisitioned and pedigreed tooth collection, to original coinage, the visual vocabulary Nonchalance employs in Zetetic/Peripatetic is uniformly warm and expertly framed by an individual’s own discovery of the work. To experience Zetetic/Peripatetic, the participant must take a map and leave the gallery. As the participant encounters a location in the sequence, the clue becomes a lived event, imbuing participants with the aura of a pitch-perfect, late 1970s utopian dream, as well as its 1980s antidote, replete with early hip-hop, literary, and children’s game iconography. As visitors walk through the familiar sites prescribed in this work, Nonchalance’s narrative layers time and lifts them into a parallel reality of intrigue and the desire to right a topsy-turvy past through inquiry and the ability to just drift.

Nonchalance uses its work to guide SoEx patrons to investigate a future that not only rejects a mundane workaday life, but—in a major jump from where the Situationists left off—enter into a state of nonchalance. The path to nonchalance is signified by the leisurely pursuit of the Elsewhere Public Works Agency’s (EPWA) fictitious utopia, Elsewhere.

Inside the gallery, the artists problematize their own play within a play schema with a “failed collaboration” between Audrey Griegh, a possibly fictitious SoEx curator/artist, and a “rival group,” EPWA. Inspired by EPWA’s mesmerizing disorganization, our hero sets out to collaborate with EPWA in an art context. Audrey thinks she has everything a dynamic collaborative social practice artwork desires: chiefly, a system of actions and players that inverts existing social systems. However, what she encounters is frustration and disappointment in her unsuccessful attempts to communicate—let alone collaborate—with EPWA. She and EPWA have completely disparate understandings of time, art, and mission.

Nonchalance’s gallery installation reveals the unexpected consequences of collaboration as tangential partnerships dissolve and the boundaries between fiction and reality become hazy. Audrey Greigh no more gets to frame her prized social find, as EPWA uses her as a foil in its battle with rival arch enemy the Jejune Institute (also a creation of Nonchalance). What she finds is a series of cautionary tales against the Jejune Institute; its “founder,” Octavio Colemen, Esq.; and its purveying of “false nonchalance.”

Nonchalance’s visual language blurs the line between authorship, authenticity, and gaming. Zetetic/Peripatetic presents a flexible environment that crosses public and social spheres and edges us that much closer to finding great comfort in the confusion.

The Games of Nonchalance
Southern Exposure Catalog Text
2010

Investigations into the Ontology of the Elsewhere Public Works Agency and the First Steps Towards the Formulation of a General Theory of the Practice of Nonchalance

By Jessica Tully