Thinking small

A local collective subverts with the tiny
By GREG COOK  |  April 7, 2008
SAY IT WITH FLOWERS: Through performances, Web sites, publications, and jokes, the Institute
critiques the nature and language of public space.

The Institute for Infinitely Small Things | The Working Is the Work | Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave, Boston | April 24: 6:30–8:30 pm | 617.478.3100
One night at the end of February, seven members of the Institute for Infinitely Small Things were premiering their new performance, The Working Is the Work, at the Institute of Contemporary Art. (They perform it again on April 24.) Wearing their trademark white lab coats, with their Institute’s name and infinity symbol on the back, the collective of artists spread out through the museum and helped the ICA’s staff — scrubbing the lobby, counting visitors, standing guard, cleaning the café.

Instituter Katharine Urbati, who tidied the museum store, was asked about items for sale. Someone turned in a lost guidebook to her. “I love that people think I work here, and I’m wearing this ridiculous coat.”

One person asked Savic Rasovic, who was running an elevator for the evening, how long it took him to learn the job. “About a minute. We specialize in small things. And one of them is operating elevators.” Later, a woman suggested that he expand his horizons. “This is my stage,” he insisted — but then he quipped, “I’ll think about it. I may work in another elevator.”

The performance wasn’t much to watch (though Rasovic amused), but the point is the idea, the small gesture. “It’s calling attention to the work done in the museum,” Instituter Catherine D’Ignazio tells me later, “and in a small way trying to be a service to the people who do that work.”

The Institute’s aim is “to research and alter the micro-power structures that shape everyday life in Western society.” Through performances, Web sites, publications, and jokes, the conceptual-artist collective critiques the nature and language of public space — from corporate advertisements and street names to post-9/11 signs and warnings.

“I think they’re trying to reclaim public space,” says ICA curator Carole Anne Meehan. “I think that’s on the mind of a lot of artists today. Everything is corporatized, directed. Especially since 9/11.”

“It’s very political-minded, but it doesn’t knock you over the head with it,” explains DeCordova Museum assistant curator Dina Deitsch. “It’s the idea that minor acts can be powerful political statements.”

It has been a good winter for the Institute. There have been the two ICA performances, and inclusion in next month’s DeCordova Annual Exhibition. D’Ignazio has been named one of four finalists for the ICA’s 2008 Foster Prize, which recognizes local “artists of exceptional promise.” And in February she received an award from the New England chapter of the International Association of Art Critics for a 2007 performance.

The Institute’s ringleaders are Rasovic (a/k/a “Sasha”), 34, of Cambridge and D’Ignazio (a/k/a “Kanarinka”), 32, of Waltham. When not making art, Rasovic designs Web software and D’Ignazio teaches at the Museum School and Rhode Island School of Design and does freelance software programming.

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