Blurring performance and real life: Miao Jiaxin’s “Blind Meeting” in New York

Shanghai-born, New York-based artist Miao Jiaxin deconstructs the divide between actual and virtual in his latest experimental project.

What happens when virtual online friendships are transposed into real life? Entitled Blind Meeting in Bushwick – A Tribute to Barbara DeGenevieve (2014), conceptual artist Miao Jiaxin’s latest social project bridges the gap between social media and real life.

Miao Jiaxin, 'Blind Meeting In Bushwick', 2014. Helen Chu (New York) meets Terry Aki (California). Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

Miao Jiaxin, ‘Blind Meeting In Bushwick’, 2014. Helen Chu (New York) meets Terry Aki (California). Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

Blind meeting

Shanghai-born, New York-based artist Miao Jiaxin is inviting people from around the world to participate in his latest project, Blind Meeting in Bushwick – A Tribute to Barbara DeGenevieve. The idea is for two people – friends on social media sites, but who have never met in real life prior to the project – to interact with each other in Miao’s Brooklyn apartment-studio for 24 hours. During the 24 hours, the following rules apply:

  • The room will be monitored and live-streamed online;
  • Participants are not allowed to sleep or leave the room;
  • Participants are invited instead to ‘make’ something: make conversations, meals, objects or artworks, wishes, promises or decisions, etc.

When asked what exactly he meant by ‘making’ something, Miao told Art Radar that even ‘making eye contact’ counts. What Miao is after is a real, human interaction, and “it doesn’t matter if it’s a project plan or something really subtle. […] The important thing is these two virtual humans could be physically together.” He playfully suggests on the AirBnB listing for his studio:

Make a miracle if you can; make love or anything based on mutual agreement.

Click here to watch “Helen meeting Terry”, one of the Blind Meetings in Miao Jiaxin’s studio in Brooklyn

Creating boredom

These 24-hour meetings are recorded and broadcast live to the world. This might sound a bit like a ‘blind date’ on a reality TV show, but as Miao explains to Art Radar, his project is completely different:

I’m against reality shows. I’m even cynical about them. Reality shows are under directions by producers. […] You can be kicked out […] if you don’t follow the directions or if you become boring. Well, boredom is extremely welcome in my studio. [Blind Meeting is all] about boredom due to the time duration, […] the camera angle [and] [subtle] sound. […] Most of the time [the participants] keep still in the stream video. […] You will have to refresh the streaming page and make sure that your internet is not frozen.

Miao Jiaxin, 'Blind Meeting In Bushwick', 2014. Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

Miao Jiaxin, ‘Blind Meeting In Bushwick’, 2014. Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

Miao states that each meeting has received more than 500 viewers so far. The ‘boring’ video content invites viewers to project themselves into the situation and imagine what they themselves would do. Miao tells Art Radar:

I’m not really interested in what people MAKE in the project, I’m more interested in the participation and imagination from all these people who watch the stream video. […] While reality shows create drama to let you follow, my studio creates boredom to let you think.

An intimate relationship with time

It is not the first time that Miao has pushed his guests and viewers into a “strangely intimate yet alienated relationship with time”, as Hyperallergic puts it in a piece about Miao’s previous project. In Jail’s Seeking Prisoners (2014), lone guests were confined to a monitored caged room for twelve hours at a time, during which they were not allowed to sleep, read, write, listen to the radio or access the internet in any way.

Miao Jiaxin, 'Jail's Seeking Prisoners', 2014. Spanish performance artist Abel Azcona during his confinement in the cage from 1:45pm (American Eastern Time), Sep 28 to Sep 30, total 48 hours confinement. Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

Miao Jiaxin, ‘Jail’s Seeking Prisoners’, 2014. Spanish performance artist Abel Azcona during his confinement in the cage from 1:45pm (American Eastern Time), 28 September to 30 September, total 48 hours confinement. Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

Miao describes the scheduled confinement as a “time-space-based art function” in another interview with Hyperallergic about Blind Meeting. He was inspired by the recently deceased artist Barbara DeGenevieve whom he met ten years ago. Miao recalls that the pair had hoped to create a collaborative piece. The artist tells Hyperallergic:  

She didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do, but she had a plan that we would set up video cameras, and prepare enough food, and stay together for 24 hours without sleep. […] Within those 24 hours, we would discuss, decide and make something happen.

Interior of Miao Jiaxin's studio in New York. Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

Interior of Miao Jiaxin’s studio in New York. Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

On the actual/virtual stage

While Miao actualises virtual human relationships by bringing them into the real world, the meetings are paradoxically live-streamed through the Internet, coming full circle to complete the actual-virtual circuit. He tells Hyperallergic:

The studio to me becomes an actual/virtual stage where I invite people come to visit, and at the same time they become part of the art.

Miao Jiaxin, 'Blind Meeting In Bushwick', 2014. Taylor Allen-Sterling Forrest meets Troy Church. Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

Miao Jiaxin, ‘Blind Meeting In Bushwick’, 2014. Taylor Allen-Sterling Forrest meets Troy Church. Image from Facebook, courtesy the artist.

Parallel to the actual/virtual paradox is the performative element of the project: all guests participate with the knowledge that their activities will be recorded and broadcasted. Himself a seasoned performance artist, Miao tells Art Radar:

Life is performance. If you call your life art, this is performance art. I believe most participants realise that they come to the studio to blur the boundary between their real life and performance. The performance is about an announcement of life and existence of individuals, both personal and political in the world of technology-based communication.

Rare rendezvous

Just like in real life, Blind Meeting‘s rendezvous are complicated and hard to come by. Due to the popular AirBnB listing, Miao gets a lot of inquiries every day, but since a reservation requires an agreement between two people, only a handful of actual reservations have been made.

Miao tells Art Radar that he doesn’t matchmake, even though it has often been suggested by friends and participants. And even if reservations are made, participants often get stood up. He tells Art Radar:

Almost half of the meetings are cancelled at the last minute. A girl was deported from the US two days before the meeting. Some girls and guys got stood up just like what happens in real life. It turns out both the project and reality are not fun. [Perhaps] people are simply not meant to be meeting in person.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, performance art, conceptual artcollaborative art, the theme of time in art, social art, video, events in New York

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