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Pragmatic Failure 2017

Pragmatic failure is a participatory performance-psychological experiment hybrid created in collaboration with Psycholinguist Dr. Orly Idan of the Emotion in Conflict lab.

To what extent does language shape our perception of reality and our emotional experiences? One hundred-and-sixty participants were invited to examine this question in the context of the refugee issue in Israel. The performance lead the audience through three performance spaces while they filled out electronic questionnaires and interacting intimately with actors, resulting in real-time experiment results. 

The exhibition space was divided into two identical "waiting rooms," four identical small cells and a stage area. In each performance, 40 participants entered the first waiting room where they were asked to fill out an electronic questionnaire. The questionnaire contained statements regarding Israel’s refugee policy. Participants were asked to rate their level of agreement with each statement and rank the degree to which they experience anger towards the government and anger/empathy/guilt towards the refugees. 

Then each participant was assigned to a small cell whose door was marked with a letter (A-D). Inside each cell there was an actress. The four actresses in the cells were two pairs of identical twins. Each of the actresses recited a short monologue to the participant opposite her. The speeches that were read in all four cells were identical except for one key element: two of the actresses used verb-based sentences (active) in their communication with the participants, and two of the actresses used noun-based sentences (neutral). At the end of the speech, the participant was sent to the second waiting room, where they were asked to fill out another questionnaire.

In the final stage of the performance, after all the participants had completed the second questionnaire, all participants were invited to the stage area. The actresses who were in the cells before came onstage and performed a choreographed artistic interpretation of a debriefing text that described different psycholinguistic experiments relevant to the experience they were taking part in.

Photos: Goni Riskin

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