MTAA, Automatic for the
People ( ) Voting Kiosk, 2008 (Photo: M.River)
In the fall of 2008, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art invited several artists to create a
new work for the exhibition "Art of Participation: 1950 to Now." One such invitation was extended to
MTAA, a Brooklyn-based duo comprised of Mike Sarff and Tim Whidden, alternately known as M.River
& T.Whid Art Associates. In response, MTAA constructed a poll-based project entitled Automatic for the
People ( ), which asked the audience to vote upon the parameters for a theatrical performance executed at
the conclusion of the exhibition (the title’s empty parentheses refer to an undetermined subtitle).
Technically, the voting consisted of ten different electronic ballots addressing such creative and procedural
elements as duration, space, and props, with each being accessible for one week at a museum kiosk and
remotely online. All ten ballots contained ten options, and the most popular selections were incorporated
into the live finale. During the summer of 2009, I enlisted MTAA in an email-based interview regarding the
practical consequences and conceptual implications associated with producing their participatory poll and
performance for SFMOMA.
Automatic for the
People ( ) Performance
(Photo: Aimee Friberg; Courtesy of SFMOMA. )
DAVID DUNCAN: Let’s begin with the project’s finale. Can you give an overview of the performance—
the staging, players and performers, costumes, and actions?
MIKE SARFF and TIM WHIDDEN: We began with the idea that the live work should come together as a
unified whole; we felt that a series of unconnected actions would feel untrue to the vote process. We also
wanted the audience to participate in the performance. To achieve this, we established three boundaries—
installation, duration and action. For the installation we had a location outside the museum’s freight
elevator that was selected by vote. The performance’s duration (the same length as the REM album
Automatic for the People) was also selected by vote. The action involved two teams competing to create the
best robot costume—again, an element determined by vote. Lastly, we included interruptions to the robot
costume building competition. These we called interludes and digressions—they were essentially acts
between acts that helped to pace the performance. The goal was to make it all seem solid even if an
audience member did not know anything about the whole of the AFTP: ( ) voting process.
DAVID DUNCAN: Beyond the audience’s participation, did MTAA conceive AFTP: ( ) in cooperation
with the SFMOMA staff?
MIKE SARFF: Yes, it was conceived for this space and institution. It would be good to note here that
although the vote kiosk installation and ...